Although the real joy of freelance writing for a living is that you get to write, maybe even from the comfort of home, there’s another part of your business which is just as vital to get right in order for you to be a successful earner: managing your books and persuading prompt payments from your clients.
Managing your books (the easy way)
- Set up a separate bank account for your business with one of your local banks. It doesn’t have to be a full blown ‘business account’, a current or checking account will do, just ensure that it’s an account used only for your freelancing business, not for domestic finances. Set another account up to go alongside it: this will be purely for your taxes. Create a regular payment to go from the main account into your tax account, so that you will be prepared for any tax bill which comes your way at the end of the financial year: earnings permitting!
- Set up a PayPal, Skrill or electronic banking account to go with that main business bank account. This is particularly useful if you are going to do some of your work within freelance job sites, where Paypal is a preferred withdrawal / payment method for them or for if you don’t want to be giving your business account number out to clients you don’t know very well.
- Ensure you have some spreadsheet software (many types of freeware are available) and set up a client and payment spreadsheet, or use a traditional hard-backed accounting book if you prefer.
- Note down every gig, what it earns you and what it costs you (eg: in freelance site fees or postage for reminders, hard copy etc). Mark off the payments as they come in, or mark up if you’ve had to send reminders. Back your spreadsheet up every time you change it.
- Keep receipts for everything and, where you can, mark receipts to link them to the relevant gig, to your start up costs or to your on-going costs (such as for marketing flyers, advertising etc). Many of these costs will be tax deductible so it’s worth your while keeping track of them!
- Find a template to use as a client contract or agreement and adapt it to suit your business: there are plenty of free examples online, such as here at Freelance Write About, or ask a legal professional to create one for you (if you can afford to). Print it out on headed paper when you need a hard copy or use an electronic copy: just ensure that both yourself and the client sign it.
- Similarly, create an invoice template for your business and a template ‘reminder’ letter (again to use as hard copy and electronic template). Once this is done, it’s just a matter of adapting for each client, which takes just minutes at a time.
- Dedicate a weekly slot for a ‘book-look’, marking up your payments in / out, sorting receipts, sending invoices and reminders. It doesn’t take long if it’s part of a regular weekly schedule and your books will be bang up to date, particularly if …
- You remember to log down every single gig you work. Amazingly, a less–than-organized writer I know once got so caught up in the new client / new project excitement that they set to without logging the job into their books. They then moved onto the next job, then another new one came along which captured their excitement again… meanwhile that other new client was waiting for an invoice which never arrived …! Thankfully they were extremely honest clients and chased up their own invoice, but it’s a lesson learned. Log every gig and check that each payment comes though with the agreed sum and at the agreed time.
Managing your clients (the professional way)
Freelancer Job Site Clients:
Most of these freelancer job sites include facilities such as Escrow for payment, where the client puts the money into an account via the freelance site. You can see that the money’s there, you complete the job for the client and the client and freelance site release the money to you.
Advantage: Most of the time, this works well and there are very few occasions where the money can be clawed back between you submitting the work and receiving it, so you can be largely confident about payment if your work is of good quality and delivered within the deadline.
Sometimes the money can be held back if the client is being particularly fussy or the work is not up to an agreed standard, so don’t bank on it until you’ve banked it!
It’s easy to stick with freelancer sites purely for this security blanket of not having to chase clients for payment. Although that’s your choice and you might make a sufficient living this way, your writing will seldom bring you big money or corporate writing clients because these sites just don’t supply that end of the market.
On some sites, this money can take up to fourteen days to clear.
Your letter of introduction has landed you a virtual or local client who’s agreed to your quote in return for some semi-regular writing gigs. So how do you handle the money side?
Some writers start to talk terms with their clients once their quote has been agreed, others include their terms and conditions as part of their overall quote, so think about what suits you best (and what you know about the client: some bigger businesses are likely to be getting their T&Cs on the table first)! However, you will need to have developed your own terms and client contract, for example asking for 50% payment up front and the remainder within 7 days of meeting the work deadline (adjust the percentages to suit yourself and the client, by negotiation if necessary), this way the matter of payment for your work is covered as part of the early negotiations.
If it’s a local client, make every effort to meet with them to introduce yourself and sign the deal face to face: there’s nothing like the personal touch!
Advantage: Everyone knows where they stand. Part of the money is up front so you know that even if a virtual client disappears, you will have received some of your payment. Additionally, you have a signed contract which you can use to pursue small claims through the courts, if necessary.
Disadvantage: You may have to send at least one polite reminder if the seven days after the deadline come and go without the balance of payment. Your reminder should be pleasant and polite, but professional: yes, they owe you money, but it may have been a genuine over-sight or a banking glitch beyond their control, so keep it professional and with luck you won’t lose the money or future gigs over having to chase them up.
So you see, you don’t have to be a skilled book keeper to manage your freelance finances. However, even if you intend hiring some professional accounting help when that tax time of year comes around, your books will need to be in some kind of reasonable order, otherwise things can slide surprisingly quickly and it could take you hours of time when you should be earning, to get back on top!