Freelance invoicing beyond the usual

August 7, 2012

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A freelance writing friend of mine, call her Sarah, asked for some input on a client invoicing situation — one which we all encounter at one point or another. I believe her solution was a good one, and worth sharing here.

Sarah had been hired with a contracted hourly amount for ”writing services as needed.” Subsequently, she was asked to provide web content for a new site, as well as to offer consultation on what the web developers were doing. She wasn’t, however, asked to provide an estimate for the new tasks, and wasn’t 100 percent clear on the scope. She continued plugging away on an hourly basis, as originally agreed upon.

Eventually, her hours began to accumulate, and she notified the client that her billing for the month would be higher than they’d historically been. She didn’t get a reply, though the client was responsive to another project email she’d sent, and continued to participate in the work.

You can probably guess what happened next: She invoiced the client, and the client was surprised at the higher-than-normal total.

Her solution was to offer the client the option to pay in two installments, with the total being due at 60 days to offer a bit of flexibility. (According to Sarah, the client was very pleased with this, as she was juggling billings from several entities to get the webpage completed.) The multiple payment option is a nice courtesy, and I use it myself for long-term, loyal clients who ask, or volunteer it as an option when I read between the lines that it might be an economic necessity.

I also think it’s important that Sarah communicated clearly that the fees were going to exceed the original estimate; it’s unfortunate the client didn’t respond. I suggested, if such a situation arises in the future, that she send a followup note with exactly the implications (“wanted to let you know that currently we’re about $XXX/XX hours over my usual monthly billings”). That type of precision could be more effective in getting the appropriate attention and avoiding the end-of-month surprise.

Collections can be one of the stickier wickets in the freelance business, and a slight adjustment to your payment terms can often help. That said, I don’t see any value to going the client’s way any further without them coming your way. Whatever you do, please don’t ever discount your work after the fact!

Finally, I recommended that Sarah have an open discussion before she starts on the next project, to the effect of: “You’re an important client and I want to keep you happy, blah, blah, yadda, yadda. In the future, what’s my best way to communicate these types of fees, so that we’re on the same wavelength?” Then, listen to what the client has to say, and act accordingly.

Off topic: I know you’re never supposed to apologize for a hiatus in blogging, but, well, heck, I’m sort of embarrassed about not having blogged in a while. Thanks for your loyal readership! 

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