5 tips for getting clients to pay

by | Jul 27, 2022 | Finance Tips, Project Management

Tell me if this sounds familiar…

You just created the perfect design for a client. You nailed the brief and the client is happy. You shoot off an invoice and then you wait. And then you wait some more. The invoice is now well overdue and you don’t know what to do You’re too nervous to follow up as you don’t want to come across as being difficult. And at this point, you’re now second-guessing your work completely. Maybe the client didn’t actually like the work? Maybe you’re not worth what you’re charging. Should you lower your prices!?

Let’s face it. Sending invoices and chasing clients is one of the worst parts of running a small business. As creatives, we are typically right-brainers and just aren’t administrators at heart. And ‘confrontation’ is just not in our DNA.

In the first few years running my design biz, I made ALL the mistakes when it came to managing my books. Like the time I let a client accrue $10,000 worth of debt. Yep, you read that correctly… $10,000! She was getting her business off the ground and I felt like I was doing her a favour. I sent invoices but I never chased them. In the end, I had to wait months before she could afford to start paying me, and even then, it was in very small instalments.

If you’re nodding along right now or even have a story that one-ups me, it’s time to get serious about your bookkeeping processes and systems. Instead of waiting until it’s too late, here are a few tips that have helped me get paid on time with minimal fuss.

1. Use deposit invoices to weed out late payers

Before you spend even one minute on a client project make sure you get paid a non-refundable deposit. Send this invoice as soon as the project gets signed off. It’s a great way to weed out clients who may become late payers, and ensures you have some money in your pocket if the project stalls or the client goes MIA.

Tip: A 50% deposit with 50% due upon completion is standard for most creatives.

2. Set up an auto-reminder for invoices

Hands up if you have ever forgotten to pay a bill? Well, chances are your client might have simply forgotten too. By setting up an auto-reminder you can nudge the client to pay on time. It also sends the message that you won’t be passive when it comes to collecting money you’re owed.

If you use any of the well-known bookkeeping software you will have an option to enable auto-reminders. It’s a great set-and-forget way to chase money and takes the stress out of sending those follow up emails. If you’re creating and sending invoices manually, I recommend always sending invoices on the same day of the week so it’s easier to check-in and send reminder emails when the client’s 7, 14, 21 or 28 days are up.

Tip: Even if you manually send a reminder I find telling the client that the reminder is ‘automatically generated’ makes it so much easier to hit send!

3. Invent a bookkeeper

If you always stall on sending or chasing invoices, why not invent a bookkeeper to do your dirty work? You can even give them a name and email address. It’s much easier to hassle clients if they think Sharon from accounting is the one chasing them. Genius, I know!

Tip: School yourself on basic accounting terms so you sound like a legit bookkeeper!

4. Devote an hour a week to bookkeeping

Staying on top of your bookkeeping will help you free up headspace for your creative work. My business finances used to be an ugly, fat mess. But to get on top of them I set aside 30 minutes a day to get through the backlog. And do you know what? It took less time than I thought it would. It was done within two weeks, and I no longer had a massive cloud hanging over my head. Now I spend 30 minutes each week staying on top of invoices, receipts and taxes. Yep, only 2 hours each month.

This is what I do each week:

  • Send invoices
  • Check-in on previous invoices and send email reminders
  • Log expense receipts 

Plus, I now know how my business is tracking and what my cash flow looks like. Bonus! 

Tip: Block out non-negotiable time in your diary.

5. Send invoices immediately

When a project is complete, send the invoice immediately or on your next scheduled bookkeeping day. It’s so easy to put off sending invoices as other items on your to-do list feel more pressing. If you send your invoices promptly, a client is more likely to pay promptly. If you wait a few weeks (or months) you’re sending the message that payment isn’t that urgent.

Maybe you also stall because you feel anxious about asking for money? That final payment can feel like the ultimate validation of your work. If this is you, try to remind yourself that your client has agreed to your quote, terms and approved the work.

Tip: Set up an email template to send with your invoices – it makes the invoice sending job quicker and easier. 

Working with clients can come with some very uncomfortable moments. However, the majority of clients, at least in my experience, are good people. While it can feel hard to chase invoices don’t put it off. Just remember, you’re not asking for a favour. And you’re also not a bank. Your client has accepted a service from you and now it’s time for them to keep their side of the bargain. 

Sarah Linklater

Hello! I’m a graphic designer from Melbourne, Australia, and I’ve been operating a graphic and web design business called Slinky Did It for the past 10 years. I started Designer Admin because I noticed that while there is a whole lotta very talented designers in our industry, the admin side of the business isn’t everyone’s forte. After all, we didn’t become designers because we were good at writing invoices and managing clients! I strongly believe that if you have strong business foundations in place, your projects will run more smoothly and you will have more time and headspace to focus on the creative side of your business. So... let's admin!