How many outstanding invoices are you waiting on?

by Rachel Smith
17 April 2020

Updated 17 April 2020

It’s no secret that twiddling your thumbs and waiting for outstanding invoices to be paid is one of THE most annoying and scary parts of being a freelancer. So much so that we’ve written about it here, here and here. No wonder sites like Clients from Hell are so popular.

Need to pay your mortgage? Bills? Childcare? Eat? Nope, sorry – you’re at the mercy of the big fish who determine when and how they’ll pay you for the work you did, often months before. Or years, as some freelancers have told us after work supposed to be paid on publication was re-scheduled, leaving the writer out of pocket. And let’s not even touch on how Covid-19 is affecting freelancers with outstanding invoices.

In one 2016 report, Australian organisations were revealed as the worst at paying overdue invoices, taking an average 26.4 days to pay an overdue invoice. And back in 2018, it was reported that late payments among freelancers are ‘an absolute epidemic’ and that small businesses (including freelancers) were owed a whopping $26 billion for unpaid work.

That’s not okay.

And although things have improved since then with a National Payment Transparency Register in place, far more needs to be done to improve the cash flow of freelancers and small businesses.

What to do about outstanding invoices

  1. Make regular contact. And ask when payment will be made. It tells the client you’re not going away.
  2. Get specific. Ask, ‘Can you please give me a date when I can expect payment’ as some clients may say vaguely that something ‘will be paid ASAP’ and their ASAP might be very different from yours!
  3. Write a letter of demand. Here’s an idea of what to say in it.
  4. If all else fails… Get a debt collector to handle the problem.

And for future jobs…

  1. Get it in writing. Always, always send a contract to protect both you and the client.
  2. Ask for 50% up front. It’s a great way of spotting dodgy clients from the outset as they may balk or drag their feed paying your deposit.
  3. Be aware of payment terms. Some agencies won’t pay you until they are paid by the client, but you might not be aware of this until it’s time to get paid and the agency is dragging its feet.

How long have you waited for outstanding invoices to be paid?

Rachel Smith
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