(Editor’s note: In today’s uncertain economy, freelance photographers are waiting longer than ever to receive payment from their clients. Following is the first in a series of articles by Brandon Cotter, founder of ZenCash, offering tips to accelerate your cash flow.)
When it comes to getting paid for freelance work, Ottawa-based photographer Younes Bounhar quips, “baseball bats work wonders.” But for the less athletic among us, the most effective instrument is still the invoice.
Invoices are even more important these days with studies showing that in this economy, customers are taking longer than ever to pay small businesses — an average of 48 days, according to a survey by the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
The simplest of invoice terms, of course, is prepayment. Dallas-based Rachael Ellis, who specializes in wedding and custom art photography, insists on it. And don’t give her a check. It’s cash or a money order.
Withholding work until payment is delivered may be the next-most-popular approach. But most invoices aren’t so simple, and freelancers have to get more creative. Many insist on at least some part of the payment up front. It’s collecting the balance, of course, that gets tricky.
Plenty of freelancers use late fees. British photographer Bruno Conrad learned them from his father, a freelancer for 30 years.
“He said to me that you should state, on your invoice, that the payment must be made within 30, 60 or 90 days, and then add a 10 percent charge for each week that the payment went over the stipulated date.”
Conrad says, “It might not make any difference to being paid on time — especially with bigger companies — but at least you’ll be making money off them when they do drag their feet with payment.”
Californian Lara White says her company added a $100 late-fee policy just this year because so many payments were late. Others turn the late-fee idea around, and offer discounts for paying on time. In Florida, photographer Ken Hayden promotes discounts for “quick payment.”
Regardless of the terms, photographers seem to agree that another key to getting their money is offering payment methods customers will use. PayPal is a favorite, along with others like Square, the credit-card processing service.
“Nothing like being paid instantly!” one Square fan raves.
There is plenty of help online with invoicing with companies like FreshBooks, Harvest, Blinksale, ShootQ and others. The FreshBooks website boasts, “You’ll actually enjoy invoicing!”
“I get paid sometimes when I completely forgot a client owed me money,” says Texan Jonathan L. Golden. “It’s great.”
A last area of consensus when it comes to getting paid is one very familiar to freelancers: vigilance.
Says Canadian photographer Paul Ritter: “Don’t procrastinate! I start post-processing as soon as I get home from a shoot.”
But it all starts with the invoice, a lesson Stijn Swinnen learned the hard way.
Four years ago, he says, he joined a cooperative photo exhibit in Belgium. One of his works was a large panorama of the city’s main square. The photo attracted the interest of a potential buyer, who wanted to display it in his downtown building. The sale never went though, and the work was damaged – accidentally, but beyond repair.
“They didn’t want to buy it or refund for the damages, so it was worthless for me,” he says.
“My mistake? We never set anything on paper.
“No agreement, endless discussion, no money for me.”
Next: Prodding the slow-paying client