When you work for yourself, making sure you get paid is critical - nobody else is going to do it for you! But what happens when you run up against clients who take forever to pay? Here's 8 tips to help bloggers get paid faster.
It's a common cycle for bloggers who do sponsored work: You sign the contract, you do the work, you send the invoice and then... then you wait to get paid.
Sometimes the entire process from start to finish can take months. And when brands or agencies are slow to pay, it can be extremely frustrating. Why are they holding your money hostage when you completed your end of the bargain?
There are always going to be one or two situations in your career as a blogger or freelancer where you're really going to have to fight to get your money and there may even be a couple of times where you're going to have to take a loss and write it off as a bad debt.
But most of the time slow payment doesn't mean you won't get paid. And it's rarely done on purpose. And sometimes... believe it or not...sometimes you're the one holding the process up.
So let's talk about how you, as a blogger, can get paid faster and on time.
1. Understand How Your Client's Business Operates
You may be working with a small boutique PR agency on behalf of a small, niche client. Or a small agency with a really big client. Or a national agency with a wide range of clients. Or a multi-national agency with multi-national clients. Or you could be working directly with the brand, who could be a small local brand or a national brand or a multi-national brand.
Every single one of these situations is probably going to present a different payment scenario.
If you're in Canada, a large multi-national brand may not handle Accounts Payable in Canada. Your invoice could go to an office in the U.S. Some large multi-nationals don't even handle their own AP - they contract it out to an equally large third party company. It's not unusual for these companies to operate on a 45-90 day payment schedule (meaning your invoice will not get paid until at least 45 days after it's received).
Agencies may pay within 30 days. Unless they wait until their client pays them, in which case, their terms may also be quite long. Smaller boutique agencies may fire off a cheque or a direct deposit within days or even hours of receiving your bill. Or, they may not.
Your job, as a blogger, is to understand who will be paying you and what the terms are before you sign the contract or agree to do the work.
2. Get Payment Terms in Writing
As self-employed people, we like to think we get to dictate the terms of how people work with us. And we do... as long as we're willing to say no to a job when a potential client isn't willing to agree to to our terms.
How strong are you feeling today and how solid is your bank balance right now?
The reality is, a lot of us have a really hard time saying no to a project that pays well, is a good fit and that we think could lead to more work down the line. And so we say yes, even though we may not love that it's going to be a good 2-3 months after we wrap up till we get paid.
But it is up to you - it is 100% your responsibility - to make sure you understand when and how you will get paid.
One of the most important things you need to do in any brand negotiation is talk about payment terms. Get them spelled out in writing. Preferably in a contract but, failing that, at least in an email. A verbal agreement with the agency or brand is not good enough. And if you don't even ask the question then you have very little recourse if anything goes wrong.
If you don't like the payment terms presented, you have three options:
- counter-offer (more about that in a bit)
- accept and live with it
- say no and walk away
I would suggest doing number 1 first and if that doesn't work, go with either number 2 or 3. If going with #1 is successful make sure your contract or written agreement is updated.
3. Get the Correct Information Required to Submit Your Invoice
How many of you have issued an invoice only to have the due date pass and when you contact your client you get the "Oh you didn't include a P.O number/the correct company name/you sent it to the wrong person" excuse? And then you have to issue a brand new invoice and wait another 30/45/90 days?
This happens more than you think so when you agree to the payment terms in your project make sure you get all the information required to properly submit your invoice including:
- the Accounts Payable contact - including name, email and phone number (because sometimes you're going to have to pick up the phone when you're being ghosted by email)
- ask if you are required to submit a PO number (purchase order) with your invoice and then make sure you're given a PO number as quickly as possible - before starting work if you can. PO numbers are very common with larger agencies and brands
- the correct name to appear on the invoice (I've not been paid because I left the Inc. at the end of the company's name off the invoice)
- the correct format to submit your invoice
- find out how payment will be issued (cheque, e-transfer, PayPal, bank or wire transfer) and make sure you provide the correct information required for that transfer to be able to happen (email address, mailing address, your legal operating name, Swift Code and transit numbers)
NOTE: your legal operating name should also be the name on your bank account. Do not invoice using your blog name if you need the cheque to be made out to Jane Smith. This scenario happens a lot. Your bank can refuse the cheque if the name doesn't match the name on the account it's being deposited to.
PRO TIP: most accounts payable people will scan your invoice quickly - if they see Jane Smith's Great Food Blog at the top of the invoice, that's probably what they'll input into their system. Avoid the confusion and leave your blog name off the invoice or put it in a much smaller font under Jane Smith
4. If A Client Gives You Invoicing Instructions, Follow Them
With every blogger campaign that FBC manages for a brand client, we send detailed instructions on how bloggers should submit their invoices. Not once, not on one single campaign in 8 years, has everyone managed to follow those instructions.
It's one thing to miss information or submit your invoice incorrectly when you're missing instructions (which you shouldn't be because if you've done Step 3, you should have all the information!) but it's another thing to not follow instructions. Those client guidelines are provided to make sure you get paid as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Don't disregard them - you have no idea how that invoice is being processed, how many hands it needs to go through, what type of accounting system that client is using, etc. But they do - and they know what works most efficiently for them.
We waste a lot of time (which equals money) returning invoices to bloggers who haven't submitted correctly. In larger agencies and brand offices your invoice will simply go to the bottom of the pile until somebody has time to look into it - which may not even happen until you email to say it's overdue.
5. Invoice Promptly
Get your invoice in promptly - within 30 days of completing your work. Brands and agencies close projects off after a certain date and if you haven't submitted your invoice in that time, you run the risk of a significant delay in getting your cheque (or worse, not getting paid at all) because it's no longer a simple matter of just issuing a cheque. Additional approvals may be required to get your money released and the bigger the ship, the longer that can take.
It's not the agency's responsibility to follow up with you on your invoice. It's your responsibility as a business owner to invoice in a timely manner.
6. Invoice in An Appropriate File Format
Do not invoice in Word, Pages, Excel or Google docs. Invoices in these formats can easily be altered by anyone. Some Excel and Word templates actually change the dates in the document every time it's opened. So if you've put an issue date of Sept 10th in your invoice and the first person to open it opens it on Sept 15th, you've already delayed your due date by 5 days. If that invoice gets passed on to multiple people, the date will change every time it's opened.
PRO TIP: some bookkeepers and AP clerks may not actually look at your due date - they'll look at the date of issue and plug that in to their accounting software and let the system assign a due date based on the company's blanket payment terms. So if your date of issue is constantly being changed every time somebody opens your word or excel doc, you are inadvertently delaying your pay day!
7. Beware of Spam Filters!
If you use a software platform like Quickbooks or Freshbooks or any system that sends your invoices out for you, beware that those emails can often get caught in corporate spam filters. This happens to us frequently - both when we send invoices out and when we receive invoices. As much as these platforms make life easier for everyone, they can cause some frustrations.
Automated reminder emails often wind up getting caught in the same spam filters so sending out an automated reminder won't solve your problem if your emails are going straight to the junk folder.
If you're invoicing a new client for the first time through an automated email, check in with them shortly after sending it to ensure it was received. This is better than waiting till the invoice is overdue to find out that they didn't get it!
If they didn't get it or they later find it in their spam folder, add their name to a list of clients who you need to email directly with invoices. I have about half a dozen regular clients who I email invoices to directly to ensure they get them.
Corporate spam filters are also constantly evolving so if you notice a client who usually pays promptly is late, find out if they got the invoice or not and adjust your list if you need to.
Never be afraid to negotiate if something doesn't work for you. Sometimes you'll get a flat out 'no' but more often than not you'll get some form of compromise.
Long Dating Terms
More and more brands are extending their dating terms and their are a lot of reasons for this that are out of your control, and in some cases, theirs as well.
If you're a food blogger many of the big players in the grocery store industry have extended their payment terms and that has a trickle down effect. It means the brands get paid later by their biggest clients, they pay their suppliers (like their PR agencies) later and that means you get paid later. Unfortunately your small (to them, not to you) $1000 invoice is at the very bottom of a food chain that revolves around 6 figure product orders.
So, it's really important to understand the bigger picture and underlying factors in whichever industry you choose to work in because those things are going to impact you, and in many cases the people you're working for, and you'll have very little control over them.
But, if a brand has very long dating terms (over 45 days), ask if it's possible to invoice immediately, before the work is done. Most will agree and let you invoice as soon as they can get you a P.O. They know that if you don't complete the work, they can cancel your invoice long before it's actually due.
Ask For a Deposit or Staggered Payments
For long projects like ambassadorships and multi-post contracts, or very high value projects, you can request staggered payments. This if often very acceptable with most agencies and brands because it's easier on their cash flow as well. There are different ways you can do staggered payments:
- invoice monthly for work done during the month
- invoice in milestone payments - 50% at the half way point of the project and 50% at completion (or 30/30/30 or whatever makes sense for the project term)
- invoice after each deliverable (like after each blog post) is completed
Another option is to request a 10-50% deposit upon signing a contract. This strategy can be a bit tougher as you haven't actually done any work yet but in certain industries this is a completely acceptable practice. If you're a very sought after blogger with a busy sponsored content calendar you can position it as a way for a client to book space on your calendar - especially in the busy 4th quarter season.
What If You're Still Getting Late Payments?
You can do everything right and still struggle to get paid. There are times that, despite clearly outlined payment terms, your client is late. It happens.
Some companies - especially very large ones - only do cheque runs or payments once a week or once every other week. This is done to be efficient and avoid mistakes. It can be frustrating but it's not done intentionally to upset or inconvenience you.
Sometimes the cheque will be processed on Day 30 of 30 day terms but it may not hit the mail and arrive on your door step for a few days or even weeks.
Try to exercise a little patience. Give your client the benefit of the doubt for 3-5 business days and if you haven't received anything in that time, then reach out with a gentle reminder. Enclose a copy of the invoice with your email. If you have to follow up again, be a little more forceful and continue to be with each outreach. Don't hesitate to pick up the phone or ask to speak to a manager or supervisor. If you need some helpful scripts our Email Templates For Bloggers package might be useful for you!
And sometimes you wind up with a client who's bad news and getting paid is going to take all your might. You do have options here but they can often be expensive. If you're working with an agency, and you've made several attempts to collect payment to no avail, you can escalate by going directly to the brand (we don't recommend this except as a near last resort - corporate structures have a very strict hierarchy that you should attempt to navigate through first and brands hire agencies to manage marketing campaigns for a reason).
Failing that, you can also have a lawyer send your client a letter requesting payment, engage a collections agency or even take it as far as civil court. Sometimes, for small amounts, it's better to write it off as a bad debt. Ask your accountant what the best option is for your particular scenario.
But in most instances, just a few simple changes to your invoicing process along with making sure your contracts include clear payment terms and details can go a long way to making sure that paycheque lands in your mailbox or your bank account on time and in full!
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