How freelancers can save themselves from pay defaults

Documentation is key to getting paid as a freelancer

In Summary

• Many are finding out that getting paid is just as hard as finding work in the first place

A freelancer is paid after invoicing
A freelancer is paid after invoicing

Freelancing is becoming quite the norm in a world where regular jobs are hard to come by. With the number of job seekers far exceeding the number of available jobs, freelancing will be a permanent way of life for most professionals.

Freelancers are individuals who sell their services and get paid per job, per hour or day. Photographers, for example, get paid per event or for each photo the client accepts. Graphic designers get paid for each project. Programmers get paid for software successfully handed over to a client.

Freelancers do not get regular salaries. Their contracts are rarely exclusive and, as such, they are free to work for as many clients as they can handle. Some organisations refer to freelancers as 'independent contractors'.

Lots of people fantasise about the freedom that comes with freelancing as compared to regular employment, where one has to show up at a specific place of work almost every day. However, the disadvantage of freelancing, especially for new entrants, is that it's hard to get enough clients to keep one occupied full-time.

Even worse is that some clients exploit freelancers by creating excuses so as not to pay. Many freelancers are finding out that getting paid is just as hard as finding work in the first place. How, then, can freelancers reasonably protect themselves from unscrupulous clients?

1. Do a background check: The Harvard Business Review recommends conducting due diligence on prospective clients before making a commitment to work for them. Ask other freelancers about their experience with that client. Do an online search to find out if there are complaints from contractors and ex-employees about that client.

2. Get your papers in order: Job Ogweno, a marketing professional, learnt the importance of paperwork the hard way. After servicing a client purely on trust for over a year, problems emerged when Ogweno pursued payment. The client baulked, stating there was neither a contract with Ogweno nor supporting documents to justify payment. "One thing has vividly been cemented in my mind," Ogweno advises. "There is actually no business without a quotation, a consequent invoice, a subsequent payment and a receipt."

A contract is signed
A contract is signed

3. Invoicing: Flexjobs, a service that connects freelancers with clients, says freelancers sometimes don't get paid because they fail to invoice the client or they do not provide adequate details on how payment should be done. Find out your client's payment schedule and submit invoices on time. Keep a record of invoices so you can track which ones are paid and which are still pending. An invoice should briefly describe what you're billing the client for and show the amount due, when it is due, and how the client should pay you.

4. Milestone payments: A milestone is a stage in the development of something. Milestone payments mean the freelancer receives an instalment at each stage of the project. The final instalment is paid when the client is satisfied that the project is complete. This type of agreement is ideal for lengthy projects because the freelancer gets an income while the project is in progress.

WATCH: The latest videos from the Star