Freelance graphic designers, writers, web designers, and entrepreneurs all know that it can be tricky to get a paycheck each month from clients — especially if you’re just starting out.

It can be scary starting your own business, and you want clients to like you. However, if you want to run a successful business and get paid each month, you’ll need to buckle down and become an expert in a few things:

  • learn how to create a perfect contract
  • Set up a payment schedule
  • Recurring invoice
  • Build a reputation.

 Note: By no means is this legal advice. Before structuring a company, it is best to consult with an attorney if you deem it necessary.

Discuss the Terms Beforehand with Your Client

When you offer goods and services outside of the traditional norm, it can be difficult to land on specific terms for your transaction with a client. First things first, always write up a contract. Never rely on spoken word contracts to be held up, even if it’s for a friend. If you’re doing substantial work that takes time out of your work schedule, then you deserve to be paid for your time and expertise

What Should Be Included in My Contract?

Sit down and make a list of all the facets of your agreement that are important to you.

This contract should include several aspects of your relationship with the client. First, be confident in the service you’re providing and the price you are charging, “I’m providing X service that costs X amount each month (or hour or biweekly)”. If you’re not sure how much you should charge, then I would suggest starting at square one and do some market research to determine your experience versus what others charge.

Next, you’ll want to include a length of contract. Is this a month to month arrangement where they can cancel at any time or is it a 6 month contract?

Your client will need to clearly understand what will happen if they choose to terminate this contract early. You should still get paid for the amount of work you’ve put in thus far.

In addition, you’ll need to include what happens if they pay late or don’t pay at all. Set a specific day each month that they need to send you a payment and stick to it.

You may decide to charge them a flat fee or possibly a percentage each day they are late. That’s completely up to you.

Get Your Contract Looked at By a Professional & Stick By Your Terms

Those are the main points of a very basic contract, but you may also want to include other things like a deposit on your services for new clients or other rewards and discounts for being a long time client.

Do your research on what a professional contract in your field should look like and it’s always a good idea to get it checked out by an expert before you start sending it to clients.

Lastly, your clients are going to ask you to change your terms. You need to know when to bend and when to say no (in a respectful manner). If someone wants a discount on their services just because they want to challenge how much your time is worth, say no.

You have researched the market, you know your level of expertise, and your price is firm. If you are able to let your client pick their date, don’t let them change it. If they are going to be late they need to abide by the terms of your late fee agreement. Sadly, if a client thinks they can take advantage of you, they just might.

Set Up a Payment Schedule

Your contract should include an exact date that your client needs to pay you according to their schedule laid out in the agreement. When meeting with your client to discuss this part of the contract, be a little bit lenient on the particular day your client pays depending on their schedule, if possible.

I understand that bills happen and sometimes you need the money at a particular time each month. For occasions like this, I would strongly suggest building up enough savings to cover any costs that simply cannot wait. This way, you can let your client pick the day that they pay. Remember, they have bills too and will greatly appreciate you working with their preferences.

Reward Those Who Pay Early

If you have the financial means to do so, reward  your client for early payment. It doesn’t have to be a huge discount, but even just a small percentage could provide enough incentive to get you the payment a little bit early each month.

If you’re not sure where to start, maybe try it out with your most loyal client(s) first. Let them know that you want to start a new incentive program that will give them a discount if they pay early each month and that it’s completely optional.

Learn How to Send Organized Invoices & Reminders

Your payment schedule should also include a monthly invoice that clearly details the work you performed, exactly how much they paid, and the dates they paid for. Try to get this to them as quickly as possible. It shows organization as well as professionalism when you are able to get them their bill at the same time each month, and far before the bill is actually due.

It also doesn’t hurt to send payment reminders. Let your client know that you will send a reminder, via their preferred method of contact, on X day each month before they are due. This is a great time to remind them that you sent their invoice, just in case they didn’t get it the first time.

Build Up a Reputation

When you are firm and direct, but also attentive and thoughtful, your clients will notice. Make yourself and your work known online. Use all the resources at your disposal. Create strictly work related pages, like LinkedIn, but also create a website for you to show off your work (in a professional manner).

The best way would be to create a website that features all of your work and past client comments and recommendations, but I know that can be expensive.

Make a Portfolio

If you’re just starting out, maybe think about a Facebook page or Twitter account where you can post links and pictures to the work you’re doing. Again, I highly suggest to keep these strictly to your professional portfolio and nothing else.

You can make your own accounts for friends and family, but keep those professional as well. Clients will dig around to find any and all information about you and if they find anything online that is less than appealing, they will take their business elsewhere.

Offer Discounts for Recommendations

One of the best ways to get more business, and repeat business, is to offer discounts. I wouldn’t suggest spamming potential clients on your Facebook or Twitter account or via email. That will only discredit your professionalism and possibly make you look desperate.

Instead, only let clients or potential clients (who contact you) know about the discount or post it on your website under an appropriate section. Think about offering a percentage or dollar amount off services for the person who recommended the new client and for the new client as well.

Choosing to work for yourself means that you have a lot of responsibilities to your client. If you’re thinking about starting your own freelancing business or other type of self-employment, stay organized. Keep files of everything. Set reminders, appointments, and due dates to keep you on track. Most importantly, if you keep your client happy, you’ll get paid on time.