It’s a sad fact of life for us creatives and freelancers. We love our work and would do it for free.

Unfortunately many of us do just that.

Whether our clients can smell our disregard for money, or our disorganization,or whether they’re just being smart and delaying until we ask, or whether perhaps they are as disorganized as we are, I see a lot of my creative friends doing a lot of work they aren’t getting paid for.

It used to happen to me a lot too.

Why does this happen, and what can we do about it?

We hate asking for money and chasing down our clients

I don’t know why I feel guilty when I need to ask a client to remit the 50% balance they owe me when the project is complete. And sometimes, I just forget. The good news is I have systems in place to make sure this doesn’t happen, and also put buffers between me and the client when it comes to make the ask. For those of us who don’t have personal assistants to make the “courtesy” call, Freshbooks has automatic reminders you can set to go out at the intervals you choose. Then you have the double benefit of the system being the “bad guy” and also not forgetting to collect.

We don’t have a single system and routine for collecting payments

Freshbooks offers painless invoicing I used to have checks piled up among my other mail until I could get around to going to the bank. Then some clients wanted to pay by Paypal, some by credit card and others by ACH transfer. It was a nightmare at tax time, and it was easy to lose track of who had paid and not. I wasted a lot of time trying to remember and track down payments. Freshbooks to the rescue again: my clients still all have their quirks and preferred way to pay me, but they all get invoiced through Freshbooks so on my end everything is organized in one place. If they mail a check I simply enter that info in manually on their online invoice, and use my Chase app to deposit the check in the bank. I don’t think I’ve set foot in the branch in months. And for clients who like Paypal, if I don’t need the money right away I set my invoice to accept Paypal Business Payments. Those take a few days to arrive, BUT I only pay a $0.50 flat fee for ANY size transaction. This alone saved me hundreds in fees when I had a $5000-a-month retainer with a Paypal-using client.  My CPA wonders if the real me was abducted by aliens and replaced with the new organized simulation.

We don’t show up like a serious business

When our clients see us being all loosey-goosey, it gives them permission to be the same in their dealings with us. when you’re mealy-mouthed about your pricing, unprofessional about deadlines, and careless in other ways, they don’t think it’s that big a deal to text you in the middle of the night,  “forget” to pay their invoice balance or to try to ask for a discount after the fact. So have some policies, systems and boundaries in place. And make sure everything they receive from you looks and feels “official”. I like how Freshbooks invoices look the the real deal and are branded with my company logo. You may be working in your pajamas, but your invoices shouldn’t telegraph that.

We don’t value our work

This is a deep enough topic for a whole blog post, so suffice it to say, creative people are notorious perfectionists and tend to discount our value. We charge too little and give too much. Without going into a whole therapy session about how to bolster your self-worth, try not making it about you. If your client has hired you, it’s because they DO see value in what you do. Think about what the value of your work will be to them. Will it help them get more business, improve their lives, or delight a customer? How much is that worth to them? Price your work according to that, not your own personal worth (which you are almost certainly underestimating) OR the time you are taking. Try not to charge hourly if at all possible. Would you want your dentist to charge for how long he took to pull your tooth?

And never, EVER, work for free, in return for “exposure.” This is code for “theft”. Make sure you get them to give you something of value to them, even if it’s not financial (a free ad in their publication, or a mailing to their list — something that would ordinarily cost money. )

We start work without a deposit (BIG MISTAKE)

I’m ashamed that it took me years and years to finally “get” this. But almost every time I’ve been stiffed, it’s been by people I knew, and trusted were “good for it”. They had a rush project, and so I just got started before getting any payment from them. Then, after I had spent the time, and usually given up a weekend, they would change their minds or delay the project. After this happened about a bajillion times, I set up a policy of 50% down before I write or draw line one, no exceptions. I’m sorry it took me so long to learn the lesson, because once i made this an ironclad policy, it was so easy to simply say, “That will be 50% to get started” to everyone. No drama, no guessing and hoping, no “I trust you”. Here again, Freshbooks makes it easy to add a request for a deposit of any amount to your invoice. Then, when the project is done, the client gets sent the same invoice again to remit the balance. It shows what they already paid.

There are lots of other things I love about Freshbooks: the ability to track your expenses and your time, for example (the timer is great for getting real about which activities and clients are the most time-consuming even if you don’t get paid by the hour)  and to generate the accounting reports my CPA loves and that I’ve never understood how to do myself.

But it’s the amazing and “painless” invoicing features that have transformed my business on a day-to-day basis.

Because, let’s face it: if you’re not getting paid, you’re not really in business!

You can try Freshbooks for free for 30 days here.