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In a previous article, I talked about how to deal with unpaid/overdue invoices, but outstanding invoices are not technically late…yet. Outstanding invoices are unpaid but not quite late. As a business owner and guardian of the cash flow, you don’t want these outstanding invoices to become unpaid invoices, so let’s figure out how we can prevent that from happening.
An outstanding invoice is a cash flow issue waiting to happen, especially for freelancers. I’m going to write this article from the perspective of a web/graphic designer or web developer.
Set your invoice terms to have a shorter due date; I suggest net 0. The longer an invoice sits on the desk of your client the less likely they are to pay you. Outstanding invoices turn into overdue invoices and you don’t become a higher priority by allowing your client to slide by without communication (email or phone). The money is due right now, so use net 0 and get paid faster.
As a past consultant, I liked working hourly instead of project-based billing. But the only way I advise you to work hourly is by billing in advance. Get paid before you work, never work before you have the money. Example: You bill now for 40 hours, at hour 20 you bill again for 40 more hours.
We’re in an awesome industry where there’s a hard deliverable that clients pay for–files. This is one of the most important points, so listen up and repeat after me, “Never release files for a client project until you receive the final payment and the money has cleared.”
Okay, you’re not releasing files until you get paid, so let’s just invoice the client a week or two before the project will be complete. Oh and be clear to the client why you’re doing this: “I’m sending you an invoice for the final payment or final hours so I can release the files before the deadline and as we’re finishing up.”
So you have outstanding invoices and they are almost late, maybe a week before they’re due. What do you do?
Side tip: if you’ve sent the invoice and the client is unresponsive, it’s time to come up with a plan. Unresponsive clients are trying to duck paying an invoice.
In reality, it’s all about client management, which is about managing client’s expectations by seeing problems before they happen and predicting their concerns before they have them.
Don’t wait until outstanding invoices become late invoices. Switch to a net 0 system, communicate with your clients, and hold deliverable files until you’ve been paid. If you have a plan, you can address outstanding invoices before they become problems.