Late Payment: What I’ve Learnt from 80,000 Freelancers

late payment

This is a guest article from John at Zervant, who make online invoicing software designed to help freelancers and sole traders avoid late payment and get paid for the work they do.

In this post I’d like to share with you my list of the top four resources you can use to tackle late payment.

It’s based on my own research, combined with the insight I’ve gained from working with our users (to date over 80,000 of them). I hope you’re able pick up some great new tips and tools.

The list is by no means exhaustive, so if you think I’ve missed anything essential please do let me know in the comments section below!      

Resource 1 – A Quality Invoice Template

A quality invoice template is a crucial first step when it comes to late payment.

Where’s the best place to find one?

I know I’m biased, but I’ve actually made a free invoice template myself. It comes in both Word and Excel, and is specifically for sole traders (it’s been downloaded over 7,000 times). Other great templates, in different designs and colour schemes, are available here.

Remember that whatever template you go for, it should definitely include the following:

  • All relevant contact information (both yours and your clients).
  • Payment terms, the due date, and your bank details (all clearly visible).
  • Products/ services being invoiced (along with a detailed description of these).
  • Any additional information required by your client eg. a purchase order number.

Resource 2 – Blog Posts and Articles on Late Payment

Reading about what other people in a similar situation have done is always a good source of information. Though when it comes to late payment the number of articles out there is, quite frankly, a little overwhelming.

Not  to worry!! I’ve trawled through a fair chunk of them, and made a shortlist of what I think are the best ones:

  • Katý Cowan (founding editor of Creative Boom) has a great 9 step guide on how freelancers can prevent late payment. It covers all the basics, and is a great intro on the subject. WikiHow’s post also covers all the essentials.
  • Freelance Fees Guide has a handy “General Advice” section covering issues on late payment, and industry relevant information for different types of freelancers.
  • If you’re feeling a bit frustrated or annoyed by a late paying client then it’s time to watch Mike Monteiro’s presentation. It’s a 40 minute presentation on late payment in the world of freelancing, packed with advice and inspiration (as well as the odd four word expletive).
  • If you’re after fresher data I suggest creating Google alerts for phrases such as “late payment uk” and “freelancer late payment”. That way you can get regular updates on what is going on. There are new statistics and reports published almost daily!

Resource 3 – Freelancer Forums

As well as specific posts dealing with late payment there’s a whole host of knowledge to be gained from online forums, where you get advice “straight from the horse’s mouth”. Here’s a few I recommend taking a look at:

  • UKBF (UK Business Forums). Plenty of threads on the issue of late payment. Most are found under the “Legal” section in the “Running a Business” category. You can also use the search bar to look for a specific term. Worth checking often as new contributions are added on a regular basis.
  • Freelance UK. Same as UKBF but more niche and relevant to freelancers. Simply type “late payment” in the search bar for relevant results. Last I checked there were around four pages worth of information.

Resource 4 – Legal Advice

Sounding out where you stand from a legal perspective on late payment is vital. Offending clients often try to play on a freelancer’s lack of legal knowledge. Here’s a few good (and crucially, free!) resources to get you started:

  • Lovetts have a good introductory article on claiming late payment interest and compensation. They explain the ins and outs of the Late Payment of Commercial Debts Act.
  • The Government has a good section on its site covering some of the legal basics.
  • The Law Donut explains in a clear and concise manner how much interest you can charge.
  • Rocket Lawyer have a comprehensive free tools section, including late payment letter templates and letters before action. They’re all free to download!

And there you have it. That’s my list of the top four resources for tackling late payment when freelancing. I certainly hope you found it useful. Feel free to add any thoughts or comments below. And by all means send me an email (john.hills@zervant.com) or a tweet (@zervant). I look forward to hearing from you.

Freelance Contracts: How to create client contracts the right way (and a contract creation tool to help you)

freelance contracts

Freelancing can be a risky business.

Much of the relationship between you and your client will come down to trust. But one practical way you can make things crystal clear up-front is signing a robust freelance contract.

Having a contract in place is not an absolute guarantee that there will be no disputes down the line, but it is a useful way of setting out key terms so that both parties have a clear understanding of the job in hand and an incentive not to misbehave.

Contracts come in various shapes and sizes, from agile two-page contracts to 15-page tomes with all the legal bells and whistles attached.

If you are on a freelance job for a large client, the client may produce their standard contract for you to sign.

Smaller clients will often ask you to produce your own contract or simply rely on trust.

Either way, you should ensure that you enter into a contract each time that protects your rights, reduces risk and helps you keep your sanity.

Here are a few key clauses that you could include in a contract and some tips on how to get them right in negotiations:

Scope of work

It is really important for both freelancer and client to be as clear as possible about the job in question.

This can help prevent ‘scope creep’, which is that familiar experience of clients asking you to go beyond what was asked of you without extra payment.

Perhaps more importantly, it helps to build a positive working relationship.

The scope of work will be included either in the contract or in a separate scope of work appended to it.

Deadlines and deliverables

Be upfront about the timeline.

Is there a final deadline to work to?

Will you need any revisions – if so, how many?

What are the deliverables and when are they due?

One particularly effective way of structuring your work is through a milestone-based system.

Think about setting out what the key stages in the job are likely to be and list actionable goals and the dates by which you hope to achieve those goals. 

The more concrete you can be here, the better.  

 

Want to go freelance but not sure how? Take my 7-day course on going freelance, delivered free straight to your inbox.

Nature of role

Clients are often careful to ensure that the relationship they have with you is one of client and freelancer, rather than employer and employee. 

This is for a very good reason. 

The law around what constitutes a relationship of employment are complex but, if it turns out that you are actually in practice an employee, there can be adverse financial implications for the client (e.g. they need to pay national insurance contributions).  

As a result, there will usually be some wording in a contract to try to cover the client. 

Freelancers sometimes worry about this, but it is a fairly standard inclusion.

Intellectual property

One question that your clients should be thinking about is ‘who owns what?’.

In most cases, the client will insist on owning all intellectual property in assets created under the contract.

That essentially means that they will be the legal owner of the logo, code, marketing plan or whatever you produce on the job. 

This is understandable.  

However, it is useful to ensure in the contract that you can at least show any assets/artwork created in your own portfolio for marketing purposes. 

Sometimes, you may want to own the intellectual property jointly. 

This can be complex and may require legal advice to get right.

Payments

Payments are fertile territory for disputes, with freelancers often being paid late or not at all.

Generally, payments are structured on a fixed fee or a day rate basis.  

Fixed fees are typically structured as 50% up front and 50% on completion of the job, but can also be structured according to milestones as per the above.

Think about what you will charge if the client goes over and above the scope of work or the number of days they asked you to work. 

Make sure also that you are clear in the contract about exactly when you will be billing, when you expect to be paid and what the penalties will be for late payment.

Disputes

What happens if the client does not like what you have produced?

What happens if the client pays you late?

Many freelancer contracts are disputed in one way or another although very few get to court.

If you have the foresight to include an alternative dispute resolution procedure, you can save yourself a headache down the line.

You could, for example, contract that any disputes should go to an independent third party mediator, rather than having to go to Court and incurring the expense of legal representation.

Confidentiality

Clients often make a big thing about confidentiality, sometimes understandably

Often they will ask you to sign a confidentiality (or non-disclosure) agreement. 

If they do not have an NDA for you to sign but ask for confidentiality provisions in the freelance contract, you need to be careful to ensure that what they are asking for is reasonable. 

One thing in particular to avoid is ‘non-compete’ clauses.

These are paragraphs that will try to restrict you from working for the client’s competitors.

There is some doubt as to whether these clauses are enforceable under English law, but either way you should push back on anything like this that could lead to you not being able to work with other clients (and earn money!).

Terminating the freelance contract

One question that should be on your mind when drafting a contract is ‘what happens if things don’t work out?’.

Imagine, for example, if you were on a three-month contract for a fixed fee of £3k.

If after month two, the client decided to terminate (end) the contract, you would presumably want to be paid something. 

Make sure in the contract that you are compensated in some way if this happens.

A common method is to be paid for time worked – so in the example you would get £2,000.

Both freelancers and clients should want some ability to terminate the contract.

It is important to ensure that you make clients give you some notice of this. Freelancing is hard enough without suddenly having your cashflow turned off.  

Contracts may seem like yet another piece of admin to do, but they can really help you out when things get tough.

Producing your own contract can also boost trust between you and your clients, which could in turn lead to repeat business or referrals.

Talk to a lawyer if you need to but there is a wealth of resources out there to help you with contracts and save you some cash.

One tool I find really useful is Juro, which offers freelance contracts and e-signing. Juro is free to use and creates simple-yet-robust contracts, which are nicely designed and cover the main points.

Clients seem to like the e-signing too!

Want to get more advice on how to be a happier, confident and successful freelancer? Get tips and ideas delivered straight to your inbox:

 

2015 Year in Review

Travel Selfie by Seth Eckert

 

As a freelancer and small business owner, I find it vitally important to take a regular step back and look at what I’ve been working on for the past year, to help shape the year ahead.

I’ve had my head so buried in work in recent months that it’s taken the Christmas break for me to come up for air and look back at what’s been achieved in 2015.

These annual reviews are more for me than for you, but some of the thoughts / lessons here might be useful for you as well.

This is my second year doing an annual review post. You can read the previous year here.

Other reviews of 2015 I’ve enjoyed reading at include Nathan Barry, Stephen Waddington and Neil Perkins.

Highlights

Blogging

Here are the main stats for this blog in 2015 compared to 2014:

  • Number of published posts:
    • 2014: 100
    • 2015: 115
  • Total Views:
    • 2014: 43,171
    • 2015: 123,654
  • Comments:
    • 2014: 252
    • 2015: 748

The second half of the 2014 was the most time I’ve ever spent consistently blogging, racking up around 30 posts at over 1,000 words each in a 6 month period. The end goal in mind was to pull those blog posts together into an ebook, which turned out as Freelance in 30 Days. This meant that a lot of 2015’s traffic come from 2014’s work.

2015 itself was a slow year for me blogging wise. I published just 15 posts of varying quality, with only 2 of them making my top 10 most viewed posts for this year (see below for a summary). However, I tripled the traffic to my site in 2015 and now get over 13,000 views comfortable in any given month, with little input on my part.

I’ve also generated quite a few new business leads through this blog, so well worth picking up the blogging more in 2016 to drive even more.

I saw a big jump in views around June 2015, which may or may not have been down to a Google algorithm update, I don’t know.

benrmatthews blogging figures 2015

Top Posts

1. Freelance Consultant Rates: How To Work Out Your Hourly, Daily or Project Rate

Views: 29,765

Word Count: 2,634

I predicted that this post would be well read for the next year at least and I was right – jumping to the number 1 position in 2015 from number 5 in 2014.

 

2. Japan on a Budget for 2 Weeks

Views: 21,723

Word Count: 1,756

My most read post of 2014 has also been well read in 2015. The post definitely reaches its target audience – people who want to know how to travel to Japan on a budget from someone who has already done the same trip. Adding “2 weeks” into the title also helped, as it seems that’s how long many people go for – perhaps 1 week is too short if you’re travelling all that way, but more than 2 weeks in Japan makes it too expensive to stay longer?

 

3. Freelance Statistics 2015: The Freelance Economy in Numbers

Views: 10,306

Word Count: 827

A shorter post, but with good content sourced from multiple sources. This post has become a go-to for anyone looking for up to date stats on the freelancer economy, so I may well update this post for 2016 as well. Not to mention the likes of Mashable have been linking through to this post as well.

 

4. How to Become a Freelance Consultant

Views: 6,564

Word Count: 2,294

This was my first long-form post and the foundation for Freelance in 30 Days. Loads of great comments from freelancers I know as well, so worth a look.

 

5. Where To Find London Tech Events, Meetups and Hack Days

Views: 4,298

Word Count: 658 words

A post from 2013, but still a useful one.

 

And the best of the rest:

6. Suggestions for When That Perfect Domain Name or Twitter Username is Taken (Views: 2,421)

7. Free 7 day freelance course (Views: 2,269)

8. 29 essential freelance tools you need to be a productive freelancer (Views: 2,232)

9. Find freelance work online with these freelancer job sites (Views: 2,145)

10. 28 tips from freelance job sites that you can use to be a successful freelancer (Views: 1,889)

Travel

2014 was a big year in travel for me, with trips to:

  • Berlin (Germany)
  • Seville (Spain)
  • San Francisco (US) to pitch at Y Combinator
  • Tokyo and Kumamoto (Japan)
  • New Delhi (India)
  • Amsterdam (Holland)

2015 was just as good for travel, with trips to:

  • Lisbon (Portugal)
  • Havana (Cuba)
  • Istanbul (Turkey)
  • Copenhagen (Denmark)
  • Geneva (Switzerland)
  • Barcelona (Spain)

Most of these were a mix of work and pleasure, where we were still on call for client work but just happened to be working from a different country. Thank you AirBnb, Skype, Google and other companies that helped make this happen!

I’m planning to write an extensive post on how I’m balancing travel with freelancing, taking into account all of these above trips to give real life examples of how we did it.

Reading

A good year for reading, with the below being my favourite books from the year, in no particular order:

  • A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara
  • The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
  • Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel
  • The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton
  • Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
  • Walden, Henry David Thoreau
  • A Tale For the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki
  • The Guest Cat, Takashi Hiraide
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
  • The Good Terrorist, Doris Lessing
  • Freedom, Jonathan Franzen

Currently Reading:

  • Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
  • City On Fire, Garth Risk Hallberg
  • Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman

Work

This has been a very productive year for work and looks set to continue for 2016.

Montfort continues to grow, with a brilliant set of clients that we’ve really enjoyed working with, including UNHCR, The Wildlife Trusts, RSPCA, Reader’s Digest, Harper Collins, 10:10 and many more.

We were shortlisted for Best Use of Twitter at the Social Buzz Awards, following our work with British Future on the #WalkTogether campaign.

Montfort also became a Recommended Agency on the Recommended Agencies Register.  It’s particularly exciting for Montfort to be awarded this, as it means we’ve been highly rated by our clients for the great work we do for them – a good sign for anyone who might be looking at working with us.

We’ve worked with some excellent partner agencies, including Ruder Finn, The Romans and GOOD Agency, all of whom have been fantastic to work with.

We’ve expanded our service offering to include WordPress website design and digital transformation, with our first projects in these areas seeing great results and more clients lined up for early 2016 in both of these areas already.

The Montfort team has also grown, with a larger network of freelancers working under our name. If you like the look of Montfort and want to find out more about working with us, head over to the Mates With Montfort page for details of the kind of people we’re looking for.

I joined the PRCA’s Independent Consultants group as its youngest member, also speaking at a recent event about 10 Digital Trends for Freelancers.

Lastly, I came runner up on the IPSE Freelancer of the Year Awards 2015. Need to write up a post about the award, so that’s one blog post for next year.

Plans for 2016

I’m planning to write more about my plans for 2016, but to summarise:

  • See more of friends and family
  • Continue to take great care of our fantastic Montfort clients
  • Get back into blogging by publishing at least 30 longer posts
  • Evolve the Freelance in 30 Days book to include additional material and resources
  • Build the internal PR tool I’ve been working on and make it client facing
  • Improve how Montfort works with freelancers to establish this way of working
  • Keep on travelling to new places

All of that sounds achievable, right?

How was 2015 for you? What are your plans for the year ahead?

Here’s to a fantastic 2016!

5 Reasons Freelancers Love The Way They Work

freelancer love

People choose to take the leap into the world of freelancing for many reasons – choosing your own hours, being your own boss, operating in new locations, and having the opportunity to earn and keep all your profit being just a few.

When IPSE released their latest research to coincide with National Freelancers Day, the annual event celebrating the UK’s 1.9 million people who make the brave step to work as independent professionals, I thought it was worth pulling out the most important reasons from the research that freelancers choose to work in this way.

1. Being your own boss

79% of people work as a freelancer because they like to be in control of their own work. As a freelancer, you don’t have to answer to anyone but your customers and yourself. Working for this way frees you from the employee mind-set as you can choose the people that you work with. And making the tough decisions is your responsibility: Freelancing is effectively like being in charge of your own business, except you are the business, you are in control.

2. A better work/life balance

69% of freelancers choose to work this way because it provides them with a better work/life balance. As a freelancer, you choose how you want to work, whether this working from home or on the move. You’re no longer constrained to a nine to five office environment. Finding the way you work best can be a real boost to productivity.

3. Flexible Hours

61% of freelancers work this way to gain greater control of their work hours. When you’re a freelancer, you choose how, where and when you work. Greater flexibility means that if you want to work at home you can, or if you need time off for a holiday or to just take a break, you can do that. Freelancers can work during their most creative and dynamic hours, and that doesn’t have to mean regular business hours.

4. Keeping the profits

59% of freelancers are motivated by the opportunity to keep their profits, maximising their earning potential. As a freelancer, you get to work at your own skill level, where you can allocate or keep all the profits from the work you do. This provides freelancers with the freedom to then use that money to save for their future and secure their finances.

5. We choose to freelance

Freelancers are sometimes cast as a vulnerable group, but IPSE’s research found only two per cent are actively looking to make the switch to becoming an employee. And only one in ten responded that they turned to freelancing because they had no other option.

It’s clear the vast majority of freelancers prefer and enjoy this way of working. Not only that, but IPSE’s research has also shown the growth in the number of freelancers has come in professional and highly skilled sectors.

Overall, freelancers just love the way and would encourage anyone else to do it.

Isn’t it about time you went freelance?

 

Freelancer of the Year Finalist

freelancer of the year

I’ve been shortlisted by the nice people at IPSE as a Freelancer of the Year finalist in their Freelancer Awards. This is mainly for my work at Montfort, but also for other initiatives like Freelance in 30 Days. It’s a lovely surprise.

The other 2015 finalists are:

I love learning about how other freelancers run their businesses, so it’s been interesting to look at the stories behind and how they’re setup. I’m looking forward to meeting the other finalists in real life, as ‘ useful when freelancers get together and share insight on what is and isn’t working for them.

There are also some fantastic examples of younger freelancers going it alone at a relatively early stage in their professional careers. I’ve had several conversations recently about the rise of freelancing as a choice among people leaving university in the UK, which I’ll expose in a later post, but for now it’s well worth checking out – and supporting! – the shortlisted young finalists:

The results of the award will be announced as part of the celebrations around National Freelancer Day on 12th November. I’ll be sure to let you know how I got on then.

As part of the award judging process, I was interviewed by the IPSE team about my journey as a freelancer so far, as well as what I love about freelancing and my thoughts on the future of freelancing and self employment.

I’ve copied the interview below so you can share in my thoughts. I’d love to know what you think in the comments.

IPSE Freelancer Awards 2015: Interview with Ben Matthews

Describe your business

Working along with my wife, we run a digital agency, Montfort, which runs digital, social and contenting marketing campaigns for some of the biggest and brands in the world. We offer senior strategic counsel and honest independent advice to the biggest brands around the world.

Together we work with the likes of the UN Refugee Agency, The Guardian and Harper Collins, bringing in a wide range of trusted freelancers (AKA Mates of Montfort) to work alongside us.

What is your greatest business achievement?

I was recently appointed as the youngest member to the panel of Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA), which represents the interests of PRCA members operating as independent consultants. I’ll be working alongside people ten years my senior, a daunting but rewarding prospect.

For Montfort, I’d have to say one of most recent campaigns, for the Twitter hashtag #WalkTogether. A wide group of organisations, co-ordinated by British Future, were looking to engage the people of London and across the UK on social media in a public commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the 7/7 bombings. Montfort were asked to manage key social media channels on 6 and 7 July, engaging with supporters of the #WalkTogether campaign, encouraging people to take more photos, retweets, favourites and likes. The results were outstanding. For a small team, we were able to have #WalkTogether trend worldwide for the day.

What made you want to work for yourself?

I felt like I was stuck in a rut and wasn’t stretching myself enough as an employee. I initially hadn’t considered freelancing until I met with a former colleague who had taken the jump years previously, and told me how much more joy it brings to his work life balance.

Taking the leap into freelancing after having a steady job was probably one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve ever done. But I survived (and thrived!) and haven’t looked back since.

Why is self-employment so important?

The freedom and opportunity to create new projects is particularly exciting, especially as it hasn’t been readily available in my industry until now. It’s made it an exciting time to be a freelancer.

Get more details about the IPSE Freelancer Awards at ipseawards.co.uk