Freelancing brings freedom, but with that freedom comes challenges. If you’re a freelancer, independent contractor, or consultant, no doubt one of your biggest business challenges is getting paid promptly. In fact, a 2015 survey by Freelancer’s Union indicates that 71% of freelancers struggle with non-paying clients, and the average freelancer is owed over $6k each year.
Which industries aren’t getting paid? While construction and building tops the list, freelancers in creative fields such as marketing, communications, photography, and the visual arts follow close behind.
It doesn’t surprise me at all.
As a freelance business owner/marketing communications consultant, the realities of not being paid on time are all too real. Chasing late-paying clients isn’t just a pain; it puts your financial (and mental) health in jeopardy.
Getting to Know the Late-Payers
Not being paid on time comes in many forms. These are the three I come across most:
The net 30/45 client
This is a tricky one. Terms are terms after all, and a freelancer doesn’t have much leverage when it comes to persuading a larger client to change their payment terms just to suit you.
The difficult client
These take many forms. It could be a client who questions the quality of your work and refuses to pay, or the client who’s so inefficient and slow that they take forever to review your work, delaying your ability to invoice them and bank the money that’s owed to you.
The client who just needs a nudge
This is the client who perhaps forgot to process your invoice or hasn’t allocated a budget code to the project yet—delaying your payment. If you keep an eye on your past-due invoices, this one is easy to spot and quickly rectified with a quick email reminding them that the payment is due.
Now for the most part, I’ve been fortunate. Most of my late payments are as a result of “the client who just needs a nudge”. The other two are a bit trickier to deal with, although I came up with some strategies for avoiding and dealing with these late payers here and here.
Is There a Better Client Out There?
There’s another option that many creative freelancers overlook— diversifying your client base and adding agencies to the mix. I don’t mean staffing or placement agencies. I’m talking instead about marketing, advertising, PR, web development, and graphic design agencies.
In my own experience, offering my freelancing services and teaming up with these agencies has substantially stabilized my cash flow, perhaps more than any other steps I’ve taken. You can benefit too.
How Freelancing for Creative Agencies Can Help Your Cash Flow
For me, it all kind of happened by accident. Early in my freelancing career, I made a concerted effort to pursue marketing agencies as an avenue for more work. After all, agencies have a constant need for outsourced talent so that they can supplement their own resources and support peaks in workload. It was a strategy that worked. Not only did I get more work this way, I also found that agencies are extremely reliable when it comes to paying on time.
One big reason for this is that agencies have a large base of clients on retainer contracts, which equates to a stable and consistent source of revenue, making it easier for them to pay their vendors and freelancers on time. Furthermore, they value the talent that freelancers bring to the table and are less likely to jeopardize that relationship by being a tardy payer.
Agencies Also Expose You to Interesting Projects
Being paid on time is great, but having a relationship with an agency also brings other benefits. For example, my agency relationships provide me with exposure to big-name clients and interesting projects that I never would have sourced on my own.
And You’ll Feel Part of a Team Again
Another big win for me is being part of a larger virtual team. Working for yourself can be an isolating and lonely experience, but by teaming up with an agency, you can enjoy new work relationships, form new friends, and really feel part of a team again.
It’s All About Finding Balance
As any business owner knows, having a diverse client base is essential to success. While teaming up with an agency, whatever your industry, can have a positive influence on your finances and work life, keep pursuing direct clients of your own.
Think about all the experience you’ve gained with an agency and apply that to your direct clients (make it part of your pitch). Sure, you’ll still come across late payers, but with a mixed client base you’ll be in a much stronger position to weather the storm than you otherwise would.