The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Getting Paid
Let’s face it: Many of us freelance writers are strong on the writing side of the business, not-so-strong on the business/money side. I know that once you turn in an article, you want to move on to the next writing project — not get bogged down in paperwork. But if you want to get paid, you need to invoice your clients. Here’s how to do it.
Record it. As soon as you get an assignment, record the money details on a spreadsheet. If you do it right away, you won’t forget and then have to dig through old e-mails and contracts to reconstruct the information. I used to hand-write the details in a chart I created in Microsoft Word, but now I use an Excel spreadsheet created by my writing buddy Elaine Grant that adds everything up for me. The spreadsheet includes the name of the client, the assignment, the invoice number, the due date for the check, and the amount due. I also have a column for paid invoices, so when a client send me a check, I move the amount from the “owed” column to the “paid” column. That way, I can keep track of how much I made and how much I’m still owed. I also have a “notes” column so I can note, for example, if I followed up on an overdue invoice.
Do it now. When you finish an assignment, send the invoice along with or immediately after the article. If I don’t do this, I invariably forget and the editor reminds me a month later that they never received an invoice. Eek!
Pick a system. You’ll need a numbering system for your invoices, both so that you can keep track of them and so that accounts payable departments can reference the invoice number when they pay you. Some writers use the date plus a number indicating which invoice it is; for example, the second invoice sent on June 1, 2009 would be 060109-2.
Choose a format. You can create invoices a number of different ways, and as long as your client can open and read your invoice, it doesn’t really matter which you choose. I used to just copy and paste the invoice from Word directly into the e-mail body…it wasn’t too pretty, but it worked just fine. Now, I create my invoices using a Word invoice template and attach it to the e-mail to the editor. (I think the new way looks more professional, though it probably doesn’t matter in terms of how soon I get paid.) Want an easy invoice? I found a free Excel invoice template on Office-Kit.com. Searching for “free invoicing templates” on Google will also net you some good ones.
Get the details right. Your invoice should include:
- The invoice number.
- Your name, address, phone number, and e-mail address.
- The name of the magazine and editor.
- The date.
- The purchase order number if there is one.
- The terms of the invoice, such as Net 30. The contract you signed should spell out the terms you agreed to.
- The title of the assignment plus any details; for example, “Article on writers’ forums, 2,000 words.”
- The amount due for each assignment you’re invoicing for.
- The total amount due. I just read a tip that you should bold the total amount due to make it easier for the accounts payable person to find.
- A thank-you. My invoice says, “Thank you! It was a pleasure working with you.”
Follow up. How soon after the invoice due date you follow up is up to you, but I like to give it at least two weeks. I usually send an e-mail to my editor that says something like:
I was just going over my accounts receivable and noticed that I haven’t received a check for the article on Epic Accounting Fails; the check was due on May 1. Would you mind checking into this for me? Thanks so much!
If you follow these steps, you should have a simple system for tracking payments, sending invoices, and getting paid. I’d love to hear from other writers how they do it! [lf]