Chris Bibey wrote a great post recently about upfront payments for freelance writers. I commented there with some of my own views, and I wanted to share those comments here and get some of your thoughts on how you bill freelance writing projects.
I charge all of my new clients in full up front. Most of my repeat clients also pay up front, even for large contracts. It’s not common for me to make exceptions (oddly, only twice now I’ve been stiffed by a client, and in both cases they were long-term clients and not new ones, so I don’t really break them down in that way).
The only times where I don’t charge up front are generally where I either forget (it happens especially with repeat clients where I just get the details and start working, in which case I just send the invoice afterwards), or where it’s such a large project that I offer to break it down into two or three payments (but that would probably never happen for a contract under $1k or maybe even 2k depending on how well I knew the client).
I look at it this way - you pay for a new car up front; you pay for a new computer up front; you pay for your business flights up front; you can pay for your content or copy up front as well. While things are different with magazines, you know that before you choose to get into that area. With other freelancing, your rates and payment terms are completely your own to determine.
There’s nothing wrong with choosing to negotiate case-by-case, but no writer should ever feel pressured to do that (and frankly, it simplifies the admin side of things a lot when you’re a bit more consistent).
For me, specifically, my work can rarely be reused. You can’t get your time back once you’ve invested it into a project. Your client can file Paypal disputes, credit card disputes, etc. so they have options to protect themselves that you don’t. I can’t re-use a press release if a client doesn’t pay me for it. I can’t simply re-use marketing copy I wrote that’s specific to their website. If they want my time, they generally pay for it up front.
Other things to consider are:
- Your own experience - if you’ve spent years building up a reputation, you have far more flexibility in how you choose to bill your clients.
- The demand for your time - if you have the luxury of being able to be choosy in the work you take on, you also have the ability to keep stricter payment policies (because if someone doesn’t agree to them, you can turn down the project and take on another).
What do you think of billing clients in full upfront? How about billing just partially upfront? If you don't bill upfront, why not? Do you think your views would change if you were doing a different type of writing than you are (such as company-specific copy instead of general content that could be sold or used elsewhere)?