Cash Flow 101 for Freelance Writers: Or, How to Never Feel Broke Again

Laptop cashHungry writers do terrible things.

We take gigs we know we shouldn’t, because we’re desperate and need the money. A few months later, we realize this dysfunctional low-payer is sucking up too much time and making us go broke even faster.

Worse, some writers end up having to give up and go crawling back to those day jobs we hate.

Why do so many writers report feast-and-famine cycles and times when they’re out of cash and scrambling for any sort of gig?

Two main reasons:

  1. Not enough marketing to get a steady stream of leads
  2. Lack of understanding of cash flow

What is cash flow? It’s the movement of money through your business. What you want is cash flowing out of your business slower than cash flows in. That leaves you with cash on hand.

When things go wrong, cash goes out too fast and comes in too slow, and presto — you’re broke.

Often, I meet writers who early quite well, but still have cash crises. They make enough, but the money never seems to show up fast enough to cover the bills! The timing is off.

With some careful management, you can improve your cash flow, even if you don’t get a raise or more clients.

Here is my primer on how to change your business so that your cupboard doesn’t get bare:

Earn more

I know, I just said you wouldn’t have to get a raise or new clients. But in fact, one of the easiest ways to have more cash is to get paid more. So if you can ramp up your marketing, do it. If you have clients you’ve worked for over a year and you have a good relationship, consider asking for a raise.

If you’re sloppy on some of the cash-flow management tips I give below, simply having more income will help keep you from running into a cash-flow problem. (I promise all the rest of these tips you can do no matter what your client situation.)

Charging appropriate, professional rates for your work instead of rock-bottom Craigslist-ad type rates is a quick route to growing your income. Replacing even one lower-paying gig with a better-paying one will improve the picture. And that will help you stave off Empty Bank Account Syndrome.

Spend less

Unless you are living off the grid in a yurt in rural Idaho or something along those lines, there are probably expenses you can cut. For instance, our family made the decision to go down to one car about two years back, even though we’ve had three drivers at home. It takes a decent bit of juggling and taking the bus, but the savings from not insuring and maintaining a second car have been well worth it.

We’ve also become fans of shopping Goodwill for kids’ clothes before we hit the retail stores. I saved $300 doing that recently compared with hitting Target first last fall.

I recently met a writer who informed me she has no home phone, Internet, or cable TV bill. She gets by using the library computers and her cell phone.

To cut expenses, take this challenge from Your Money or Your Life: Write down every cent you spend for three months. Analyze your spending patterns and see whether you feel you get a good value for each cost. If not, chop it.

Liquidate assets

Do you have a garage full of vintage movie posters, antique toys, or other valuable stuff? Hit eBay and create a savings account from what you make. I have friends who’ve taken this large scale in the downturn and have sold off boats and second homes to lower their nut.

Whether you take it large or small scale, getting rid of things you’re not using frees up space, saves on maintenance and storage costs, and give you cash to put in the bank. Speaking of which…

Save more

Once you grow your income, raise cash from selling off belongings, and/or learn to live on less, you should begin to have excess cash — money that doesn’t have to be spent immediately to pay bills. Don’t get all excited and go to Disneyland with it…at least not until you build up a six-month emergency fund.

If you have no cash cushion, it’s time to cut back on any dinners out and movies and trips and such until you’ve got one.

With money in the bank, your lean times become less of a cause for panic. You have money to tide you over.

Feels less scary already, hm?

Get paid faster

As the years went along in my freelance business, I became increasingly obsessed with asking prospects this question:

When will I be paid?

Too often, writers plunge in without a contract and only a dim idea of payment terms. Many writers make sure they know the rate of pay, but not necessarily when that money has to be forked over.

The fact is, if your contract (you have one, yes?) doesn’t say when you must be paid, then you don’t have to be paid, ever. The client could pay you five years from now and you couldn’t even sue them. This is the kind of stuff that causes major cash-flow trouble!

Moral of the story: Make sure you define payment terms, especially when the final payment is due. It’s easy to keep the checks coming while you’re in the middle of a big project, but often writers are fuzzy on what triggers the final payment.

I prefer “Final payment due within 14 days of turning in first draft if no changes needed or on acceptance of final draft, whichever comes sooner.” That locks it down so if you don’t hear a peep after you turn in your draft — possibly because the client hopes to delay their final payment — two weeks later your money is due.

If your client is a slow-paying magazine, it may be time to try to renegotiate your payment terms. For instance, I got one foot-dragger to switch from paying on publication to paying 50 percent when I turned in my first draft, which made the long wait for final payment easier.

Bill immediately

Many writers are confused about when to send clients a bill, or just feel nervous to hit ‘send’ on it. My answer? I send the bill right along with my first draft.

No, I do not wait to see if they like it. Or to find out if they want changes. My bill goes out immediately.

One reason I do that is I find I forget unless I do it right away! The other reason is to get into my client’s billing system as fast as possible.

At many companies, checks are only cut once or twice a month. Dither around a week or three waiting for an editor’s feedback, and you could easily find yourself waiting until next month’s check cycle. Where you might have had a check in two weeks, now that stretches to six or eight. It’s exactly these sort of delays that lead to a cash crunch.

Contact late payers immediately

After when to bill, the next awkward situation for many writers crops up when the check doesn’t arrive.

Try to keep in mind this is just business. You are running a business, and if people don’t pay you when they’re supposed to, you get into money trouble. So you have to collect on your bills.

I keep strict track of due dates and the day after a check was supposed to turn up, I’m on the phone or emailing the client.

Keep it calm and professional. A typical message from me:

Subject line: Checking on invoice #XXX due 00/00/13

Hi client —

I’m just checking in on my bill sent on X date. It was due yesterday, so wanted to make sure you received it.

Can you let me know when I can expect payment?

Thanks –Carol

Pay bills slower

Remember those old Paul Masson wine commercials? Here the motto is “Pay no bill before its time.”

If you’re having cash-flow problems, instead of paying bills twice a month, note the due date on each bill and don’t send it until the payment is needed. Yes, this can take up a bit more time as you may end up writing checks more often through the month. But meanwhile, the money stays in your pocket.

To extend this strategy further, there are some bills you can pay late without penalty. Utilities and cable bills often won’t penalize you, for instance, and house taxes can go a little late, too. If something must be paid late to keep a bank balance, delay the bills where you won’t be hit with a late fee or interest charges.

Avoid charges and take discounts

While we’re talking bills, some offer a discount if you pay it all up front. If so, you know what to do.

Other bills will ding you with a late fee or charge you interest if you’re slow. Make sure you get those bills to the top of the pile and take care of them first.

Personally, nothing burns me up like knowing I could have taken the family out to dinner, but instead paid a $30 late fee on a credit card and $20 of interest because my payment didn’t get there on time. Watch those credit-card due dates to keep more cash, and mail those puppies 10 days ahead of the date to make sure you aren’t charged — the mail is slow these days.

If you have a big bill that shows up at a time of the month when you often are low on cash, call the company and see if you can change your due date. Often, they’re happy to oblige, and you can smooth out a cash-flow dip with a single phone call.

For instance, here at Tice Hall we make split mortgage payments — half at the beginning and half in the middle of the month. That’s easier on cash flow than having to pay the whole amount at once.

Tracking cash-flow trends

If you’re having cash-flow problems, I strongly recommend tracking your cash flow. Where is money going? When is money coming in, and from where? In the rush of work and family life, it’s often all a blur and you lose track of where the money all goes.

Keep a profit-and-loss statement that records your cash on hand at the beginning of the month, income and expenditures, and cash at the end. After a few months, you’ll begin to see trends.

Ask yourself: Is cash increasing or slowly draining away? Is there one client whose consistent late payments are the main source of trouble?

You might also track hours for a month to see which clients is truly your lowest hourly rate. How many hours are you giving that client? Maybe it’s time to make a change.

Getting a raise from one low-payer, or finding one new client who pays more promptly can make a big difference.

The whole secret of how I built my income to six figures was consistently analyzing cash flow and adjusting accordingly. I dropped low and slow payers and replaced them with better and more prompt payers – simple as that — until I had the income I wanted.

How’s your cash flow? Leave a comment and share your tips for keeping more cash.

Freelance Business Bootcamp: How to Launch, Earn, and Grow into a Well-Paid Freelancer. By Carol Tice and Neil Tortorella

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57 comments on “Cash Flow 101 for Freelance Writers: Or, How to Never Feel Broke Again
  1. Nora King says:

    I realize it has been a while since anyone has contributed to this post, but I hope this does not matter…
    Re: use of the library, I would like to know how someone has made that work for them.
    I am currently trying to use my local college’s computers because my laptop is no longer functional. I can not afford to replace it right now. I am unemployed and otherwise unable to pay my bills.
    I am not yet established with copywriting and have no clients but have been trying hard to get my first clients.
    The primary thing I am having difficulty with is that the college’s computer system is very secure. I am unable to get through their firewall to send attachments like resumes, samples, etc… Although staff here have assisted me with this, it often does not work and, at the very least, consumes much of my time.
    The college is closed evenings and weekends and this severely cramps my productivity.
    HELP!

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  3. Holly says:

    On the “Bill Immediately” tip. So what happens when they do want to take you up on the 2nd or 3rd draft you allowed in your copy. Then you are asking the client to pay you before you finish the work?
    Holly recently posted…Dependable. Enthusiastic. Versatile.My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      If your contract builds in multiple drafts, you build in payment milestones around those. You want 50% up front or more, then maybe 25% when you turn in first draft or 15 and 10% on 2nd draft, and then 25% on final or 30 days after you turn in a draft, whichever is sooner.

      That’s a key clause for final payment because otherwise they may disappear or pop up 6 mos later wanting revision 3 and you’re still waiting to get paid.

      The general philosophy should be, you don’t wait to get paid. They can drag their heels on drafts and you’ll be happy to fulfill it and help them out whenever they get it together, but the check does not get delayed.

  4. You’ve touched upon three key issues for me–getting paid faster, billing immediately, and contacting late payers immediately. I’m a stickler for all of that. Or, so I tell myself. You’re right about hesitating to hit send, but really, there is no reason to. As you say, this is just business.

    Submitting the bill with the draft has the added advantage of knowing the client received the bill. There’s no chance of “Oh, gee, didn’t get that email. Resend?”

    I also encourage ACH transfer on the grounds that it’s better for the environment and easier for everyone around. A couple of clients have paid me that way and I love it.

    Finally, I try to find out when check-cutting cycles are. I have one client who pays on the 15th and 30th, and I know their internal deadline for making each cycle (usually about 5 days before).

    Nudging clients for money is my least favorite thing about freelancing. But hey, my rent, utilities, and other bills are due every 30 days, so I really don’t think net 30 to be unreasonable or that it’s too much to expect to have a check in my hands by the 30th day. This, as opposed to clients cutting a check on Day 30 so they can say they paid it on time, but not mailing it for three or four more days so that by the time it arrives, I deposit it, and it clears the bank, it’s Day 42 before I actually have the money. That, to me, is a major warning sign of trouble ahead. However, I *love* what you said about 14 days after the draft or upon final acceptance, whichever is sooner. I might have to switch to that!

  5. Lauren says:

    Forgive me, I am a newbie and trying to do my research before getting into the freelance game. I have a couple of questions:

    Many of those big companies who pay the big bucks pay by check but how does that work for those of us writers who aren’t living in the west? I live in Thailand and I don’t want to market to Thai magazines because I can’t write Thai. Are there big US companies who are willing to pay via paypal or should I give up the hope of marketing towards them?

    Also, when it comes to invoicing, do I need to register a business in the States in order to bill them?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Lauren — I’m not sure about the registration issue — maybe one of my expat readers will respond on that!

      But you can use Paypal or electronic funds transfer for payment cross-border…I’ve had Australian, UK, and Canadian clients and done that, and also taken out of country checks. Bank charges a fee, but they cash them. I certainly didn’t take out a license in their countries, so maybe that answers that question?

      I’ll share my secret for accepting Paypal for clients…I use Freshbooks for invoicing. You can read all about my great experiences with them on my Products I Love page — see the navigation bar up top.

      Freshbooks has a plan with Paypal called Business Payments, where if you invoice through Freshbooks you can elect to only pay $.50 per transaction of any size. I’ve saved a fortune that way, and it makes it easy to work with clients in other countries.

      It’s an increasing global business — feel free to look for clients anywhere.

  6. If you use credit cards, keep track of your expenditures by writing the amounts into your check book as you use them – at the point of sale! And deduct the amount from your bank total. That way when you receive the bill, you have the money and can pay right away. Sometimes store clerks think you are writing a check. I then explain what I am doing and why and they think it is neat. (If there’s a long line-up behind you, do it when you get home from the receipts).

  7. Joanie says:

    Like you, Carol, I try to always send my invoice with the draft, and do so in PDF form as an additional email attachment. Then, when they respond that they’ve received the draft, I know they’ve also received my invoice. And yes, I do reference both the draft and the invoice in the text of my email. That has eliminated editors later saying they didn’t get my invoice, and they can simply forward the electronic email along to the accounting department.

    One risk I see with getting too frugal regarding not having an internet connection is that always using public access service leaves your emails open to more risk. A lot of my client send “confidential” information, and their emails to me acknowledge that this material cannot be shared without permission. I don’t think any of these clients would like to know I’m sending and receive their data via a public service like the library or coffee shop. Just wanted to mention this, as it was something people might need to consider before taking such a step.
    Joanie recently posted…Be Ready for Your Writing Business–Always!My Profile

  8. Great article Carol! I especially like the advice on avoiding charges and taking discounts. My wife is a whiz with coupons and sniffs out grocery deals. Cash flow is extremely important in my house. I’ve been expanding my business to the higher paying markets, but I have a pair of regular clients that are a great source of comfort and support to me. It doesn’t matter to me that they pay a little less than others; they pay on time, every time. Very helpful when I’m trying to chase down the delinquents!
    Patrick icasas recently posted…Read This FirstMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      It’s amazing what a powerful factor being a prompt payer is in my own evaluation of whether to keep or get rid of clients, Patrick. As you found, often the cash flow benefits can outweigh a lower pay rate vs a client you have to expend hours beating the check out of with numerous follow-ups and it’s always 60 days late.

      I used to be heavy into coupons, but I’ve given up, because these days my husband does most of the shopping and he just won’t do the coupons! Forgets to take them, doesn’t collect them, doesn’t use them.

      I have friends who are extreme couponers and save a ton, and I’d love to get a focus on that. For now, we are definitely king of the sales we spot in the aisles, and of buy one get one free offers. When hubby gets home with six boxes of the same cereal, I know what happened. 😉

      • Diane S says:

        Carol, when you dump a client, do you tell them? Do you pass them onto friends who are looking for happier gigs and willing to deal with issues like that (someone still struggling to reach your level), or are they so bad you wouldn’t wish them on your worst competitor before you give them up? Thanks for any insights you’re willing to part with on this. (As the say, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.)

        • Carol Tice says:

          It would be pretty unprofessional if you stopped working for a client and never told them you weren’t going to do their work, Diane!

          I do sometimes refer them, unless they’re truly awful.

  9. Thanks for this post, Carol. As a freelance writer, cash flow is always on my mind. Here are a few things that have helped me get a handle on my finances:

    1. In my contract, I state the exact payment terms, including getting a 50% (non-refundable) deposit before I start working on the project.

    2. I use FreshBooks to invoice my clients. You can set up recurring billing. It will also automatically send out notices for late payments. Clients can also pay with PayPal or other payment gateways. Other programs like Harvest and PaySimple do the same thing.

    3. When I start a new project, I create all the invoices at one time. Then they are ready to be sent out once the project is done.

    The most important this is to get paid!

    • Carol Tice says:

      I like how you think, Clara — and I didn’t know Freshbooks had that automatic feature for late payments! I have Freshbooks so I’m definitely checking that out…

  10. Great article Carol – really covers all the bases.

    I just wanted to reinforce what I consider to be the most important, and in many ways the easiest point… I teach and tell every freelancer that the key to surviving is submitting their invoices as soon as they can. Their success – and to your point, their cash flow – depends on this single, simple act.

    After 40 years I never start a new engagement without a discussion of not just the fee but the actual process that must be followed to get paid and the terms. People who are new to freelancing, or have never been in business for themselves, often do not realize how structured – and how unique – the Accounts Payable (A/P) process is. Or that terms vary from company to company and often can be negotiated.

    If you want to get paid on a timely basis, it is essential that you take the time to learn what each A/P department wants on their invoice. I am talking about specifics like project names and PO numbers.

    If you want to be able to submit your invoice at the first possible opportunity, you need to be relentless about getting this information from your client. I know of many cases where payments have been delayed for weeks and even months because one piece of information is missing. (Even though your client approved and submitted it.)

    Along these lines, find out if each client needs a W-9 and make sure to get it to them sooner then later. Some clients will give you a vendor ID#, if they do make sure to include it on your invoices.

    • Carol Tice says:

      So true Christopher — I have training sheets from several of my clients on the niggly things they need on invoices. If you don’t write the headline of your blog post on the invoice, or your editor’s name, or submit it on one of the first three days of the month, you don’t get paid ’til next time.

    • Diane S says:

      I need to hear more about this. Has any of you written about this somewhere?

  11. LindaH says:

    This is perfect timing, Carol. I learned to hate money when I was young and fully recall thinking, “I’m going to spend it as fast as I get it then I won’t have to deal with it.” It became a very bad habit and try my best it just took hold. But my dad recognized more than me that I just never made enough money.

    I do many of your suggestions. Goodwill and thrift stores are frequented. I have one vehicle (I’m single, but know several single people with multiple cars). I cut luxuries — got rid of TV and never miss it. And I write down everything I spend, which alarmed me at how much the bad habit still exists–I nickel and dime myself to death.

    This week, I hired a bill paying service to handle the bills so I can focus on marketing and working. It’s already proved itself valuable. It’s an added expense yes, but the less stress syndrome makes me think clearer. Plus, it keeps me in check. I’ve wanted to do this for years and now I can afford to.

    Great post. These are great tips for everyone. Thanks for posting!
    LindaH recently posted…What Do You Say When an Interviewer Asks — Why Should I Hire You?My Profile

    • Diane S says:

      Linda,
      I’m fascinated that you outsourced bill paying. Since I pay online, I’ve minimized my involvement but I have heard of outsourcing mail and other tasks and am not sure how to go about finding someone you can trust with access to your most precious commodity (cash in this case). I suppose every business that grows reaches this point, but at the small business level at which most of us work, this is akin to hiring an accountant or lawyer, but one which lives in our back pocket and doesn’t make enough money from all their clients to ensure that this is their career. Walking out on the job makes a bigger difference then.
      Further than this, I’m fascinated by your work with helping those who are unemployed. I would love to do something in my area, as it’s a hard-hit area. Do you have suggestions on getting started?

  12. Nida Sea says:

    I’m really loving these posts! They really inspire and prevent me from breaking down and running back to those God forsaken content mills! Every now and again, especially when clients get slow, I get tempted to go back and do some grunt work.

    This 101 does bring up some very good points and provide important tips. A few things, like cutting costs and expenses, I’ve already done. We live on a farm, so we grow our own vegetables and herbs (which is great since I switched to vegetarian six months ago), and we have chickens and goats. Essentially, we’re pretty set for food, as it were, so that saves us money there. It also saves us gas by not having to go to the grocery store often (we live a half hour from any town).

    But, posts like this and others I’ve seen from The Renegade Writer, also provide a reality check. If you’re not ready to do freelancing, then don’t do it. I’d rather be in a full-time job than stressing and complaining (and begging for any work!) about how freelancing doesn’t work. It’s just not worth the headache.

    Great post as always, Carol!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Thanks Nida — that’s cool that you can grow so much! Unfortunately, our acreage is pretty shady. Trying some peas and beans and hoping the deer don’t eat them…and we do have quite a few herbs. My kids would love to get chickens but we have serious raccoon problems in my neighborhood!

      The underlying thing here is…you’re running a business. Which is different from a job, because pay is variable. So you have to be a better money-manager than an employee if you want this to work, especially if you don’t have a steady or substantial freelance income yet.

  13. Amandah says:

    Cash flow is great when you attract quality clients who pay on time. Like Carol said, have a contract and send your bill with your first draft. Of course, you could require half or a third of the fee up front.

    To save money, I don’t have a land line and split the costs of cable and internet service. Although, I wish I could choose the cable stations I want to watch. This is why Hulu and Netflix are gaining momentum. You get to pick and choose what you want to watch.

    I rarely eat out because I live in an area that doesn’t offer too much in the area of vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free restaurants. I save money by cooking my own meals. 🙂

    I’d love to shop at Goodwill for clothes, but the stores near me carry clothing for petite to average height women.
    Amandah recently posted…Three Easy Ways to Gain and Lose Likes on FacebookMy Profile

  14. Another fantastically helpful post.

    My day to day strategies parallel your suggestions –

    My family owns one car.
    The Goodwill is our friend.
    When needed, we cut out luxuries.

    Thank you!

    Best,
    Heather

    • Carol Tice says:

      I think the biggest cost we crack down on around here is food. If you start eating out regularly and buying gourmet stuff at the market and have a family of five like we do, the monthly cost can be easily more than the mortgage! We’ve gone through phases where we could slash that by upwards of $500.

      And all these cuts DO add up and make a difference. A lot of us crave more work/life balance, and lower expenses mean you can work fewer hours, so it’s really worth going through the exercise of analyzing how you spend your money to identify places where you feel you don’t get a lot of enjoyment from expenditures and could do without.

      • You’re so right about food costs! I can relate!

        Sometimes just learning how to do something myself saves money.

        After trial and error, my family now regularly makes our own pizza dough and tortillas.

        Luckily, my family lives in rural area where vegetables and fruit are abundant.
        In just a couple of weeks a couple of families in my neighborhood are going to plant a “community” garden.

        I’m getting hungry…

  15. Hi, Carol.

    Surely, you are reading my mail.

    I am currently struggling with the late payment issue, and I literally just copied and pasted your “collections” email and sent it to my customer.

    My quoting process is very formalized: I have clear payment terms, a list of assumptions, and I require my clients to either sign the quote/contract or send me an email confirming terms and go-ahead.

    You’d think I’d be guaranteed payment immediately, but still no checkie in the mail :-0

    Thanks for the added comments, since I have been wondering if other writers do graduated invoicing–I am going to implement 50% on first draft and 50% on final or something like that.

    Thanks to all for their feedback!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hopefully we’ve given you some useful collection tips here!

      I even know solopreneurs who hire a collection agency to do these followup calls, or enlist a friend. If you’re bad at it and put it off, it can be better to offer someone a fee to handle it. It also keeps you from personally getting into a confrontation with a client.

      And I am a BIG fan of payment milestones. When you break the payment into pieces, then you’re waiting for a smaller amount that’s late. 😉

  16. Coco says:

    Nice article.

    I have an ongoing job with a client that I had a doozy of a time trying to get an answer from as to when I would be getting paid. I jumped through one hoop after another- a phone call here, a new form to fill out there, another e-mail to another person, etc. It was as though they’d never worked with a contractor or freelancer before, but, as a state industry, they most definitely had. I didn’t have any trouble billing immediately and my contract was very clear, but it was as though they were going to sit on my checks until I spoke up. I wonder what would have happened had I said nothing?!

    At first, I was looking for a payment of $150 and I felt like that raised eyebrows since it was “only $150” and why would I be so desperate for that? But then it escalated to over $2400 before some money started coming in. Now that I somehow got that ball rolling, I can count on being paid on time, but with new clients from now on, I’m going to ask “When will I be paid?” as soon as the contract is signed!

    Like I’m a volunteer or something… Sheez Louise.
    Coco recently posted…It’s True- The Gays Have An Agenda And They’re Taking Over EverythingMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      It’s true, Coco — there are some clients where it seems like their accounting department will never do anything until they get that third email from you. I know writers who skip asking their editor and go straight to corporate and get faster results that way.

      What you describe is so typical. We’re out a small amount that’s late and we think, “So what?” and then the next thing you know it’s added up to thousands, the mortgage is due, and the cupboard is bare.

      You don’t want to ask after you sign the contract, Coco — you want the payment terms IN the contract! That way you can send a copy over to show why you’re getting in touch, because their payment is now contractually due.

      • Coco says:

        Thanks for your response, Carol.

        The payment terms for this client are in the contract. But still, when I said, weeks into the gig, “So,… where’s my money?” there was all of a sudden this scramble to get a work order to the editor for the editor to then get to billing, then a phone call about a “contractor’s form” that I didn’t know existed until I started looking for my payment, and on and on.

        Could I have made something more clear? I thought that the payment terms in the contract that both the editor and I signed would be adequate, but no?
        Coco recently posted…It’s True- The Gays Have An Agenda And They’re Taking Over EverythingMy Profile

        • Carol Tice says:

          Maybe not…but you can stop working when payments don’t arrive when they’re supposed to. Just. Stop. Working.

          Let them know work will resume as soon as payment is received.

          With big clients, it can pay to ask, “What is your invoicing procedure?” which might then turn up the hidden need for forms. Big clients often have some silly hoops you have to jump through, as you discovered.

  17. Kristen says:

    Was this strategically timed for right after all your freelancing readers have (presumably) made our tax payments?

    I’ve always been pretty frugal and good at saving – which comes hugely in handy in this business.

    One trick I have: never buy something the first time I see it and want it. If a week later it still seems like something I need and worth the cost, then I know it’s probably worth going for.

    Of course, this doesn’t work as well with food and drink costs when out networking and socializing as it does with items like clothes, books, courses, etc. It still manages to save me some money, and seriously cuts down on the kind of purchases I’d regret making later.
    Kristen recently posted…Introduction to Content Marketing for Small Businesses: An Austin Copywriter White PaperMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Great tip, Kristen!

      I hadn’t thought of the tax connection but it IS that time of year when we all wonder…where did all the money GO? Why are we broke?

      And since we’ve all got our tax forms in front of us, it’s a great time to look at net income, divide by 12, and realize that’s what we have coming in for a typical month. How can we live on less than that, build savings, and avoid cash-flow stress?

      I made more last year than ever by a substantial margin, and I would like to know where that extra money has gone (besides to pay all my Den helpers!). Think it’s time to get back to doing that expense-tracking…

  18. Willi Morris says:

    Since the hubby is working full time, we’ve done a couple things: cable customer service sucked, so we cut it. My husband is an avid gamer but we are getting a lot of games as gifts and (sadly) will not be playing WoW online. We have shifted to the trading card game, which is much less expensive. We may also be playing the online trading card game, which I believe will not be as expensive.

    Our daily date nights usually are cold cut sandwiches, fries and Netflix! But we’ve come to enjoy them so much, even though we are in a better financial position, we love it. I never thought we would ever be able to cut back dining out but we have done it!

    Since my biggest freelance client assigns months in advance, I’ve tried to get a couple of close ones back to back. But since I have only written two things for them, and they are backed by the largest paper in the state, I don’t think I can change payment terms. I do need to send my invoice now! Thanks for the reminder! I will start sending it after the first draft as there was an issue with my first payment that made it two months late! (Your 6-8 week time frame is sadly true!! Especially for that first check.)

    My other clients, my contract is 50% before turning in first draft and 50% on completion. This is the same for my virtual assistant/admin consulting clients as well as my blogging client.

    Great post as always, Carol!
    Willi Morris recently posted…Quickie: When It’s Okay To Write For Free…My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Sounds like you negotiated some good terms, Willi!

      When we first moved to Seattle and our finances were very tight, we eliminated cable and used rabbit ears…for years. And have gone through long stretches dedicated to ZERO eating out.

      Only just recently has an actual date night where we go out to dinner and a movie returned, and we are loving it! And we still have many nights where we just crank up On Demand and watch something at home for $5.

      Willi, don’t know if you were around back when I did this post, but sending a bill is one of the most important activities for freelance writers. If you have completed work and haven’t billed, stop what you’re doing right now and send that invoice! So many times the clock starts ticking to payment from that ‘send’ date, so get it going. 😉

  19. Heidi Thorne says:

    An interesting take on Earn More to ask for a raise from current happy clients. Often, clients believe that because they’ve been with you for a while, they deserve a discount.

    I’ve been working on this issue myself since some of my long-standing clients have other perks such as cell phone access, rush job handling, etc. that I wouldn’t accept from new ones.

    We’ve got to remember this is our job (as awful as that sounds). Why shouldn’t we get a raise?
    Heidi Thorne recently posted…Will We Need Mobile Phone Numbers in the Future?My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yikes, Heidi! I’m never giving existing clients lower rates and always looking for raises. Rates only go one direction in my world — up.

      As I work for a client, I get to know their business better and become more valuable to them as a result. That means I should be paid more. That’s my view on it.

      Can’t wait to see you at SOBCon!

  20. Great tips, Carol!

    I know one of the things that’s been important for me while freelancing was looking for a balance of one-off projects and ongoing work. As an example, if I have a contract to write two blog posts per week for a company, I know that I’ll have some stable income to base my monthly budget on – rather than seeing huge fluctuations from one month to the next.

    It’s also so, so important to stay on top of invoicing and remind clients when bills are due. I used to sit around thinking, “Well, I don’t want to bother so-and-so with another email…” but the reality is that people are busy. Most of the time, clients aren’t sitting around looking for ways to screw you over – they just forget to handle your payment alongside all the other items on their to do lists.

    Thanks for sharing this!
    Sarah Russell recently posted…Don’t Wait for the Job You Want – Create It!My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I actually have one payment from a very prominent print market that’s now about 90 days overdue.

      I have to say I didn’t stay on them as much as I could because it wasn’t a huge amount and I wasn’t having cash flow problems. So I didn’t take my own advice here!

      But it took 3 polite reminders to finally get them to say, “Oh, we see we didn’t submit this invoice properly…and we have now and so the payment is finally on its way.”

      What writers need to realize is this. is. business. No client cares if you can pay your bills! It’s your job to get the money in the door.

      It’s not the most pleasant part of having a solopreneur business, but if you want to not go broke, you have to be responsible for checking up on slow payers and herding those payments in the door.

      And I’m with you on paid blogging gigs…for a while there I had about $3K a month of that coming in routinely from a stable of business sites I blogged for, and it is really a help to start the month with a big chunk of revenue already booked that you can count on.

      I really should have added “get ongoing contracts” to the tips here, because they make such a big difference to your cash flow.

  21. Great topic, Carol!

    Living below your means is great advice but I think there’s also a danger of being too frugal. I don’t have a landline phone so I mainly use Google Voice and my cell phone, but having to go to the library to use internet would be a major productivity killer for me. Even though the library is just down the street from me, it’s not always open when I’d need internet, and I consider my internet bill to be well worth the cost for the convenience it offers me.

    In addition to defining payment terms, I try to avoid “pay on publication” contracts because payment can drag on indefinitely. I’ve even had challenges with “pay on acceptance” contracts on occasion because some editors take months to “accept” an article. If it’s not timely, it can keep getting pushed to the bottom of their editing queue.

    It’s easy enough to invoice for a flat fee, but how do you handle invoicing for articles that pay by the edited word? In most cases, the editor is not going to forward my invoice to accounts payable until she’s finished editing the piece and sent me a final word count, so I find that those assignments can get stuck in limbo for an extended period of time, even if I invoice with my submitted word count right away.
    Susan Johnston recently posted…10 Highlights from #BUNarrativeMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Susan —

      You’ve got a whole bunch of cash-flow challenges nicely summed up here! These sort of struggles with publications are why nearly every high-earning freelancer I know also has some business clients in their stable. They pay more reliably and help smooth out the bumps on waiting for that final wordcount so you can bill (and I’ve had one client who was doing that myself, where I had to keep checking back to grab a final wordcount so I could send the invoice).

    • peachfront says:

      Yeah, the writer who supposedly doesn’t have internet etc. at home to save money is probably losing thousands of dollars a year in work. But then I find it almost impossible to believe that such a person is a real working writer at all. Maybe if they had a name instead of “someone I recently met said.” But nah…even then I don’t believe it.

  22. Another reason it’s a scary step to come off the content mills – they pay on time! (Well, Textbroker does.) Cashflow is one of my concerns as a new freelancer because I’ve never been great with money. And the idea of checks is even scarier – how many clients still pay that way? I wrote my first check in years because my internet banking was having problems, and then I was biting my nails for days waiting for it to clear.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Quite a few still do Lindsay, especially if you have corporate clients.

      Right now my scoreboard for my main, ongoing clients is 1 client paying on Paypal, one on direct bank transfer, and one sending checks.

      And yes, cash flow is exactly where content mills rope everybody in. That’s their big sales point — we pay you at the end of the week on Paypal! Aren’t we wonderful…we’re going to pay you $15, but it will come so promptly!

      And writers who cannot master cash flow can never escape this to work with clients who might take 30 days to send a check, which could be for $2,000…but they still can’t wait.

      • Lindsay Scheerer says:

        Ha, that’s true! It’s all part of the deadly content mill cycle. It all feeds into the need to have money in the bank before you start seriously trying to freelance so you can afford to wait for the lucrative payments. 🙂

2 Pings/Trackbacks for "Cash Flow 101 for Freelance Writers: Or, How to Never Feel Broke Again"
  1. […] Tice of Make a Living Writing.com writes an enlightening post about ways for freelance writers to avoid feast or […]

  2. […] to push myself to the max) that discussed money management. If you missed it you can check it out here. She discussed a lot of great points and I was able to take a few things from it that can help me […]