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The life of a freelancer offers significant perks—you have 100% control over which projects you take on, you set your own hours and rates, and you can typically work from anywhere.
But there are headaches as well, especially when it comes to
a.) Getting paid what you’re worth
b.) Getting paid on time
To be a successful freelancer, you have to manage client relationships, stay on top of invoice due dates, keep your project pipeline full, and generate consistent cash flow. Doing all this on top of the actual work you’re producing for clients is tough! One of the things that helped me level up my freelancing game was getting really good at writing emails.
Rule #1: Never underestimate the art of a clear, effective, personable (dare I say charming?) email. In my experience, email conversations with clients are a goldmine. They can help you learn what’s holding your business back, save time, and develop better processes.
1.) Identify recurring problems—Does it take too long for you to get paid? Are you encountering scope creep (hello, monster email thread with 49 replies)? Whatever is slowing your business down or creating friction within client relationships is likely already documented in your emails.
2.) Implement better responses going forward—Determine the outcome you want (fewer revisions, faster onboarding, higher paying clients, etc.) for your freelancing business and develop a comms strategy to get there. Start sending clearer, more effective emails to avoid encountering the same problems ad nauseam.
3.) Build automated workflows based on these conversations—Standardize processes based on successful client relationships and project experiences that you want to replicate. For example, if you’re worried about getting paid on time, make it a policy to always share invoicing terms at the top of your contract.
4.) Shift from tedious admin tasks to growing your business—When you implement better operating systems (e.g. standard invoicing and bill pay, client intake, or pricing methods), you can focus on revenue-generating activity.
To find the answers you seek, simply look inward (to your inbox.)
Need help getting started? I put together these templates based on six real-life scenarios from my career to show how you can successfully navigate some of the most common friction points for freelancers. (The stories you are about to hear are true—only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.)
74% of freelancers say that they have experienced nonpayment or late payment at some point in their careers. Use these templates to navigate tricky conversations and develop better habits when it comes to payments, timelines, and client relationships.
Getting ghosted sucks. But if it happens to you, it might not be for the reason you think—as internal teams shift, it’s easy for contractors and freelancers to get lost in the shuffle. Assuming positive intent will help you protect the client relationship.
If you get a heads-up that your point of contact will be leaving the company you’re working with, make sure to get a handoff before they depart. This can be as simple as sending a quick note like “Sorry to hear you’re leaving—it’s been such a pleasure working together! Will Daniel be managing this project for the remainder of my contract? If not, who should I plan to send the next round of deliverables to?”
If you simply stop hearing back or get an auto-reply with no useful info, try getting in touch with someone cc’d on past email threads or sending a message to the generic team email like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, you can do a little digging on LinkedIn to look for potential influential contacts, or email the billing department and request payment timeline updates as well as advice on who to contact about ongoing project details.
What to include:
Questions about money can feel hella awkward. In an ideal world, your client onboarding process will include your preferred payment terms/conditions as well as accepted payment methods upfront. You’ll share expectations about budget, scope of work, and pricing for any additional revisions (more on this below) before jumping into bed with a new client.
But we’ve all been in a scenario where things didn’t unfold exactly as planned—radio silence after asset delivery; multiple points of contact giving you different answers; being punted to the billing team. And you’re left wondering:
“When is my invoice getting paid?” 😣
“When will the money hit my account?” 😓
Fumbling questions about money can jeopardize your relationship with clients and undermine your business. Don’t come off as accusatory, stressed, or irritated even (especially!) if you feel some type of way. Make it about policy/process rather than personal need.
Pro tip: One effective way to do this is by reducing the amount of first-person pronouns in your message. Less “Where’s my money 😡” and more “See payment terms below 💅”
What to include:
One of the most significant differences between being a full-time salaried employee and a freelancer is consistent cash flow. As an employee, you’re getting paid like clockwork (usually every two weeks) but payment cadence can vary month to month for freelancers. That means it’s easy to find yourself in a tight spot financially.
Let’s say you misjudged your workload for this month—maybe a project you were counting on fell through and you haven’t been paid for the last job you completed. Uh-oh! Now you really need the cash from that outstanding invoice to pay your bills. Luckily there are ways to nudge client payment along (and strategies to prevent this scenario from happening in the future).
What to include:
A gentle reminder with a friendly note might be enough to push things along in your favor. If that doesn’t work, try being more proactive in future projects: for example, you can include late payment fees in your contract to incentive on-time payment, or even offer discounted rates for early payment.
Another strategy might be to leverage cash flow control tools like Hopscotch Flow which makes it possible to get paid before a client pays you—the service is completely private and there’s no credit check required.
Knowing how much to charge for your services and setting firm scope-of-work parameters are critical freelancing skills. But if you’re not in the habit of fielding questions about typical project deliverables and costs, it can get really uncomfortable really quick.
Use these templates to get better at clearly articulating the value you bring to the table upfront and defining what’s included in your agreement with clients.
You got connected with a potential client and you’re in the preliminary back-in-forth intros about their needs and your skills. So far, so good! You like the sound of the project, and you’re hitting it off with the client team. But before you get too excited, make sure your rates align with their budget.
Pro tip: If the scope of work is very clearly defined, it might be safe to estimate how many hours it will take you to complete and then use that number as a guideline for how much you charge overall. If the scope of work is loose, unclear, or seems like it might be subject to change over time, an hourly rate might be the best way to get paid fairly.
What to include:
Experienced freelancers know that scope creep is a special circle of hell. You hand off a polished final draft that meets the criteria of the original creative brief…only to hear back unexpectedly about “one more small tweak” or “a couple little updates”.
These kinds of one-off requests can easily snowball into hours of extra work that drive down your overall comp on a project. It can also sour your relationship with a client, or eat into finite business resources like attention, creative energy, and time that were designated for an upcoming project.
Here’s how to handle requests for additional revisions or rounds of iterative work.
What to include:
Having consistent clients can be a huge win for freelancers—you have a steady, reliable source of work; you get to know the team and the brand over time; and you develop a better sense of how to complete the work efficiently.
On the flip side, it can be challenging to grow revenue with clients who are used to paying a certain rate. If they locked you in at a lower price point, can you really expect them to pay more for the same services over time? The answer is most definitely yes. As you become more proficient and seasoned in your career, you acquire new skills and levels of expertise. When you bring more value to the table, your rates should reflect that.
What to include:
Keep in mind that raising your rates incrementally instead of all at once might help minimize sticker shock for clients. For example, you could increase prices by a small amount at the end of every year or when clients renew their contracts. This slow but steady rate adjustment may be more palatable to certain clients depending on their budget.
Want to get a copy of all these templates with helpful, bananagram style prompts that make it super easy to repurpose? Access (and create a copy) of my Notion file below!