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When Should I Invoice For Writing?

Ask Anne About Freelance WritingHi Anne,

I recently accepted an offer to do some writing for a new website on higher education that is run by a marketing company in Arizona. I live in New York and this is only the second long-distance online job I’ve accepted (the first ended in failure – an assignment for a new magazine for which I was never paid because the magazine went belly-up).

Anyway I turned in my first assignment. A week has passed and the folks at the marketing company have not responded to the assignment. I told them I would wait and see if they had any questions before I submitted an invoice. The person who hired me said she would let me know if they want any changes after the president of the company has read it.

How long do I wait before the president of the company gets around to reading it before I can submit an invoice? Should I just have submitted the invoice after I turned in the article and not said I would turn it in after they approve the article?

I did sign a contract with them but I don’t think it said at what point I should turn in the invoice.

If you have any advice on this, I would appreciate it.



Hi SP,

If it had been me, I would have submitted the invoice with the work, knowing I might have to send an additional invoice if I had to do some rewriting. Since you haven’t gotten any questions, I’d go ahead and submit the invoice now.

Each one of us has to be our own advocate – there’s no one else really. You have no idea how important what you wrote is to the president of the company.  There’s nothing unprofessional about asking to be paid. In fact, that’s the professional thing to do.

If you signed a contract you should have a copy. Read it now.  It may spell out how the invoicing and pay work. Chances are they are expecting to pay you 30 days or more after you present the invoice. That’s the sort of thing that you can negotiate up front… ask for 10 days, but you can only negotiate if you know what the contract actually says. Or, do as I do and ask for immediate pay.

Another approach is to estimate what the whole job will cost and ask for an advance. One third to one half isn’t at all unusual. I set my prices so that if all I get is the advance I won’t feel totally ripped off. That’s the way I now avoid not getting paid if a company goes belly up, which happens and has even without an economic downturn.

You might also want to read: How to Create an Invoice for Your Freelance Writing Clients and Invoicing For Freelance Writers and Editors.

Now, let’s ask others what they do:

When do you submit an invoice for your writing?

Got a question about freelance writing? Ask it in comments or send me an email with Q&A in the subject. I’ll probably answer it here.


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{ 20 comments… add one }
  • I’ve begun to send invoices to all clients, long-time and one-time, on the first of the month. It’s consistent, professional and it syncs with how they pay their bills. I also like to prepare a proposal that includes an estimate, and ask for half in advance.

    I like Ronda’s method (described in the comment before this) of keeping a file of hard copies of all invoices, and reviewing it weekly. I’m going to start doing that!

    Thanks for the great forum!

  • I always submit a quote at the get go, outlining how much a project is expected to cost, and ask for a deposit up front based on the total cost. This can be either 1/2 or 1/3. This way, if a client knows ahead of time they will need to make payments or will be unable to afford my services until a later time, they can let me know. Clients know that unless they make arrangements otherwise, the balance will be due upon completion of the work, when I submit an invoice. I log every invoice in an accounts receivable file, and place a hard copy of the invoice in a file. Every week, on Sunday, I go through my accounts receivable list and the hard copies and follow up with any that are more than 2 weeks overdue. So far I only had one person take 6 months to pay, everyone else has paid within 30 days, with most paying on receipt of the invoice.

    • Anne

      Yeah, there are lots and lots of good clients out there too.

  • Great thoughts. Thanks, ladies.
    .-= Sarah S.´s last blog ..Sponsors =-.

  • Sarah — another cautionary tale of why you should get 50% up front with new clients, especially small-biz ones!

    My procedure in these situations is I apply a 3% monthly late fee and send an updated bill. Often the news that the bill is becoming bigger over time will get a check right in the mail — usually they’ll ignore the upcharge and just pay off the original bill, but it at least gets the original amount owed coming your way.
    .-= Carol Tice´s last blog ..Blogging For Business Part II: How It’s Done =-.

    • Anne

      Late fees are an excellent idea… right along with half up front, or a third… something substantial. Thanks Carol

  • This brings up a great point. I love this conversation. I recently did some freelance work for a small local business. He was on a tight deadline for it, but I assured him I wanted him to be happy with it. I turned in one copy 36 hours before HIS deadline, asking him to let me know what other revisions, blah, blah, blah. I never heard from him. I invoiced him a week later. I invoiced him a month later. Should I chalk this up as lesson learned (I got -0- on advance) or continue to invoice in 30 day incrments?
    .-= Sarah S.´s last blog ..Sponsors =-.

    • Anne

      Sarah, if he’s local, go see him. Or call him. Or both. You deserve to be paid. I’d add a late fee like Carol suggests, and call him.

  • For regular, trusted clients I tend to wait until I know the client is happy with the work before I think about invoicing. I have several clients who raise quarterly purchase orders for a bunch of work and often I wait until the end of the quarter before I invoice. That means waiting a bit to get paid but it reduces the paperwork burden on my client (and my job is to make their lives easier). I’m lucky because nearly all my clients are big multinationals like HP or Microsoft and I know they’re good for the money.

    However, for new clients or one-off projects, I will send in an invoice with the work. Magazines are particularly bad at paying on time and I remember having to wait three or four months after publication to get paid. This is why I don’t do that work any more.

    This experience has left me with a strong compulsion to pay very promptly. I pay subcontractors, like my designer or proofreaders, the same day that I get their invoice. I get a lot more good karma and loyalty from them than I would ever earn back in interest by stiffing them with a late payment.
    .-= Matthew Stibbe´s last blog ..If the Onion wrote the history of programming languages… =-.

    • Anne

      Yes, Matthew… I tend to be a super prompt payer for subcontractors too. And yes, trusted clients get a little slack from me too… not too much, but some. I don’t work for magazines either any more… too bad really, and it was late pay for me too that colored (coloured) that decision.

  • I’ve been burned once and that’s all it took for me. I’ll ask for half up front and half later (if it’s a large project) or I’ll send an invoice when the work is completed. It’s important that clients know and understand your terms, especially when it comes to rewrites. Do you charge for rewrites? At what point do you charge for rewrites? Discuss the terms of payment before you begin a project.
    .-= Rebecca´s last blog ..Cure Writer’s Block by Paying Attention to Your Surroundings =-.

  • Lauri

    My work tends to be billed in thirds. I get 1/3 at contract signing; 1/3 at content delivery; and 1/3 when content is deemed satisfactory by the client. And I always submit invoices with each piece.

    Anne is right – there is nothing unprofessional about asking to be paid. In fact, it is the mark of a professional. Employers respect professionals and seek them out to work with above others – demonstrate you are one by not being afraid to talk $$.

    • Anne

      And asking for a third or whatever, a substantial amount, upfront is also professional.

  • I get 25-50% advance for new clients, and bill once a month for ongoing projects. Otherwise if it’s a single-article situation, I submit the bill when I turn in the first draft. Period. Otherwise I find I tend to forget, if get caught in that trap of “I’m waiting to see if you liked it…”

    I find many clients will go ahead and put that bill through for payment, even as you do rewrites, so it can result in payment arriving weeks earlier. And as this writer found out, often once you wait, you could be waiting a long time as there never seems to be a good time to say OK, now I’m billing it. Once you wait, the next opportunity may not be until final draft who knows how many weeks later. And sometimes clients go real dysfunctional and noncommunicative on you, and you can’t find out the status until it shows up in print.

    I generally try to attach the bill in the very same email with the first draft when I turn it in.

    Great topic!
    .-= Carol Tice´s last blog ..To Earn More, Writers Need to Recharge — Fast =-.

    • Anne

      Yep, that’s the way I do it too.

  • For clients with multiple articles per month, I invoice at the end of the month.

    For small jobs, I invoice when I turn in the work. It’s somewhat presumptive that the work is complete, but I figure if they’d like revisions (included in the price), they’ll just hold the check until the work is complete.
    .-= Brian´s last blog ..Why This Stock Is a Winner =-.

    • Anne

      Brian I don’t think it’s presumptive to bill when you turn in the work. I sometimes include in contract that the price includes x revisions, usually 2 or 3. That is another way to cover it.

      • My point was that I really shouldn’t be paid until the client is satisfied, which may include revisions that are part of the price.

        But, if you don’t bill when the work is turned in, you’ll end up either forgetting, or in a situation where you don’t know when to bill. Sometimes all you get from a client is a “Thanks!” and you don’t know if that means “Thanks for actually keeping your deadline.” or “Thanks, looks great, no revisions needed.”
        .-= Brian´s last blog ..Is Your CFO Sleeping Around? =-.

  • For a short project, I just send in an invoice along with the project. There are some situations that are different, of course. If I’m working on a big project, I may write into the contract that I’ll send invoices as each third (or other division) or the work is completed.
    .-= Thursday Bram´s last blog ..The Glamorous Life of a Freelance Writer =-.

  • I work primarily with Internet marketers, so my situation may be a little different. However, for new clients, I get paid before I do the work. For people I’ve worked with before I’m a little more flexible, and often don’t invoice until the project is approved. That said, I don’t think it’s out of line to submit an invoice with the work. That’s how B2B businesses operate in the offline world, so why should freelancing be any different?
    .-= Cindy Bidar´s last blog ..Ensuring CAN-SPAM Compliance in Your Email Marketing Campaign =-.

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