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I’ve yet to meet a freelancer who was paid on time, every time.

But whose fault is it? Is it the people or is it the system? Here are the most common culprits of late payments:

1. “The project still needs to be approved by the higher-ups.”

Often invoices can’t be paid until the project is approved -- and the approvals process can last weeks or more, which puts your invoice on hold. In this case, a late fee clause in your contract can mean the difference between your project wallowing away in the back office and reaching the top of a budget-conscious boss’s desk.

2. “I have nothing to do with that. I already submitted to accounting.”

The truth is that in difficult financial times, accounting departments are often advised by higher-ups to put freelancers on a ninety-day payment cycle, treating them like any account receivable. But unlike those other large vendors, freelancers don’t have the same cash flow cushion.

Finding someone to talk to in the accounting department will be invaluable. If that fails and you don’t want to work with this client again, consider going up the ladder and contacting a few directors or presidents.

3. “X person got fired, so things are pretty crazy here.”

Again, find someone in accounting or go up the chain of command. Make it clear to your new point-of-contact that it’s not right that their disorder should affect your finances.

4. “We only pay contractors once a quarter.”

This is sometimes the case with large institutions. You should know this from the start of the contract so that you can prepare in advance. If it’s a smaller organization, you may be able to negotiate on this when drawing up your contract.

5. “We went way off budget, so this is going to take some time.”

This is the time to suggest a payment plan. The truth is, you’re probably going to get shoved to the bottom of their pile (because you’re small), but if you negotiate to get at least a little at a time, you’re more likely to get paid.

So...how do I get paid?

Prevent (many but not all) problems before they start:

After a problem:

Freelancers, share your tips for getting paid. What works and what doesn’t?