This is a sponsored post from FreshBooks, cloud-based accounting software that makes invoicing and accounting painless for millions of small business owners.

A 2015 Freelancers Union study noted that 71% of freelancers have trouble getting paid at some point in their career. Worse still, among those freelancers, 81% were paid late and 34% were completely ghosted.

We’re not just talking pennies here. The average amount of unpaid income reported in 2014 was $5,968. That’s a significant blow to any freelancer’s budget.

When your clients don’t pay, you waste valuable time chasing down payments. This can lead to trouble meeting your own financial obligations and may even necessitate legal action. While having a contract protects you, there are easier proactive steps you can take.

Request a deposit up front

Along with a signed contract, request a deposit payment—especially for first-time clients. You may be hesitant to ask for a deposit for fear of irritating your new client, but it’s important to make it known that if you’re not paid, you don’t work.

There are other additional benefits to requesting a deposit:

  • The client becomes invested in the project: Having put money on the table, they’ll be more attentive and deadline-oriented.
  • A deposit provides working capital for any purchases or subcontracting the project might entail, and keeps your cash flow healthy.

Invoice promptly and often

The shorter the time frame between doing the work and getting paid, the better. When, and how often, you invoice will depend on the type of work you do and the type of clients you have.

For smaller jobs, you might send an invoice as soon as the work is done. For larger contract clients, billing once a month might work better. Just remember that the sooner you invoice, the sooner you’ll have money in your bank account.

Clearly specify the due date on your invoices; don’t default to Net-30 if you want to be paid right away. And have a system in place for following up on all invoices as soon as they are due. With the right accounting software, you can even automate a follow-up email (perfect for those who hate those awkward money conversations).

Make it easy for your clients to pay you

Next, make it easy for clients to pay you. Some freelancers and small business owners decline to accept credit cards to avoid paying high credit card transaction fees.

But it’s 2018, after all! Most clients expect the ease and convenience of paying online rather than mailing checks. This is especially true for long-distance and international clients.

Look for an invoicing solution that connects with payment gateways like Stripe, WePay, or Paypal.

Charge late payment fees

Always state your payment terms on your invoice, including your policy on late payments. Besides encouraging clients to pay, a late payment fee is a good idea for other reasons:

  • If you don’t include a late fee policy, the perception may be that a client who doesn’t pay on time can repeat this behavior.
  • Odds are that if that client isn’t paying you on time, they’re doing the same to other contractors. But if you have stricter payment policies, they’ll move your invoice to the top of the pile.

Say "Thank you"

Never underestimate the difference good manners can make: A FreshBooks study found that when it comes to invoice payment terms, being polite really matters.

A simple “please pay your invoice within” or “thank you for your business” can increase the percentage of invoices that are paid by more than 5 percent! That could easily equate to thousands of dollars per year.

What to do when a client still doesn't pay you

Your contract should include a clause explaining what will happen if the client doesn’t pay. Will you send them to a collection agency or take them to small claims court? Having those measures documented prevents disagreements down the road and can protect you.

Sometimes, sending a simple demand letter is enough to get a deadbeat client’s attention. The Freelancers Union offers a free sample collection letter and nonpayment resources page. If you’re based in New York City, the #FreelanceIsntFree law protects you even further from nonpayment.