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Money is a great thing.
It pays for the roof over your head as well as fun stuff like reading a magazine while sipping a margarita by the pool.
Professional payment procedures are the beating heart of your business. When they’re in good health, so is your business.
When your payment systems are furry, gunked up and in a right fucking mess, then your business is at risk of a heart attack and going tits up.
I don’t want that to happen to you. It’s a lot easier than you may feel to have great professional payment procedures.
This is a 2500 word article packed full of help and support, so grab your notebook and a cup of tea and bookmark for reference.
Are you ready?
You Need A Bank Account
First up, you need a bank account.
You can accept money from a Paypal button without having a bank account, so if you are waiting for the bank to open your account, you don’t need to wait to be paid.
When you’re a limited company you need a business bank account. It’s ok to use your personal account as a temporary measure while the bank opens your business account.
When you’re a sole trader, you have a choice of using a personal or business account (although technically, it breaks bank terms to use a personal account for business).
Read more about bank accounts:
When you have your bank account up and running, add it to Paypal/your payment processors, your invoice, your accounting software if you use it and start good energy habits around it.
Cherish your bank account, lovingly stroke your security gadget, set your password to a secure version of your money goal, congratulate yourself every time you interact with your money and bank account in a drama free way.
Be like Oprah and have a mimosa.
Sending Your Invoice
Next you need an invoice.
I recommend you have an invoice even if your business is an online store as you never know what crops up. It’s easy and quick to do and then you’re ready for those opportunities. You only need to update your invoice when your details change (bank account/email/terms of business etc) which happens rarely.
Your invoice options:
- Create your own invoice
- Use invoice software
Create your own invoice using my free downloadable template (sole traders who aren’t VAT registered).
You can also use software like Wave (free) or Freeagent.
For what to include on your invoice, read the section on invoicing in Getting Paid: Starting A Business.
Being professional includes easy smooth invoicing. Creating your invoice and sending it promptly, without fuss or drama. It’s like my friend says, ‘doing a little light invoicing’.
Paypal & Credit Cards
A payment processor is essential if you want to sell online or make it possible for clients to pay you by credit card on their invoice.
Only the biggest companies process credit and debit card transactions themselves as the legal requirements are highly complex and require very high security standards (as they should).
Instead, most businesses use a payment processor (or payment gateway):
The easiest way to get started is a Paypal button or Paypal.me. I use both on my website.
Open a separate account for your business and if it’s Paypal, you need the business option.
Have a peep at the customisation options for your Paypal button so it’s clear for your customers what they have bought, how much it is and who they bought it from. Your customers won’t thank you if they look at their statements and they have to guess wtf it is they bought and who you are. It happens every year to me and it’s not endearing.
Especially need to watch this if your trading name (e.g. Forest Marketing) is different to the name of your business on your payment account (e.g. Kelly James Marketing). A simple note to customers is all you need.
(Note: you can’t do this with Paypal.me so ensure your marketing says that customers will hear from you another way)
Most online stores integrate with a payment processor.
Familiarise yourself with what’s available as what’s right for you depends on what you want to sell and what’s easiest for your customer (note, that’s often not what’s easiest for you).
Customise the options so you’re happy with them and it creates a consistent feel for your customer. Most systems have a corporate feel and adding the odd friendly line makes a big difference.
You can add the option to accept credit and debit cards on your invoices so your customer can pay directly from your invoice in their email.
This is more than convenience for your client and faster payment for you. There is something about a Pay Now button that oozes professional.
It’s worth considering if it’s appropriate for you and your clients (I wouldn’t do this for corporate clients). Most integrations allow the option to turn credit cards on and off per invoice which is handy.
I use Wave invoicing with Stripe integration.
Face to face sales
Cash is great.
It’s also a pain in the butt for your accounting with those extra trips to the bank and extra evidence to prove to HMRC you aren’t one of those not-declaring-all-your-income businesses.
Having the ability for face to face customers to pay by credit and debit card and Paypal/other Payment processor increases sales and reduces hassle for you.
A card reader or tablet/phone app makes you look profitable and professional. Only accepting cash and cheque says ‘I can’t afford card fees’ which doesn’t encourage folks to give you more money.
Examples: Paypal Here, iZettle
Remember to customise the options, especially ensuring your customer has a receipt.
Top tip: When meeting a prospective client, take your tablet/laptop/phone with you, so your sparkling new client can commit to working with you there and then by paying up front or putting down a deposit.
Over the phone sales
Do you offer discovery calls?
Do you talk to your prospective clients on the phone or Skype before they commit to working with you?
Make it easy for your new client to commit to their success with you by asking for payment or a deposit while on the phone/Skype.
I use QuickBooks Payments.
Platforms & marketplaces
You can also sell via a platform or marketplace like Ebay, Etsy, Udemy, Amazon or Clickbank.
Be aware of what the experience will be like for your customer.
Some platforms require an account which can put off casual browsers, or they may send your customers sales emails which you are unaware of and your customer blames you for. Customise your customer’s experience and only accept payment methods you are comfortable with.
Recurring Payments, Standing Orders & Direct Debit
When you need to charge regular amounts of the same value, look at recurring payments, subscriptions and standing orders.
Many invoicing and accounting software will offer recurring payments. Paypal offers recurring payments and subscriptions.
You can also offer regular clients a standing order. This is as simple as including standing order in your ways to pay on your invoice and client emails. It’s easier for your client and you know the money is paid every month.
Direct Debits are also an option (e.g. GoCardless).
The focus is about making it easy for your clients to pay you. Easy feels professional for your clients and customers.
You can ask clients to pay by installments, but remember there must be a maximum of 4 payments (after 4 payments, you get into legal credit agreement territory which you want to avoid).
That’s better, let’s dive back in.
Keeping Good Records
Good records are more than just virtual assistant p%rn.
- They’re required by HMRC
- They prove you’re due some money back if a client doesn’t pay you
Yes, you read that right. If a client doesn’t pay you, HMRC ‘give’ you your money back if you have the records to prove you did all you could to get the money. (This is because you need to enter all the income you earned in a tax year – even if you haven’t been paid yet).
You have 2 options for keeping records:
Keep track using a simple spreadsheet which may include:
- Date invoice sent, what for, to whom and how much for
- Date invoice due and date paid
- Date(s) reminders due and sent
- Which tax year payment was made and which tax year the service was provided
Software is available which will do a lot of this for you (e.g. invoicing and accounting software).
Keep backups and keep it up to date if you don’t have it linked to your bank account.
I use Wave for my invoices.
Learn more: The Ultimate Guide To Accounting Software
Client Agreements, Payment Terms & Terms Of Business
If you have a client agreement, include your payment terms, what you’re charging your client, and any contingency terms and payment.
Include your terms of business if you have one, so they’re incorporated into the contract.
Payment terms are your rules for when you’re paid and what happens if you’re not.
It’s professional to have these and it gives your clients helpful boundaries for their own cash flow and financial planning.
For clients who have fixed payment systems, ask when they do the BACS/CHAPS run and time your invoices to coincide.
Often you may need to wait longer to fit into their system, although don’t take this for granted as it’s amazing how many freelancers get paid outside of the fixed timing when they’re assertive, professional and know the system.
For industries and companies who pay very late as a deliberate policy or routine, you must be uber professional and politely hard as nails. Outsource if you can (see later section) or create your own ‘accounts department’ (aka your freelancer mate). It’s your money, don’t let them get away with it.
Terms of business
If you have terms of business, include your procedures for late and non payment, and include your terms of business (or a link to them) on your invoice.
How To Send Reminders
The first priority with reminders is to remember it’s professional to send reminders.
You are not a bad person if you send a reminder, you won’t go to hell and your client may even speak to you again.
Are you believing your client thinks you’re dreadful, is regretting working with you, and if you send a reminder, then h/she’ll plaster your name across social media saying how awful you are? (It’s ok to agree these beliefs have entered your head, no shame or guilt).
Do some work on that (read the next section, Pre-Empting Sticky Situations) and free yourself.
You can send payment reminders from your email yourself.
Make it easy and simple by writing stock responses and scheduling when you’re due to be paid in your calendar.
When you send your reminder, schedule a follow up.
Most invoicing and accounting software will have reminders you can use.
Remember to customise them so the feel of the reminder (friendly, corporate etc) fits your clients. Just don’t get too friendly – this is a professional reminder for payment. That needs to be clear.
How often to send reminders
How often you send reminders depends on your client and business.
It’s good practice to send a reminder before the payment date (e.g. 7 days, 3 days, same day as your payment due date, depending on your payment terms).
Send a reminder promptly after the payment due date.
How often to send/call reminders when your client is past ‘oops, I forgot’ depends on:
- Your payment terms (7 days will be different to 90 days)
- Your client (individual, small business or corporate)
- The attitude of your client (avoiding you, trying not to pay, has cash flow issues and too embarrassed to say, is a b*stard, is a repeat non/late payer)
- Your cash flow (how much you need the money right now)
It’s one of those things where experience counts for a lot, so if you don’t have your own experience yet, ask in freelance communities.
Top tip: Check your bank account before you send a reminder. It sounds obvious, but sending a reminder to a client who has paid is embarrassing. Check even if you use software and have automatic reminders as sometimes the bank feed fails.
Pre-Empting Sticky Situations
It’s always good to have professional payment procedures in place to pre-empt sticky situations.
First, have you done my money audit? It’s free and you can get yours here.
Second, have you done all you can to make things easy to get paid?
Pre-empt sticky situation checklist:
- Your money mindset is in good health and you pay attention to keeping it that way
- You act professionally: a payment system, easy to pay, prompt invoicing and reminders
- You know what your legal rights are and you have payment terms in place
- De-personalise: it’s not about you, stop taking it personally. Payment is professional
- Personalise: customise your system to your clients
My free resources:
Other awesome money mindset resources:
Pay Someone Else To Get Your Money
A great solution to professional payment procedures is to pay a virtual assistant (VA) or bookkeeper to do it for you.
Outsourcing is a time solution not a responsibility solution.
You still need to take responsibility for your business money and good payment procedures. It’s not a way to avoid doing the inner work on this, although it may get your invoices paid better.
What a VA (or bookkeeper) can do for you:
- Personalise an invoice template
- Send invoices
- Send reminders
- Chase late paying clients
- Be your ‘accounts department’
- Keep records up to date
- Check if clients have paid you
- Help you be professional by being there. If they’re professional, you need to be too
- Support you (and if you’re really lucky, send you cake)
For a magic wand, hire a VA to work with you to create professional payment procedures and do the admin part for you.
You’re then freed up to work on the emotional part of being professional with your money (I can help).
Getting Started With Your Professional Payment Procedures
One of the biggest fears stopping freelancers having professional payment procedures is feeling overwhelmed how to do it – and that it might actually work.
Don’t let that happen to you and your dreams.
The most important action you can take is to get started.
If you want support with understanding these professional payment procedures, what’s right for you and a safe space to ask as many silly questions as you want, have a look at my sole trader or limited company coaching packages. I can also create an individual package just for you.
If you want easy to understand courses and guides with a sense of humour and mentions of cake, have a look in my shop.
Excited to get started having your own professional payment procedures?
This article is part of a series about getting paid as a business.
- Starting A Business
- Ways For People To Give You Money
- Late Payments & Not Getting Paid
- Getting Paid Faster & On Time
- Profit & Tax
- Maintaining A Money Mindset
- Getting Paid As A Sole Trader
- Getting Paid As A Limited Company
- Saving For Tax & Your Future
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