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For my services it depends on the type of contract. I have both an ongoing fee engagement offer and a project offer. For the ongoing fee engagement we negotiate the monthly fee, I bill monthly, but ask clients to set up an automatic bank transfer to pay weekly. For projects, it’s similar, except I take a 50% upfront fee and then discuss incremental payments, whether they’re weekly, fortnightly or if it’s a long project monthly.
Because I work with small businesses who need to carefully budget their weekly cashflow I’ve found the incremental payment method to be the most successful. My clients have appreciated knowing the total and knowing they can then budget the weekly amount in with their other expenses.
In terms of what happens when clients don’t pay, well, I recently started a new contract for an organisation that was to become an ongoing fee engagement. The nature of the work I do means I need to know I can trust the owners and they can trust me very quickly. To establish that rapport I set us a ‘hurdle project’. This tells me very quickly what they’re like to work with, and whether I want them as a client – and vice versa.
In this particular instance, I decided that the contract was not one I wanted to continue. They tried to not pay the invoice. Rather than get my lawyer involved (at $400/hr) I decided to simply retract the recommendations I had made to my network for their services. One very simple email to the people I had referred to them; word got back and I got paid.