How To Get Paid As A Freelancer: Your 5 Best Options For Contractors & Consultants
So you’re a freelancer, your own boss, and that’s great. But you’re probably your only employee too, which means you’re your own janitor, so congratulations on that as well. Somewhere in the middle of being the boss and being the grunt lies being a one-person billing department.
Billing is important. If you don’t send out your invoices, you don’t get paid. If your clients fail to pay on time or won’t pay at all, you might starve. But you can’t spend all your time sending invoices and chasing after payments. You’ve got to do some billable work too.
Fortunately, this freelancer dilemma is well understood, and many companies have figured out ways to make it easier for you. While this article will cover a little about the tricks of getting paid faster, we’re going to focus on the software that can streamline the invoicing and payment process for you. Sending invoices can be just a few keystrokes away, and sending follow-ups can be automatic.
If you wish to learn more about the tips and tricks of getting paid, in addition to what we’ve compiled near the end of this article, we have other posts on general invoice payments and accepting online invoice payments, just to name a few. Read on to find out the different software services that can help you do everything easier and faster.
Read more below to learn why we chose these options.
Table of Contents
- The 5 Best Freelancer Payment Options
- Looking For One Of These Freelance Payment Options?
- How To Get Paid As A Freelancer: Know Your Payment Types
- How To Receive Payment For Freelance Work: 11 Tips To Make Sure Clients Actually Pay
- How Do Freelancers Get Paid? By Using The Right Tools
- In Summary: The 5 Best Freelancer Payment Options
The 5 Best Freelancer Payment Options
Below are five of our top picks for invoice management software that are particularly suited for freelancers. We picked them for easy signup, easy termination, low to no monthly minimum volume requirements, reasonable fees, and pay-per-use service. Scroll down a little more to see why some others didn’t make our list.
Square is best known for its credit card processing, but it also has a feature called Square Invoices that is free just for signing up (which is free too). Your free account also comes with online payment processing, sales analytics, contact management, and more. Square Invoices doesn’t have features such as project management, though, so if you tend to have complex multistage projects where you bill by milestone, Square might not be right for you. However, since most freelance work involves pay per project or maybe a simple split of 50% upfront and 50% at completion, some freelancers might still be able to use Square’s software. The software does have some weaknesses — it offers no multicurrency support and has only limited sales tax functionality.
Some of the other features that come with your free account include:
- Square dashboard
- Recurring invoices
- Sales tracking
- Contact management
Square Invoices makes its money when you process payments through it. For online invoice payments, the fee is 2.9% +$0.30 per invoice or 3.5% + $0.15 to charge a card stored on file. The fee is the same for all card types, and there is no charge for customers who pay invoices via cash or check. This is all you pay for both payment processing, and all the free services provided under your standard account. You can cancel your account at any time (but Square can unilaterally cancel your account too).
Square has a high-risk industry list and prohibits certain transactions. The company will close your account if it deems you high-risk, so be sure your industry is accepted before creating an account. Also, note that Square is not ideal for users with large processing amounts. If you regularly process $10,000 or more per month, you might want to look for a merchant account provider to get the best deal.
If Square Invoices sounds like something for you, be sure to read our full review for more details.
- No monthly fees
- Easy to use
- Impressive feature-set
- All-in-one invoicing and payment processing solution
- No multicurrency support
- Unsuited for high-risk industries
If your business does a lot of quotes/proposals, FreshBooks might be the invoicing software you need. Technically, FreshBooks is accounting software, but it lacks accounts payable, budgeting, and tax support capabilities, so it might not work as well as the various versions of QuickBooks. (On a feature-by-feature comparison, QuickBooks might be cheaper too.) FreshBooks does have project management capabilities, so if this functionality is important to your business, you might want to take a closer look at FreshBooks.
Each of FreshBooks’ pricing plans only supports one user, and the software does not support multiple businesses. FreshBooks has a three-tiered plan, from the Lite ($15/month) to the Plus ($25/month) to the Premium ($50). Each tier has a maximum number of clients allowed, from five to 50 to 500, respectively.
As a freelancer, the Plus plan at $25/month probably makes the most sense. For payments made through FreshBooks, each invoice costs 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction for most credit cards (American Express is 3.5% + $0.30 per transaction). ACH transfers cost 1% of the transferred amount.
If you wish to learn more about FreshBooks’ accounting capabilities, please take a look at our full review. We’ll focus on the invoicing functionalities for the rest of this segment.
FreshBooks offers two basic invoice templates that are customizable. You can change the colors, font, and logo or header. You can add terms and notes to invoices, but you can’t set default email messages to send with the invoice. Plus and Premium users can send reminders, charge late fees, and set recurring invoices. You can view recent action(s) on that invoice as well as messages from your client.
FreshBooks helps you create structured proposals, prompting you to enter information in sections labeled Overview, Scope of Work, Timeline, Pricing, Notes, and Terms. You can also require an e-Signature on approved proposals and easily convert proposals into invoices, though this feature is available on the Plus and Premium plans only.
FreshBooks has multilingual and multinational currency support. You can also set a default currency and language and create default invoice reminders and late fees for each customer. You’ll have to add sales tax manually on each line item of an invoice. FreshBooks does save the sales tax rates that you add, but you still have to select them manually. There is a nice client page that features graphs that show total money overdue, amount outstanding, and the amount in draft. Underneath this chart is a list of recently active clients and a full client directory. You can easily send statements directly to your clients.
With FreshBooks’ project management feature, you can create and keep track of hourly or flat-rate projects. You can set a time budget and due date as well. When a project is completed, FreshBooks makes it easy to bill projects as an invoice.
- Easy to use
- Excellent customer service
- Well-designed UI
- Attractive invoice templates
- Expensive monthly cost
- Limited users
- Limited features
Like Square, PayPal is a third-party processor that provides a free invoicing feature. The difference is that PayPal has international capabilities with multicurrency support, so if you tend to freelance overseas (or you’re overseas and have clients in the US), you might want to use PayPal instead of Square. PayPal’s invoicing feature is called PayPal Invoicing, and it’s an app you can download and use for free.
PayPal’s invoice feature lets you start an invoice with various customizable templates where you can add your logo, contact information, and other custom items. You can use the app to send an estimate, and if the client accepts the price, you can convert the estimate to an invoice with one tap of a button. The invoice can be sent as an email or as an accessible shared link. You can schedule an invoice to be sent out at a future time or set up recurring invoices. If the client fails to pay on time, the app can send follow-up reminders.
PayPal charges 2.9% + $0.30 per invoiced transaction inside the US, taken out when the customer pays. Note this is the same charge as PayPal’s online credit card processing charges, so variations on cross-border/international charges also apply. There’s a tipping option as well, and you can set up installment payments. An API is available for integrating the invoicing function into custom billing software. PayPal is ideal for freelancers who send out less than $10,000 of invoices per month.
- Trusted by consumers
- Predictable flat-rate pricing, with fees taken out when the client pays
- Ideal for low-volume merchants
- International and multicurrency support
- Account stability issues
- Not suitable for high-risk industries
There are several flavors of QuickBooks, both online and for desktop, and each flavor is geared to fit the special needs of businesses from large to small. There’s even one specifically designed for freelancers. Fortunately, invoicing is such a basic function that all versions of QuickBooks have this feature. Because this article focuses on freelancers’ needs, we’ll focus a little more on QuickBooks Self-Employed (QBSE) than the other versions.
QBSE is a cloud-based app designed for the self-employed, including freelancers, independent contractors, and eCommerce site owners (Etsy sellers, Mary Kay consultants, Scentsy folks, etc.). QBSE isn’t full accounting software, but it does have all the features freelancers are most concerned with: manage federal taxes, track deductions, and separate personal and business expenses. There are three tiers of service you can have, with the basic tier costing $10/month. All three tiers have the same invoicing capability.
QBSE provides very basic invoices. You can invoice by the hour, by the item, or by a flat rate. There is no contact management or inventory tracking, but the software will remember past invoice information and let you select previous contacts and items from within the invoice. There are no invoice customizations, sales tax support, or estimates. However, you can add your logo to your invoices, send payment reminders, and accept payments online using Intuit’s credit card processor, QuickBooks Payments. Customers can view and pay invoices directly from a client portal. You can easily send sales receipts to clients after they’ve paid their invoices.
QuickBooks Payments is the payment processing arm of QuickBooks. All QB software connects up to QuickBook Payments, which can fully support taking credit cards, debit cards, or ACH payments. Multicurrency support is available. QuickBooks Payments has several types of pricing schemes; for a freelancer sending out online invoices, a pay-as-you-go plan (i.e., no contract, no monthly payment, no other obligations) is available at:
- Credit Card: 2.9% + $0.25 per invoice
- ACH: 1% of transaction capped at $10
The fee will automatically be deducted after your client pays.
If you bill by project milestone and wish to stick with QuickBooks for your invoicing needs, you can upgrade to the QuickBooks Online or the QuickBooks Desktop software. Of course, both are better known as powerful accounting software, so the invoicing feature is just an add-on for convenience. You can integrate your existing processor to one of these versions of QuickBooks and send invoices that way, or you can use QuickBooks Payments by default.
The two QuickBooks versions don’t always have the same features, however. Most notably, for invoicing, the online version can integrate with PayPal, while the desktop version cannot. Be sure to check out our detailed reviews for both the online version and the desktop version if you believe your freelancing business needs more than the self-employed version of QuickBooks.
- Suited for freelancers
- Start invoicing/processing right away, and you can stop any time without penalty
- No need to shop around — connect to QuickBooks Payments automatically
- Multicurrency support
- Limited invoice features
Every accounting software with invoicing functionalities we’ve listed so far is fee-based (there are free trials or free versions, but to get anything of use, you’ll need a paid version). Wave is the exception. The full version of the software is completely free. Wave makes money through payments processed through it, commissions on loans, payroll processing, and professional bookkeeping services. H&R Block brought Wave in 2020 and has promised that the software will continue to be free.
With Wave, there are no artificial limits on invoicing, contacts, items, or other features. The software supports multiple companies and offers personal accounting as well. Wave charges 2.9% + $0.30 per credit card transaction (American Express is 3.4% + $0.30 per transaction) with a processing time of two days. For ACH payments, Wave charges 1% per transaction with a processing time of two to seven days. It also supports 160+ currencies, and exchange rates are updated daily. Wave is ad-free, and you can cancel your account at any time.
There are only three invoice templates, but all of them are attractive, modern, and customizable. Once an invoice is sent, Wave prompts you to schedule reminders, record payments, and send receipts. Wave offers recurring invoices as well, and this feature even allows you to choose a time zone when setting the schedule so that your customers can receive their invoices at the optimal time no matter where they are.
Wave also has a nice invoice dashboard where you can see overdue invoices, outstanding invoices, the average number of days it takes your invoice to get paid, and your next payout. The only downside about Wave’s invoicing is that you have to add sales tax on each item, and you can’t add discounts (you have to calculate them manually using a new item line). You can create estimates and convert them into invoices, but there is currently no way to duplicate estimates. Wave does not have a project management feature, so billing by milestone might be difficult.
From a client’s standpoint, Wave offers a basic client portal for invoices. Your customers can view their invoices and pay them directly online. An eCommerce feature called Checkouts allows you to create a checkout link that you can then send to multiple customers at once through email, text, or a link on your website. Wave remembers your past checkouts, so you can easily send them to customers when needed. Wave has a client contact management feature as well, so you can organize your client contacts.
- Easy to use
- Attractive invoice templates
- Help from expert accountants available
- Unsuited for large businesses
- Poor customer support
Looking For One Of These Freelance Payment Options?
Due didn’t quite make the Best Of list, but we think it’s still worth mentioning for its simplicity. It has a basic project management feature, so if this is important to you, you might want to check the software out. Otherwise, we think other software can give you a more robust feature-set for a better price.
Due is a cloud-based software. The dashboard is clean and so easy to navigate that it doesn’t matter if you’ve had any prior business software experience. Due also offers a free plan, but it only handles three or fewer clients. Payments can be processed through PayPal or Stripe, or you can sign up for Due Payments with payment processing rates starting at 2.8%. Invoices can be sent in 100+ currencies and 11 different languages.
Due isn’t strong in customer support — it doesn’t have phone support. There are also just a few integrations, which would prove to be a problem for businesses that want a lot of add-ons and integrations.
Due offers several pricing plans, but we present only two below. Beyond these tiers, other providers give more for less:
Due’s Free plan costs $0/month and includes:
- Up to three clients
- One user
- Unlimited invoices
- Stripe and PayPal payments
Due’s Basic plan is priced at $7.99/month and includes all features from the Free plan, plus:
- Up to 10 clients
- Up to three users
- Unlimited expenses
- Unlimited time tracking
- Unlimited projects
- Recurring invoices
- Archived invoices
- Due, Stripe, and PayPal payments
- Payment reminders and late fees
If you’re still interested in Due, check out our full review for more details.
AND CO used to be free, but now that Fiverr owns it, it’s not exactly free anymore. Specifically, the free version only allows you to keep track of one client, and very few freelancers can stay afloat with just one client. So despite its rather unique feature that lets you build a basic work contract, this software falls short when compared with the others currently available in the marketplace. AND CO does offer a plan that allows for an unlimited number of clients, but that plan costs $18/month, and there are other fuller featured invoicing and accounting software that cost less.
That said, AND CO’s invoice feature is incredibly easy to use. There is only one invoice template. You can create invoices directly from projects or proposals. You can also invoice for items, but you have to enter the items and their rates manually every time you want to charge a customer. You can also set payment terms and email messages; however, customizations are almost non-existent.
AND CO does support recurring invoices, and you can see whether your invoices have been sent, viewed, or paid in real-time. There’s no estimate feature, but there is a recently updated proposal feature.
AND CO branding will be included on all invoices unless you have the paid Pro plan. You can also require a deposit. AND CO only allows you to add a single default sales tax rate, though you can manually adjust this rate on invoices. The software offers multicurrency support for over 120 different currencies.
Online payments through AND CO are charged 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. If you continue to be interested in AND CO, we have a full review and encourage you to check it out.
How To Get Paid As A Freelancer: Know Your Payment Types
Now let’s take a broader look at the different ways money can be sent to you. Keep in mind that payment preferences differ for every client you work with, so the more options you can give, the better for you. Many companies already pay their employees through ACH direct deposit, so they might be more comfortable paying you that way too. Clients might be more comfortable paying with a credit card for convenience. Of course, there are also in-between methods, such as paper checks, cash, and digital wallets. The best payment method to use also depends on the invoiced amount. Let’s dive in for a little more detail.
- ACH: A lot of companies already use ACH direct deposit to pay their employees. If you do regular or semi-regular work for such a company, they might prefer to pay you through ACH because it is the most convenient method for them. Note that if this is the case, you won’t have to pay anything — the client pays the processing fee. All you’ll have to do is provide your bank account information for them to route the payment correctly. As to clients who usually don’t pay by ACH, many of the invoicing software solutions we discussed above allow you to give ACH as a payment option. Best of all, ACH payments typically cost less to process than other types of payments, you get your money relatively fast (typically three to five days but sometimes sooner), and nothing will get lost in the mail.
- Paper Checks: Paper checks are the most traditional way to pay for a larger invoice. These days, however, it’s one of the most inconvenient and slowest ways to get paid as well. The physical check can take up to a week in transit, and, even if we assume you deposit it right away through mobile deposit, it’ll take a few more days for the check to clear so that you can use the payment. Of course, other than the cost of a stamp, you won’t have to pay processing fees for paper checks. So unless you don’t mind the wait or the check is simply handed to you in person, you might want to discourage clients from using paper checks by prominently showing on the invoice other payment options.
- Cash: Cash is the oldest way to pay for anything. It might, however, be the most ill-suited way to pay for a freelancer’s work. Cash not only requires a physical presence, but there’s an upper limit as to how much cash a person is willing to carry. And this amount is getting smaller and smaller as people move toward electronic payments. So cash payments are likely to have only limited use for freelancing work.
- Credit & Debit Card: Most people carry a credit and/or debit card these days. As a freelancer, quite a few of your clients probably would pay with a credit or debit card if you give them that option. So it’s great that all the invoicing software providers we profiled above provide you a pay-as-you-go option for credit and debit card processing. Know, however, that payment cards are a good way to receive payments unless you’re charging a large amount — say, several thousand dollars — for a large project. In that case, it’s probably best to suggest to your clients to use another payment method because of the large percentage-based processing charge and the fact that some processing companies often shy away from sudden large charges. Alternatively, if you regularly process $10,000 or more per month, you might want to look into a traditional merchant account provider to reduce your processing costs. A lot of our Best Of invoicing software will let you connect your own merchant account provider to process the invoice payments instead of using the default one.
- Digital Wallets & Money Transfers: For larger charges of several thousand dollars at a time, sometimes, digital wallets and straight bank-to-bank money transfers can work as payment methods. Digital wallets (such as Venmo) have smaller daily limits, but Zelle, which is sort of a digital wallet but also a bank-to-bank money transfer tool, typically has higher 24-hour/7-day/30-day limits, especially if paid out from a business account. Some banks charge a small amount to use Zelle, but other banks don’t charge anything at all. Wire transfers will also work, especially for the largest amounts, but these typically cost money to send.
How To Receive Payment For Freelance Work: 11 Tips To Make Sure Clients Actually Pay
Even if you have the best invoicing tools and you’ve thoroughly studied the various ways you can receive payment, there are still some tricks to getting paid that you can incorporate into your business practices. We’ve compiled some of them below:
- Send out invoices and then follow up. This is the first and most important thing you must do. While it sounds obvious, you might be amazed at how many freelancers fail to do this regularly. If you don’t send out invoices, then your clients have no way of knowing (or have a perfect excuse for not knowing) how much they owe you and by what date they must pay you. As a freelancer, you’re doing everything yourself, so we know it’s painful to stop doing the billable work to send out invoices. That’s why automated invoicing software can become important. But you must send out the invoices, or you won’t get paid. Not only must you send invoices, but you’ll also need to send follow-up reminders, so those who are slow to pay (or won’t pay) can be reminded of the bill. Fortunately, a lot of the invoicing software we highlighted above also send automatic follow-ups. If you have slow-paying clients, you might wish to use one of these automated follow-up services.
- Have a clear contract. A contract doesn’t have to be full of legalese. All you have to do is to set out, in everyday English, what you’re going to do for your client, when everything is due, how you’re going to send the work to your client, and how and when they will pay you. Sometimes, you can attach your work proposal to ensure clarity. You don’t always need a lawyer to do this, but once you start making money as a freelancer, it’s probably best if you hire a lawyer to draft a form contract for you to use for all your freelancing work.
- Require a deposit. Some clients — especially new clients — can be challenging to work with. They might claim you’ve done a bad job or require you to fix something repeatedly and then refuse to pay. So your time isn’t a complete loss, ask for a deposit before you start work. This way, at least you’ll get paid something for your troubles. The exact amount of the deposit depends on the customary practices of each industry, with some requiring up to 50%. Do some research so that you have a reasonable starting point, and adjust the percentage depending on the situation.
- Consider using an escrow service. An escrow service is sort of a man-in-the-middle. It solves the problem where the freelancer demands the fee to be fully paid before the work starts, but the client is afraid that the freelancer will take the money and not do any work at all. The solution is to hire an escrow service, where the client sends the money to the escrow to be held until the job is completed. Then the escrow service releases the money to the freelancer. Some freelancer platforms, such as Upwork (plus Upwork’s slightly different new escrow service) and Fiverr, work like that. Of course, escrow services charge a fee, but at least you’ll know that you will definitely get paid for your work (unless there’s a serious dispute about whether work was done at all).
- Break down tasks and give detailed descriptions. This only applies if you bill by the hour, of course, but people like to know what they’ve paid for. If you break down your tasks and describe them in some detail — e.g., “write first draft (2 hrs.), revise draft (1 hr.), fact check (1 hr.)” instead of “write article (4 hrs.),” not only will the client have some comfort that you’ve done the work, but if they do dispute the bill and you have to write down your hours, you can more easily do so and maybe write down less if you have a detailed breakdown. In the example given, if a dissatisfied client says you’ve taken too long to write the article, it’s a lot easier to reduce hours and do it in a way that’s fair to you by first asking which task might have taken too long and then reduce accordingly than to magically find a reasonable amount from the entire four-hour window.
- Be upfront about costs so that there are no surprises. People don’t like to be surprised by a huge bill. Even though it’s difficult and some potential clients will go away after the talk, it’s important to be upfront about your charges. If you’re not exactly sure, do your best to give an estimate and make sure your client understands that this is a “soft quote” (and write the amount down, so neither side misremembers the number).
- If going over budget, discuss ASAP, and get the client’s okay before proceeding. Expanding on the “no surprises” principle, if you think you’re going to go over a money or time budget set at the start of a project, let the client know about this as soon as possible. This is where good communication becomes extremely important. The client might tell you to ignore some aspects of the project while focusing on others. Or the client might want to terminate the project (make sure you get paid for your services up to the time of termination). Or the client might approve the revised budget. Be sure to get everything in writing so that both sides understand the new goal.
- If you give a discount, make sure the client knows about it. People always like a discount, so if you do give it, be sure to let the client know. This way, you can earn their appreciation, which might translate to faster payment and maybe even repeated business.
- Consider giving a discount for prompt payment and charge interest for late payment. Related to the above, you might set out a policy where you always provide a discount if you receive your payment within, say, 10 days of sending the invoice, but also charge a penalty for delayed payment. This incentive can get you paid faster. But if you wish to charge a penalty, be sure to check your state’s usury laws to make sure you’re not in violation.
- Don’t hesitate to pause work if the client hasn’t paid. If you’re doing work with milestone payments and your client hasn’t paid the first milestone while you’re ready to move on to the third milestone, don’t hesitate to stop work until you get paid at least for the first milestone or maybe both the first and second milestones. If they don’t pay, your time is better spent going out to get new clients (who hopefully will actually pay you) than doing work that you’re not sure you’ll be paid for. When the client does pay, be sure to return to the work promptly.
- Don’t be shy about firing nonpaying clients. Lastly, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that having a client is better than having none. Clients who won’t pay make you waste time doing their work when you can better use that time going out and finding other clients who will pay. (Depending on what you do for freelancing, you can also use that time to build something else that will reward you later. For instance, if you’re an app developer, maybe you can develop an app and put it in the various app stores. Not only can the app be an item in your work portfolio, but it might also earn you a few bucks as well.) Firing a client — especially one who used to pay but now won’t — will be one of the most difficult things you’ll do as a freelancer, but sometimes, it’s the only sensible thing to do.
How Do Freelancers Get Paid? By Using The Right Tools
As with any job, there are good and bad aspects of being a freelancer. You own your own business, you set your own hours, and (to a certain extent) you get to pick your own projects. But with the good also comes the bad. For one, you’ll have to do all the office administration paperwork yourself, including sending out invoices and dealing with clients that pay late or refuse to pay altogether.
Fortunately, with the increased number of freelancers in the economy, plenty of software providers have designed software for the needs of freelancers, including invoicing functionalities. These should save you time and increase the rate at which you’re paid on time. Once you have the right tool to help you, your invoicing process should run fairly automatically.
Outside of invoicing software, we’ve also included in this article some tips on how to get paid faster. Which tip is applicable to you depends on the nature of your freelancing business. If you’re an Uber or Lyft driver, for instance, most of these tips won’t apply to you. However, if you’re a writer, a web designer, a programmer, or similar, we hope the tips will help.
If you have tips of your own or have a war story or two to tell about getting paid as a freelancer, please leave us a note below. We’d love to hear from you!
In Summary: The 5 Best Freelancer Payment Options
- Square Invoices: Best for reasonable processing rates and great free services.
- FreshBooks: Best for those that do a lot of quotes/proposals.
- PayPal: Best for international capabilities and multicurrency support.
- QuickBooks Self-Employed: Best for a cloud-based app designed specifically for the self-employed.
- Wave: Best for one-person businesses that want free bookkeeping software.