Salary and bonus are two most important components for any full-time employee. You may or may not work for money, but knowing how the remuneration works in your line of work is never a bad thing. For freelancers, payments and earnings are all about creating and sending invoices. So, how often to invoice freelance work?

To determine how often to invoice freelance work, you need to look at three factors – client’s reputation, nature of freelancing service provided, and order size (also known as contract value).

Determinant 1 – Client’s reputation

As a full-time employee, your primary task is to ensure that you continue to maintain (or keep) your job. As a freelancer, it is to ensure that you do not get scammed.

Unlike full-time jobs where a salary is assured at the end of every month, freelancers have to fight hard to survive in a dog-eat-dog world.

The internet is full of individuals and groups who have mastered the art of scamming freelancers and anyone aspiring to live a better life by the means of freelancing. It’s sad, but true nonetheless.

And that’s why when deciding how often to invoice freelance work, the first factor you should consider is the client’s reputation. When you are about to work with a new client, consider the following questions –

  • Does your client have a reputation of paying freelancers on time?
  • Do they maintain detailed records of their payments?
  • Are they cooperative and understanding when negotiating contracts?
  • Do they set abstract targets when it comes to getting work done?
  • Do they try to avoid talking or discussing about payments?

Depending on how you answer those questions, the answer to how often you should invoice freelance work could range from (1) per milestone, or (2) per project.

Simply put, if you do not have enough information about your client, it is best to choose an invoicing frequency such that your losses would be minimal, if at all. Clients who are looking to merely scam inexperienced freelancers follow the specific pattern –

  1. They post a job offer that is far too good to be true; new freelancers are usually lured by this because they do not know what to expect and trust them easily.
  2. The client easily identifies an inexperienced, gullible freelancer and gives them a project that qualifies one (or more) of the below mentioned criteria –
    1. Project asks for 100% original samples, but doesn’t mention what happens to them if freelancer isn’t awarded the contract
    1. Project does NOT have any defined milestones for payment
    1. Terms of payment are NOT mentioned or are unclear
    1. Has irrational iterations (such as asking the freelancer to rewrite a whole part of an article for some nonsensical reason)
  3. The new freelancer doesn’t have any idea about how freelancing scams happen, so they directly accept the contract and start working on the project.
  4. The client waits for the freelancer to complete the project and submit the file to them. As soon as the freelancer submits the file (delivers the project), the client uses the work (for example, publishes the article under their own name) and blocks the freelancer.

Additionally, some characteristics of scammer clients are –

  1. Delayed responses unless they are telling you what they want from you
  2. Vague, unclear replies about what exactly they are looking for in their project (using lines like “do it like this…” or “I want it to be the best…” or “just make it better, I don’t know how…”)
  3. Rude behaviour when asked about payments
  4. Refusing to sign any contract
  5. Refusing to pay up any amount upfront
  6. Refusing to setup payment milestones

The list goes on. In short, they do not care about the freelancer at all and will do whatever they can to exploit them to the last bit.

If you don’t know anything about the client, do the following –

  1. If the project they are offering you is a small one (will not require much effort from your side), DEMAND them to pay you as soon as the project is done.
  2. If the project they are offering you is a medium or big sized one (will require sustained efforts from your side), DEMAND them to pay you either –
    1. Every X number of words (first payment at 1,000 words, second at 2,100 words, third at 3,200 words, and so on)
    1. Every X number of iterations (first payment at 5 iterations, second payment at 9 iterations, and so on)
    1. Every X % progress in the work (first payment at 5%, second at 15%, third at 35%, etc.)

The point here is to divide the payments into blocks; this way, if they skip a payment, you can always abandon their project. This is known as milestone-based invoicing.

If they don’t agree to any of this, block them and MOVE ON. It’s better to not find work than to work for a scammer.

Determinant 2 – Nature of freelancing service

The second factor to look out for is the nature of freelancing service you provide. A freelance graphic designer is likely to charge quite differently than a freelance content writer; similarly, a freelance management consultant would charge differently compared to a freelance web developer.

To gain an idea of how often to invoice freelance work, check the ideas –

  1. Freelance tutor or trainer or management consultant – charge per hour of service provided
  2. Freelance content writer – charge per number of words written and number of revisions.
  3. Freelance copywriter – charge depending on the project specifications
  4. Freelance graphic designer – charge depending on the requirements (for example, do they only need a logo for their website, or do they also need collateral and illustrations to support that?)
  5. Freelance photographer – charge per number of profiles and edits
  6. Freelance web developer – charge according to client’s requirements from website (is it just a blog? Or does it need e-commerce functionality?)

You get the point. For larger projects, always use milestone-based invoicing method I mentioned previously. As for the milestones, you can always decide them based on mutual benefit and interest.

Determinant 3 – Order size (or contract value)

Finally, the third factor to consider when deciding how often to invoice freelance work is the order size (or contract value). Those 2 terms (order size and contract value) dictate the total risk associated with a project.

As a freelancer, you can never trust a client too much. I have had long-term clients who ended up scamming me for reasonably large amounts of money just because they likely had ‘changed’ their mind about dealing with me.

If you are an app developer, and you get a large project for a relatively complex iOS/Android app, chances are that the price will go into thousands of dollars.

Do you think the client is going to pay you $7000 in 1 go straight after you have delivered the project?

Heck no!

Clients are human beings too; they may mean well, but nobody (and I mean NOBODY) likes parting with their money, more so when the amount is large.

We humans are selfish by nature, and we will do whatever we can to further our self-interests; it’s just how evolution designed us to be.

So, what to do? How often to invoice freelance work that’s high value?

Simple, follow the milestone-invoicing method!

… But I already mentioned this in point 1, right?

Yeah, I did… BUT, in point 3 (this point you are reading about right now), I urge you to break down your payments into milestones EVEN IF you know the client is a long-term customer of yours.

To help you get an idea, I have mentioned some conditions below.

  • Small project, unknown client – charge upfront (at least 50% of the amount), deliver later (even if they scam, you still have 50% of the payment)
  • Small project, known (trusted) client – deliver first, charge RIGHT after (on a per-project basis)
  • Medium project, unknown client – charge advance payment, deliver after (AFTER receiving the final payment)
  • Medium project, known (trusted) client – charge milestone payment, deliver (final project) after
  • Large project, unknown client – charge advance payment (at least 35%), deliver after
  • Large project, known (trusted) client – charge milestone payment, deliver (final project) after

Note: advance payments are NOT the same as milestone payments; advance payments are given even before the work begins, but milestone payments are paid once a milestone of work has been reached. We are using the term ‘advance payment’ for unknown clients because we aren’t sure if they will take our milestone work and run away or not. However, for trusted clients, we already have an understanding, so it makes sense to charge milestone payments instead.

Of course, those conditions are NOT rigid; we freelancers after all live to serve our clients, but the priority is to ensure that we get paid.

So, that’s it. When you’re wondering how often to invoice freelance work, just remember those three factors mentioned this article. If you need any more help, feel free to leave a comment below!

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