Here are five unique tips on how to get your freelance PR work bills paid on time.
After 10 years in business, I have never had a client not pay me and only one payment was late.
I noticed many PR and media changes over the past decade. Paid content like the infamous Forbes Council has become more acceptable in PR plans. More ‘non journalist’ contributors are being viewed as serious reporters. The line has blurred between analyst and writer. Podcasts were popular, then unpopular and now they are back in style again, or “fire” as Gen zs like to say. Tech reporters have too many assignments and seem way overpitched. One reporter told me he typically had to file five stories a day. That’s 25 a week and 100 per month.
The best idea to get some media attention for a company is to hire an experienced PR pro, one who has kept up with all of these changes.
Once you do PR for a client, what can you do to make sure you get paid at all, and on time? Here are five tips:
- Tag on a late fee. Don’t be afraid to tell someone who just hired you or plans to hire you that if payment is significantly late, that you are going to charge a late fee. Notify them ahead of time, not after it’s late. Ten percent is fair. I had a data analytics client that ran out of funds while waiting on new VC funding. The CFO told me that because of my late fee, I was literally getting paid first among the list of vendors.
- Assign a number to each invoice. If you assign each a number, accounts payable can quickly refer to each invoice later if there is a problem. I had a minor issue with a longtime European client. Assigning invoice numbers is a life saver time wise. Why? If you label it “February” you can’t tell if it’s for work performed that month or the one prior. And which year? I had sent them 60 invoices over five years so that is five Februarys. Once a European bank started tagging on big money transfer fees after three years. In order to get the client to reimburse me I had to articulate which invoice the fee related to.
- Check the fees before agreeing to use a particular service for payments: I tried using PayPal with a Canadian client and the fees were outrageous. They were a percentage of the amount tagged on and it came right off the amount I was getting paid. I seem to recall the number being over $100! The client was so frustrated over Canada to U.S. PayPal business transactions that he opened a bank in the U.S. to pay me, and probably other vendors. I use Bill and Zelle now. That brings me to the next tip.
- Automate. Use a service like Bill or Zelle. I use Bill sometimes and it works fine for freelance invoices: Its basic service has no fee. Bill tip: If you have trouble signing up, switch browsers. I love Zelle for paying service providers. I have not used it yet to receive client money, but that may be in my future. I paid my personal trainer via Zelle. I like that it’s fee free. There are a few limits: Zelle is only available in the U.S. A small business can use it as long as their bank offers it through their mobile banking app or online banking service. You can only send up to a certain amount via Zelle in a particular timeframe. Other tips are only pay people you trust with Zelle and treat it like cash.
- Get creative to avoid spending hours problem solving. I comped an early-stage startup because solving the billing problem would have cost me a lot of time. A CEO from London asked me for a meeting. I gave him launch advice. He insisted on paying me for two hours. We disagreed on how I’d get paid because I didn’t want to give a stranger my bank account number for the transfer. We had no mutual friends, and he didn’t have a LinkedIn photo. Due to the low amount of dollars, I said, I waive the fee, and have a great day. Otherwise, it would have cost me 10 more hours and a lot of stress.
In summary, employ smart invoice and accounting practices from the start. Thinking that the worst can happen will help you get paid, and on time.
Good luck to all of the new PR freelancers out there.
Michelle McIntyre is a Silicon Valley PR consultant, IBM vet and the new head of editorial content at PRSA Silicon Valley. @fromMcIntyre
Full disclosure: The new PRSA SV president Meghan Fintland does PR for Early Warning, owner of Zelle.
This story was edited for brevity on March 7, 2023.