Discover how adding these 12 little words to your freelance contract can help you get paid on time — every time. Even if the project stalls.
You may not believe this…but I’ve never had a client fail to pay their invoice. Even after freelancing for almost a decade.
Every. single. client. has paid their bill in full.
Now of course some of that is luck…
But most of it is not.
In fact, there is a LOT you have within your control to make sure you always get paid. And it starts with your contract.
That’s why today, I want to share 12 little words every freelance contract needs to make sure you get paid on time — every time. (Even if the project stalls.)
Before we dive in though, I gotta cover my ass quick. You’d think it’s obvious that I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. But just in case…
Note: The information contained on this Website and the resources available for download through this website are for educational and informational purposes only. The information contained on this Website and the resources available for download through this website is not intended as, and shall not be understood or construed as, legal advice. See my full disclaimer for more.
Whew okay, I’m back.
Now when it comes to protecting yourself against nonpayment, you need to look at two key sections of your contract. The first section is wherever you discuss the ownership of your work and intellectual property.
Part 1: Only Transfer Ownership in Your Freelance Contract After Full Payment (5 Words)
Every freelance contract will have a section that explains what happens to the copyright and intellectual property for the work created. Most of the time, this section says that the client owns these rights immediately after the freelancer creates the work.
Do not do this.
Because it means the client owns your work right away. Even if they decide to stiff you on your invoice later.
Instead, you should only transfer ownership of the copyright and intellectual property AFTER the client pays in full.
Which means you should add the following five words to the ownership section of your freelance contract:
Upon full and final payment…
After that, you can keep whatever language you have to transfer the copyright to the client. For example, here’s what my contract says:
Upon full and final payment, Contractor agrees to assign (or cause to be assigned) and does hereby assign fully to the Client the copyright of the Final Deliverable.
Once you make this change, your client doesn’t get the copyright to your work until they pay you in full. And that gives you leverage if a client is late on their invoice.
At the extreme, you have a legitimate case of copyright infringement against them if they use your work without paying you in full.
But you should always be careful about threatening your clients. You don’t want to damage a potentially profitable long-term relationship by being too aggressive.
Give your clients the benefit of the doubt at first. You can always escalate more the next time you follow up if you want. But it’s almost impossible to deescalate after you’ve gone in with guns blazing.
Most of the time, your clients will pay you as soon as you remind them that they don’t have the rights to use your work until they pay.
That is, as long as they still want to use the work you did…
But what happens if the client doesn’t want to use your work anymore?
After all, we’ve all had projects fizzle out in the middle.
And if the client is going to scrap the project all together, they may not care that they don’t have the rights to your work. They weren’t planning to use it anyway…
But you’re a professional running a business. And if you delivered the work you promised the client, you’ve earned the fees you charge.
So here’s how you can update your freelance contract to make sure you get paid everything you’re owed. Even if the project stalls…
Part 2: Set a Fixed Date for Payments in Your Freelance Contract (7 Words)
When billing by the project, it’s obviously best if you can collect your entire fee up front.
But many clients will insist on splitting the payments 50-50. Especially when they first start working with a freelancer. That way, each party shares the risk equally.
And on one hand, this is still way better than billing by the hour. Because when you bill by the hour, you can only send your invoice after you do the work. Which means you’re always running the risk that you don’t get paid for your efforts.
So when you bill by the project — and get paid half up front — at least you collect some of your fee before you do any work…
But you still face the risk that you won’t collect the second payment…
Because most freelance contracts say you only collect the second payment when the project is complete
That means if the project stalls — or gets canned altogether — your second payment can get stuck in project purgatory. Even if you’ve all but finished your share of the work.
Which is why your contract should set a specific date when you collect your second payment. Regardless of whether or not the project is complete.
That way, you’re covered even if the project gets delayed.
So make sure you add the following seven words to the end of the project payment terms in your freelance contract:
…or [MONTH DAY, YEAR], whichever is sooner.
And in front of this, you can keep whatever terms you currently have about getting paid at the end of the project. For example, here’s what my contract says:
Contractor will invoice Client for half (50%) of the project to begin this phase of work, and for half (50%) of the project upon Client approval of Final Deliverable or [MONTH DAY, YEAR], whichever is sooner.
Once you make this change, if the project ends on time, you still get paid right away.
But if the project gets delayed, you get paid on the date you set above — no matter what.
And you’ll never have to worry that a project delay will turn into a payment delay again.
One more thing…
After generating almost a quarter-million bucks in retainer revenue over the past two-plus years, I realized there are also two HUGE mistakes freelancers make when billing on retainer.
And if you don’t know what they are, it means you risk losing countless hours of work — and months of income. (Even if you have a rock-solid contract).
So if you work on retainer — or want to — make sure you find out what the two biggest freelance retainer mistakes are…and how you can fix them by “thinking like a landlord.”
Now You Just Need Some Clients to Pay You…
At this point, you know the 12 little words every freelance contract needs to make sure you get paid on time — every time. Even if the project stalls.
All you need now are some clients to pay you.
Now Let Me Show You How To Make Freelance Clients Come To You — Like Clockwork — Using A Simple, 30-Second Conversation…
All the details are inside my free business blueprint 30-Second Referrals.
With this free PDF, you’ll discover how to use a simple, 30-second conversation to get two referrals from every single client you sign. (I’ll even show you exactly what to say during this conversation with my word-for-word script on page 13.)
That way, you can make clients come to you like clockwork. And you can fill your pipeline with more new business than you can handle.
But there is a small catch…
30-Second Referrals is only available to members The Freelance Like A Pro email list.
So enter your best real email below to join us and claim your free copy of 30-Second Referrals now. (And you’ll get my members-only emails to help you run a more profitable and stress-free freelance business, too.)
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Thanks for the freelancing guide and the emails that you've been sending out — the 30-second referral method is so stupidly simple, that it's genius!Connor Inch, Freelance Copywriter
Jessann Hathaway says
This is a gem. I am still working on getting my contracts airtight, and your resources have been a huge help. Thank you.