There’s a fine line between doing what you love as a “freelance career” and doing what you love as a “hobby”. The thing that defines that line – what separates the freelancers from the hobbyists – is money. Whether or not you’re getting paid for the services you perform or the products you provide.
So obviously, getting paid is an extremely important component of the freelance lifestyle. And, you may have heard that it’s a wise choice to make it as easy as possible for your potential clients to pay you. In fact, I would go so far as to say it would be a major mistake not to consider (and use!) multiple payment options.
But which payment options are the best?
Truth be told, every payment option has its own pros and cons. Let’s go over a few of them now.
Cash money. The sweet, sweet coin. Capital. Cheddar. You get the idea. Whether you’re being paid in greenbacks or pounds or something else entirely, cash is a classic and likely the first form of payment you became familiar with. (I don’t know many people whose parents wrote them a check each week come allowance time).
- You get your payment immediately. With cash, there’s no waiting around – the client/customer either has it or they don’t. And they either fork it over to you or they don’t. There are no guessing games, and no waiting around, when you get paid with cash.
- There are no additional fees. Nearly all other payment options get additional fees tacked on. With cash, there’s no “processing” and usually no middle man. Whatever you’re given is what you get to keep. (Except for what you pay in taxes, of course).
- Not many people carry cash anymore. Most of the population has switched over to credit, debit, electronic, and other forms of non-cash payments. If you insist on only taking cash payments, you’ll end up losing a lot of customers.
- Cash is easy to counterfeit. Be prepared to invest in plenty of counterfeit banknote detection pens.
- Extra vigilant bookkeeping is required. Cash, especially large amounts of cash, can be hard to keep track of. Your bookkeeping will need to be more detailed than ever if you hope to stay out of trouble with the government come tax time. And, unless you plan to stuff your mattress, you’ll also be making several trips to the bank.
Credit (and Debit) Cards
As of 2012, there were 1.5 billion active credit cards in the United States alone. Credit cards are the most common payment method in the world right now.
- Credit cards are the most common/preferred payment option. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone without a credit – or at least a debit – card.
- Accepting credit cards encourages impulse buys. Credit cards are easy to use and quick (at least from the customer’s perspective) to process. The entire see it, want it, buy it cycle goes by relatively quickly for those favoring credit purchases; which allows prospective customers more leeway when it comes to buying on impulse.
- Credit cards can be used to make PayPal purchases. If you’re already using PayPal, like most online freelancers, then you’re already accepting credit cards! PayPal allows customers to input a credit card number in lieu of logging in if they don’t have (or don’t want) a PayPal account.
- Keeping track of all the laws and security precautions. There are several laws that must be adhered to should you decide to accept credit cards. In order to prevent security breaches and protect your clients, you’ll have to develop a higher level of awareness. Not to mention, legally, you can’t hold onto a client’s information past a certain point without getting into trouble.
- Processing fees. Both credit and debit cards require processing fees in order to finally receive your payment. (You’ll also need to hand over additional funds in order to purchase a pin pad if you decide to allow debit cards).
Checks (or cheques, depending on where you’re based) are the pieces of paper your great gran would slip into your birthday card each year. They’re directly connected to your potential client’s bank account, drawing on whatever funds they’ve deposited into their checking account.
- Accepting checks allows you to wheel and deal with bigger businesses. If you’re hired to provide services or products for a larger corporation, they’ll likely insist on paying you with a check. If you refuse to accept checks, you’d be turning away most of the larger corporate gigs.
- Checks can be processed electronically now. If you have the means to do so, you can process checks electronically. Minor con: there’s almost always a processing fee (though normally for much less than other payment options).
- You’ll cash-in on an older clientele base. Members of the over 40 set prefer to pay for larger purchases and bills with checks. If your target market includes retirement-age customers, accepting checks could put you one step ahead of the competition.
- Checks can bounce. If your client has insufficient funds in their account at the time they attempt to pay you, their check could bounce. Not only does this result in a payment delay, but you could potentially be charged a fee depending on where you bank. You may also be charged an overdraft fee if you paid bills or gave the go-ahead to an automatic payment counting on your client’s check to go through.
- Clients have too much control. Check-writing clients have the power to issue a “stop payment” on any check they write. Meaning, your client can essentially write you a check, take your services or product, and then take their money back.
- Trips to the bank. If you’re being paid via checks on a regular basis, you’ll also be making trips to the bank on a regular basis. Depending on your branch, you’ll have to calculate in travel time – and potential bank holds.
This payment option actually encompasses several smaller options. For the purpose of this article, “Mobile Payments” will be classified simply as any payment you can make or receive on your phone; whether it be through an SMS message, a QR code, NFC, or anything else.
- Nearly everyone has a phone. Like credit cards, it’s nearly impossible to find someone without a phone. So, whether your client is sending you a payment through their phone, or initiating a payment through your phone, you’ll be covered.
- Payments are generally fast. So long as your phone is up to snuff, the rest of the procedure goes quickly!
- Certain mobile methods are prone to security leaks. Depending on which mobile payment method you choose, you may have to worry more about security.
- Not all readers are created equal. If you choose a mobile payment method that involves using an app with an actual, tangible, card reader – like Square, Paypal Here, or Inuit GoPayment – then you may have compatibility issues. Most mobile credit card readers are iPhone compatible, but nothing else is guaranteed. Be sure to do your research.
- An update can cramp your style. Whenever you depend on an app to help run your business, you run the risk of said app “breaking” when an update is released. If you upgrade the program you use and it’s no longer compatible with the phone you’re using to accept payments on, you could be up a creek.
My personal favorite. Electronic/online payment options such as PayPal or Stripe are becoming the new normal for freelancers, entrepreneurs, and online shoppers.
- It’s easy. Online payments are arguably the easiest payment option of all!
- It’s international. By accepting electronic/online payments, you’re opening your doors to international business. Most online payment services come complete with currency converters. A freelancer in the United States could be getting paid by a client in Guatemala with absolutely no trouble whatsoever.
- It’s fast! Next to cash, there’s no quicker way to get paid than this.
- The fees are through the roof. With few exceptions, the fees involved in receiving online payments are exorbitant. The cut taken out of your final pay is usually a fair trade for the “pros” listed above; however, if you’re expecting an exceptionally large payment, you might want to use a method that leaves you with the bulk of the profit.
There are, of course, other options for getting paid what you’re due(such as money orders or direct deposits); however, we’ve covered the five most widely-used methods for freelancers.
In the end, how you get paid is up to you. Part of running your own business and taking charge of your own career is making the “money” decisions. But, no matter which payment options you prefer, always send out professional-looking invoices, charge what you’re worth, and don’t let late payers take advantage of you.