Finding the right billing balance as a service provider

Small businesses run on passion. But they’re also powered by something a bit more tangible, a bit more fungible, a bit more… green.

We’re talking, of course, about cold hard cash.

Unfortunately, anyone who’s owned their own business knows that getting paid on time isn’t always easy. Some clients are simply forgetful, while others simply can’t be bothered. Either way, it’s an awkward situation that puts a strain on both your relationship and your bank account.

That’s why we wrote this article—to give a voice to the invoiceless. We reached out to three small business owners in our network for their tips on setting expectations, establishing boundaries, and most importantly, protecting your bottom line. Here’s what they had to say.

Tips from fellow small business owners on…

Getting paid on time

It actually took me years to figure out how to reliably get paid on time by clients. It’s not that the approach I settled on is wildly complicated or clever. It’s the opposite, really. It’s boring. In fact, it’s so cut and dried that I think some part of me actively resisted doing it.

Make your invoices simple, predictable, and direct.

Be relentlessly consistent in how and when you invoice. Send that thing out like clockwork on the same day of the week, preferably at roughly the same time. Use a depressingly non-fancy and uncluttered boilerplate template with easy-to-read itemization and a big, clear payment due date. If schedules aren’t your thing, it might be a good idea to use an online invoicing platform that sends out your paperwork along with automatic reminders. Oh, and avoid invoicing on Friday afternoons. It’s a rare human you can trust to be fiscally reliable after a donut-induced two PM slump at the tail end of a long work week.

And of course, a big part of simplicity boils down to mindset. If you’re anything like me, you may find simple directness with money remarkably challenging at first because that particular combo feels about as charming as a brick in a bucket. I kept wanting to apologize, or to explain, or to wrap my payment request inside some frilly, self-effacing little anecdote. I needed to learn to knock that off.

Embrace Bold Helvetica. Choose Obviousness. Your next electricity bill won’t come with a cute anecdote or an explanation. Your invoice doesn’t need to, either.

– Mark Lambert, content writer and editor

Setting boundaries with clients

Boundaries are imperative to avoid feeling overworked or burnt out. Most of the time, the boundaries I set are internal.

As a solopreneur, I control the hours I work, so I periodically have to remind myself to work “normal” hours. I’ve definitely caught myself responding to emails or making edits in the dead of night simply because I could. This took a hefty toll on my physical and mental health, and I’ve become a lot stricter with my schedule as a result.

Setting boundaries with your clients can be just as hard as setting boundaries with yourself. In my experience, it’s common for smaller teams to delegate tasks that aren’t necessarily in my wheelhouse. Being honest about what I’m able to handle has been one of the most important lessons I’ve learned. Not only has it taken a load of stress off of me so I could focus on my job, but being transparent about my bandwidth has strengthened my professional relationships.

Daijsa Stobart, graphic designer and social media manager

Knowing when to walk away

My most important suggestion for small business owners is to be an advocate for yourself and your needs. It’s an uncomfortable idea if you’re a chronic people-pleaser, so my hot tip is to pretend you’re advocating for your best friend.

It suddenly got a lot easier, right?

It’s also important to have a walkaway point—that is, circumstances at which you are no longer willing to continue. For example, my personal walkaway point is if a job hinders my mental health or affects my relationships with my loved ones. At that point, my needs are no longer being met, meaning it’s either time to renegotiate or to part ways.

– Kim King, UX designer

Our biggest tip: prioritize clients who prioritize you.

One of the greatest advantages of owning your business is getting to choose who you work with. If a client or customer is frequently late on payments—or worse, leaving your reminders on read—it might be time to consider moving on.

For everyone else, here are a few additional ways to keep them (and yourself) accountable:

  • Set clear expectations around deliverables and payment dates—and make sure these are reflected in your contract
  • Offer multiple payment options
  • Make sure you’re sending invoices to the right person
  • Send automatic reminders
  • Consider asking for payment upfront

Running into other issues while trying to run your small business? Head over to our small business resource hub for even more tips!