Right away, of course.

Bill early, bill often.

If the assignment is of a certain size, you bill even before you start.

(“Only $1800 is required to begin. Nothing else is due until you receive the text.”)

I must be the only freelancer in history who took too long to send a bill.

Like a dope, I would wait a week or ten days after the assignment was done.

Partly because a client once scolded me for being too quick with my bill. I had handed him the job and the invoice at the same time.

“Geez kid,” he said, “That’s an amateur move. You look like some migrant laborer hard up for cash. Or some ten-year-old with his hand out, after raking the leaves. Next time wait a decent interval, like a pro.”

As a wobbly newbie, that really stung me. And it stuck in my head, entirely too long.

I had also heard an A-list freelancer complaining, “I’m so busy with assignments that I need to carve out an entire Saturday once a month to get my bills out. Clients have to hound me.”

I thought that sounded cool. What a slick image to project to a client. Busy, thriving, in demand, casual about money. So I continued to bill nonchalantly, like, you know, I really didn’t need the check. (Although I almost always did.)

Well, phooey on that.

Send your bill right away.

Deliver a job on Tuesday afternoon, the invoice arrives the next morning.

It’s not unseemly. It’s not amateur. It’s not mercenary. It’s smart.

For one, the best time to bill is when the web site is all shiny new, when the documents are on their way to London for the trade show, when your client can happily cross that gnarly task off her list.

That’s when you send the invoice. When your fee seems like money well spent. You have a golden window there.

If you send your bill a week or so later, your fee somehow degrades into money owed. The newness of the web site has faded. All that’s left is a debt. Like when the credit card bill shows up for that swell jacket you bought a month ago.

Second, being quick with your invoices reinforces the idea that there’s a fee attached to your work. Some clients need reminding of this. They get the work, they pay for work. It’s the same with any professional. When you get out of the dentist’s chair, you stop by Marian’s desk on the way out, with your checkbook.

It took me about a decade to realize I could bill for a ‘draft’.  (As opposed to waiting for like a month for all the critiques, revisions, and blessings to dribble in.)

When you submit the web content, the case study, the site design, you can submit a bill.

You don’t call it a ‘draft’ though, or whatever the equivalent in your trade. That sounds too much like a half-baked blob that’s intended to be pecked at, second-guessed and ‘fixed.’

Instead, you bill for the ‘article’, the e-book illustrations, as if it’s finished goods.  Then bill later for any revisions or changes.

That’s because when you’re talking about the assignment, you say “There will be an invoice for $XXX when you receive the case study. The remaining $XXX won’t be invoiced until all the text is finalized.”  A good split:  maybe 2/3 then 1/3.

(Okay. Sometimes — especially with large and lumbering companies — they will have a ‘vendor contract’ that specifies when you can invoice and when you can’t. Or, the client won’t be able to process an invoice until the work is finished, and nine people have signed off on it. The only answer, of course, is to charge them a lot more.  See ‘When’ Determines How Much.)

You’re allowed to bill for your work. It’s an immutable law of the universe.

Oh, and that client up there in the beginning? The one who scolded me for handing him a bill too fast?

Six months later the agency went out of business. They only stuck me for about $600. Luckily, I had billed them ‘too early’ and had already gotten paid for the rest.

Press on.