In this blog post, I address something that new VAs typically feel uneasy about. Here’s a question that popped up in the Introvert VA Club community:
“I have my first discovery call next week and I am both nervous and excited. If the answer is YES (which I am hoping for, lol) as a virtual assistant, is it best to get paid BEFORE or AFTER starting work? If I ask the client to pay before any work is done, would that have a negative impact on the relationship?”
It’s not uncommon to feel nervous about asking a new client for money upfront before doing any work for them, but there are some really good reasons to do so. Below you’ll learn why it’s a good idea to invoice your client right away (and when it’s ok to wait). Each of my lovely team members gave their own opinions so that you can read about the different types of scenarios you might run into.
Should You Invoice Your Clients Prior to Working With Them?
I think it depends on what kind of service you’ll be doing for the client. For most of my clients, my services are in packages, rather than hourly.
So, my flow is: Discovery call > Yes/No > Email Contract > Send Invoice for the current month > Start work!
But with another client, I have an hourly rate and I only send them an invoice every 2 weeks with the hours I’ve worked. So, neither is wrong. Just explain whichever you’ll use clearly and confidently.
My script usually sounds something like this:
“I normally send my invoices on the 1st of the month for the current month, so if you decide I’m your girl, then I’ll send the contract. Once that’s signed, I’ll send over your first invoice and your next one will be on the 1st of next month. Does that all sound good?”
Always ask to be paid upfront. It’s not at all unusual in this industry. If they’re uncomfortable paying for an XX hour package upfront, then offer them a 5-hour trial package to get started building the relationship.
I currently have 3 different pricing structures. My original clients are on packages of hours so they buy 10 hours at a time, in advance, and I just send them an invoice when their hours are running low.
Kathleen, McKella, and I share another hourly rate client. She has a large-ish team and does her billing more like payroll. She’s extremely consistent about paying on time and being reliable so I don’t mind getting paid after the work is complete for her. My new client, and any future clients, are on a monthly retainer so they pay a lump sum at the beginning of every month.
And all of those relationships are in positive standing! I adore my clients.
If someone wants to pay you after work is complete, I’d be nervous about it. If you want someone to build you a house, they’re going to want the money upfront. It’s no different for us. We’re just building businesses instead.
I almost always require payment upfront unless it’s with a client I trust and that I’ve been working with for years. For example, I’ve worked with Billie for 5 years and I invoice her on the 1st of the month for the previous month’s work. (Note from Billie: I originally hired McKella as a sub-contractor to help with client work. In this instance, sub-contractors normally get paid after doing the work.)
But if it’s a new client, my policy is “no money, no worky.” If a client is nervous about working with a new person and potentially losing money (totally understandable), I offer a trial package of 1 article or 3 hours so they can try out my services with lower risk on their part. I’ve never had anyone balk at paying upfront after that!
It’s totally normal to ask for payment upfront for most tasks. If it’s a larger project with a higher ticket price like a web build, sometimes it’s customary to receive half upfront and half at the end, but in that case, the client has incentive to pay the second half so they don’t end up with a half-finished website.
I always get payment upfront. You don’t want to be chasing invoices at the end of the month, trying to get paid for all of the work you did for your clients. Nobody has time for that!
A lot of VAs have issues with people NOT paying them at all and taking advantage. So I always invoice on the first of the month and won’t start working until I receive payment. I have yet to have a client complain about that system.
It’s not unusual at all to ask for money upfront. I’ve never had anyone have a problem with it, and if they would have I simply wouldn’t have worked with them. Now, if you were building websites for like $2000 you could request half upfront and the other half after, but not for admin type services or packages. It’s also an excellent idea to offer just a few hours if the client is nervous.
You also have to be very careful with spammy people these days. Not to scare you, but spammers have been preying on new VAs. They don’t want to pay upfront or if they do, they do some weird stuff like pay too much and ask the VA to give them the extra money back (where they actually are stealing money) or they ask VAs to pay for equipment.
This is YOUR business and you get to tell clients how you work with them, not ask how you should work with them. If someone says they want to pay through Quickbooks (another weird scam) say no and tell them YOUR process. (By the way, if someone says they want to pay through Quickbooks, run!)
Follow your gut, follow YOUR processes, and be confident. 😀 Your ideal client will have no problem with them!
RULE OF THUMB: GET PAID FIRST
It comes down to this: YOU are your own boss. When you work with a client, you are not taking on a new boss. You get to decide how you will work and how you will get paid. If the client doesn’t like that, they’re not your ideal client. It’s as simple as that.
So here’s a quick review of my team’s advice:
1) In most cases, ask to get paid first, unless it’s an established client you trust AND something you feel comfortable with. Also know that if you’re hired as a sub-contractor to help another VA or freelancer with client work, typically you’ll get paid after the work is done.
2) If it’s a large, expensive project, it’s okay to ask for half up front and half later.
3) If a client is nervous (because they don’t want to get ripped off either), offer them a trial package of a smaller project or a few hours so they can try your services and establish a relationship.
4 ) If a client refuses to pay upfront (or objects to any of your core policies), they’re not the client for you.
This is another reason why it’s important to decide on your policies BEFORE you book your first client. Include this in your contracts and be prepared to discuss it on your discovery calls.
Need help starting your VA business? I’d love for you to check out the Introvert VA Club! It’s full of amazing resources for starting your VA business such as courses, templates, and a forum where you can ask all the questions you want and get the answers you need from me, my team, and other introverted VAs!
It’s a supportive community and we’re always having discussions like this one!