As empowering as it is to be in control of how much you are paid, how you are paid and the frequency - it can be a bit daunting trying to determine what process will work for you and what is "standard" within the freelance industry.
We will be diving into best practices, what to avoid and what exactly is considered "standard" and more importantly what that means for you.
Let's start with payment "standards". I put quotations because your not required to follow them. It's your business, your rules. You will hear others in the industry say that you should only bill once a month, LARGE clients will not pay a deposit and require net 60, etc. Of course, there will be clients like this, but you're not their employee, you have the power to dictate the terms. And you can make exceptions on a case-by-case basis.
To toss those 3 examples out right away - don't be a pushover. State what your policies are and stick to them. I am beyond lucky enough to have POOSH as a client and all agreements were agreed upon mutually with their lawyer who handles all of the Kardashian/Jenner businesses. I told him that I typically require payment in full but that I can offer a deposit with 2 payments. He wanted net 15 on the two payments, but I stuck to my guns that they would be due upon receipt. And guess what!? I received the deposit and payments on the date invoiced. End of story.
Don't be intimidated to have an open conversation with clients big or small. You will have to have these conversations with every single project you take on and you need to be able to navigate them effectively and with your best interest as priority.
Now for best practices, I always recommend obtaining payment in full before the project begins. You will inevitably make exceptions for certain clients and most likely for projects of substantial cost. If you don't collect payment in full you need to *always* require a deposit for services. There is no hard and fast rule on how much the deposit should be - but it should be in alignment with your finances. How much do you need to make it to their next payment, or your other clients next payment?
I require a 50% deposit from clients, including POOSH! Some freelancers accept 10%, 25% and on...again, this amount might fluctuate from client to client based on your needs and that is okay!
Now, if you will offer payments you need to determine your policies for that. How many months of payments will you allow, will you set a minimum monthly payment or just divide the outstanding balance and base payments off of that, will payments be interest free?
I personally allow payments up to 4 months, I do not charge interest and I calculate the outstanding balance and base the monthly payments on that calculation. Depending on the project I won't submit documents or release the project to the client until a certain amount of payments have been made - this is because some projects are only a few weeks, so I do not want to have payments running on for months after the project is done.
But what about net 30 and net 60...what does that even mean? It means that the client is allowed 30 (or 60) days to remit payment to you. This is considered 'standard' - but I don't play that game. Who can, or even wants to wait 60 days to get paid!?! Remember, you need to know where you stand financially and determine if you could survive should you allow/accept net 30/60.
If you are on retainer for a client or the project will be over the course of several months you can do a few different things - most seem to bill monthly on a certain day, whether it's the 1st, 15th or last day of the month, pick whatever day works for you. I have a great VA and she offers weekly, biweekly or monthly payments, which is another option that you could offer your clients. My personal recommendation would be to bill at least 2x/month - but that's me. You may need to do trial runs to fully understand what works for you and your business and you can change the time frame at any time!!
Now, if your contract stipulates the payment time frame, you do need to adhere to that or agree with the client on the change and add an addendum to the contract. That can come across as unprofessional, so for "changing at any time" is directed at future clients or renewal of a contract or the next time you increase your rates you can change the pay schedule.
tl;dr -- Now for best practices, I always recommend obtaining payment in full before the project begins. You will inevitably make exceptions for certain clients and most likely for projects of substantial cost. If you don't collect payment in full you need to *always* require a deposit for services. There is no hard and fast rule on how much the deposit should be - but it should be in alignment with your finances. How much do you need to make it to their next payment, or your other clients next payment?