Understanding the essentials of cash flow management is critical to building a sustainable business, whether you’re working for yourself or running a small business with multiple employees. If you’re a freelancer or run a small business, odds are you’ve been accepting client payments through the web in some form. But for most, the cost of doing business can be lessened by simply changing the way you accept payments. Many people simply bite the bullet and go for the easiest way to get paid–PayPal. But be warned: just because something is easy doesn’t mean it is financially smart.
There are methods to accept a payment of more than a few hundred dollars all the way up to tens of thousands–without paying a dime. I’d like to show you a few of the payment methods we use to save a ton of money every year in fees and surcharges.
Let’s Look at the Numbers
The first thing I want to talk about is the financial impact accepting credit cards and late payments has on your freelance business. I’d like to introduce you to Peter, a graphic designer from Tucson, AZ, who makes a living creating beautiful illustrations for media publishers. Each year, he brings in $160,000 in revenue. Clients pay with credit cards via Stripe and he accepts a 50% payment up-front and 50% on delivery of the final product. He takes on approximately 32 projects per year at roughly $5,000 each.
Each of those projects is subject to a 2.9% fee + 30 cents per transaction, so if you split each project into two $2,500 payments, each payment is now worth $2427.80.
Calculating just the transaction fees, you can see that even though they enable you to collect money quickly and easily, it comes at a price. For some, the cost isn’t nearly as great, but think of it this way: could you use an extra $50 this month? How about an extra $150? If you don’t like leaving money on the table, you should consider whether one of the follow payment methods solves your problem.
Option 1: The Old-Fashioned Way, Payment via Check
Pros: No fees. No accounts needed other than a bank account.
Cons: Time, both in waiting for payments to arrive via mail and time spent at the bank. Also note there is a potential for fraud or theft, and checks can still be cancelled by the payee, even after being deposited.
Accepting payment by check is hardly appealing with the ever-increasing assortment of ways to get paid for free or cheap, however, it is still a reliable ways to ensure you get every penny from your customers. However, you must also consider that payments delivered via check can take an unnecessarily long time from being invoiced to being deposited. For instance, if you bill a client at Net 30 and they take the full grace period to submit payment, you could be waiting almost five weeks to clear payment in your bank account.
In summary, accepting checks is a good way to accept client payments, but it doesn’t necessarily represent your best option.
Option 2: Client-Initiated ACH Deposit
Pros: It’s free for you.
Cons: You’re at the mercy of each client’s AP department to initiate the transfer. In my experience, the bigger the company, the longer it takes to get paid.
When working with larger companies, many of them offer payment via their own Automated Clearing House system, enabling you to take advantage of a cost-free way to receive payment without lifting a finger or losing a penny. The best way to find out if your client uses this type of system is to ask if they offer direct deposit payments and, if so, request their ACH Deposit Form for vendors.
As long as you have an agreement in place that dictates when you should be paid, your client’s AP department will usually submit payments on time or before the due date if they submit bulk payments on certain days of the week, which ultimately saves them money vs. submitting them ad hoc. Obviously, this method is only useful when working with clients large enough to process enough payments that they offer ACH.
Option 3: Quickbooks Payments
Pros: Free for ACH transfers. Money is transferred directly to your bank account. Convenient due to its integration in Quickbooks Online.
Cons: Not quite as easy if you use a separate invoicing system, you would need to embed links into invoices manually. 3.4% + 25¢ for credit card transactions.
Similar: PayPal Business Payments offers free wire transfers as well using a similar method.
This is the primary option we offer to clients at Lift UX for quite a while. It is extremely easy and integrates directly into Quickbooks Online invoices, placing a “Make a Payment” button on digital invoices. Payments themselves are processed via the ACH method and typically take just a day to show up in the bank. The cost for these transactions used to be $.50 cents per transaction but is now free no matter the payment amount being transferred.
Quickbooks Payments also offers credit card payments as well in the event you need to accept payment that way. Sometimes, this is preferred for international business payments via credit card where you don’t want to bother with international wire transfers. You can easily disable the credit card payment method if you don’t want to get hit with the transaction fees credit card companies impose.
Every Penny Counts
If there’s one thing we’ve learned running a business over the past 8 years, it is that the saying “every penny counts” is completely true. At Lift UX, we constantly analyze our expenses, taxes, fees, digital marketing and billings to find every potential cost savings or way to increase revenue with simple changes. By doing this, we prune our company into a stronger, more financially sound business as we grow.
Additionally, when you hit rough patches where work isn’t flowing into the pipeline or payments get delayed, the cost savings you’ve held onto may just end up being your backup funds while things get back on track. We’ve been through ups and downs and have found this to be particularly true with even the biggest of clients on board.