Really, no billing policy you put in place will give you grief if you’re guided by a few basic goals:
Make it as easy as possible for the client to pay;
Always be polite;
Expect to be paid for your services.
First, I never send any job without an invoice. The invoice says “due upon receipt” and always includes a written notice that I retain copyright and there is no permissible use of the voice over work until I get paid in full. The main point here though is to bill clients while the job is fresh and on their minds, like upon delivery.
I also want to make it as easy as possible for a client to pay. I have all my contact information, the name of the payee for checks and PayPal email address on the invoice. I send all invoices by email in PDF form and the email includes my PayPal link. When I worked corporate, any invoice I got by email was something I could immediately shoot over to bookkeeping, bypassing the delay of inter-office mail. In the last two years, I’ve only mailed one invoice (saves stamps, trees and time).
Even then, things can get screwed up. A great client recently flipped the numbers in my address and a check took a while to get here as a result. Generally, a late payment is really just an overworked bookkeeper or some clerical error, so you want to be nice about collecting — but try not to feel submissive or apologetic. Just be matter-of-fact. You’re a business owner; you did the work; you collect your fees.
I very often see payments same day and only accept checks from frequent corporate clients. They’ll take between 15 and 30 days. Sometimes they need a bit more time. I’ve never been stiffed, but it can happen to anyone anytime — I frankly think that gut feelings can help guide you, but I also pass on any work from someone who doesn’t provide verifiable contact information and something other than a gmail, yahoo or hotmail free email address.
Way back when I worked for a sole practitioner, I did the collections on his legal fees and we had a good track record with built in incentives: discounts for early payments (within 15 days) and late fees for anything over 30 days. Clients, even corporate ones, like to save a buck.
I’ve been playing around with the idea of adding a billing policy on late fees. We are entitled and many businesses recoup the extra accounting work they do to collect past due fees by adding late charges. If I were to do that for my voice over clients, I wouldn’t penalize a client’s tardiness without rewarding promptness, so I’d probably want to include a discount for early payment ($5 off before 15 days; $5 added per month over net 30).
This is really the tedious but very necessary part of the voice over business. Obviously, we all have ourselves and probably our families to support. So while I often provide voluntary pro bono work for non-profit organizations, especially those focused on the needs of children, I have never appreciated involuntary pro bono.