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I am a freelancer. Last year I did a large project for a client. The job went very well. However at the end of the project things were quite hectic with me wrapping up the project and starting a new job for a different customer at the same time.

The client was very happy with the work I did. This year they have brought me back in to work on a new project. However while I was preparing the invoice for the new work, I discovered I had made a big mistake. I never invoiced them for the final block of work last year! It's not a few hours either - its almost 3 weeks of work that I never billed them for!

As far as I can see there are 3 options for how this could work:

  1. They should pay the full amount. The fact that I was almost 12 months late in sending them an invoice is irrelevant.

  2. They should pay, but perhaps only partially, or at a steep discount. Perhaps paying 50% of the original amount.

  3. Failing to invoice them was absolutely my mistake and I should just write this up as a painful lesson in keeping on top of my paperwork and move on.

What do people think the right thing is to do?

To provide some more details:

The original project went well! Everyone was happy with the outcome and there is no dispute that the work was done and done well.

The amount of work I forgot to invoice for was almost a 3rd of the total project. This would obviously have an impact on their financial metrics for how the project went.

The company is a fairly small one. They should be able to pay, but its definitely going to have an impact on their financial planning, etc.

They never warned me that I hadn't sent an invoice. I'm sure this was not deliberate on their part.

I have a very good relationship with the customer and they show every sign of being decent human beings. Its very likely that I would continue to pick up future work from them, be introduced to new clients by them, etc.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Apr 25 '16 at 8:24
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I agree with other answers that you should invoice the full amount.

In order to maintain your good relationship with the company, I think it would be best to send a brief apology/explanation along with the invoice, so it doesn't come out of the blue. For example:

I was reviewing my records and noticed that I had neglected to send you the final invoice for project XYZ. My apologies for the delay with this.

The late invoice should not create a problem for the company. Indeed, not having to pay for a year is a benefit for them from a cash flow perspective (usually).

You state that it is "going to have an impact on their financial planning", but it really will not, unless your contract with them was completely inadequate. The contract should indicate that there was a final billing milestone at the completion of the project. They wouldn't remove this from their budget simply because they hadn't been charged yet.

The bottom line is that you have made a minor paperwork mistake. This doesn't have change your client's obligation to pay. It hasn't caused them any harm, and it is unlikely to make any difference to your reputation or relationship with the client (assuming that it is an isolated incident--of course you should take steps to ensure that you are more organized in the future, and it doesn't happen again).

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    The time at which an invoice is created should not be considered a paperwork "mistake". There is no law requiring an invoice be made within x number of days of the completion of work. Further, by invoicing, you now have added a record of the work to your books. If the end result is that they pay nothing, you have a deductible loss (uncollectable debt) that you can probably write off. – Keeta Apr 21 '16 at 11:29
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    @Keeta: Actually, such laws do exist here. To combat tax evasion by carrying over profits to whenever they're most convenient, some companies are required to bill within what boils down to about six weeks. The client would still have to pay the invoice unless a much longer term (two years) has expired. It could be worth looking into whether similar laws apply where OP has done the work. – Marcks Thomas Apr 21 '16 at 12:51
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    +1. This polite answer is by far the best. I have received such an invoice some time ago for approval and since this was a on-shot case I did not speculate what could have been the reason. Work has done, the money was budgeted (ok, last year...) and it does not impact us much so scritch scritch, done. – WoJ Apr 21 '16 at 14:36
  • @Keeta, I did not intend to imply there was a legal error here. – user45590 Apr 22 '16 at 7:56
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    Thank you for your perspective. Since I have been working onsite I discussed it in person with the customer. I used similar wording to what you proposed and apologised for the delay with the invoice. The customer was helpful and will pay the full amount of the invoice. – throwaway Apr 25 '16 at 9:36
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My position would be that you did the work and therefore you should be paid for it in full. The fact that you forgot to invoice them doesn't change that.

Given the circumstances, you probably don't want to be sending out an invoice saying "Payment due in 30 days", but I'd hope that if you talk to them, they'd be able to come up with a means of paying you in the end.

  • By "in the end", are you implying something like installment? Payments spread over period of time? – Mołot Apr 21 '16 at 11:28
  • Strictly speaking, if your work consists of writing or creating code, art, text, etc., and it's not invoiced all work you've done is still 'yours'. So in a way you'd do the client a favor by sending the invoice after all. – Gerbrand Apr 21 '16 at 12:08
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    @Mołot If it were me, I would simply be sensitive to the internals of the company. For example, if the client was coming up on their year end, they may be looking for any invoice to pay or purchase to make to use up their budget. Or even the opposite: no money is left in the budget, but in 60 days their new budget starts and they can easily pay you then. – longneck Apr 21 '16 at 14:59
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Have a discussion, apologise, invoice and move on

You did the work, so you should get paid in full. However, invoicing so late may cause your client some issues with cash flow. You should send a polite email to your contact there, explaining that you were busy and forgot to invoice. If they are decent, they will ask you to invoice straight away. They may even pay immediately.

It's not their job to check that you have invoiced, or to run your business for you, but definitely, you should get paid for satisfactory work. To maintain the relationship though you will need to do a little bit of apologising.

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    Contacting the client first before invoicing would seem wise, since the client would then be able to do whatever is necessary to ensure the accounting department will pay the invoice without a hitch. – supercat Apr 21 '16 at 19:08
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As a freelancer a reputation for no nonsense and honesty are your biggest asset. Messing around gets you nowhere and makes you look unprofessional at best. Come straight out and tell them you're invoicing them for XX work on YY project, and invoice them for the full amount. Make sure you provide all the details of the work so they know exactly what they're paying for. I'd actually just invoice them as a normal invoice and leave it to them if they want to dispute the matter or have any concerns at all.

If they need to work out payments or have any queries, then that's a separate negotiation, (I'd go easy with them on this bit). But get the invoice out there asap so everyone is clear that you're expecting to get paid.

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    I'd suggest at least adding an acknowledgement of the invoice being late, as I'd be very surprised to get an invoice for last year's project without any explanation. – Lilienthal Apr 21 '16 at 8:28
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    I don't see any value in putting a client with whom you have a good relationship "on the defensive". You ought to treat them as an ally rather than an adversary, unless their behavior forces you to act otherwise. Plus the deceptive strategy you just suggested seems at odds with "no nonsense and honesty" being one's biggest asset. – user45590 Apr 21 '16 at 9:49
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    @Kilisi - So to foster a reputation for no-nonsense and honesty, you'd lie and pretend that you invoiced them already? – superluminary Apr 21 '16 at 14:21
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    If (for whatever reason) you don't want to lose face by admitting it was your mistake in not sending the invoice, you could start by telling the company (politely, not with a threatening legal document!) that it appears from your records that you never received payment for the last piece of work. That is not a lie, and neither is it a lie if they reply by saying they have no records of receiving an invoice. After both parties have reached that point of agreement, sorting out the paperwork to correct the situation should be a formality, with no bad feelings on either side. – alephzero Apr 21 '16 at 20:49
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    Let's think this through: if you send me an email claiming I haven't paid for a year, I will immediately check my records and discover that you never sent an invoice. Then you will have to acknowledge you never invoiced, or be deceptive and outright claim that there was an invoice (which will most likely undermine your credibility). In either case you are worse off than simply acknowledging your mistake in the first place. Never mind the ethical problem with making statements that are "technically true" but intentionally misleading. – user45590 Apr 22 '16 at 10:14
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There is a legal question in here (I think "statute of limitations" is the correct English phrase, the time after which you forfeit your claims), but unless your country has very harsh laws any invoice sent a year after the fact should still be valid.

They haven't warned you that you have not invoiced them because it's not their job to to run after people to offer them unsolicited money. But then this means they haven't been extra-nice to you, so I don't see why you should be extra-nice to them, and I suggest you invoice the full amount. Since you haven't missed the money so far you may offer them to pay in installements if they are strapped for cash - but this might cause more trouble in their book-keeping that it's worth for them (again, I do not really know accounting laws in your country), so send them an invoice and start to negotiate terms only after they complain (if they do at all).

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    They probably don't have systems in place to check if someone has invoiced or not. Why would they? That's not their job. Why would they pay an employee to manage that sort of thing? Once someone has invoiced, it goes to accounts. Before they have invoiced it's in limbo. It's not a matter of not being nice. – superluminary Apr 21 '16 at 14:17
  • It's "statutes", not "statues". – Aura Apr 21 '16 at 18:22
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    "Statute of limitations" is not the correct phrase. That refers to how long the state can wait before prosecuting your for a criminal act. That's not what's happening, here. – David Richerby Apr 21 '16 at 20:17
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    @superluminary They certainly should have systems in place to check if someone invoiced them twice for the same job. It's very little extra effort for such a system to check that "invoices expected = invoices actually received". And aside from these project accounting issues, the audited financial accounts should have an entry for "goods and services that the company has bought, but not yet paid for." – alephzero Apr 21 '16 at 20:38
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    @DavidRicherby The term is NOT limited to criminal matters. It also applies to civil matters (e.g. contracts and debt collections) - legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/statute+of+limitations. It is appropriate here. – Andrew Medico Apr 23 '16 at 13:57
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I had a similar situation last year where, for various reasons, the invoice for some work I did for a company was delayed going out for over a year. After speaking with the company involved, they understood the cause of the delay and I was paid, about 15 months after I had done the work. So I see no reason for you not to invoice them for the full amount but perhaps call them first to explain they will be receiving the invoice belatedly.

  • Jon, could you clarify the timescale from work to invoice and from invoice to payment? That detail will help make this answer a bit more clear. Also, welcome to Stack Exchange! – Dan Henderson Apr 21 '16 at 17:59
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Cash in hand is better than the promise of cash in the future. You did the work, you should get paid. However, be gracious in your request. Your goof will cause them to revisit their budget, so be patient if it takes them a little while to pay you.

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Failing to invoice them was absolutely your mistake. The fact that you aren't very good at the business part of freelancing is not at all irrelevant, it's going to make things difficult for the company to cut you a check so far removed from their payable event.

That said, you did the work and didn't get paid. Most companies I work with would pay you.

You should create an invoice now, and send it with an apology.

I suspect you'll get paid without any push back. But if they do resist, be prepared to negotiate, particularly if you want further business from them.

And it goes without saying that you want to tighten up your accounting practices as a freelancer. Making invoicing mistakes can project a lack of professionalism, and that's never a good thing.

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