How do you collect online payments as a freelancer

Taking payment is complex, but should be the easiest, most frictionless experience for your clients. If you get nothing else from this episode, please take that with you.

Outside the U.S.

There are all sorts of laws and regulations that complicate all sorts of payments. What I’m sharing applies to the U.S. If you are not in the U.S. these companies and services that I talk about may still apply, but I can’t guarantee it. Please do your due diligence to make sure that this works best for you and where you are.

There are a few layers in taking payments that I hope provides some clarity here. There is accounting software and there are payment gateways. The lines between the 2 have become much more blurred in recent years.

What is a payment gateway?

The difference between the 2 are important. Payment gateways process payments only. They will not reconcile your expenses, can’t generate invoices directly and easily, and will not give you profit and loss statements.

Gateways are companies like Authorize.net, Stripe, and alike that you need to link into your bank account so that when someone pays you online, 2-5 days later, you get that money in your account.

Stripe is by far and away the leader in this field when it comes to taking online payments. It integrates with most of the software out there and has a robust API that if you have developer chops, can build your own software on top of it.

You may be saying, “But Jason, I’m generating invoices from PayPal and Stripe.” And yes, you can. But when I say invoices, I mean being able to set up recurring invoices, allow your client to log in and see their account history, and even manage their own account with relative ease and no intervention from you.

The cost is usually a fee applied to every transaction in the form of a percentage of the total amount. If you have a lot of transactions or a high amount of money going through, you can sometimes negotiate this rate.

What is accounting software?

So what’s accounting software then? These are companies like Freshbooks, Quickbooks Online, Bonsai, and Xero.

These services allow you to link up your bank account, generate invoices, set up recurring billing, and give you or your accountant nice reports.

These often carry a monthly price with them and would link directly into your gateway.

Your accounting software sits as a layer in between your client and your gateway to make everyone’s life easier.

Is it needed? Well that’s something that I’ve wrestled with in the past, especially as I’m seeing more and more advancements from companies like Stripe and Azlo as they build out developer tools.

This is the area I find most interesting because the stalwarts in the space, like Xero and Quickbooks technically don’t have a unique added value other than your accountant uses them. Stripe and Azlo and others have started to crack that nut a bit and put the power back into the hands of the business owner of sorts.

Azlo and Stripe

Stripe as I mentioned is the leader in the space. It’s been the payment gateway of choice for many online businesses for a few years now.

Stripe has been building out bits and pieces of things like the reports and recurring invoicing and such in the last year or so. So it’s starting to become an attractive replacement for the monthly cost of something like Freshbooks.

Azlo is a new player in the space. It’s a bank that has invoicing, takes bank transfers, and you can connect it to something like Stripe. It has an API coming, so that’ll be interesting to see.

PayPal and Venmo

PayPal has been in the game for a long time. It’s this sort of hybrid of all these things and that’s why it’s attractive to most.

It comes with some complexity in understanding the rates it has. Which often times are higher than most other gateways. But also has been known to arbitrarily freeze accounts for unknown reasons. Thus locking up your money, being able to accept payments, and ultimately adding a ton of friction to the process.

PayPal is great for selling smaller product like ebooks or courses, I would recommend staying away from when it comes to selling your services.

PayPal’s experience from a client isn’t always the best either. So make sure you understand what your client will see and go through before you decide on whatever solution you use.

Taking payment online is tough and you really need to understand what you need and are paying for. If you don’t you could be wasting money or potentially putting your businesses life blood, the cashflow, under a lot of friction and make it difficult for your clients to pay you, and you to get your money.

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