As a freelancer, you depend on your clients to pay you on time, and usually, they do. Occasionally, though, you find yourself waiting for a check that never comes — or one that comes monumentally late. How can you address this issue?
If this happens to you, start with gentle reminders and work your way up to more severe methods. Sometimes, all it takes is a little nudge for your client to send your check, but you also need to be prepared to bring the heat if you have to.
Even if you do have to escalate the situation, it’s important to remain professional at all times, so you don’t end up damaging your reputation with other potential clients.
If you don’t get your payment and expect it won’t come without you taking some action, go through these eight steps.
1. Send Your Invoice Again
If you don’t receive your payment within the required amount of time, the first step you should take is simple — send your invoice again.
Sometimes, things get lost in the shuffle, and receiving the invoice a second time is enough to get that check in the mail. If you still don’t hear anything, you can try one more time with a note attached, asking whether they received the previous invoices.
2. Send a Reminder Email
If resending your invoice doesn’t get a response, consider sending an email directly to your point of contact. Start by asking them whether they were satisfied with your work. Then, tell them you sent your invoice and asked if they received it. Hopefully, you’ll get a prompt response explaining the situation.
3. Give Them a Call
If you don’t get an email response, pick up the phone and call them. Sometimes, people have disorganized email inboxes, or maybe your email went to the junk folder. Calling them may be a better way to communicate with them and may get a faster response. If they don’t pick up, you should make sure to leave a message.
4. Talk to the Manager
If those attempts at reaching your initial point of contact fail, it’s time to find a new one. Go up the chain of command and call their boss. You might also want to call a company’s accounts receivable department if they have one. The right person to call will depend on the company and the situation.
5. Add a Late Fee
If you couldn’t get into contact with anyone or you talked to someone but still haven’t gotten compensation, it’s time to send a new invoice with a late fee attached. This will make it clear to your client that not paying on time doesn’t come without a consequence.
It’ll also give them an incentive to pay you as quickly as possible since they don’t want to rack up any more fees. This is one method to stop clients who consistently pay late from continuing to do so.
6. Call Them Out
If private conversations don’t get your client to cooperate with you, consider going public. Call them out on social media, and they’ll likely respond quickly, as they don’t want to damage their reputation with their customers and other clients.
You should still stay professional in your posts. If you take the high road in this situation, it makes them look worse. Likewise, you look better, thus increasing the effectiveness of your call-out.
7. Stop Working
At this point, you should probably stop working for the client. If you do ongoing work for them, give them a date when you will stop work if you don’t receive payment.
This can sometimes motivate the company to pay you since they don’t want to lose your service. If the gig was a one-off, make a note describing the situation to remind yourself not to work for them again.
8. Lawyer Up
It’s best to avoid taking your client to court. Pursuing a lawsuit is expensive, plus you’ll miss out on time you could spend doing work for other clients.
However, if a client owes you more than $10,000, it may be worth it. Otherwise, write off the client and spend time taking steps to prevent similar situations from happening in the future.
PREVENTING PAYMENT ISSUES
You can take several preventative measures to make late or missing payments less likely. They include the following three strategies.
1. Using a Contract
Every freelancer should have a client contract that specifies how much they will get paid and when. It should also include information on late payment fees. This way, clients have little room for excuses, and you can take legal action if need be.
2. Billing Promptly
Always send your bills right away. That way, you still get your payment on time even if the client is somewhat slow.
3. Acting Quickly on Late Payments
If a late payment issue arises, start taking steps to remedy it as quickly as possible. The longer you wait, the lower the chances are that you’ll get paid.
DETERMINING THE CAUSE
A client might not pay on time for many potential reasons. Every once in a while, you come across a client with bad intentions who never planned to pay you in the first place. Usually, though, it was a mistake, or there is a reasonable explanation for the missing payment.
In your communications, try to figure out why they haven’t paid you. This can clue you in as to what type of actions you might have to take to get what you’re owed. Your client might give you reasons such as these four.
1. Dissatisfaction With Your Work
One reason a client might give you for not sending payment is that they are unhappy with your work. You should include a clause in your contract about what happens in this situation.
If there was a genuine mistake on your end, you should offer to fix the problem — especially if you want to work with that company again in the future. If you can’t fix the issue, consider offering a discount. If there doesn’t seem to be a valid reason for their dissatisfaction, you may, unfortunately, need to cut your losses and move on to a new client.
2. Financial Issues
Sometimes, financial issues within an organization can prevent them from paying you. In this situation, you could set up a payment plan that allows them to pay their balance over a more extended period.
If you fear the organization might not recover from its situation, consider putting any other projects you have with them on hold to avoid losing out if they go under.
3. Differing Payment Terms
Some companies pay their contractors on monthly or even 90-day cycles. This could confuse if you expected payment on a different schedule.
Hopefully, you worked this out before you started working for them. But even if you did, it can cause problems for a company if they’re used to doing things a different way. If you want to encourage the client to pay you earlier, consider offering a lower rate for earlier payment.
Your client might not outright tell you they’re disorganized, but this could be the reason they missed your payment. They might tell you they thought they paid you, that they never got your invoice or that the person responsible for payments is on vacation.
At a small company, inexperience or being short-staffed may lead to disorganization. At a large company, there may be too many people or too much red tape involved. Disorder can happen anywhere, but hopefully, reaching out to the client will get them to fix the issue — or at least send you your payment.
Freelancers don’t want to spend their time chasing down clients to get them to pay. Unfortunately, though, that is sometimes the reality they face.
If one of your clients isn’t paying you, follow the steps above to get the money you’re owed and make it less likely that missed payment issues will arise again in the future.