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Help! My client hasn’t paid!

Help! I’ve got a writing client who hasn’t paid my invoice. What do I do?

Most—if not all—freelancers and business owners have been here at some point in their careers. You’d one all the work promised and sent the invoice. The invoice date has been and gone but it hasn’t been paid.

And now, your writing client isn’t even answering your emails. Or your client is promising payments but they never show up. You feel like you’re going around in circles.

So, what do you do when a client doesn’t pay? What can you do to prevent that from happening again?

The first port of call isn’t legal action. Here are steps that you can take to begin with:

Find out why the writing client hasn’t paid

The first thing to do is to contact the client. There may be an honest mistake or problem.

Be polite when making contact with an email like:

Hi. I noticed you haven’t paid. The invoice for [amount] was due on [date]. I just wanted to check in to see why I haven’t received payment and if there is a problem.


[sign off]

Remember that your clients may be experiencing problems with their cash flow and some are embarrassed about admitting that. (And that’s without a global pandemic happening.) If you’re friendly, they are more likely to be honest.

They are also human and the date may have slipped their mind. This gentle reminder will give them the chance to apologize and get the payment straight to you. I always think it’s best to go in without too much anger at first.

Of course, there are some writing clients that just give you a bad vibe.

When the client doesn’t respond

There are various reasons for clients not to respond. Don’t instantly jump to the conclusion that your client is trying to avoid paying their bill.

Start with a simple email requesting some contact to explain the missing bill and follow up a second time. After the third attempt, this is a clear sign that the client hasn’t paid on purpose.

Now you need to be firm and make it clear that there are penalties when the client hasn’t paid.

I regularly implement a 2.5% late payment penalty each week that the client fails to pay. This usually leads to the client paying before the late payment penalties come into effect.

You will need to make this clear when you first send the invoice out or, preferably, within your contract. In some areas, the client may be able to avoid the late payment fees. You’ll need to talk to a professional in your area about this.

Writing Clients and Invoices

Should you escalate it to the courts?

Will you take it to a small claims court? What about a debt collector? Whether you do this will depend on a number of factors.

The only time I have ever threatened legal action is when the payment has been a worthwhile amount. I need to gain the money back through the court process.

The problem with going through the courts is that you’re still not guaranteed to get the money. While the judge may rule in your favor, it costs you money to go and then you will keep needing to go through the courts if the client continues to refuse to pay. There are companies that will make sure the client pays up but this costs more money.

You could take your client to a local debt collector. Or you sell on the debt. The best thing about this is you get a small amount of the sum.

You will also completely burn your bridges. You may never want to work with the client again because of the problems but the last thing you want is to burn bridges. The client may be asked for references for freelance writers and you want to be one of those being referred, right?

Sometimes it really is just better forgetting when a client hasn’t paid and then move on.

Set up strategies to avoid clients who don’t pay

Now that you’ve been burnt once, it is time to prevent it from happening again. There are plenty of people out there who will try to avoid paying for services but you can prevent them from affecting your business too much.

I will cover this in more detail over the next few weeks but my tips are:

  • Always have a contract
  • Offer incentives for paying within a set time/penalties for late payments
  • Get 50% upfront to build trust

MORE: When a freelance writing job offer just isn’t worth it

Do you have any other tips for dealing when a client hasn’t paid? I’d love to hear about ways that other freelance writers deal with it. Remember that there may be an honest reason for lack of payment so don’t instantly jump to threats and accusations.

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