It’s every freelancer’s worst nightmare. You’ve turned in your work and you’re waiting for a payment but it doesn’t come. You check and recheck your bank, whether you sent your invoices, and then eventually approach the client, not wanting to sound too pushy but you also wanting to pay the rent.
Not taking freelancers seriously is usually part of the reason why so many have trouble with getting paid. There’s a belief that freelancers are simply hobbyists or are just unemployed and should therefore be grateful for any experience and exposure. However, this is far from the truth for a lot of freelancers who are determined to grow a successful business.
While attitudes need to change, here are some things to bear in mind when a client refuses to cough up:
Learn to love contracts
Try to get an agreement in writing every time you work on a project. This is useful not only for protecting your interests but also to make sure you and your client are both on the same page.
You can flesh out the terms of your contract and see what is expected of both parties. If someone refuses to sign a contract that might be a sign that you shouldn’t work with them.
Genuine clients won’t see a problem with signing one and they will most likely prefer having it in writing to protect their own interests too.
Check payment methods
Make sure your payment methods are as simple as possible. You don’t want to give anyone an excuse not to pay you, so make it easy for them. If you make it difficult they just might not bother next time and will eventually find someone else who is more convenient.
Be firm when asking for payment. You can keep on top of late payments by sending out friendly reminders. Reminders can be useful but make sure you don’t harass your clients too much. You don’t want them to see you as difficult to work with.
When you confront your client over a missed payment, try not to go in too defensive. Try to use empathy to explain the situation to your client. Tap into their mutual business point of view and try to create a common ground.
Make it clear to a client in your original contract that there will be a fee payable for any missed or late payments. When a certain period has passed you can resubmit the bill with a percentage added on for late payments. A late fee is likely to spur the client into action so they don’t receive more of this.
If it’s an ongoing contract and you’re finding that you’re not being paid but still expected to do work on a long term basis, then just stop working! If you’re not getting paid then why should you continue to do work for no money?
You could be spending your time working with clients who will pay on time without the stress for either of you. Hopefully this current client will be more likely to take you seriously and pay what they owe when they realise they’re missing out on work from you.
Weigh up rewards vs cost
If nothing else works, then you might want to take them to court. However, it might end up costing you more to get your money back than it’s worth. While you don’t want to give up your owed payment, it might end up being your only option.
Legal costs, time consuming cases and the stress will all add up. You have to decide whether it’s all worth it in the end.
Learn from your experience
If anything, this experience will make you more cautious in the future when taking on new clients. You might want to tighten up your contract or think up a few new rules for future work. You are probably in a better position to spot the warning signs of a bad client and will hopefully be able to avoid this again.
Have you ever had a client fail to make a payment? How did you deal with it? Share your experience in the comments!