A Freelancer’s Worst Nightmare – How to Get Clients to Pay

Working from home means the ability to organize your own time and dictate your own schedule – creature comforts like freedom to come and go as we please. There are huge perks to working at home, and those are what we tend to focus on when things are going well. When they don’t, and payments fail to come through, it can make us question what we’re doing in the first place.

Sadly, there’s not always a lot you can do after the work has been performed. In the meantime, take a few steps to ensuring that you receive payment for future work and do the few things that you can do to try and get the delinquent client to pay up.

Advance Planning

Now that you’ve been bitten by the biggest we all face as freelancers, it’s time to make sure that the liklihood of it happening again is very low.

First, you will want to look at the payment process you have in place. If at all possible, try to institute a new policy that requires 1/2 of the total payment on contract, the second 1/2 of total payment due upon delivery of the finished work. Sometimes, this simply isn’t possible – but if you’re accepting the projects, not soliciting them, then you have a lot more leeway in this respect.

If you are performing most of your freelance work via a freelance board like Guru.com, you won’t be able to dictate the terms of payment. Instead, you will want to take a careful look at the policies your board has in place. Guru.com, for example, has a high success rate because they report so fully on any “contractors” who ask for work to be performed. All freelancers interested in the work a contractor has described are able to view how many payments the contractor has sent, how much money they have sent in total, and how much time on average has lapsed between invoice and payment made.

It might be time for you to look for a new freelance site to work through, and if you’re doing work based solely on clients that come to you through a website or other means, you will want to consider creating or updating service contracts. Spell out all the terms clearly – state exactly what work will be performed, assign deadlines for the work, and list responsibilities expected of both yourself/your company and the client. If you are working on a payment schedule such as 1/2 on contract and 1/2 on delivery, you will want to place this information in the contract – bold the text if you think it will help – and make sure to get a signature and date from your client before you begin a single moment of work.

Sometimes the reason that clients refuse to pay up is that they feel like they haven’t received the quality of work that they expected to receive. If this is the case, you can reduce the chances of this happening by setting up a scheduled series of communications that you always follow. For example, you might set up a schedule that looks something like this:

Project Name: Start Date: Expected Completion:

Day 1 – First Contact: Send welcome packet via email that describes any preparations that have gone into beginning the work, includes a copy of the contract, and re-states the expected completion date.

Day 3 – Second Contact: Progress Report sent via email that clearly describes all work that has gone into the project. Attach at least 2 example files/images that show the quality of the work to this point. Ask for feedback.

Day 4 – Confirmation: Confirm any changes requested in the client’s feedback, detail anything that these changes will affect. Re-state expected date of completion.

Day 5 – Delivery: Deliver all materials that are included in the contract. Re-state the number of changes covered under the contracted fee, invite feedback.

Day 9 – Follow-Up: Offer hopes that everything is continuing to look/work as expected, remind that changes are covered if they have not been used already, and invite to come back for more work later on.

By following a schedule like this, you can make sure that you are doing everything in your power to double and triple-check the satisfaction of your clients with your work. This alone will prevent slow-or-no payments.

Delinquent Clients

Even when you do everything you can to see that you don’t encounter a non-paying client, it happens. It is the bane of any business – the customer who refuses to pay for services or products received.

Before you start contacting the client bugging for your money, double-check to see that you did in fact receive a signed contract before you began work on the project. By having that contract, you can start dropping hints and sending frequent invoices without fear of being sued for harrassment.

How do you drop hints that will be understood? Be clear, but be polite – remember that you want to continue operating your business, so you don’t want to have a lot of bad press being spread around about your methods. An email that begins with, “I sincerely hope that you are enjoying [product or service]. I’ve still not received payment on it, though, and am wondering when you will be able to send payment?” will work much better than trying to “scare” your client with something like, “If I do not receive payment by the end of day tomorrow, you can expect a call from my lawyer.”

Remember, sometimes things just happen. Your client might be trying to work something out, or possibly they’re being stalled by their own clients being slow in making payment. It’s valid and true – and by being patient and sympathetic (within reason), you’re much more likely to receive payment on your services the moment it’s possible than if you’ve tried threatening payment from them.

When things start becoming truly ridiculous – such as when you’ve been waiting three weeks past the date you were supposed to be paid, or have endured a hundred different excuses – it’s time to start sending a brief email every other day. If they don’t respond by the third email that you send, start invoicing them once or twice every day. They should get the message – but remember, unless you have a signed and dated contract in hand and are willing to pay attorney fees, it might be the best you can do.

Remember that there will come a point where you have to cut your losses and move on, hopefully a better and wiser freelancer.

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