What to do when your client doesn’t pay

holding 20 dollar bills

The anonymous nature of the internet makes it easy for people to hide. While most of us are honest folks, unfortunately not everyone shares our values.

Even the most discerning freelancer encounters clients who disappear when it comes time to pay the bill.

It can happen to anyone. But it’s not always the sign of a shady personality. Mistakes do happen. Emails get routed to the spam folder. Invoices get lost.

So what do you do if your client doesn’t pay? Check out the following suggestions to help you collect.

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screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-4-20-42-pm This article is brought to you by our partners at AND CO who recently released The Freelance Contract —the simplest, safest way to ensure you’re protected as a freelancer. It’s free, customizable, and compliant with the upcoming ‘Freelancing isn’t free’ act. Learn more here.


Stay in touch

The first thing to do is contact the client.

Successful freelancers are good communicators. If you haven’t gotten a response from an email, pick up the phone.

Don’t assume the worst. There may be a simple explanation for their lack of communication.

A great way to make it easy for you to stay on top of late payments is to use a service that sends reminders.

Offer a payment plan

If you’ve tried several times to collect and the project is for a significant amount of money, your client may be experiencing a cash flow problem. Give the option to pay in installments to make it easier for them.

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Create a bigger incentive for them to pay in full by charging a fee for making payments. Show them their total in one payment versus paying over time.

Get professional help

If you’re trying to collect on a project that involves a large sum of money, contact a lawyer or collection agency to find out your options.

If you’re dealing with a couple hundred dollars, you’ll probably just have to write it off. The costs to collect will be too high.

When payment problems get this serious, it’s critical you have a well-defined contract and an attorney who understands freelancing.

Change your ways

When I started freelancing, I had no idea the dangers that lie in front of me. I was trusting, friendly and informal. I never sent contracts and trusted everyone to pay.

Needless to say, I got burned. A lot.

Today, I’ve changed my ways.

Many clients pay upfront. I create contracts for work over a certain dollar amount. I’m not afraid to ask for money if a client is late.

I’m not saying you should view every potential client as a ripoff artist. But be professional. Write contracts. Negotiate your rates.

Clients will respect you for it.

Wrapping it up

Getting paid is important. If you’re consistently having trouble getting payment from your clients, you’re probably selling to the wrong people.

Be professional. Have a contract. Send invoices and reminders for late payments.

Do you have trouble getting paid? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!


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  1. I’m guessing this is more relevant for long-term and large projects. I insist on a deposit, and then a final balance payment before I send the finished files. Is this not the usual way?

    Great site by the way, thanks and keep it up!

    1. Hi Tony,

      That’s a common way to collect on projects. It really depends on the size of the project and also your comfort level with the client. 🙂 Sharon

  2. Thank you for writing a great informative article. Do you have any experience or advise on taking a client to small claims court? You did not mention that in your article.

    1. Thanks, Julie. Because our readers are all over the world and I am not a lawyer, I didn’t bring up small claims because it may be different in other countries. If you want to go that route, you may want to hire a lawyer anyway.

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