One of the worst things that can happen to you as a freelancer is having a client fail to pay you for your work. But, please know that this almost never happens. Clients that don’t pay are so rare that I haven’t had one in over 20 years of freelancing.
Keep in mind that clients are human, too. So, sometimes they can put invoices off longer than they should. Basically, most clients who don’t pay aren’t doing so intentionally. They simply got busy and forgot.
So, read on to find out what you can do just in case a payment doesn’t make its way to you when it should.
Step 1: Find Out How Your Client Typically Pays Invoices
First, you need to understand how your client typically pays their invoices. You’ll definitely come across clients who have a sound method in place, especially if they work with vendors and freelancers regularly. But, not all of your clients will have worked with freelancers before.
Sometimes they have a standard “net 15” policy, as in you’ll get paid within 15 days after the invoice is received. Net 15 could also be Net 30, Net 60 etc. depending on the company.
There are clients who might ask you to cc the person you’re directly working with, but add someone from their finance team in the “to” line. Also, some clients might ask you to include an order number in the subject line. There are clients who pay invoices upon receipt, but there are also clients who have biweekly, monthly, or even net 120 pay cycles.
And, yes, there are some clients with no process at all.
Knowing a client’s system for payments up front can help you feel relaxed about when the payment should be expected to hit your account, especially when a client makes their payments on cycles.
Email Template for Asking Clients About Payment Process
Once you’re finished with a project and are getting ready to send the invoice, you can send a quick email:
Hi [client name],
I am prepping my invoice for [insert project] and wanted to quickly check to see if you have a certain process for invoicing.
Is there anything in particular you need me to include on the invoice that’s specific to your organization? If not, I’ll use my standard invoice template.
Should I send you that invoice directly, or someone else? And, finally, do you have standard payment terms? I generally include “Net 15″ on my invoices, but please let me know if you have a different process.
Step 2: Remind Your Client About the Invoice with a Polite Email
Unless your client has failed to pay your invoices in the past (which really, why are they still your client?), you should give them the benefit of the doubt. We’ve all forgotten to do something important now and again and your clients are busy. If your client doesn’t have an established process for paying invoices and a week has passed since the invoice was due, feel free to send them a friendly reminder email.
If you know that the client usually pays monthly and you don’t see a payment by the second week of a month, you can reach out to remind them, too. Basically, you want to take into account the expected timeline for the invoice to be paid and give them a gentle nudge via email if the payment is a week or so late.
Your email doesn’t have to be complex. It can be something like, “Hi [insert name of client], I just wanted to check in about that invoice I sent you on [insert date]. Please let me know if you have any questions.”
You could even reply to the original email you sent them so it’s a part of one thread. That way, it just bumps the thread back to the top of their inbox.
Typically, that’s all it will take to remind them that the payment still hasn’t been sent.
Again, most clients just forget to pay you, they’re not looking to get your services for free. So, there’s no need to aggressive (or even passive-aggressive) in your first email.
Step 3: Follow-Up with a More Direct Approach
Now, say that after the reminder you don’t hear anything back for a week. Or, what’s more common, they acknowledged the payment was late, promised to make it right, but you’re still wondering where your money is at.
In this case, you can be slightly more assertive. But, this doesn’t mean sending a nasty email that will ruin your relationship with this client. So, be direct, but polite.
This email can be along the lines of “Hi [client name], it’s been two weeks since I sent my invoice and I haven’t seen the payment yet. Could you let me know when to expect it?”
When your client receives this email, the majority of clients who haven’t paid your invoice after that first email will feel so badly about the situation they’ll send you the payment right away.
Step 4: Call and Speak to Your Client
Now, what do you do if a client still hasn’t paid you after two emails?
First, remember this almost never happens. I’d venture to guess you will never have to experience this in your freelance career. But, just to make sure you prepared, I’ll cover what you should do below.
Your next action should be to get in touch with your client and let them know that you can’t move on to any other projects until your invoice is paid. This isn’t unfair or rude, it’s just the right step to take.
This could be another email, but after multiple failed reminder emails it’s time to pick up the phone and make a call. This isn’t you calling and angrily confronting your client (we never want to burn bridges). It’s you politely speaking to your client and letting them know that you need your payment.
After all, you can’t run a business working for free.
So, at this point, you may be wondering how you can get your payment. Should you take them to small claims court? Find the best attorney you can to take them down?
Well, this is certainly an option. But it’s not the best one for your business. Both choices take a lot of time and aren’t especially effective. Basically, you’d end up throwing more time and money at the issue.
Let’s look at the math: say you pay $700 to ultimately get a $500 invoice. That’s a grand profit of -$200. Yikes. Plus, the time you could’ve been working to grow your business that you instead spent with an attorney or in small claims court.
The best thing you could do, instead of burning bridges by trying to force a payment, is to pitch new clients and move on to new projects. Truthfully, it’s difficult to do versus getting angry. But, you need to understand this is the best decision for your freelance business.
Seeking revenge is a lose-lose battle for you. But, there’s huge upside to finding more work from new clients. And, maybe one of these days that evasive payment will hit your account, after all.
Save this page to refer to later if you’re really worried about a client not paying you. But, remember, it’s super rare.
Your turn! Have you ever had a client forget to send an invoice? How long did it take before you received it? And what did you do? Let us know in the comments below!
Last Updated on July 1, 2023 by Craig Galo