As a Freelancer, What Can You Do When Clients Don’t Pay?


When you’re a freelancer, you rely on clients paying up—and on time—in order to earn a living and pay your bills. But there’s rarely a guarantee they’ll do so, which is a big risk in the freelance world. No freelancer wants to be left out of pocket for work they delivered. So today we’ll look at what to do when a client doesn’t pay and how to protect yourself against non-paying clients.

Find out the reason

So you sent the invoice to the client ages ago but they still haven’t paid. The first thing to do is to find out why the client didn’t pay. Did they simply forget? Were they unhappy with the work? Are they having cash flow problems? The only way to find out is to ask them, so start by emailing the client with a polite reminder that there’s an outstanding invoice and ask them whether everything was okay with the project.

Reason: they forgot

It happens. We all forget to do stuff. Most of the time the client will reply to say sorry and will quickly pay you. It’s water under the bridge, and if you work with them again, they’ll hopefully remember to pay quicker next time. It’s also worth adding a note to your invoice to say “All invoices should be settled within 7 days” as this should prompt the client to pay up faster.

Reason: they’re not happy

If the client replies to say that they didn’t pay because they weren’t happy with the work, then you have a few options. You can politely find out what they were displeased with and try your hardest to fix it, so they’re happy with the outcome and they settle the invoice. It might take a little longer, but you get paid. If you strongly disagree with them, then politely explain why. It helps to refer to your terms & conditions and any agreements about the work that would be delivered. But be prepared that if the client isn’t happy, they might not pay.

Can’t pay, won’t pay

If you delivered the work and they won’t or can’t pay, then you can potentially take the person to court, but it can be costly, so most freelancers avoid this. If you work through a freelancing platform, raise the issue with the support team, who will usually resolve the issue favourably for you as long as you’ve delivered what was agreed.

No reply

If you don’t get a reply from the client via email, send a follow-up email or try calling them if you have their phone number. Especially for private clients, it’s a good idea to get a phone number and contact details beforehand. If you’re working via a freelance website, contact the support team—if the work was delivered and the money is in an escrow account, the team may be able to release the funds to you.

Be proactive

It can be difficult to resolve non-payment issues after the fact, so it’s generally better to avoid the situation happening in the first place. Try to check your buyers are genuine before agreeing to work with them. Consider working through freelancing platforms that offer payment protection. When working with private clients, perhaps only accept word-of-mouth recommendations. Ask the client to pay a deposit up-front and sign a “terms of business” agreement. Being proactive about payments is a better way to protect yourself for the future.

Have you ever had clients who didn’t pay on time? What did you do? Comment below or get in touch.

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