Coronavirus and Freelancers: What should you do if a client can’t pay?

Since the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdown, many freelancers have experienced a drop in clients, income, and work. Some have seen their contracts ended, while others have struggled to find future work. Inevitably, some have already delivered work to clients only to discover that their client now can’t pay up. So, what should you do if your client can’t pay your invoice?

Breathe first, act second

While you’re understandably going to be concerned and possibly annoyed if your clients haven’t paid your invoice, it’s important to take a step back and breathe before you react. It might be tempting to fire off an email putting pressure on your client to pay up, especially if you’ve lost a lot of work. However, an angry email or call might make the situation worse and may jeopardise your relationship with the client.

Consider the reality

The sad fact is that lots of people are struggling right now—from freelancers to small businesses to major corporations. Many people have lost their clients, customers, jobs, or business almost overnight. The problem is that we all work in an ecosystem and if one business can’t operate, this affects those further down the chain. If the big recruitment agency can’t hire, they can’t pay their marketing agency, who in turn can’t pay their freelancer copywriter. The reality is that if your clients aren’t paying on time, it may well be because they can’t—not because they don’t want to.

Consider your options

Before deciding what to do, weigh up your options bearing in mind the difficulties that everyone is facing. Can you afford to give the client flexibility in paying to retain their custom? Do you want to risk losing the client entirely? Do you live in a country like the UK where there is some financial support for the self-employed? Is your client based in a country with no financial support? Can you find other ways to reduce your outgoings or bring in more income until the client can pay? There are eight ideas here.

If you can’t afford to…

It’s understandable if you need the cash and have no other options. If this is the case, then send your client a friendly email asking how they’re doing in these difficult times. Open up the conversation and give them the opportunity to say they’re struggling to pay your invoice. If they’re having financial trouble, be understanding and try to work something out that helps both of you.

If you can afford to…

If you can afford to extend payment dates, provide flexible payment schedules, or even offer a freebie for your best customers, then will no doubt greatly appreciate it. When all of this passes, your clients will remember who was understanding and will stick with them. In fact, if you’re there for them in their hour of need, it may forge an even better working relationship in the future.

Why take this approach?

Some people will say “business is business”, and that’s fair enough. You could demand the client pay and highlight the relevant parts of your terms of business agreement. However, if you were struggling to pay an invoice due to circumstances outside your control, you’d hope that your clients were understanding. Ultimately, you want your clients to still be there at the end of all this. You want their business to survive, and you want them to keep working with you. A little compassion now goes a long way…

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