What to do when your client hasn’t paid

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I had a severely overdue invoice in my first year of business, just before Christmas.

I had been hired by a senior manager to do some consulting work and create and present a strategy to the board of a large company. We had agreed a project duration and price via email and as far as I was concerned, was going to get paid for the work completed.

That was, until he left the company, didn’t inform me he had moved on, and I found myself with a large unpaid bill. I re-sent it to the accounts contact at the company and asked for a prompt payment, to which I received no reply.

I took a deep breath and picked up the phone to speak to accounts. They had my invoice but didn’t have sign off from management for the work agreed and so weren’t going to pay me. They gave me the name of the CEO and suggested I take it up with him directly.

I felt sick. I needed the money to get me through Christmas and pay my mortgage, and I felt duped by the person who hired me. Fortunately, our agreement was in writing via email so I knew I could use that as proof if needed. I had no choice but to take a deep breath and phone the CEO.

It was a short tense conversation, but I outlined what had been agreed, said I had it in writing and would forward it to him and that I expected full payment as I had provided the work agreed. I kept my emotions out of the conversation and with the written proof to back me up, he agreed to sign off immediate payment.

It’s the bane of any business owner’s life – not getting paid on time and having to chase your clients. It can feel really icky asking for money, especially if they’re a new client and you have yet to build up a good rapport that helps you feel confident asking, or you’re in a situation like I was.

So if you have an overdue invoice, here’s the best thing you can do to get your client to pay:

Follow up, follow up, follow up

More often than not, freelancers and small business owners are too scared to chase their invoices. They don’t want to look desperate for the money and don’t want to annoy their client in case they call off the project or say they don’t want to work with you again.

Here’s 3 home truths for you:

You’re running a business. Taking payments is part of that, and not getting paid harms your cashflow and stops you paying your suppliers. Stop taking it personally and do something about it.

Do you want to work for clients who don’t pay you? Of course not. So stop worrying about annoying them with reminders, and realise that if they did decide to call off any work in the future, they’ve made room for a client on your books that DOES pay on time.

More often than not, your client has forgotten, is busy and it’s slipped to the bottom of the pile or they’ve lost your invoice. Unless they’ve said they’re unhappy with the work you’ve done, assume they’re thrilled with it. Then, resend the invoice with a polite reminder.

Heres a little template you can adapt and use:

Dear xxx,

 Im checking the books today and noticed that Invoice No. xxx is overdue. Ive reattached the invoice to this email in case it has been mislaid and would appreciate a prompt payment. Please can you let me know you have received the invoice and when payment can be expected?

 Many thanks,


Keep following up until your invoice is paid. And, don’t just stick to email (which is easy to ignore) pick up the phone and talk to them directly. You’ll find out a lot more about why they haven’t paid and be able to make an agreement that works for both of you.

Bonus tip – learn your lesson for next time

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

When it comes to invoicing and payments, this couldn’t be more true. This isn’t necessarily helpful if you have a client not paying you this hot red minute, but if you can get your systems in place now and set expectations up front with any new clients, you can avoid the issue of non-payment all together.

Get it in writing

  • If it’s a new client, get the agreed work and payment in writing. A written contract that they’ve signed is even better and makes your life so much easier.
  • If appropriate, take a deposit upfront or have payment markers along the project lifespan which you agree up front. Don’t deliver the goods until that payment has been made.
  • Have a payment policy and include a late payment fee that is a percentage of the project fee. I have a 10% late payment fee in place, which is fairly common. Just make sure you enforce it with tardy clients.

Send reminders

Send reminder emails a week before the invoice is due, and the day it is due. Then send reminders when it is 3 days overdue, 5 days overdue etc. I use an online bookkeeping tool called Freeagent which sends my clients reminders automatically, so I know my clients are being nudged. The beauty of this is they know it’s an automated reminder – which takes the sting out me asking them personally.

What to do if a client still doesn’t pay you

Don’t give up on the payment. If you have delivered your end of the agreement you can do one or more of the following:

  • Talk to a lawyer and ask them to write an official letter to your client
  • Use a collection agency to collect on your behalf (this usually involves a large commission)
  • Agree to a payment plan or discounted payment with the client to resolve it and close the case
  • Resolve your issue through the Small Claims Court

Leave a Comment

So, over to you – answer one or a combination of the following questions in the comments below:

– Have you ever had a client not pay?

– What did you do?

– Have you got the best payment systems & agreements in place for new clients?

Hate your job and fancy yourself as a freelancer? You want to say hello to Jen, our guest contributor with a passion for going for your dreams. When Jen isn’t writing for us about starting a biz, she’s hanging out with her tabby cat Monty and coaching women to quit their jobs and take the leap. She likes jigsaws, cheese, books and crafts and loves nothing more than the feeling of sunshine on her face. Has been known to throw Zumba-moves in front of her idols. 

Jen Smith coaches entrepreneurs in social media.

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