7 Tips to Make Sure You Get Paid by Clients

istock_pastdueYou’ve put in the time, produced the work and delivered to the client. Well done! It’s time to reap the financial rewards of your efforts.

The problem? The money never arrives.

Collecting payment can be a concern in a web world. It’s very easy for clients to just stop responding to emails, not pick up the phone or even walk off into the sunset and use the work you created without even owning it yet.

Seriously. Who’s going to stop them? What are you going to do?

Luckily, there are many ways to avoid holding an empty bag. Here are a few tips and tricks to help make sure you get paid for your hard work:

Establish your Terms

Decide if you prefer to work with deposits, milestone payments or retainers. While some people feel uncomfortable asking for partial payments up front, it makes sense. Deposits are a show of good faith on both parties’ behalf. The client shows faith that he’s serious about his project and trusts you not to walk off with his money. You show faith that you’ll do the work, deliver, and trust the client to pay the balance.

The Speed of Time

In the ‘real’ world, many businesses who invoice clients have payment terms of 30 or 60 days. But be careful – the virtual world tends to skew our sense of time badly. One hour feels like a day, three days feels like a week, and two weeks is… well, a decade ago. If you work on the web, avoid lengthy payment terms to make sure people don’t forget you need to be paid.

Don’t Assume and Be Clear

Before you begin working for anyone, clearly state your business and payment terms and make sure to put them in writing so that you and the client can refer back to them if necessary. Don’t assume you’re your payment terms are standard, and make sure clients know what you expect from them. Be detailed, too, to avoid misunderstandings.

Be Proactive with Reminders

When you deliver to your client, gently remind them of the terms of payment without being stiff or pushy. You could write, “If you’re happy with the work and it meets your approval, feel free to make payment to our PayPal account within 5 days.” Stay light and make sure the tone you use conveys friendliness. You’re just reminding customers at this point, not demanding payment.

Be Helpful with Paperwork

PayPal generates plenty of paperwork that the government requires for tax reporting. Some clients still prefer to have a traditional invoice to match with their PayPal receipt. You can be proactive by asking if the client needs an invoice when you deliver the work or simply attaching the invoice to your delivery.

Follow Up Before It’s Too Late

No payment? Follow up before payment comes due with a polite reminder (and we recommend within seven days). When you do follow up with a customer who hasn’t paid, always assume the best. People forget, people get busy and people don’t generally mean to screw you over. Sometimes all it takes to be paid is just a friendly, “Did you receive this? I haven’t received payment yet so I wasn’t sure and wanted to follow up with you. Could you let me know?”

Stay On Top of the Ball

Still no answer? Start to follow up with your client more frequently, about every three or four days. Continue to assume the best intentions to pay, though. Maybe the person is on vacation or had a family emergency. If you’d like, you can gently increase a firm tone with each new email, but always write in a positive, open manner to maintain a good impression.

Some examples of follow-up letters include:

Day 10: “Dear Client, I wanted to check in regarding payment for the work I sent over on January 12. I’m a little concerned, as I haven’t heard back yet. Could you let me know if there is a problem with the work or making payment?

Day 14: “Dear Client, I haven’t received payment yet for the work I sent over on January 19. I hope that there isn’t a problem, but if there is, please let me know so that we can discuss the matter or work out arrangements. I’d also like to remind you that I retain copyright to the work until payment is made, which means the work cannot be used elsewhere until that time.”

Day 17: “Dear Client, I haven’t received a response to my email of February 4 requesting payment for the work I submitted on January 12. I just wanted to remind you that payment was due several weeks ago and the account is now overdue. I have to ask that you please make payment within 3 days to avoid penalties or extra fees.”

Bonus Tip: Broke and Ashamed

Be careful with communications. You may think the client is sitting in Tahiti laughing at you while profiting from the free work he stole. That may be true, but there’s a good chance that isn’t the reality at all. Financial situations change, and some people might find themselves with bills they can’t afford to pay. They feel embarrassed or ashamed, and they may have a hard time admitting the truth. (Wouldn’t you?)

There comes a point, though, when enough is enough. The person isn’t trying to work out arrangements, and it doesn’t look like payment is forthcoming. Expending your energy and stressing out while chasing money down becomes futile.

We have one more great tip for you, so stay tuned for Wednesday’s post, where we share ways to make a last-ditch effort at getting paid – and how to cut your losses and walk away with a clear conscience if you don’t.

Do you have any more tips you can share? Have you ever run into a problem with collections? How did you resolve it? Did you get paid?

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Thanks James. For someone like me who hasn’t worked with many clients, this is a very helpful post. Hopefully I won’t need to worry about non-paying clients, but now I’ll know what to do if I ever encounter one. 🙂

    Allison Day´s last blog post…Lemon Cream Cheese Tarts – T&C

  2. It is a good data for the peoples who have not worked with many clients and he is new to the market. It gives ways to get good profit without loosing the goodwill.

  3. Great post – especially the tips on how to write follow up letters. I’ve found that slow payment usually comes from being too busy rather than anything sinsiter, but money is always a trciky subject – you want to get paid but don’t want to appear pushy.

    Prevention is always better than reaction and clear terms and reminders have worked for me in the past. Thanks!

    Amy Harrison´s last blog post…Funny How Time Slips Away – Making The Seconds Count

  4. I had one client who paid a hefty deposit but never paid for delivery when the work was done. He said, and I believed him, that his client hadn’t paid him (I knew I was subcontracting when we started). So that’s another situation which comes up.

    I haven’t done this yet, but what do you think about the ethics if you’ve done some writing and not been paid, then decide to resell the work?

    Terry Heath´s last blog post…The Baskin-Robbins Method of Blogging

  5. @ Allison – I’m glad it’s helpful, but don’t worry; even seasoned freelancers could benefit from some of these tips!

    @ Amy – The key is to always create the best impression possible so that your reputation remains solid and good as gold. When dealing with money, that can get tough, as people tend to become more upset. Writing a pleasant follow up letter that gets the point across but that still sounds friendly helps to avoid that!

    @ Terry – I don’t see any ethical question here. If it’s not paid for, it’s still yours (unless you have some funny contract that says otherwise). If it can be recycled or reused in some way, I think that’s a perfectly legitimate way of recouping some of your losses for the time you put in.

    I do suggest that there be a good time period that passes before reselling to make sure the client doesn’t say, “I have the money!” and the work is already gone. Also, be clear with the client. “If you don’t pay by X date, I will find the work a good home.”

    To the mention of, “My client didn’t pay me so I can’t pay you,” I wouldn’t be forgiving. You weren’t hired by the third-party client. You were hired by the person who contracted you, and he or she has the responsibility to pay you whether he or she was paid.

  6. Susan Johnston says:

    Great post! I’ve learned the hard way not to start a project until the contract is signed and I have a physical address and phone # for the client. They can blow off an email, but it’s harder to ignore a registered letter if it comes to that.

    Susan Johnston´s last blog post…Guest Post: How to Cure Your Writer’s Block

  7. Nice post. The tips are basic know-how, but you put them in an easy-to-understand manner and the sample letters are good. I like that you stressed polite communication–we just discussed that on the upcoming episode of FreelanceSwitch.com’s Freelance Radio.

  8. I need to read posts like this on a regular basis because I hate thinking about money and I mistakenly assume everyone else does, too. The best advice I’ve heard for people like me was, “Once a month, think about money.” So, thanks, this is my monthly reminder.

    A questions, though. Do you know where I could find a model of a good contract? I read a book by woman who said she had a “ferocious” contract. I didn’t read the contract even though it was at the back of the book…too intimidating. I just want a good model.

  9. Argh, dealing with clients! That’s one reason why I always require 75% or even 100% of my money up front when building websites for folks. I cite my track record and customer satisfaction as the reasons why…also, because I generally don’t like following up. It’s a weakness in myself which I recognize, hence my business terms.

    Data points, Barbara

    Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach´s last blog post…Mastering the Pullup

  10. Elaine Garrett says:

    I would add that in the very beginning of your association with the client that you include the pertinent organizations to which you belong as well as the exact amount they will be charged in late fees.

    After your third follow-up with the threat of late fees, you could add that you will be reporting your experience with this business entity to WAHM, etc.

    However, once your freelance business starts generating a regular income, you would be wise to spend $15 a month on a subscription legal service. (No, I’m not selling it!) That way you can turn over delinquent accts to an attorney who I promise will do a better job than you will in collecting money owed.

  11. Hi,

    I don’t have collection problem because I get paid first. But I want to add something to your list … and it’s kind of related to the last part of your post, someone being broke.

    Since I raised my rates substantially, I get more enthusiastic clients. I’m not saying my clients in earlier days were bad — but they don’t seem to take my service as serious as my more recent clients who are paying twice as much.

    So my advice is: Charge more. Charge the very fair amount you know your work is worth. Don’t cut corners.

    People ought to think seriously when they make purchase decisions. By charging well, you reduce the possibility of getting clients who are close to be broke.

    I do offer discount for existing clients, but that is a different topic. For new clients, be selective.

    And never harbor desperation. These days, there are so many businesses that are obviously desperate. I avoid them by all means, especially for high priced items that I may need some kind of follow up service later. Yeah, you never know if they exist 3 months later. . .

    Akemi – Yes to Me´s last blog post…Spiritual Self Protection And Clearing

  12. @ Elaine – Maybe it’s just me, but I feel that unless you couch the late fees and organization backup with hugely gentle words, it may come off as aggressive. It’s kind of like saying, “I *know* you’ll be paying late, so this is what I’m going to sock you with and here’s who I’m going to get to come down on you…” Late fees have their place, I think, but later on in the game, yes?

    As for a legal subscription service, how would this person protect a US freelancer from a client delinquency in the UK, though? Or Canada/US or Australia/Canada, for example? Legal issues have a lot of trouble going cross border. Just curious, not saying it’s not valid!

    @ Barbara – If you can get 100% up front, that’s… pretty amazing! But don’t you feel that also shows that you require the client to have faith in you without you giving back?

    @ Archie – Contracts really depend highly on the job at hand and what kind of protection you want. Google is your friend on this one, and I’m sure that a few searches will turn up ones that fit your needs best.

    @ Kristen – I find that creative types are also the most emotional ones, so it’s good to have the reminders to keep business on a diplomatic and friendly tone.

    @ Susan – Do you find that requiring this information costs you any clients? Do any refuse to share? It’s an interesting tactic, so let me know how it works.

  13. Hi James – these are good tips. And as you said, it’s important to remember that folk aren’t always deliberately not paying you. Sometimes they genuinely can’t afford to.

    If you’re working for someone overseas, I would also add that you should be aware that sometimes it’s difficult to get payment, when they simply won’t pay.

    One company based in Dubai still owes me over £30,000 for work I invoiced over 4 years ago and they have no intentions of paying. With hindsight, I would have invoiced that work in installments, to minimize the risks.

    Cath Lawson´s last blog post…Dear Blogger – Are You Trying To Sell To The Faithless?

  14. @ Cath – Installments and milestone payments are great. We use those ourselves with clients who want to take things slowly. It makes sure that you don’t end up with a bunch of work you can’t use and no compensation for it.

    Sorry about the 30k… ouch!

    @ Akemi – That’s a very good point. When you charge market value for your work instead of undercutting to try to get more work in, you tend to get clients that have a different mindset – the group that respects you as a professional instead of the group looking for bargain basement prices.

  15. I take 50% up front when building websites. It’s a fair bit of give and take.

    I find many of my clients are busy and it sometimes takes a while for them to provide info on their end required to finish a project. Getting half up front alleviates some of the financial worries on my end, should the project drag on. And it puts a little pressure on their end too as they have already committed money to the project. Meanwhile I have other projects to work on too so there is flexibility when one project drags.

    For SEO work it’s quite different. Larger clients require a monthly management fee. If they stop paying, I just stop working. The only case where that has happened was for a business with a strong seasonal component. Their slow time coincided with the recession kicking in in full force in the fall (double whammy) so they decided to put my services on hold but we’re back at it again this spring as they know full well the value their website is to their business.

    Stever´s last blog post…M-words: Monopoly and Mob Mentality

  16. Good points!

    Most of my clients pay on time. However, the few times that I’ve had a problem have not been pleasant for me. There’s nothing that I hate to write more than a collections letter.

    It’s interesting to me to see how other freelancers deal with this problem (and also reassuring to know that I’m not the only one who has had it).

    Laura Spencer´s last blog post…Five Reasons Why Bargain Writers Are Not Always a Bargain

  17. What happens when you have a client who dodges all attempts with “friendly

    reminders” and keeps saying “next week” for a final payment on web services? Does anyone have experience working with someone who is happy with the services but simply refuses to pay?

    Vicky´s last blog post…Website Picks for Week of Mar 3

  18. I’ve never though about this kind of thing before – I suppose it’s a risk we have to take, but one that can be reduced significantly by the tips you’ve provided.

    Hm, I’d like to get into doing some light freelancing, soon.

    Matthew Dryden´s last blog post…We Looked Pretty Scattered

  19. Hi James – Like Matthew, I’ve never thought of this before. In real life we can always send our cousin Bubba to our clients door, but when we’re dealing with clients from all over the world, trust becomes the biggest issue.

    I like your idea of getting installments. Without having the complete “package” the client is (somewhat) at your mercy. If they’re paying consistently, the most you would be out would be the final payment.

    I agree, gentle reminders should work in most cases.

    Barbara Swafford´s last blog post…In Their Own Words

  20. When you call keep track of who you spoke with and when you spoke with them. I found the best way to get paid is to be the squeaky wheel!

  21. I read all work very carefully. These tips really very workable for a freelancer .
    And every freelancer should follow these steps if he wants continue work and avoid the payment’s problem . I like very much your remainder emails. Thanks for sharing such nice and valuable tips.

    Golf Bags´s last blog post…JJB Golf Online

  22. @ Business – Great tip – tracking telephone calls is important. It’s also very hard to have a record of what was said on the phone, which is one of the reasons we don’t accept calls.

    @ Barbara – Milestones are great. It keeps the freelancer with a continual stream of income and keeps the client spreading out payments over longer and in smaller chunks.

    @ Matthew – ‘Tis a risk, but not as scary or as high a one as people would have us all think. Common sense, a watchful eye and staying on top of situations (while being nice) goes a long way!

    @ Vicky – A client like that is stringing you along, and unfortunately, responding with an understanding (but disappointed) “Okay, I’ll wait” enables the behavior and gives the client full power and control. At some point, the freelancer needs to realize he’s being given false promises and start taking back power. Put a stop to it, put a deadline limit (“I’d need to receive payment by X date”) and be proactive.

    @ Laura – No, it’s not much fun, is it. Thankfully, most clients have good intentions and do avoid taking it to the extreme. Whew!

    @ Stever – That’s pretty much exactly how we work, so it looks like we’re doing something right, eh? 😉

  23. I’m very fortunate that I request payment for the month up front. If it’s not paid, then no second coaching session! I’ll let the client have the first session if a. it’s the first time it’s happened, and b. if the invoice has just gone out and the session is close to the beginning of the month – they need some time to pay it! In over four years I’ve only ever once had to refuse a session based on non-payment.

    On the other hand, I used to be a bookkeeper many years ago. I’m still owed several thousand of dollar from a client who asked me to do his books for the last few years (the tax office was after him!) and then he disappeared. Several years later, I have a large box of his paperwork, all the electronic files etc and no way to find him!

    Melinda´s last blog post…Monthly Book Giveaway – Win in Business by Peter Irvine

  24. Elaine Garrett says:

    Actually, James, I was thinking about a contract. Any sort of communication with a prospective client begins the negotiation process. But once the conversation gets underway, the client should be giving the contractor a contract or legal agreement (like how the material in his ebook is to be treated during and after the programming process) and the contractor should be submitting his own contract restating specifically what work is to be performed, the time schedule (couched with turnaround times for changes), and a payment schedule. Part of that payment schedule should contain standard language about charges for “returned checks” and late payments.

    I’ve paid both upfront and upon completion of work. I’ve found paying up front leads to additional charges for additional work that should have been included in the original proposal. I’ve had no problems with contractors who expect payment upon completion–in part, because they let me see the final product but don’t release it until my payment clears their acct!

    (Not being a programmer, I have no idea how they do that, which is why I didn’t suggest it in the first place)!

  25. Jean Gogolin says:

    Thanks, James; good points all – especially the business about not getting paid until the third party comes through. Bah. If your client can’t afford to pay you until he gets paid, he shouldn’t have hired you to begin with. When I work on a project where I know a third party is involved, I make it clear from the outset that I’ll expect to be paid by my client on time, independent of the third party’s payment.

    One minor point about your follow-up letters. Why “I wanted to let you know . . .” in the past tense? Don’t you still want to? That usage always sounds a little girly to me.

  26. Excellent advice. Its a good thing I read it now as a precautionary note. Thanks

    Edina´s last blog post…Online Coupons-Preference for Receiving Coupons Electronically is Compelling

  27. Flüge Bangkok says:

    the above is a good catalogue of measurements! but there still is the unawareness of a client that wont pay even if you follow the instructions properly. Its the risk of a tradesman. Even though you still inherent your sales its a lot of paperwork and stress to manage.
    You need to set a deadline and after its expiration, authorities are to consult.
    In the end there’s only one device: Sell only to people you can trust.

  28. It is an unfortunate part of any business that you will have to deal with non paying clients, this will also impact negatively upon your business and it’s cash reserves.

    The tips you have given above, whilst they are all quite simple and you would think common sense are in actual fact, something many people don’t realize.

    If you can minimize and negate the influence over your business that non paying clients have, you will no doubt succeed. The tips above will certainly help out any one that is new to dealing with the situation of non payment.

    I have really enjoyed reading the post, I look forward to reading more.

  29. Personally, I always require 50% down on any order by a new or “newish” client. That definitely helps. I also use forums for a lot of my deal-making, and most forums have a rating system similar to eBay’s.

    I had never thought about the fact that the client could be broke… valid point.

  30. It is a good data for the peoples who have not worked with many clients and he is new to the market. Hopefully I won’t need to worry about non-paying clients, but now I’ll know what to do if I ever encounter one.

  31. Text Flipping says:

    If the project costs more than a few hundred dollars, just use Escrow. Yeah, there are fees, but it’s well worth it. Would you rather pay like $20 to be paid every time, or pay no fee and risk losing thousands?

    Anyways, good article. Some very helpful points for any service man.

  32. The biggest tip I want to impart to you all is this:

    Never ever apologise for demanding payment of outstanding bills. Never.

    Too often in my 26 year credit management career, I hear business owners, vendor staff and my own AR teams say, “Sorry to bother you…..”

    This is a big no-no.

    Never forget that you provided a service and your customer has derived benefit while you have not – yet!

    So never say sorry. Especially if you are a start-up. And if you are a start-up why oh why have you given terms instead of cash up front? You are a start-up and in dire need of cash to be continually flowing through to keep your business alive.

    Remember – never apologise to defaulting debtors. Even if it is your biggest customer. Deploy your dunning process 3 days after past due date. Speak to them. Log disputes. Demand payment of all non-disputed values. Manage the dispute to resolution. Demand payment. Visit them. Keep talking.

    Communication with a defaulter is paramount. Do not go silent. Talk is best and can save the relationship. If they are strapped for cash offer them no more than a 4 week payplan. Get it agreed in writing that they will pay all the unpaids by way of 4 x $xxxxxx payments each week AND will pay any new bill(s) on due date. Failure to comply must result in legal action and a halt to the trading relationship if you deem it prudent.

    It’s a tough job keeping the lifeblood of your business flowing through to help you pay the bank loans, the payroll and your creditors and maybe a stipend to you too. Don’t let customers gain position on you. Be stern but fair.

    And never ever let me hear you apologise for demanding payment for a service or product you have supplied.

    Promise you won’t?

  33. As a freelancer living in Split, Croatia I often find myself in the role of bill collector. :MAD: It’s not a fun position, but it is essential to keep my livelihood in tact. Your tips are certain to make the getting paid portion of my work easier.

  34. Yes, all you said is true..
    Did you all know that in northern European countries like Sweden or Denmark, there is a non-written rule of “14 days” paying.
    In 99% of cases, the bill is payed within 14 days, no meter what.
    They’re business ethics and manners are almost perfect when it comes to paying the bill part.
    I just hope, the rest of the world will follow this fine example.

    Btw, great tips !

  35. I always, always have difficulties to get paid by my clients. They everytime hurry me to finish sites for them, to this and that, and when it is all over phone stops ringing and when I ask for my money – siletio . I have the feeling theat everywhere is like that. Only if you have a firm or work in company…

  36. You need to set a deadline and after its expiration, authorities are to consult.
    In the end there’s only one device: Sell only to people you can trust.


  1. bizsugar.com says:

    7 Tips to Make Sure You Get Paid by Clients…

    You’ve put in the time, produced the work and delivered to the client. Well done! It’s time to reap the financial rewards of your efforts. The problem? The money never arrives….

  2. […] our last post, we discussed ways to help make sure clients pay for your work. Most clients are fine, upstanding ones, and they’ll usually demonstrate that […]

  3. […] Men With Pens’ 7 Tips to Make Sure You Get Paid by Clients […]

  4. […] — both from an ethical and from a legal perspective. You are well within your rights to pursue what is owed to you, so dispel any notions that you’ll just write it off as an expensive lesson. Keep at it until […]

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