So, you’ve been ghosted by a client.
Somehow it feels so much worse than the Hinge date that never texted you back. When you’re freelance, not getting paid is one of the worst things that can happen. The most frustrating part? I’m sure you did everything you were supposed to. You nailed the sales call, confirmed the booking, poured your best energy into completing the project, sent over your invoice and then… complete silence.
You kept waiting and waiting for that “INTERAC e-Transfer” email to hit your inbox, but it never showed up. You sent a follow-up (or two or three), and still… nothing.
I’ve been there, and while it’s definitely not a pleasant experience, it’s extremely common. In fact, a 2018 study showed that of 1,400 freelancers, 45% of them have clients that don’t pay on time.
So, you might be wondering…
Why the heck aren’t my clients paying me on time and what can I do other than sending another desperate reminder?
Well, a lot, actually. In this post, I’m covering my top tips to help you avoid this situation altogether. I’ve also included a free email script that you can use to follow up on late payments.
Now, let’s get you paid!
Accept credit card payments
I don’t know about you, but I rarely carry cash on me anymore. Morning coffee? Tap. Afternoon take-out lunch? Tap. Trip to the grocery store? Tap.
Paying for daily spending has become effortless, so why not implement that same strategy into your own business? The easier it is for your clients to “tap,” the better.
Trust me when I say that the sooner you accept credit card payments, the less you’ll have to chase clients to pay you. Not everyone has access to thousands, or even hundreds, of dollars of cash on hand, so removing that obstacle altogether leaves less wiggle room for late payments.
Sure, you’ll have to sacrifice 1-5% for fees to an invoicing or payment processing company (like Wave, FreshBooks, Stripe or Paypal), but you might also be opening up the doors to new and faster-paying clients. Plus, you can always up your rates by the same percentage to cover the fee.
Here are some other benefits of accepting credit card payments:
- Saves you the time and hassle of sending multiple reminders
- Improves the client experience
- Adds an extra “legit” factor to your biz
- Increases pricing accessibility
Automate invoice reminders
Unlike a desk job, a direct deposit doesn’t just appear into your bank account biweekly when you’re a freelancer, so it’s up to you to make sure you get paid.
You know that email reminder you sent to your client when you were half-frustrated, half-anxious? The one that you wrote and rewrote to make sure it had just the right amount of urgency?
Sending payment reminders is a bit like plucking eyebrows. Painful and kinda stingy in the moment, but absolutely freeing once it’s done. So why not skip the plucking and just fast forward to the moment you feel your best? (a.k.a when you get paid).
Earlier, I mentioned Wave. It’s one of the many invoicing platforms that allows you to automate your reminders. Not only can you choose a default for when you want the reminders to be sent (i.e., 7 days after the invoice is sent), but the reminders will come directly from the platform. That’s right! No more sticky, uncomfortable emails sent “directly” from you. This standardizes the process and comes across as a lot more professional.
Charge a non-refundable deposit
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: don’t start working before you get paid.
Of course, there can be a few exceptions to this rule, but my advice is to give the same terms to all clients, regardless of how well you know them.
If you’re new (ish) to the freelance world, the idea of accepting money before you’ve even started working might seem a little strange – but it’s a necessity. Unfortunately, many freelancers learn this the hard way. The problem with eagerly starting a project based on trust is that there’s a chance you might not receive the “promised” compensation on time, or at all. Even if it’s a small chance, it’s always best to cover your bases. Why take an unnecessary risk, right?
Incorporating a deposit structure into your contracts is a must. As a rule of thumb, a 25% deposit is a great starting point. Some freelancers even require as high as 50% of the rate before starting, so it’s really up to what works best for you and your clients. While it’s important to be somewhat flexible, it’s also important to make sure you aren’t operating at a loss.
Now, you might be thinking…
What if the freelance client doesn’t want to pay in advance?
Three words: proceed with caution. Unless they’re a large corporation with strict accounting processes, this could be a red flag. Think of a deposit as something mutually beneficial. Yes, it’s definitely a pro for you to have a percentage before you dive into the project, but it’s also a way for your client to have guaranteed time in your calendar. It’s all about how you position it.
Invest in a good contract
I won’t lie, when I first started my business, I sent out a fair share of cut-and-paste contracts to clients and Googled “How to write a freelance contract,” one too many times – but it is WAY more liberating to be on the other side of that. Copy-pasting contract templates might work temporarily, but they can only get you so far. And I know you might not be ready to hear this but… your DIY contract could be costing you business.
Having a professional contract*, especially one that’s customized to your specific business, is invaluable. I know it can seem like a hefty investment upfront, but think of all the transactions you run through your business regularly. Wouldn’t you sleep so much better at night knowing that you’re completely covered if something were to go south?
Here are a few clauses you can incorporate into your contracts:
- Project scope with deliverables and deadlines
- Termination clause
- Payment clause (including terms for deposits, late fees and interest)
Personally, my processes got a heck of a lot smoother once I no longer had to worry about creating a new contract from scratch for every client. Best of all? It serves as a concrete reference if a client is in breach.
*This is an affiliate link which means I’ll make a commission if you purchase with this link. You can also save an additional 10% off with code JASMINE10.
You deserve to get paid on time. Period. Setting yourself, and your business, up for success won’t happen overnight, but implementing these steps is a great place to start. Now, if you’re debating how to proceed with collecting your coin from a current client, my best advice is to be persistent.
From chasing payments to legal woes, freelance life isn’t always mid-day naps and stress-free work weeks – but with a sturdy foundation, it definitely can be. To make sure your business is set up for success from the get go, download my business set up checklist.
Plus, here’s a follow-up script you can use right now:
Subject Line: [YOUR COMPANY NAME] – Overdue Payment – Invoice #[XXXX]
Hi [CLIENT NAME],
This is a friendly reminder that your account is now overdue. According to our records, the amount of $[XXX] is now [XX] days past due.
Payments can be made via [INSERT PAYMENT TERMS HERE]
[ LINK TO INVOICE ]
Please note that late payments are charged [X] percent per month overdue.
We appreciate your attention to this matter.
Follow-up every 2-3 days and CC any other contacts you may have connected to the client, such as their assistant or business partner.
Now go forth and get paid! You’ve got this.