One of the worst situations you can find yourself in as a freelancer is when your client won’t pay on time. It may be they don’t intend to pay you at all, or they postponing it until it’s more convenient.
Either way, late payments are something you need to crack down on from the very beginning. Otherwise, some of your clients may walk all over you. Even worse, your finances will be thrown off balance, and you’ll have more stress to deal with.
In this article, I’ll show you how to protect yourself from late payments in the first place. Then you’ll learn three tricks to implement when a freelance client won’t pay. Let’s get to it!
How to Protect Yourself From Late Payments
Sooner or later, you’ll likely deal with a client who doesn’t understand the concept of paying on time. There are many ways you can incentivize them to settle their accounts, but in my experience, preventive measures are the best way to discourage the situation altogether.
In the past, we’ve talked about why contracts are a necessity in our line of business, and this is another excellent example why. An ironclad freelance writing contract should already include provisions you can use to deal with late payments. Furthermore, you should always ask for deposits – particularly if you’re dealing with new clients.
Fifty percent up front (non refundable), for example, will protect you from clients that might otherwise bail. More importantly, once someone invests in your work, you shouldn’t have any issues collecting the rest of your payment down the line.
3 Ways to Handle Freelance Clients That Won’t Pay on Time
To be blunt – if someone has made up their mind not to pay you, there’s not much you can do. Technically, you could sue them if you both signed a contract, but in the vast majority of cases, that’s not a practical option. Instead, we’re going to focus on the types of clients that do intend to pay but may not have too much respect for due dates.
(Keep in mind that the following information is educational only, and you should work with a licensed legal expert for your final contracts.)
1. Don’t Turn In Your Final Drafts
As a freelance writer, clients will probably ask you to submit each piece before a deadline. Ideally, your contract should include a clause that indicates you require payment before turning over those deliverables.
In practice, however, this approach is only practical for one-off gigs. For long-term work, chances are you’ll have to submit pieces in advance and then collect payment in bulk on an ongoing basis. If your work falls into the former category and you want to protect yourself from late payments, here’s what the clause in question should look like:
The Contractor agrees he will deliver payment for work done by the Writer before he submits his final draft. The Writer will submit an invoice when the work is done, and the Contractor agrees to pay it in full within X days to avoid incurring any late fees. Once payment is received, the Writer will proceed to hand over his work via email.
The spirit of the clause should be easy to understand. Of course, you’ll still need to iron out details with your clients, such as which payment methods you’ll use, choose deadlines, and more.
This clause sets the tone for your relationship, and entitles you to withhold work until you get full payment. If a client tries to bully you into handing over a draft – you can respectfully refer them to the contract you both signed.
2. Add Lates Fees to Your Contract
If you’ve got a keen eye, you probably noticed there’s a small mention of lates fees in the example we used during the last section. Late fees are a mainstay of most freelance contracts because they light a fire under your clients to pay on time. Here’s what a late fee clause could look like:
As per the agreement, the Contractor has X days to pay for invoices submitted by the Writer for work agreed on by both parties. If the Contractor doesn’t pay the invoice during that period, a fee of $10 will be charged for each additional day afterward, until the debt is settled.
Nothing fancy, but it gets the job done. You may even tweak how much you charge for your late fees depending on the size of the project you’re working on. For example, if you’re waiting for a payment of several thousand dollars, $10 may not do much to incentivize that client to pay on time. However, a percentage-based late fee structure may just change their mind.
If you ever find yourself in this situation you need to email your clients to remind them about the late fee clause in your contract. Many clients forget it exists. A simple email is often enough to take care of the problem.
3. Don’t Do Any More Work in the Meantime
Sometimes, clients put off payment in the hopes they can get free work out of you in the meantime. I found myself in this situation a lot in my early freelance writing days, and I went along with it a bunch of times thinking I had no other choice. I figured, the less I rock the boat, the better my chances of staying on working for them and I need the money.
These days, I’m lucky enough I can be pickier about who I work with, and it’s a fantastic feeling. To protect yourself in this situation, you’ll want to include a clause that looks something like this:
The Contractor agrees to pay the Writer separately for work completed for each milestone agreed upon. The Writer reserves the right to stop work on successive milestones if the Contractor fails to pay within the X-days period agreed upon earlier in the contract.
The problem with milestones is they aren’t common outside of lengthy freelance writing projects. However, if you agree to author multiple small articles, you can suggest breaking them into multiple milestones to protect yourself. In many cases, clients will jump to settle their debt once they realize you’re not going to budge on your contract, so stay strong!
Late payments can throw a massive wrench into your budget as a freelancer. However, they come with the territory, and you’ll have to deal with them sooner or later. As long as you screen out suspicious clients and you have a rock-solid contract, you should be OK most of the time. With that in mind, here are three ways to incentivize clients to pay on time:
- Don’t turn in your final draft before you receive payment.
- Enforce your contract’s late fee clause.
- Don’t do any further work before payment is taken care of.
If you run into one of these situations, it may be time to update your client roster. A great place to start is the Paid to Blog Jobs board, where you can find a selection of the best freelance writing gigs around.
Do you have any questions about what to do when a freelance client won’t pay? Ask away in the comments section below!
Image credit: Pixabay.