Getting Paid: Prodding the Slow-Paying Client

Second in a series.

Having a hard time getting paid for your freelance work? You’ve got company.

Some 44 percent of “independent workers” had difficulty getting paid for their work last year, according to the Freelancers Union, the industry group that counts more than 150,000 members nationwide. It says three out of four freelancers are paid late or not at all at least once in their careers.

“Collecting payment is a big issue that’s been compounded by the economy,” Gary Swart recently told The Wall Street Journal. Swart is chief executive of oDesk, a freelance-management web site that acts as a liaison between freelancers and clients.

Applying Pressure

He told the paper about an especially worrisome tactic: companies trying to negotiate lower prices from freelancers — after the work has been delivered!

As we discussed in the first installment of this series, a good invoice may be the best protection against nonpayment. Getting partial payment up front helps too. Freelancers Union also suggests being prompt sending out invoices and late notices, following up oral agreements with e-mail confirmations, and keeping records of all communications.

But how do you prod a client who’s slow to pay?

The Wall Street Journal story advises: “Get over the embarrassment. Don’t be uncomfortable with asking about money — everyone works with the expectation of getting paid.”

But there are strategies to encourage payment. Find out at what interval the client would like to be invoiced and follow that schedule. Smaller balances can be less daunting, another argument for more frequent invoicing. Offering proof of your time spent in the form of a timesheet may also help convince a doubter you deserve your money.

The Imaginary Accountant

If you’re feeling like a pest, blame your imaginary accountant. If the company is local, offer to drop by to pick up your check. Face-to-face meetings are harder to ignore than an e-mail or phone message. If your primary contact isn’t helpful, find out who is actually responsible for getting you paid.

A quick call to the company should reveal that person’s name and contact information. Remember, people in accounting have little or no knowledge of the work you did or any creative differences you may have had with the client. Accounting people live to pay bills, and your unpaid bill is for them a problem that needs solving. A polite letter to the business manager can include the details of the job and copies of the invoices sent.

Keeping Things Civil

In dealing with the business manager, you can get creative by offering to forgive late charges or accepting a payment plan. Just be sure and keep things civil – this is the person who can pay you, or not – and follow up any phone conversations with a written note or e-mail.

If all else fails, the advice goes, withhold delivery of further work – politely, of course.

The trick, clearly, is handling the situation in such a way that you end up with your money and a client who will call you again. Having accomplished this, it may be time to ask yourself: When that client calls you again, do you want to answer?

Next: Using a reminder system

3 Responses to “Getting Paid: Prodding the Slow-Paying Client”

  1. I use my "imaginary accountant" a couple of time s month. It does work, the usual response is a wise nod and an 'Oh, OK"

    My 'real accountant' would be surprised at how effective he is....

  2. A few years back I was fortunate enough to attend a seminar with John Harrington, a regular contributor to this blog. If you pick up a copy of his book or check his website you can see how he handles it by adding a 10% Admin fee on his invoices. Pay up and you can deduct it. Don't pay up and I get a tip.

  3. you know I had a client that took two weeks to pay me the first time and forty days the second time. I finally passed her on to another guy thinking that maybe it was me and she took two months to pay him but she didn't give him his full fee so he returned the check and he finally got the full pay three months later.


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