As a freelancer, you must bear the responsibility of invoicing your clients. This task is what makes freelancing different from an office job, where you will simply have to check your bank account if the money has been deposited by the company. If not, you can complain to the accounting department, which will make sure that your pay has been processed in the bank on that day.
In freelancing, you need to keep track of your progress using different time tracking and invoicing tools so you can generate a report to your clients, who will then review and determine whether you have completed the tasks based on their specifications.
The problem starts once your clients haven’t responded to your invoice yet. Your invoice may have been buried in their sea of emails or they simply don’t want to open yet. Regarding the former, you can only send a gentle nudge relating to the invoice so they can pay up soon.
But if the client remains unresponsive after multiple emails, then you have a big problem.
There are clients who will ask for your services and whom you’ll never hear from again when the job is done. Unfortunately, you will never really know if they will or won’t pay until you have sent the work to them. This is common among freelancers collaboration with international clients but outside platforms like Upwork where no one can act as a mediator between the two of you.
Before we start, here’s a word of advice
Once you’re in this position, the first thing you need to remember is to handle the situation gracefully. You cannot badmouth the client on social media because it paints you as that freelancer who acts up if s/he doesn’t get what s/he needs. While this is an unfair assessment, some clients will think this way and won’t do business with you.
Therefore, you need to respond in a calculated manner to ensure that you are not putting your freelancing career at risk.
That said, below are ways that you can do to handle getting payment from your unresponsive clients.
Reach out to social media
If they are not replying via email, then you should send them a private message on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any social networking site they are using. It’s best to notify them that you already sent the invoice to their inbox weeks ago and that you’d been constantly emailing them multiple times.
If they don’t reply to your PMs, then you can comment on their latest status updates as a last resort.
There’s a chance that they will actually response and tell you innocently that they haven’t opened their emails yet due to a vacation leave or other valid excuses and will process the payment shortly.
However, there’s also a chance they will still not reply to your message (despite it beeing seen by them), delete your comment from their status message, and/or block you from their social account. This is a sign that they have no interest in paying you for your services rendered, which brings us to the second stage…
Draft an incident report
No, you’re not going to report the client to the police.
The report will simply document your conversations and email transcripts with your client. This may require you to write a comprehensive article. If you’re not comfortable with your writing skills, ask a writer friend to write it up for you, or use a tool like Grammarly to help you edit your report as you draft it up.
From the report, you need to show that you have exhausted all solutions but are still not paid the amount you deserve. What you want to achieve from the report is for freelancers to take caution in working with your clients who aren’t paying. Again, you don’t want to badmouth the client – the facts will speak for itself and freelancers can connect the dots from there.
Once you have drafted the report, send this to the clients informing them that you will share this story online if they still can’t produce the payment after a day or so. You need to limit the timeframe to create a sense of urgency for the client to pay up ASAP.
Also, find social media groups related to your niche where you can share your story. If you’re a designer, then find Facebook and LinkedIn groups where you can post the article. It would be best, however, if you have a blog where you can publish the report. As opposed to posting on social media where the moderator can delete your posts, a blog sticks online. You have full control on what you say on your post and other people, including your clients, won’t be able to do anything about it.
If you don’t have a blog, you can easily create an account on Medium for free just for this purpose.
Take Shadi Peterson’s example of a tell-all report about an obnoxious Upwork client as a blueprint when drafting yours. The post was originally published on Medium but the latter requested Shadi to take down the images so he migrated the post on a different blog. Nonetheless, the message was heard loud and clear especially when the Upwork marketer replied and reopened the case.
Spread the word
Assuming that the clients still refuse to acknowledge your emails, then it’s time to dispatch your report to the public.
Post the report on your Medium blog and spread it across the online groups you’ve found. The more places relevant to your cause where you can share your report, the better.
If your post gains enough traction, this could cast a terrible light on your clients, who will then be forced to ask that to take down the post to avoid negative press. Now that you have leverage, you can grant their requests, as long as they pay you for your services rendered.
Worse comes to worse
If the client is undeterred by your efforts, then there are two ways that you can deal with this:
- Give up and move on – There is no shame in your efforts. You did all that you can do to reclaim your payment but they simply refused to budge. You can chalk this one up to experience and take the necessary steps from this incident from happening again. Or…
- Hire a collection agency – Let a professional debt collector do the dirty work for you. I have honestly do tried this before, but if the money owed to you by the client is too big to ignore, then you need to do this for your own good.
Conclusion (and tips to keep non-paying clients away from your business)
Not getting paid by your clients is a tough pill to swallow. However, you probably need to undergo through this experience to become a better freelance.
I remember not getting paid for $150 in 2009. It was frustrating to email the client and not hear anything from him constantly. Eventually, I decided not to pursue the payment and just move on with my life. It simply wasn’t worth obsessing over it because it prevented me from seeking better opportunities in front of me.
However, I was able to come up with ways to prevent from working with non-paying clients ever again that you can apply in your freelancing business (aside from drafting up a contract):
- Always get 50% upfront before doing any work – If the client refuses to pay half the amount, then s/he is not willing to meet you halfway. I normally take this as a sign for me to drop the potential client.
- Takes too long to make an order – Some clients take the time to hire you. They keep asking the questions with answers already available on your professional site or want you to do preliminary work for them before they place an order. Save yourself the trouble by saying “no” to them.
- Request for the full payment for discounted prices – If the client wants you to lower the prices of your services, then you can do so provided that you request for the full amount upfront. You can ensure that you will produce the same quality and provide the same support for questions and edits. But if they want lowered prices from you, they also need to pay the (full) price.
I usually keep these three basic tips in mind when clinching deals with clients and every client I’ve worked with since then has paid every single cent I’m owed. The important thing is that you cut your losses from the first at before they cut you off from the amount you deserve.
Thanks for reading this post! If you have questions about the post, feel free to comment below and let’s talk about it!