11 Steps to Dealing with a Freelance Client that Won’t Pay

Updated on: by Amy Kennedy
A freelancer thinking deeply working

Dealing with a freelance client who refuses to pay can be an incredibly frustrating and disheartening experience.

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You’ve put in the hard work, delivered on your promises, and now it’s time to get compensated for your efforts.

However, freelancers often find themselves in situations where clients delay or flat-out refuse to pay for various reasons.

Navigating these situations requires a delicate balance of assertiveness, professionalism, and a clear understanding of your rights and options.

This blog post guides you through the essential steps to take when you find yourself in the challenging position of dealing with a freelance client who won’t pay.

Steps To Ensure You Get Paid as Freelancer

Before you begin working with a client, follow the tips below to ensure you get paid: 

Creating a Clear Contract with Payment Terms

A well-drafted contract is your first line of defense when it comes to ensuring you get paid as a freelancer. 

This document should be comprehensive, outlining every aspect of the project, including scope, deadlines, deliverables, and, critically, payment terms. 

In your payment terms section, specify when you expect to be paid, whether it’s on completion, in milestones, or with upfront deposits. Include the payment amount, currency, and any late payment penalties. 

The contract serves as a legally binding agreement that not only sets expectations but also provides a framework for resolving disputes. 

Always make sure both you and your client sign the contract before commencing work.

Discussing Payment Expectations Upfront

Transparent and open communication about payment expectations is essential for a harmonious freelance relationship. 

Before starting any project, initiate a conversation with your client to address payment-related matters. 

Inquire about their preferred payment schedule and method. 

Some clients may be comfortable with paying upfront, while others may prefer to release funds in stages or upon project completion. 

By discussing these expectations upfront, you can avoid misunderstandings and align your work and payment structures to meet both your and your client’s needs. 

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This conversation also establishes trust and professionalism from the outset of your collaboration.

Setting Preferred Payment Methods

The choice of payment method can significantly impact your ability to secure timely payments. 

Work with your client to identify a payment method that is convenient, secure, and mutually acceptable. 

Common options include PayPal, bank transfers, checks, or using online payment platforms like Stripe or Square. 

It’s crucial to consider factors such as transaction fees, processing times, and international payment capabilities when deciding on a payment method. 

Be flexible but also ensure the chosen method aligns with your financial preferences and your client’s comfort level with the payment process. 

Having a mutually agreed-upon payment method minimizes potential payment-related hiccups down the road.

Requesting an Upfront Deposit for Larger Projects

For substantial freelance projects, it’s often prudent to request an upfront deposit. This deposit serves multiple purposes. 

Firstly, it demonstrates your client’s commitment to the project. 

Secondly, it provides you with some financial security, particularly if you need to invest time or resources before project completion. 

The deposit amount can vary but is typically a percentage of the total project cost, with 25-50% being common. 

The specifics should be outlined in your contract. 

Keep in mind that requesting a deposit is a standard practice in many industries, and most clients understand its purpose in safeguarding both parties’ interests.

Sending Professional Invoices with Due Dates

Invoicing is a critical aspect of getting paid as a freelancer. 

Your invoices should be professional, clear, and easy to understand. 

Include your contact information, the client’s details, a breakdown of services rendered, rates, total amounts, and most importantly, due dates. 

Due dates set clear expectations about when payment is expected, helping your clients prioritize your invoices. 

Using professional invoicing tools or software can streamline this process, making it easier for both you and your clients to manage payments. 

Consistency in your invoicing practices also reinforces your professionalism and reliability as a freelancer, which can positively influence clients’ willingness to pay promptly.

Following Up on Overdue Payments Politely

Handling overdue payments requires a delicate touch. It’s possible that late payments result from oversight or genuine issues on your client’s end. 

In these cases, sending polite reminders can be effective. 

Start with a friendly email or message reminding the client of the outstanding invoice and its due date. 

Offer to provide any necessary clarifications or assistance in resolving payment issues. 

If the payment remains overdue, you may need to escalate your reminders, but always maintain professionalism. 

Remember that maintaining a good client relationship is valuable, even when addressing payment delays.

Considering Offering Payment Options

Flexibility in payment options can be a strategic move to accommodate clients’ preferences and financial capabilities. 

Depending on your business model, consider offering choices such as recurring billing for ongoing services or installment plans for larger projects. 

These options can ease the financial burden on clients and encourage long-term collaborations. 

When offering payment options, ensure that they are clearly outlined in your contract and invoices. 

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Transparency is crucial to avoid misunderstandings and to establish trust with your clients.

Using Escrow Services on Freelancing Platforms

If you’re freelancing through online platforms like Upwork, Freelancer, or Fiverr, take advantage of their built-in escrow services. 

Escrow acts as a neutral third party that holds client funds until the project is completed to the client’s satisfaction. 

This system provides a level of security for both you and the client, reducing the risk of non-payment or disputes. 

Freelancing platforms often have dispute resolution processes in place to ensure fair outcomes, further safeguarding your payment.

Protecting Your Work Until Full Payment Is Received

To mitigate the risk of non-payment, it’s wise to withhold the final project or deliverables until you’ve received full payment or the agreed-upon deposit.

This precaution ensures that you retain control over your work until compensation is provided. 

Depending on the nature of your work, you can implement protective measures such as watermarks on digital assets or restricted access to project files. 

While it’s essential to maintain professionalism, protecting your intellectual property and work is a standard practice that safeguards your interests.

Maintaining Open Communication with Clients

Effective communication is a cornerstone of successful freelancing. 

Stay in regular contact with your clients throughout the project, providing updates, addressing questions, and discussing any changes or concerns promptly. 

Maintaining open lines of communication not only fosters trust but also allows you to address potential payment issues early. 

If a client encounters financial difficulties or has concerns about payment, early communication can help you work together to find a solution. 

Additionally, demonstrating your commitment to the project through consistent communication reinforces your professionalism and reliability, increasing the likelihood of receiving timely payments.

Steps to Dealing with a Freelance Client that Won’t Pay

Dealing with a freelance client who refuses to pay can be challenging, but there are steps you can take to address this situation effectively:

1. Review Your Contract

Begin by thoroughly examining the contract you have in place with your client. 

Pay close attention to the payment terms section, which should include details such as the agreed-upon payment amount, payment due dates, any late payment penalties, and the method of payment. 

Understanding the contractual framework is crucial, as it establishes the foundation for seeking payment and provides legal protection in case of disputes. 

By ensuring your contract is comprehensive and well-documented, you set the stage for a smoother resolution process.

2. Attempt Communication

Initiate contact with your client in a respectful and professional manner. 

Your objective is to gently remind them about the outstanding payment and inquire about the reasons behind the delay. 

Miscommunications or innocent oversights can sometimes be at the root of payment issues, and addressing them through open dialogue can lead to an amicable resolution. 

Keep a detailed record of all communications, including dates and the content of your discussions, as these records may become essential evidence if the situation escalates.

3. Send Formal Invoices

When your initial reminders fail to yield payment, proceed by sending formal invoices. 

These invoices should be clear, well-structured, and explicitly state the amount owed, the due date, and any late fees that have accrued. 

Professional invoicing software or templates can help maintain organized financial records. 

The act of sending formal invoices underscores your commitment to proper financial procedures, potentially motivating clients to fulfill their payment obligations promptly.

4. Escalate Communication

If your reminders and invoices remain unanswered, it may become necessary to elevate the tone of your communication. 

Send a final notice to the client, emphasizing the importance of immediate payment and making them aware that you are prepared to take legal action if required. 

It’s crucial to maintain professionalism even when escalating communication, as it conveys seriousness while preserving your reputation as a professional freelancer.

5. Document Everything

Throughout the process, maintain meticulous records of all interactions with the client. 

These records should include emails, messages, invoices, and any other relevant documents. 

Comprehensive documentation is invaluable, serving as critical evidence in the event you need to pursue legal action or mediation. 

It establishes a clear timeline of events and demonstrates your consistent efforts to address the payment issue responsibly and professionally.

6. Consider Mediation

When direct communication with the client proves unfruitful, contemplate seeking mediation as an alternative. 

A neutral third-party mediator can facilitate a conversation between you and the client, helping to identify the underlying causes of the payment dispute and working toward a mutually acceptable resolution. 

Mediation often proves to be a cost-effective and less adversarial option compared to pursuing legal remedies.

7. Consult an Attorney

In cases where all other approaches have failed, it may be necessary to seek legal counsel. 

Consult an attorney who specializes in contract disputes or freelancing issues. 

They can provide expert guidance, evaluate the strength of your case, and, if appropriate, send a formal demand letter to the client on your behalf. 

This letter can emphasize your intent to pursue legal remedies, potentially prompting a resolution.

8. Small Claims Court

Depending on the jurisdiction and the amount owed, you might consider filing a claim in small claims court. 

Small claims court is designed for cases involving relatively modest sums and often does not require legal representation.

Pursuing this legal avenue can compel the client to address the outstanding payment, often through a court-ordered judgment. 

Be sure to familiarize yourself with the specific procedures and limits of your local small claims court.

9. Leverage Freelancer Platforms

If you initially connected with the client through a freelancing platform such as Upwork or Freelancer, take advantage of the platform’s support mechanisms. 

These platforms typically have dispute resolution processes in place to assist freelancers in resolving payment issues. 

Contact their support team to report the non-payment issue, and they may intervene on your behalf to mediate or facilitate a resolution.

10. Protect Your Work

To safeguard your work and ensure you are not taken advantage of, consider withholding any unpaid work or deliverables until you receive full payment or the agreed-upon deposit. 

If necessary, employ protective measures like watermarks on digital assets or restricted access to project files to prevent unauthorized use. 

While it’s important to maintain professionalism, taking precautions to protect your intellectual property is a standard practice to safeguard your interests.

11. Learn and Prevent

View the experience of dealing with a non-paying client as a valuable lesson. 

Reflect on your client vetting process, contract terms, and payment policies. 

Identify any areas that may require improvement or strengthening to prevent similar situations in the future. 

Regularly reviewing and refining your freelance business practices is essential to avoiding payment disputes and ensuring the protection of your financial interests.

Wrap Up

In conclusion, addressing a non-paying freelance client can be a challenging process, but it’s essential to approach it methodically and professionally. 

By reviewing your contract, communicating effectively, sending formal invoices, and escalating when necessary, you can maximize your chances of a successful resolution. 

Remember the importance of documentation, mediation, and legal consultation if needed. 

Leveraging freelancing platforms and protecting your work are vital strategies. 

Ultimately, every experience, even a difficult one, provides an opportunity for growth and improvement in your freelancing career.

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