So, you’ve just completed a project for a client.
You’re waiting for them to pay you for all the work you’ve done.
But, they don’t.
It’s a common scene that happens to all freelancers and small business owners.
Unfortunately, you’re likely to experience it many more times in your career.
How can you ask them to pay you without ruining the relationship you have with the client or jeopardising work with other clients.
First of all, asking them to pay you if you’ve done work for them is not unreasonable.
If they haven’t done the correct thing in paying you, you are allowed to ask them to do so.
However, there are more effective ways of doing this than sending off a quick angry email or an email that doesn’t actually address that the payment is overdue.
Here is what we’ve found to be the best way to get clients to pay you.
Set up a schedule of when you will email them
You shouldn’t leave it until it is too late before you chase up a client about paying you.
Try doing it right from the beginning.
Set up a messaging schedule for when you’ll contact them.
An example of what you could do is:
- A week before the due date
- The day the invoice is due
- A week after the due date
- Two weeks after the due date
- A month after the due date
When you put in place a schedule, it makes you look professional and organised rather than rude and demanding.
How to ask for a payment before the invoice is overdue
The emails you send your client before the invoice is due should serve as polite reminders.
You don’t want to come across as too pushy or demanding so be sure to use friendly and helpful language.
Make sure your email is:
- Giving them notice to get the payment sorted
- Clearly outlining what you want them to do
Example Email 1:
From: [Your name] To: [Your client's name] Subject: Payment for [work you did] Hi [client name], I hope your customers are enjoying [the work you did]. It was great to work with you. I've attched the invoice for the work I completed. Like we discussed, the total comes to [cost] which you can pay via [payment options]. If you've got any questions, feel free to contact me. Thank you and please let me know if there is any work I can do for you in the future. Kind regards, [your name].
Example Email 1 is a great example of an email you could send before the due date.
You’re reminding the customer that they need to pay you in a way that is helpful and friendly.
You’re also inviting the opportunity to do more work with them in the future.
How to ask for a payment on the due date
The email you send your client on the due date once again should be a polite reminder.
However, this time you should be more direct about the action you want to take.
Still use polite and helpful language but make the focus of your email content about the payment.
Make sure your email is:
- Reminding them that they need to pay you
- Clearly explaining what you want them to do
Example Email 2
From: [your name] To: [your client's name] Subject: Invoice payment due today Hi [client's name], I trust that you are a bit busy but I just wanted to send you a quick reminder that the payment for [the work you did] is due today. I've attached the invoice to this email. The total cost is [insert amount] and you can pay via [payment methods]. Please let me know if you have any questions about the payment. Thanks, [your name].
Example Email 2 is an example of an email that you would send on the due date.
You want this email to be direct about the fact that the client needs to pay you today.
Avoid adding any other content to your email that could distract your customer from the fact that they have to pay you.
The language used is still polite and informative but it clearly tells them that they need to pay you today.
How to ask for a payment when your invoice is overdue
Okay, so you’ve emailed them a few times politely but you haven’t heard back from them and they still haven’t paid you.
Don’t go into panic mode straight away.
Most of the time, it’s nothing personal and it probably just slipped their mind.
Regardless, you still need to get paid.
Once an invoice is overdue, you should be firm about the fact that it is overdue and they need to pay you.
However, don’t be rude because it might mean that they are less likely to pay you.
Make sure your email is:
- Clearly stating that they need to pay you
- Emphasising that the payment is overdue
- Not personally targeting them
Example email 3:
From: [your name] To: [client's name] Subject: Overdue invoice payment Hi [client name], According to my records, I have not yet received payment of [payment amount] for invoice [invoice number] due on [due date]. I've attached the invoice with the amount due which you can pay via [payment methods]. If you have already made the payment, please let me know. If you have not made the payment, please do so as soon as you can. Thanks, [your name].
Example email 3 can be used at any point past the due date.
If a late fee is written into your contract, you should also mention this in your email.
Even as time goes on, refrain from being rude and unprofessional.
Threats and accusations will only ruin your reputation and threaten future work whether it be with your client or their friends.
When they still don’t pay you
Sometimes, you can email and email but the client still ignores you and doesn’t pay you.
In those cases, you should call them.
Generally, a phone call is enough to spur them into action and get them to call you.
You might also realise that the reason they weren’t paying you had nothing to do with them but was an error on your behalf.
Whatever reason they give you for why it hasn’t been paid can be sorted out over the phone and you’ll probably reach a solution quicker than you would over email.
For the best success when calling a client make sure you do the following:
- Clearly explain who you are
- Tell them why you are calling
- Avoid bringing up anything not related to the payment
- Speak clearly and politely
- Don’t make any accusations
- Explain what they need to pay you
- Explain how they can pay you
- Define any late fees that they are required to pay
If the client gives you an excuse as to why they can’t pay you, ask them to define when they will pay you. With a date, you appropriately follow up with them on that date.
If they don’t pick up your phone call, don’t panic.
They might be in the middle of something else or they might not recognise your phone number.
Follow the call up with a text and then call them back either in a few hours or the next day.
If they are STILL ignoring you and not paying the invoice, you can try visiting their office.
If even that fails, you might have to use a debt collection if the invoice is substantial enough.
Be careful which agency you go with if you go down this route and try to find one that is registered to an official debt collection association.
Keep in mind that this method will require you to pay the agency a percentage of the debt recovered.
Clients not paying you is something you’ll have to deal with throughout your career.
However, there are a few things that you can do to protect yourself against clients not paying and prevent it from happening in the future.
- Always record the work you are doing. The more records you keep that show you’ve done work for the client and that you’ve had conversations and interactions about the work, the safer you’ll be.
- Make it as easy as possible for your clients to pay you. Offer the options that they want and give them clear instructions about how they make the payment.
- Send the invoice to them straight away. The longer it takes for them to get the invoice, the longer you’ll need to wait for them to pay it.
- Create a contract. Invoices aren’t always legally binding on their own but a contract is. Contracts can protect you from clients who do the wrong thing, especially when the services you are doing cost a lot.
- Ask for a deposit or get paid before you perform the service. This isn’t an option for a lot of small business owners but there is no better way to prevent clients from dodging a payment than to get them to pay for it in advance.
To sum up
Clients not paying you is something that all small business owners will face at some point in the careers.
You might feel uncomfortable about chasing them up or be worried that you’ll come across as rude.
Always remember that you are well within your right to ask for the money you’ve worked for.
Be direct in your approach but use professional and friendly language when doing so.
Try to set up a messaging schedule so that your payment requests come across as simply professional conduct rather than pushy demands.
In your emails, be sure to outline what they need to pay you and how they can make this payment.
Never make accusations as more often than not, someone has just made a mistake along the way or slipped up.
Remember that you are defined by your professional conduct and that the most important thing about business is maintaining good relationships.
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