Working for yourself as a freelancer has a ton of perks: you get to set your own hours, be your own boss, and get paid for what you love. Unfortunately, freelancing also has a few downsides. One of these is that from time to time a client might pay their invoice late, or not pay it at all. Luckily, there are steps you can take to help ensure you get paid. Here are five things to do when a freelance client owes you money:
Start with a Pleasant Phone Call or Email
It's natural to panic when an invoice is overdue. After all, you're counting on that money. But overreacting to what may be an innocent oversight is not in your best interest, especially if you would like to continue working with your client in the future.
Start off with a simple phone call or email. Instead of being accusatory, try saying something like "Hi, I was wondering if you received the invoice I sent over on [fill in the date]. It's a bit overdue so I think maybe it got lost in the shuffle. Would you like me to send it again?" In most cases, this little nudge is all it will take to get your client to pay their bill.
Stop the Project
If this doesn't work, it's time to halt your project. Even if you've already completed it, it's always best to wait on delivering the last bit of the final project until your client is current on their payments. Send a polite but firm email letting them know you will deliver the final project once you receive their payment. This provides you with leverage, since your client most likely needs the work they hired you to complete. Stopping work has the added benefit of preventing further financial loss, since you have no way of knowing if your client will pay you for additional work.
Hire a Collections Services Company
If neither of these tactics works, and it's been more than a month or so since the invoice was due, you should consider hiring a collections services company. Professional collection agents have very effective tactics for collecting your money, and know how to do so in a way that follows all applicable laws. They will charge a fee or keep a small percentage of the money collected, but it's better than not receiving any of your money.
Take it to Small Claims Court
If the amount of money owed is significant enough to be worth spending money on court costs, you might want to consider filing a lawsuit in small claims court. It's sometimes best to hire a collections agency or attorney to do this for you, since errors on the filing paperwork can result in the case being thrown out, causing you to lose even more money since you will then be out filing costs as well as the money your client owes you.
Start Billing Up-front
In order to prevent similar headaches in the future, it's important to begin billing up-front if you don't already do so. If a new client balks at the idea of paying for work before getting to know you, you can provide samples, or charge a 50% deposit to begin work with the remainder due when the project is complete. You should also be setting up contracts with each client, in order to help protect both of you. You can often find online templates and customize them to suit your needs.
By following these steps, you will be more likely to get the money owed to you, and hopefully avoid similar situations in the future.