What to Do When a Client Does Not Pay

What to Do When a Client Does Not Pay

Last Edited September 11, 2023 by Garenne Bigby in Business

Freelancing has many benefits. A freelancer can make extra money, connect with professionals all over the world, and get the jobs done quickly. Some people may even do freelancing work as their full-time gig. As a freelancer, there are writing jobs, web development, translating, tutoring, and so much more. With the internet, online freelancing has become very popular among those that would like to work from home or others that are looking to make extra money. There is so much opportunity online to do freelance work.

While there are so many benefits to freelancing, as with anything, there are also some cons. Just as there are good and bad people out in the real world, this is also true for the freelancing world. Some people are out to cheat others to their own advantage. Unfortunately, this has happened and can happen to freelancers. Sometimes there is a disconnect between the freelancer and the client, and for whatever reason, the client doesn’t pay. This can be very frustrating for a freelancer who has put a lot of time and effort into a project.

Whether it is a full-time job or a second job, no one wants to work for free, especially when you entered a verbal agreement about contract terms. If you have a client that doesn’t pay you, here are the steps you need to take to get paid.

what to do when clients do not pay

What to Do

1. Take a Deep Breath

A first instinct might be to get angry, curse the client out, or swear you will never do freelance work again. Stop. Take a deep breath and think about what needs to happen next. Since you entered into a contract, verbal or written, there are options about what can be done next. Taking the next steps will only be effective if they are done calmly. If you need to walk away for a little bit and calm down, then go for it. No matter what, don’t attack the client verbally. This can close doors rather than open them for your career. The money is not worth ruining your reputation.

2. Contact the Client

Don’t start by expecting the worst. This can be difficult because it is in human nature to expect the worse when something goes wrong. Perhaps the client has had a family crisis, has not been online or has become ill. While these are not excuses, they are problems that will eventually clear themselves up. It is difficult when you don’t know where a client lives or how else to contact them. If they don’t pay up right away, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are not going to. The first step is to try and understand what is going on with them. Give them the benefit of the doubt at first, but if it continues, that is when additional and sometimes drastic steps need to be taken.

3. Send Them Another Message and Follow Up

Play nice. If they don’t answer your first message, contact the client again and ask them if there is something wrong with the work that was completed. When approaching a problem by asking if something can be done better or differently for them, the client may fess up and let you know what is going on. Perhaps there is something they would like changed or maybe they didn’t receive the work right away. They might even be going over it to see if they need changes to be made. Just remember that if you attack them, it will only upset them, and then might be bigger problems that arise.  

When you do contact the client again, remind them of your contract, and that you have followed the terms by getting them the work done by the deadline they asked for. By reminding them you had a contract, and you have followed the terms might encourage them to keep up their end of the bargain. You can also kindly let them know you have worked hard on their project and are still awaiting payment.

After all, you have spent time working for them, so you might need to be a bit more aggressive to protect yourself. It can be difficult because you don’t want them to write a bad review on you or ruin your reputation. On the other hand, you have completed the work and deserve to be paid.

4. Withhold Work if It is Early Enough

This might not be possible if the work has already been completed and sent over to them. However, if you are getting paid step by step (by milestone) and the client has yet to hand over the money for the work done so far, let them know that no more work will be done you are paid for what you already accomplished. This will show the client that you take your work seriously, so hopefully they will keep up their end of the contract.

If you are in this situation, make sure you speak to the client politely instead of using your words aggressively. If you are not polite and calm, the client may choose not to work with you anymore. Not only is this detrimental to making money, but it can also hurt your reputation. If the client has an opportunity to write a review about you, it might not be a positive one. This could hurt your likelihood to get hired in the future by other clients.

5. Contact Them on Another Medium

If it is possible to contact the client on social media, through a phone number, or email, try contacting them another way. Perhaps their main form of communication is not working at the moment. Of course, this will only work if you have other contact information for the client. Start off by telling them you are unable to reach them on whatever platform has previously been used. Then remember to be kind and ask them if there is a problem with the work completed. If you have already tried to contact them before, let them know that if they do not respond to your messages in a proper amount of time, further steps will be taken.

6. Save All Your Messages

Do whatever is needed to save any correspondence you have had with the client. This includes applications, contracts, a hire letter, and any subsequent messages. Also make sure to keep track of the dates the work began and when it was submitted. If you need to take any further steps, all the evidence will be at your fingertips to file a dispute or contact a lawyer. Hopefully you won’t have to go that far, but if it happens, you need to make sure there is a record of the conversations and work completed for the client.

This can be one of the reasons it is so important to stick with an online platform, email, and other forms of correspondence that are easy to save. When a client and freelancer have a conversation on the phone, it is more difficult to prove what was talked about. When agreeing to the terms and conditions in a message or email, you and the client are still entering into a contract.

A positive to this is that it can be proven what was agreed upon. This will help if you need to take any further steps. By proving the terms and conditions of the contract, it won’t be a case of their word against yours.

7. Post a Review

Try posting a review on social media or an online platform. Many freelancers and clients get their work based on reviews that have been left by previous clients. If the client is ignoring you, this will get their attention. Remember not to bash them or use inappropriate language. Calmly explain that the contract has remained unpaid. Consider even throwing in a positive comment explaining what the client did well. This will help to ensure the review is more credible because it wasn’t the whole experience that went wrong.

Try to remember that you are not in the wrong here. If you did the work in a timely manner and stuck to the terms of the contract, then you didn’t do anything wrong. You have nothing to be worried or afraid of other than not getting paid. It is very important to keep calm through this frustrating process. A freelancer who is not getting paid has every right to try and get the money they worked for.

In another profession that has a physical location, it is illegal for an employer not to pay their worker for their time. This is why there are laws protecting employees. By posting a review, hopefully the client will pay.

8. Decide if You Want to Go Further

Depending on the amount of money you had decided on, it may or may not be worth it to take any further steps. If you are able to go on without hurting your bank account too much, this might be the best route to take. While it isn’t right for a client to neglect to pay you, it also may not be worth the headache. If it is a significant amount of money, then you probably want to forget ahead.

If you decide not to go any further, you can write your review and start looking for new work right away. If you do choose to continue making attempts to get paid, you might want to prepare for putting lots of time and effort into this process. You will also need to remain calm and be patient. Filing a dispute, taking someone to court and getting assistance from a lawyer can take time. Chances are, if you do get your money, you won’t get it the next day or the next week. You might have to wait to get it, but depending on how much money your contract stated, it might be worth it in the end.

If you decide not to go on, use this as a learning experience. Most people in the freelancing world are going to be honest and take their job seriously. As with anything else in life, there are people who abuse their position and ruin it for the rest of them. If you do run into a bad client (everyone will at some point), don’t let it ruin your desire to continue with your work. Learn from it. Next time you take on a job, make sure you have a written contract.

You can also take other steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again. In asking for money up front, you might deter those clients who are trying to take advantage of people. This will show them you are serious about the work. You can also get paid for milestones. This means that as you complete the job little by little, you are getting paid. Another option is to get paid on a schedule instead of waiting until the job is over.

9. File a Dispute

If you have attempted everything mentioned above, you can consider filing a dispute. If you work for an online freelancing platform, there are usually steps you can take such as filing a dispute or contacting the company for assistance. There is only so much you can do on your own, and if there isn’t anyone within the online platform to help you out, you will need to take further steps.

The dispute process can take some time as well. The company will need to do their research and collect evidence to help settle the dispute. Unfortunately, when this happens, it has the potential to shut down your account while the dispute is ongoing. Before you go ahead with filing a dispute, make sure you know how it will affect your account and what process you’ll need to go through. It can be helpful if you have saved all your messages and correspondence with the client. This can help the discovery phase of the dispute go much smoother.

10. Send a Letter from a Lawyer

If you are not using an online platform and have no one to contact, you can try going through a lawyer. While using a lawyer might cost you some money, you will have to decide if this is worth it for you. Before you hire them to go with you to court, try having them draft a letter. Hopefully this will help. It might even encourage the client to enter a payment plan with you. Remember, if getting help from a lawyer is going to cost more than you will get out of it, then it might not be worth it.

Usually, when people see an envelope from a lawyer, they will take whatever steps necessary so that it won’t go any further. When you visit the lawyer, make sure you have contact information for your client, so the lawyer will be able to send them the correspondence. It is also important to bring the contract, if there is one, and any correspondence you have had with the client. Bring any and all conversations you have had with them, both from before they wouldn’t pay and any attempt you made to contact them.  All the lawyer will need to do is let the client know you have contacted them and are assisting them in getting paid based on the contract. If they still don’t pay up, then you might consider taking it a step further.

11. Take Them to Court

Small claims court may be worth it if you are losing out on a lot of money. This is the last step you can take, so if it doesn’t work, you could be out time and money. Before you take this route, make sure it is going to be worth it. Consider how much it will cost to go to court compared to the amount of money you will get from the client. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee this will even work. If it doesn’t make sense for you to take this step, it might be time to find other work, move on, and learn from your current situation. Sometimes it is better to cut your losses and move on instead of keeping on fighting. If getting your money is taking too much time and effort, then maybe you need to let it go and continue on with your life.

Final Words

While being a freelancer can be a great way to make money, get yourself out there, and meet others who share the same professional passions as you, it can also cost you a lot of headaches. Clients are humans, too, and sometimes they might not have your best interest in mind. It is also unfortunate that when freelancing online, you don’t really know your client as well as you would if you worked with them in an office every day. There are many steps you can take if your client refuses to pay you, but make sure you are not driving yourself crazy or ruining your reputation. There is no amount of money that will be worth being unable to find freelance jobs in the future.

Garenne Bigby
Author: Garenne BigbyWebsite:
Founder of DYNO Mapper and Former Advisory Committee Representative at the W3C.

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