Fighting late paying clients

Last Updated on 5 May 2021

Happy money

Every few years there’s a new initiative to help freelancers get paid on time.

Maybe I’m getting old, but it seems to me that if these initiatives were effective, there wouldn’t need to be any new ones!

Nevertheless, it’s good to see that there’s now a Small Business Commissioner working to the BEISS (the business department).

It’s a common problem. Sometimes it’s a policy of the paying organisation to hang on to cash as much as possible. Sometimes it’s pure ineptitude and someone forgets to press a button to action your payment.

The member organisation IPSE, which represents freelancers, says more than half the people surveyed had experienced late payments at some point. I’m surprised it’s not a higher percentage.

How to get paid on time

Don’t forget that you can help yourself to get paid on time by following a few simple steps. This is how I do it:

  1. Agree ANY work in writing, including the agreed fee and the hours/days to be worked. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a big contract. Just make sure that you confirm by email what you’ve agreed verbally. This goes for dailies just as much as longer fixed-term work.
    If it’s a text conversation for a short piece of work, screenshot the conversation. That’s your agreement in writing.
  2. Ask the person who’s giving you the work to confirm your email is correct. If they’re not prepared to reply to your written message with written ‘yes’ you should be suspicious.
  3. Push to get set up on their payment system as soon as possible once the work has been agreed and certainly before you start the work.
  4. If invoicing, send in the invoice as soon as possible after the work. If you leave it you might forget!
    • Your invoice should include date, terms of payment and a statement pointing out that you charge interest for late payments (see more about this on www.payontime.co.uk)
    • If you’re not sure what goes on an invoice, use my free invoice template >
  5. Chase the payment once the terms have run out. Phone the person who actions the payment. This may be different from the person who gave you the work. Check they received the invoice and that you hadn’t made a mistake on it.
  6. If you get shirty or evasive answers after a couple more chasing phone calls, send in an invoice for interest.
The payment timeline

Don’t take it personally

Some people are nervous about chasing money they’re due for work they’ve done. My response is that it makes you look professional as long as you’re polite and matter of fact about it.

Chasing the money early on in the process with the accounts department will help you keep good relations with the person who actually gives you the work.

Also, if you chase early, you won’t be angry. You’re just ringing to check things are going through rather than to complain.

Ultimately, try to have a big enough pool of clients so that you don’t have to work again for the ones who don’t want to pay you.

NB: David Thomas Media Ltd is not responsible for the content of other sites nor any financial advice provided by them.

Posted on 04 May 2021

  1. Alice said:

    For people (like me) who are uncomfortable chasing late payment, one tip that worked for me was to set up an online invoicing system (I use quickfile.co.uk) with templated reminder emails. If a payment is late, I don’t spend any time agonising over it, I just hit a single button to trigger a polite reminder email. I also send the emails from “accounts@mybusiness.co.uk” instead of using my own email address – that way it feels like it’s not “me” chasing the payment, it’s my “accounts team”!

    • David said:

      It’s always good to automate processes like this. Emailing politely can certainly bring results. Interestingly I’ve found that phoning politely tends to get things done more quickly. Any thoughts?

      • Alice said:

        I think it depends on the circumstances. A lot of my clients are small businesses, so if a payment is late, it’s almost always an oversight. An email works well as a gentle nudge without causing too much embarrassment for them! With my larger clients, I agree that a phone call is more effective – the problem is more likely to be something systemic (e.g. the invoice needs to be in PDF format or sent to a particular email address).

        • David said:

          Great tips Alice. Thanks for sharing them!

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