Freelance business challenges: How to handle clients not paying and other issues

Have you experienced a client not paying? Or maybe a lack of clients at all? Here are some common freelance business challenges and how to handle them.
Freelance business challenges: How to handle clients not paying and other issues

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63% of freelancers experience anxiety about the work they must accomplish. Even knowing this percentage includes side hustles and full-time freelancing, that's a big number. And feeling anxious about your workload is an understandable concern for anyone running a freelance business.

Freelancers face many business challenges, all of which come with their own solutions.

Learn for yourself what these challenges are and how to best avoid them. Read this guide to discover how to overcome these challenges and nurture your business' success.

1. Not getting paid on time

Not getting paid on time is the most important of freelancers' business challenges. Income variability is the name of the game for freelancing, but not getting paid is unacceptable. Missed invoices or forgetful clients are some reasons you might experience this challenge.

It may also be due to the nature of clients you work with. The freelance business is often seen as a fast, cheap work path. Some unethical companies hire freelancers well below their worth.

You can avoid this by calculating your basic freelance rate. A lot of freelancers don't know their financial worth. It's important to avoid working with cheap clients.

It's also important to get paid for your work before completing it. Some clients will steal work without paying because they already have the final product. You can fix this, though.

In a more optimistic light, late invoices may have nothing to do with your client selection. You might lack an established path for invoicing clients, so they forget.

Your motivation for invoice reminders might be haphazard. If you send reminders when you're anxious about income, they're likely sporadic. Random reminders don't communicate professionalism to clients.

How to fix it

There are tons of solutions for making sure you get paid on time. Your first responsibility is checking the legitimacy of potential clients. Ask yourself, "Are they legit, or should I quit?"

Client research

You can research your clients in several ways. Explore whatever professional networks you use. Asking around can provide a real-life experience that business sites may lack.

Check the Better Business Bureau, too. You might not find every business there, so explore spaces on social media. Often other burned freelancers will comment to warn their peers.

Beyond social media, a quick Google search for the company name + lawsuit can populate important information. Freelancers can sue for unpaid work, and a search can show active or past cases.

Invoice setup

After vetting your potential clients, you can take responsibility for your income. Explore software that automates proposals, invoices, and payment reminders. Track payments for direct follow-up with clients who miss paying invoices.

It's your income stream, so it's your responsibility. Correct invoicing processes ensure you get paid on time. Clients will perceive you as more professional, also, which you can leverage for higher pricing in the future.

When you invoice, be sure to include tracking details and an invoice number. This helps you and your clients keep an accurate record. If possible, use online payment systems or integrations.

The easier it is for clients to pay you, the better. You can also set up precise payment schedules. This is vital for partial payments milestone-based invoicing. If you have retainer clients, payment plans are often essential.

Protect your work

Even with the most honorable clients, you can still get paid late. They're human, like you. To avoid suffering from their mistakes or forgetfulness, protect your work.

Explore methods like a good faith deposit for upfront payment. If the project or client relationship sours, you at least generated a modicum of revenue. You can also define partial payments for clients hesitant to invest thousands of dollars in advance.

For freelance writing, paying money upfront for incomplete work can scare clients. Partial payments (based on communicated milestones) protect you and the relationship.

Don't be afraid of instituting a late or defaulted payment penalty. Your time and work are valuable - but be reasonable when setting these out.

Consider how you'd like to enforce these penalties. Are they more of a legal protective measure in a worst-case scenario? Or will you enforce them and risk damaging client relationships?

Make sure to communicate with clients who have unpaid invoices. Reminding them may result in immediate resolution. It can give you a clearer picture of where they stand, too.

After reaching out, invoice your clients a second time. It may be as simple as a misplaced or redirected email in your client's inbox. In the absolute worst case, be prepared to sue a client, too.

2. Where are my clients?

If you're struggling to find clients, it could be for a few reasons. You'll want to examine your pitching, proposal, and prospecting processes. How well do you know your ideal client type?

Start asking yourself how well you know your ideal clients. If you find yourself casting too wide of a net, you don't know your clients. Examine how narrow your client type is.

Buyer personas and ideal client types define prospects. Difficulty finding and landing clients relies on how you communicate your offerings. Inconsistent messaging confuses prospects, driving business away.

Landing clients might not be a primary difficulty. Instead, you struggle to secure long-term clients.

Or maybe you're underselling yourself when you reach out. You may feel overwhelmed thinking about the hours of work ahead.

You don't have to spend endless hours pitching, though. Wasting time incorrectly pitching clients costs you valuable income. Prioritize defining your messaging by identifying your ideal clients.

How to fix it

Did you work with past clients on a one-off project? If it worked out well, go back to them and nurture a lasting relationship. For example, a freelance writing business might supply copy for a three-month contract.

This client could become a potential retainer client who returns annually and renews that contract. As future projects arise, the same client may return for additional services. This generates steady income to support you, even during drops in revenue.

Create a system for following up with short-term or repeat clients. Establish paths for them to expand their relationship with you. Make sure your proposals and pitches use an onboarding process; make sure to differentiate with each offering, too.

Consider mini-email campaigns to get a sense of each client's experience with you. Email marketing is a great tactic to build long-term relationships. This can save you a lot of time on the backend to avoid pointless pitches to cold clients.

If this marketing channel doesn't fit your messaging, try social media instead! The informality of social media lends to warmer pitching.

Most likely, you and potential clients follow the same thought leaders, pages, and so on. Organic connection (even online) is far more likely to land a client than random cold pitching.

3. Anxiety, isolation, and burnout

Working remotely provokes common business challenges. Most often, these are personal challenges freelancers face. The likelihood of experiencing these challenges is higher for people who work alone.

Many freelance business owners work to suit specific lifestyle needs, such as mental health. Even for the most resilient, organized, and confident freelancer, the business can drain you. In a bigger company, you have several things to support your success (even if they inconvenienced other life aspects).

Regular 9-5 employment offers the benefit of routine, structure, company culture, and teamwork. KPIs and performance reviews help maintain accountability and motivation, too. As a freelance worker, this is different.

Things may slide when it's up to you to motivate and maintain accountability. You might feel yourself feeling more anxious about money, product quality, and client satisfaction. This is normal, but how do you cope?

Many freelancers overwork themselves out of anxiety; this is not a good idea in the long run. It puts your business in an unstable emotional space, making it harder to produce quality work. Over time, you'll get burned out on your work, impacting your overall quality of life.

Part of this anxiety and potential burnout comes from working alone. Isolation can increase productivity up to nearly 90%, based on individual motivation. The downside is the lack of community and support.

How to fix it

On the upside, every freelance worker knows the importance of community. With social media and networking sites, you can find the support you need. If you're not part of a digital community, find one!

It can provide much-needed support on bad days. You can learn valuable insight from industry veterans. You might find helpful tips or receive potential clients, too.

Digital groups are a great avenue for coworking, too. If you don't want a coworking space, you can co-work virtually. You'd be surprised at how helpful bouncing ideas off another person is for work.

Having a community is one of the various solutions available to you. If you work from home, make sure to get out of the house. Overcoming business challenges sometimes means walking away.

It's a good idea to balance your work and life by learning when to say no. Set up boundaries for yourself and avoid burning out. You can explore time blocking to ensure your workday actually has an endpoint.

4. Feast or famine

A common cause of freelance business is income variability. Some months, you might make $15k one month and half that amount the next month. This isn't indicative of a skillset or personal ability.

It's the nature of the beast with a freelance business. There are simply periods of no work (i.e., famine). And then there are times when there's too much work, and you might even turn clients away.

Feast or famine can cripple income flow if you haven't properly prepared. It makes the list of business challenges because seasoned freelancers and first-timers all suffer from it. And not expecting it can you leave you experiencing imposter syndrome, anxiety about income, and worse.

Even if clients need less work or you're having a hard time drumming up projects, there's still work to do. You can make the most of dips in your workload.

How to fix it

You can't make clients or work magically appear, but you can maintain and improve those things neglected during peaks of employment. Your feast and famine fears can be quelled with proactivity. Taking advantage of downtime can help you overcome other common business challenges.

Take this time to work on your business and boost your future success. Evaluate your productivity, goals, accomplishments, and failings. Determine what work took too much time or where you were most unproductive.

Figure out what you enjoyed most and consider investing more time in these tasks in the future. For example, you might find you enjoy some niches over others with freelance writing. Focus on these.

Explore automating time-consuming tasks like invoicing (or explore software to help you manage this). Improve your scheduling and time blocking to get ahead. Bettering your organization will save you time and stress in the future.

You can also take this time to build your brand. How much effort do you spend pitching and proposing clients? Consider finding new ways to funnel in future clients by elevating your network.

Are you ready to face these business challenges head-on?

We think you are. And that's why we created Moxie for you. It's also why we provide resources to support the success of freelancers like you.

Living the dream freelancer, digital nomad lifestyle can be your reality. We're here to support you with better project management, invoice regularity, and a pipeline tool to track upcoming opportunities. Sign up for Moxie today and start facing your business challenges like a pro.

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Our team of career freelancers writes about best invoice practices, what makes a great client, and repeats the mantra, "never work without a contract." We're opinionated about the future of work and will always be on the side of freelancers.
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