What to do if your freelance client hasn't paid you

There are so many upsides to being your own boss. But sometimes, you have to chase down money. Here's what you can do if your freelance client hasn't paid yet.
What to do if your freelance client hasn't paid you

Hero image by Nathan Dumlao

Although freelancing has many advantages — such as being your own boss, working on your own terms, and setting your own hours — there are times when you'll have to undertake something not so nice.

If you have a freelance client who hasn't paid you on time, you will need to start chasing your invoice and taking steps to make sure they pay.

According to reports, 54% of workers in the gig economy say that it takes too long for them to get paid.

Getting paid late can be very disruptive and stressful, especially if you're relying on a big payment to come in from a main client.

However, what's even worse is not getting paid at all. Further stats show that 44% of freelancers have experienced not getting paid by clients.

Don't let this happen to you. Instead, keep reading to find out what to do if your freelance client hasn't paid and to increase your chances of receiving the compensation owed to you.

Stop working

If your client is late with their payment, the first step is to stop working for them.

This might sound like a bold step, but if you're up against a non-paying client it could keep you from losing even more time and money. It also shows the client that you take getting paid very seriously.

If it's a client you've been working with for a long time, and you trust them, you can skip this step. There are often cases where someone might simply have forgotten to pay your invoice.

Be proactive and persistent

Besides pausing any further projects, the next step to take if a freelance client hasn't paid is to immediately notify them of the outstanding invoice.

Don't keep quiet in the hopes that they will remember to pay you. The longer you leave an unpaid invoice to gather dust, the less likely you are to see payment.

To increase the chances of swift payment, be proactive and persistent in reminding clients of unpaid invoices.

Although you can do this manually, the best way to bill clients and ensure they receive regular reminders is by using a good invoicing tool.

With Hectic's easy-to-use invoicing feature, you can create professional invoices within minutes and auto-populate line items from our time tracking and deliverables features. You also receive notifications when it's time to send a follow-up reminder to a freelance client who hasn't paid.

To ensure you never chase an already paid invoice, Hectic's invoice tool with also send you payment confirmations.

Keep things civil

If you dealing with a particularly difficult freelance client who's not paying, it can be very tempting to vent your frustrations at them when following up on your invoice. Freelance client ghosting or evasive replies to payment reminders can make even the most patient freelancer want to lose their cool.

However, one of the most important parts of client management and invoice chasing is to keep things civil. Not only does this make you look more professional, but it can also help you to get paid.

Lastly, keeping a polite and professional tone is also important if you are forced to take legal action.

Send out a letter of demand

If you have exhausted all avenues and are not getting a positive response (or a payment) from a freelance client who hasn't paid, it might be time to take some more serious measures.

The first action you can take is to send out a letter of demand. A letter of demand acts as an official record of your demand for payment.

Because it is official and lays out the legal implications, simply receiving a letter of demand can be enough to make a tardy client pay up.

If they ignore your letter of demand, you will then be ready to take further legal action if you so choose.

Go to small claims court

If the client still won't pay you, the next step you can consider is going to small claims court.

One of the advantages of pursuing a case through the small claims court is it's a cheap option, generally costing under $100 to file a suit.

You also get to keep 100% of the money if you win the case.

The downsides to using the small claims court are that:

  • You will need to invest further time into the non-paying client
  • You can only take out a case against a client in your area
  • Winning the case doesn't guarantee payment

If you win the small claims suit, you will receive a document that states you are owed the money you claimed for. However, if the client ignores this and doesn't pay up, you'll need to go on to a further collection process.

Hand the case over to a collection agency

Another route you can take is to hand your case over to a collection agency.

Collection agencies typically don't charge an upfront fee. Instead, they take a portion of any invoices they can successfully recover for you.

Just make sure you go with a reputable and well-run collection agency. The quality of collection agencies can differ widely, so do your research beforehand.

Hire a lawyer

Unfortunately, if you're dealing with a freelance client who hasn't paid and you've run through most of the above steps, it's probably time to hire a lawyer.

This can be an expensive undertaking and is only feasible if you're chasing a big enough invoice to make the fees worthwhile. Even if you hire a lawyer who works on a contingency basis (where they only get paid if they win your case) you'll still have to foot upfront costs to the tune of a few hundred dollars for things like court filing and service of process fees.

Research shows that 68% of freelancers dip into their savings at least once a month. You don't want to be stealing from your savings cushion just to bring a small-fry client to justice.

However, if you're trying to recover a hefty unpaid invoice, bringing on a lawyer might be worthwhile.

Tips for making clients pay in the future

If you're having trouble with a freelance client not paying, you should also evaluate your current client management process to make sure that you're setting yourself up for success before you even bill clients.

Some of the ways you can increase the chances of getting paid promptly include creating client contracts, having easy payment options, tracking your time, and researching new clients.

Always create a freelance client contract

Have you yet to create a freelance client contract for your projects? If so, you need to start asap.

Having a detailed contract in place for all clients and projects is a must. Firstly, it gives you something to refer to if there are any disagreements between you and your client. If you have stuck to your part of the contract, they need to honor theirs.

If they don't, the contract serves as an important document you can leverage if you need to take legal action.

Not sure how to draft a freelance client contract? Hectic makes contract creation effortless with the proposal and contract builder feature. With Hectic, you can create comprehensive proposals within minutes. Then, you can seamlessly turn them into watertight contracts complete with e-signatures and legally vetted terms that will stand up in court.

Make it easy for clients to pay

Wanna know one of the best ways to ensure you get paid quickly by your clients? Make it easy for them to pay.

This is another area where Hectic has your back. Integrated into our invoicing feature is Hectic's Stripe integration. This offers clients a "Click to pay" option, removing the barriers between you and what you're owed.

Track your time

One of the common areas of dispute which results in freelance clients not paying is billed hours. Sometimes clients might question whether it really took you so many hours to complete a certain deliverable.

Of course, we know that most things take longer than you'd think to carry out. This is why we have a built-in, one-click start/stop time tracker you can access from any page. You can also seamlessly include notes, and quickly turn your tracked hours into detailed invoices.

Not only does this provide transparency for your clients, but it also supplies you with a clear insight into where your time goes.

Research your clients

Another great practice for ensuring payment after you bill clients is to conduct a little research before taking on new projects. Most clients will have a web presence. They may even have some Glassdoor reviews from current or past employees.

Besides this, if you sign up with Hectic you can also ask around our extensive community of freelancers and find out if anyone else has worked with the client and what their experience was like.

Now you know what to do if your freelance client hasn't paid

If you have a freelance client who hasn't paid, start by reminding them of their unpaid invoice. If they still don't pay, you can move on to more serious steps, such as sending out a letter of demand, going to small claims court, or hiring a lawyer.

Besides this, think about your client management process. Are you sending out timely invoice reminders? Are your invoices clear and detailed?

What's more, are you creating watertight contracts that will protect you and your work?

If not, then you should sign up with Hectic. Get access to a powerful freelancing dashboard where you can manage clients, contracts, invoices, deliverables, hours, and much more.

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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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