Few things can compare to getting your first payment from a freelance client. You feel like you’ve made and you’re finally getting paid to do something you love. There’s a flip side, though: most freelancers will also never forget the first time a client fails to pay.
No matter where you get freelance clients, this is always a possibility. In fact, it’s a possibility for traditionally employed folk too. Here’s what to do if the invoices are going out but the payments aren’t coming in.
Send a Written Reminder
We’ve all forgotten things once or twice (per day), and clients are no exception. It’s entirely possible that they honestly forgot to submit their payment or didn’t see your invoice in the first place. This is why a simple, kind reminder is a great first step.
Of course, this is uncomfortable for many people. That’s why it helps to use an invoice sending service. This way, you can send a reminder through this service instead of emailing the client directly, which makes it less person and more business-focused.
Contracts are critical for any freelancer. Beyond detailing the payment terms, write into your contracts that any outstanding balances begin accruing interest at a certain percentage after the due date passes.
This gives clients an incentive to maintain the correct pay periods right off the bat. Plus, it adds more to the balance so you get paid for the inevitable added time you’ll spend following up to collect the cash.
Choose a Debt Collection Option
If all this fails, it’s time to find a way to get the money. For freelancers, there are two primary options for legal action: hiring a collection agency or filing a claim in small claims court.
There are pros and cons to each. Collection agencies take over the collection for you so there’s no extra time or work on your plate. However, they take a rather large percentage of any money they collect.
When you file a lawsuit instead, your total cost could be lower. Lawsuits, though, take time and cause headaches which many freelancers prefer to live without. If you win your lawsuit, that judgment also doesn’t guarantee the client will pay you. It merely adds further consequences if they don’t.
Consider Other Legal Actions
Depending on your employment status, there are other legal options as well, so it helps to seek legal advice. For example, the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) holds employers accountable for federal minimum wage laws and similar laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). You could file a complaint with the WHD for unpaid wages, unpaid overtime hours worked, and other violations.
There are plenty of state laws designed to protect employees and contractors too. Check with your state labor department or labor attorneys in your area to find out all your options.
Keep It Civil
When clients don’t pay, it’s easy to take it personally, especially if they’re claiming your work wasn’t up to snuff. In the midst of it all, though, stay professional and civil. Don’t resort to abusive or harassing behavior to get the money.
It’s true that the federal laws of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act don’t apply to businesses or commercial debts. However, a freelancer’s reputation is a huge part of their future potential, so it’s never a good idea to burn bridges.
Ultimately, there’s no easy answer for how to know you’ll get paid on time. There are never any guarantees for freelancers, employees, businesses, or anyone else. The best thing you can do is prepare your contract with preventative clauses, have a plan just in case, and listen to your gut when it tells you a client won’t hold up their end of the deal.