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Freelance Tips: What to do When a Client Won’t Pay

As a freelance proofreader, we hope your clients all pay promptly and in full. However, many freelancers do encounter clients who delay payment or ignore invoices. In this post, then, we’re looking at how to minimize these situations, as well as how to handle clients who won’t pay.

1. Contracts and Agreeing Terms

The first and most important step for minimizing non-payment and payment delays is to agree the terms of your payment with your client before accepting the job. This may include:

  • How much you will be paid for the job or an hourly rate
  • The forms of payment you accept (e.g., bank transfer, credit card)
  • How long the client will have to pay after you finish the work

Make sure you have these agreed in writing before you begin working. And after finishing the job, provide an invoice that contains any key details such as the rate and payment schedule.

You may even want to agree a formal contract with the client before you begin, especially if you are taking on a bigger project or regular work for a single client.

2. Down Payments and Payment Schedules

For projects that could take several weeks or months to complete, think about asking to be paid in several chunks, or ask for part payment up front.

If an author asks you to edit a book, for instance, you could ask to be paid per chapter or ask for a deposit based on the overall value of the job.

This offers protection should a client try to cancel the job after you’ve already done the work. Some freelancers even include a cancellation clause in their contracts to this end.

3. Chasing Up Invoices

If a client does not respond within the agreed time after you send an invoice – or if they seem to be delaying payment – you may need to take a more active approach. This may include:

  • Sending a polite email reminding the client of the overdue payment (and, if necessary, including any relevant terms that you agreed before taking on the job)
  • After a week or two, sending another copy of the invoice
  • Following up with a phone call and offering to resend the information

If you are working for a business, you may also be able to bypass the person who has been ignoring you (e.g., by contacting a manager or going to the accounting department directly).

4. Legal Action

If a client repeatedly ignores your invoices or refuses to pay, it may help to threaten legal action. If nothing else, this will show them you’re serious and could kick them into action!

However, taking a client to court can be time consuming and expensive, and there is no guarantee you will get the money you’re owed (e.g., if your client isn’t paying because they have no funds). As such, legal action should only ever be a last resort.

Nevertheless, if you have no choice, you may be able to turn to a small claims court. Make sure you seek advice before you do, though (e.g., from a qualified legal professional).

5. Ending Your Relationship

If a client is regularly behind on payments, your best option may be to simply stop working. You can then contact the client to say that you cannot continue working with them until they have addressed the outstanding invoice, which may prompt some action.

What if they simply ignore you or refuse to pay, though? Ultimately, unless you are willing to go to court, there is one thing to do with a problem client: move on and refuse to work with them again. This might not seem satisfying, but you can at least chalk it up as a learning experience.

Working with Proofed

Another option to make sure you’re paid for your efforts is to work with a proofreading agency. Our partner company, Proofed, handles all aspects of customer billing, which means freelancers can focus on proofreading, safe knowing they’ll be paid for any work they do.

To find out more about working freelance with Proofed, check out the Work Guarantee we provide for Proofreading Academy graduates.

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