What to do when a client hasn't paid you


As a freelancer, you're probably all too familiar with not being paid on time.

It's disappointing, but this is, unfortunately, the reality for many who run their own business. Despite having clear payment terms included on your invoice, it's surprisingly easy for clients to forget that they need to pay you for your work.

But worry not, there is some action you can take when you haven't been paid.

Make sure you have a contract

This should be done before any work is done and an invoice is sent, but I thought it was important to include it. Prevention is better than cure, after all!

Before you do any work with a new client, make sure you've both signed a contract agreeing on the work that you'll be carrying out, how much your fees are and your payment terms.

You could include a similar section to the following:

"Payment Terms:

  • The Client will pay £[amount] per [hour/piece of work/whatever unit you measure your work in] to the Contractor.

  • Payment should be made to the bank account details included on the invoice.

  • Payment will be due in accordance with the timescale set out in the invoice.

  • Any outstanding payment issues will be referred to a solicitor and may incur interest charges."

(If you'd be interested in a post about freelance contracts and what they should include, let me know!)

Don't go in all guns blazing

It's important to remain professional at all times, even when a client is testing your last nerve. People talk, and if you get on the wrong side of someone it could prevent you from getting work from one of their peers or associates in future.

Plus, they may have genuinely forgotten about your invoice.

That's not to say you shouldn't be persistent. Just be polite, too. Send them a reminder every week or so after the payment period on your invoice has passed, letting them know that you still haven't received payment (and always attach the invoice to any correspondence).

As an aside, I strongly advise against publicly shaming the offending party on social media, no matter how frustrated you are. Yes, it might get you paid, but it looks incredibly unprofessional, they will probably never work with you again and it will most likely put off potential clients.

Try other lines of communication

In this glorious online age, we generally communicate with clients by email. But if you aren't receiving a satisfactory response, try picking up the phone or sending a good old-fashioned letter (with the outstanding invoice enclosed, too).

A phone call is often useful as once you have someone on the phone they can't ignore you, and sending a letter gives the impression that you're taking the issue very seriously. If you send the letter recorded, you'll also have evidence that it's been received.

You may also want to get in touch with a manager, director or even the accounting department if you aren't getting any joy from your primary contact at the company. You can usually find the relevant contact details with a bit of internet sleuthing.

Don't carry out any work for the client until you've been paid

If you have an ongoing contract with a client, such as IT support or virtual assistant work, you may wish to let them know that you won't be continuing your work until your outstanding invoices have been paid.

Hopefully, this will prompt them to pay you! If not, you might want to consider whether you should end your relationship with this client and share your skills with someone who actually wants to pay you for them.

Charge interest

Every business can charge interest on late payments from business and public sector customers. A payment is considered late either after the last day of the payment period stated in the contract or on the invoice, or 30 days if no payment period has been agreed.

You legally have the right to charge interest at the Bank of England base rate plus 8%. So if the base rate is 1%, you can charge 9%.

You probably won't want to apply this to every late payment, as accidents genuinely do happen. But maybe think about advising a late-paying client that you will be charging interest in future.

Take legal action

As a last resort, you can take legal action against a client who hasn't paid you. A lot of lawyers will give you free legal advice or send out a solicitor's letter for a small fee. Sometimes just the threat of legal action is enough to get you paid.

Then there's the option to take the client to a small claims court or make a claim online.

You can also charge the client for the cost of recovering a late payment (more on that here).

The thing with taking legal action is that it's often expensive, time-consuming and frankly, not worth it (although this obviously depends on the amount of money outstanding).

While I'm not in any way advocating companies getting away with not paying freelancers, sometimes it's something you just have to see as a learning experience, as annoying as it is. While a lot of companies are a bit lax with making payments on time, most aren't crooks and do intend to pay you.

Oh, and just to labour the point: make sure you have a contract in place!

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