You’ve done the work and now it’s time to get paid. Easier said than done! There are two categories your clients can fall into: Those that pay on time and those who don’t. We’ll talk about each of them in more detail.
Clients who pay on time
The Gold Standard of clients! These are the people who you want to work with now and in the future. A client who pays on time, should be nurtured and looked after. Even go out of your way to make your service special to them. They’ll remember this and will be more likely to recommend you in the future.
A lot of freelancers will have bills to pay and your mortgage waits for no one. When a client pays on time, it takes away a lot of the stress, knowing that the money is there when you need it.
Clients who don’t pay on time
It's highly likely you'll get clients like this. Ones who drag their feet when it comes to paying up. You’ll get a variety of excuses, from having the flu or a relative has taken ill and gone into hospital, right at the point when they need to pay you. Funny that isn’t it?
Whilst being very inconvenient, sometimes life happens and your clients genuinely can’t pay you on time. When this happens, just be catering to their needs. Showing your human side doesn’t go unnoticed.
Unless you know the person well, you probably won’t ever know if the excuse they give you for late payment is genuine or not, so for the first time, let it slip and arrange to follow up at a future date.
An important tip however, is to not let your client do it more than once. If next time you do some work for them and they give you another excuse, don’t work with them again. You don’t need the hassle of chasing them for payment. Your time could be better spent with a client who pays on time. Remember, your mortgage doesn’t care that your client is ill and can’t pay you on time!
How to collect payments
How you collect payment depends on what services you offer and who you are dealing with.
Businesses tend to prefer an invoice to be sent to them, which they then pass onto finance to handle. Usually when the work is completed, you’d invoice the business.
ClientWide makes creating invoices easy and it’s also included as part of our free plan.
Sometimes the job must be completed first and then payment is requested after. E.g a job which requires fitting or fixing something, such as a plumber, electrician or mechanic. With this type of job it's normal to collect after the job is complete.
If you deal in digital products such as websites or design work. You can demo the work to the client and then fully release it to them on receiving payment. It’s normal to request money once they are happy and then give them the product / service afterwards.
Other jobs can be cash on delivery. In this instance you either deliver the product or the client comes to you and pays in cash.
With all the above approaches, comminucation is needed. When the job is finished, you should contact the client by their preferred method and let them know the job is complete and give them a method to complete payment, such as an invoice or your bank details. Or you can arrange to meet up with them to collect the cash.
Tools and tips to help with collecting payments
Clientwide has a number of handy tools to help you collect payments and also to score your clients.
Client standing and notes
First up, ClientWide has a feature called “client standing” which is a simple list of options to rank or grade your client. They are:
Simply assign a standing against a client and you’ll know in the future what they are like to work with.
There is also a section to add notes against a client. You can use this however you like, but one way might be to make a diary of events, such as late payments and what you had to do to chase them up.
Estimates and Invoices
If needed, ClientWide can create professional PDF estimates and invoices in only a few clicks. You can download these and email them over to your clients.
An invoice is the standard way of requesting payment. You can also set a due date on your invoices and ClientWide will alert you to any that are due and haven’t yet been settled.
Premium plans get access to reminders which allow you to customise and set one off or recurring reminders which get emailed to your clients. You could set a reminder to be sent off after a specific time and then let ClientWide handle that for you. Set it and forget it!
Taking Deposits up Front
Separate to ClientWide, a method which we discussed in detail in another guide, was requiring a deposit. When you require a deposit it acts as an incentive for both parties to commit to the work.
When a client pays a deposit, they become invested. If they decide to delay payment or even not pay at all, you still have some money and they have now lost that deposit and have nothing to show for it. Losing money is a pretty strong motivator, especially if you offer a service where you can withhold goods until a full payment has been made.
What to do when a client won’t pay?
Clients delaying payments is unfortunately, pretty common. But most times with some good communication payments get settled. However some clients just don’t end up paying, which as a freelancer or sole trader is the worst case scenario as this means a lot of wasted time and sometimes money spent chasing them for payment. It also goes without saying, you should never work with that client again.
We’ll discuss a few options available to you when this does happen.
It’s worth noting that the below options are just ideas and are not advice. You should always consult with a lawyer, solicitor or citizens advice bureau (or your country's alternative) before acting upon them.
Withholding of goods and services
If it's becoming clear that the client has no intention of paying. You might be able to withhold your goods and services in the hope that the client will pay up. This can be especially effective if they’ve paid a deposit as they’ve now potentially lost money as well.
Whether you can do this depends on what services you offer. For example if you’ve built a website, you can simply take it offline until the client pays.
Mediation is when an impartial person helps both sides work out an agreement. This might be quicker and cheaper than going to court to pursue a claim.
Small Claims Court
In the UK you can apply to a county court to claim money you’re owed by a person or a business. You can make a claim online or by post.
A letter from the court is often a powerful deterrent / persuasion for most people, which can lead to a payment being made before anything goes to court. However you have to be prepared for the person or business to take you on in court, and if the courts decide in the client's favour, you will be liable for costs.
You should seek professional legal advice before pursuing this avenue.