For beginners, the online world feels like the unlawful Wild West.
How do you get your money from a reluctant client halfway across the world? Most likely, the client isn’t even in the country you think they are in. Besides, international law is so convoluted, even if you launch a legal process, you’ll probably have no legal basis for your case.
It might seem hopeless.
Well, until you learn of the effective strategies other freelancers have applied to get paid fast.
Here are the 12 steps to take if your client doesn’t pay you (you have to follow them sequentially; otherwise, you might never get paid).
If your first thought when a client fails to pay is, “He’s a scammer,” then you might be going about it all wrong.
The only time you should blame your client is when you’re entirely sure that you’re not to blame.
Therefore, you should start by evaluating whether you’ve done everything necessary as per your contract with the client. Is there something missing that the client is waiting for you to deliver? Could there be some minor details you’ve overlooked?
Go through all communication you had with your client and cross-check with what you delivered to the client.
Even if you’ve fulfilled your contract, there could still be one more fault on your part.
Perhaps, the simple reason your client hasn’t paid is – wait for it – you forgot to raise an invoice.
Primarily when working with most established organizations, you’ll first need to present an invoice before you get paid. Registered organizations require strict documentation for every transaction. Even individual clients might have many writers working for them; hence need invoicing to keep track of every project.
But there’s more…
Check if the invoice contains all vital details: the invoice recipient’s name, description of invoiced items, total cost, among others.
You can even re-send the invoice if you’ve waited too long for your client’s response. Perhaps, your client is so overwhelmed with multiple tasks that they might have missed your invoice.
This isn’t really the second step, but something you should be doing all through the process.
Always try to communicate with your client regularly. Keep sending those messages at reasonable intervals. If third-party arbitration will be required in the end, the trail of communication will prove that you were always present.
Keep all your communication professional. Be polite but firm about getting your payment.
Always take the approach of working with the client to resolve the matter, rather than forcefully demanding your pay.
Above all, make sure your emails or other communication don’t cause more problems. Research by Sendmail, Inc., and CPP, Inc. shows that 64 percent of people create unintended anger or confusion through email communication.
It’s truly disheartening when you complete a writing task but have to wait for weeks or months for payment. I know, I’ve been there too. But don’t allow your emotions to mess up your judgement.
During this process, you should always have an open mind.
Try putting yourself in the client’s shoes for a minute. Don’t just assume that malice is the only reason clients don’t pay.
What if the client has temporary financial problems? Maybe their funds are stuck in an online payment platform? Maybe technical issues are holding up the cash.
And, sometimes, the clients wrongly assume that they paid you when they didn’t.
By evaluating the possible causes of non-payment, you can come up with a practical solution.
If the client is facing financial difficulty, why not settle for instalments instead of lumpsum payment. It may be more manageable for your client to pay $50 every week than $500 at once. Besides, this is a powerful strategy used by marketers who understand pricing psychology (clients will perceive your rates to be cheaper based on the lower installments compared to a one-off lump sum).
Unfortunately, instalment payment might not clear your bills fast, but it’s better than not getting paid at all.
In some cases, the client might propose monthly payment instead of weekly pay. You can take that option if you have a long working relationship with the client.
When it gets to this point, you should be considering taking more drastic measures.
If you didn’t get any response after all previous efforts, you need to look for a different method of contacting the client. Luckily, freelance clients typically have an extensive online presence. So it won’t be too difficult to find another point of contact, especially with the wide variety of social media sites.
You can start with the client’s website. Find the “Contact Us” form, fill it and submit it.
Even better, call the company or client’s phone number. It’s a psychological tactic to instil a bit of empathy in your client. Probably, the use of dispassionate forms of communication like email has made the client unaware of your emotional pain (specific populations experience 40% decreased empathy due to increased use of technology).
Then go to the client’s social media profiles on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Here. You can send a personal message or make a public post on the social media profile. Don’t put too much detail on the public post – just a polite note for the client to contact you. Although it might feel like it, it hasn’t got to the point of going public on this matter.
Alternatively, if you’re dealing with a business, reach out to other personnel within the organization.
If you’ve been working with the editor, contact the managing editor. In fact, you can try any other staff member who you think can help you, including the marketing manager and the chief finance officer (CFO).
You can even reach out to other freelancers who have worked or are currently working with your client.
Ask the other freelancers about their working relationship with the client. Have they been paid yet? What have they ever done when they didn’t get paid, or what are they planning to do if they haven’t been paid?
You can combine forces to get the client’s attention.
Of course, it’s up to you to decide precisely when to stop doing any more work for an unresponsive client. If you’ve previously had a cordial working relationship with the client, you might go on working as long as you can. However, you shouldn’t give the client any benefit of doubt beyond this point.
If you still haven’t heard from your client, there’s no reason why you should continue working.
Send a message, stating clearly to the client that you cannot deliver any more work due to non-payment of previous submissions. Based on your judgement, you can also indicate that you’ll proceed with the assignments once the last invoice gets paid (sometimes it might not be wise to continue working with a client who frequently delays payment).
If you reach this point, you’re on the verge of turning from polite, courteous communication, to threats and ultimatums.
As Kevin Hart would say, “It’s about to go down!”
So far, you’ve been polite and courteous, but the client hasn’t responded.
Clearly, that’s an unscrupulous client. It’s time to show him that the consequences of non-payment are not mere threats.
Start by recruiting a “bad cop.”
Look out for anyone who has some influence to intervene. It may be a moderator within a community that your client is in. The community may be an online forum or social media group.
The client will certainly not want to ruin his reputation in such a community. He’s likely to respond when a moderator contacts him.
What about your lawyer friend?
Do you have a friend in a professional field that will send shivers down your client’s spine? Who wouldn’t be shocked by an email or phone call from a lawyer or a top investigative journalist doing a story about financial tribulations of online workers?
This simple step might bring an end to your tribulations.
Here, things are now serious. You want to take action that will have tangible results.
If you’re working through a freelancing site, contact the administrators.
Actually, this part is usually an automated process in such freelancing sites as Upwork and PeoplePerHour. With PeopePerHour, any money held in Escrow will be automatically released to you if the client doesn’t respond to your invoice within 15 days. So, if your full payment is held in Escrow, you’ll get all your money.
That’s one great benefit of working through freelancing sites.
In such a situation, you might not even need to bother with all the steps in this guide. Simply wait for the money to be automatically released.
If you have pending payments not included in the Escrow, the freelancing site can even suspend your client’s account.
If you don’t work through a freelancing site with Escrow, then it’s all up to you to get your client to pay.
Start by implementing the terms of your contract (you do have a contract with the client, don’t you?) More specifically, the late fee charge. A late monthly fee is even better. The client will be shocked back to reality after seeing that bill increasing every month.
Soon the client will realize that you’re not giving up, but things will only get worse the longer he delays.
Too many writers jump to this step when clients fail to pay. Unfortunately, they don’t realize that going public can have the opposite effect – making otherwise reasonable clients even more reluctant to pay. If you take such action too early, you might be ruining the image of a client who only had a temporary financial problem, but would have paid eventually.
Therefore, only take this drastic action after following all the previous steps, so you’re completely sure that you’re dealing with an obstinate client.
How do you go public?
Too easy. There’s a whole bunch of social platforms, online forums and websites where you can shame your client. But don’t give the appearance of being rude or unreasonable. Present your case to the public as clearly as possible; otherwise, a biased narration might make people assume you’re the bad guy.
In the best case scenario, your post will push the client to act fast, just like Southwestair who responded to a customer’s complaint in just two minutes.
Technically, you still own full rights to the content you created and submitted to your client until he pays for it.
That’s based on the universal intellectual property rights in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which is administered by the World Trade Organization.
Therefore, you can publish the content on your website with a copyright notice under it.
Taking this step means you are on the verge of giving up ever receiving payment from your client. You are now taking back your content.
If the client not only refuses to pay but also publishes your content on his site, it’s time to go to war.
You can report the copyright infringement to Google or other search engines.
Alert the client before doing this. Request him to pull down your content or else you’ll report the copyright infringement. Then give the client ample time to do so.
That simple threat could make the most stubborn client tremble in fear and pay instantly.
Since online clients depend on search engine rankings for organic search traffic, being penalized for copyright infringement could kill their websites.
If the client doesn’t comply, check if the client’s website page containing your content is indexed in Google’s search results. You can check this by searching for a phrase from your content placed within quotation marks: “like this.”
Then report the copyright infringement through Google’s DMCA page.
The client’s webpage containing your content will be removed from Google’s web search.
An even more drastic action is reporting such copyright infringement to the hosting company of your client’s website. In this case, the hosting company can delete the client’s entire website, based on the extent of the copyright infringement.
As you can see, getting back your money isn’t an impossibility in the online world. At the very worst, you’ll at least get back your content and sell it elsewhere. That should make such a client think twice before trying to scam any other writer.
However, we all know that prevention is far better than cure. So, you’ll need to apply this steps much fewer times if you learn how to avoid getting scammed.
Hi, I’m Mercy Mmbone. My mission is to help beginner freelance writers find success online. Even if you don’t have a degree, becoming a successful freelance writer is not as difficult as you’d think. The most important thing you’ll need to get started is self-motivation.
I’m honored to have worked with many popular companies including Ring Central and Freelancer FAQs.