You’ve just finished a major project and you’re counting on the $1,000 payment
headed your way. You know that your client is going to love the job you’ve done, and you
can’t wait to deposit that check. Weeks go by, however, and nothing arrives in the mail.
What can you do when clients don’t pay?
Freelance writers and editors have it hard when it comes to collecting payment
from clients. Unfortunately, there are far too many people out there who don’t mind
taking advantage of a meek service provider to get some free articles or editing. Since you
probably don’t have an attorney on retainer, you must seek alternative methods for
1. Send a Snail Mail Letter
Once several weeks have passed without payment, you’ll need to give up the e-mail.
It’s not professional enough and it doesn’t send a strong enough message. Instead, type out
a snail mail letter under your letterhead and send it my registered mail. Remind your
client of the amount that is owed and explain the consequences for non-payment as per
2. Make the Phone Call
Sometimes, snail mail letters aren’t enough and you’ll need to get your client on the
phone. My advice is to call from someone else’s number just in case your client is
screening. Once you have him or her on the phone, it will be far more difficult to pull the,
“It’s in the mail” line. Explain that you understand if he’s forgotten, but that you do need
the payment immediately.
3. Hire an Attorney
If your client doesn’t pay after a letter and a phone call, it’s time to break out the big
guns. This isn’t a situation in which you should just “cut your losses”; failing to pay a debt
is serious business, and you deserve to be compensated for your work. Hire an attorney to
write a strongly-worded letter to your client informing him of his obligation to pay you.
Often, just an attorney’s letterhead will be sufficient to get your client to pay up.
4. Publish Your Client’s Work
Regardless of the writing or editing you performed for your client, you need to
publish it until he pays. As long as you’ve published the work, you technically own the
copyright. I don’t mean you need to have it printed in a book; just put it up on your
website with a copyright notice underneath.
5. Learn For Next Time
If you still haven’t been paid, you have a few choices. The first is to take your client
to small claims court, which may or may not be worth your time. You certainly need to
report him to the BBB and the Federal Trade Commission, but you might be better off
playing smarter next time. Make sure that your contract has consequences for
non-payment (such as late fees or interest).
Sometimes you have to make a difficult decision regarding non-payment by clients.
For example, I’d be far more likely to take a client to court over a $5,000 deficit than I
would over a $200 bill. You also have to consider the financial resources of your client;
just because you are awarded a judgment in a civil court case doesn’t mean you’ll be able
to collect. If the client doesn’t have any money, you’re pretty much out of luck.
About the Author
Laura J. Thompson is a professional editor, ghostwriter and consultant. She
provides these services at competitive prices for both businesses and individuals all
across the United States. You can learn more about her services by visiting her website
(http://www.editingbylaura.com) or by reading more of her articles. She specializes in
fiction ghostwriting and editing, though she also enjoys self-help and other non-fiction
articles and books.