Freelancers, here is how NOT to deal with late payment

While they sounded like a good idea at the time, Rowan Martin shares her cringeworthy methods of chasing late payment in the past.

There’s no getting round it – as a freelancer, late or non-payment sucks. When we’re almost entirely reliant on good cash flow, a delayed payment can be all that stands between us and a declined debit card at the Aldi checkout, a crappy Christmas or the heavy thud of a bailiff’s fist on the door.

While there’s plenty of advice out there on how to deal with extracting your hard-earned cash from clients constructively, here’s my advice (after a decade of freelancing) on how NOT to react…

1. Don’t send your client a picture of your dog sitting by an empty food bowl with a sad look on its face.

This may seem funny at the time, but not everyone has a fully functioning sense of humour (some people don’t even have one at all.)

2. Try not to involve your children in the discussion.

I once pointed out to a client, on Christmas Eve, that unless they paid their extremely overdue invoice within the next two hours, my kids would forever live with the knowledge that, one year, Santa forgot. I made it to the toy shop ten minutes before closing. Freelancing sometimes means living life on the edge, and not in a good way.

3. Don’t let them see how much you’re sweating

I once had my debit card declined at a McDonalds drive-thru, pulled into the car park, called a client to ask why their invoice hadn’t been paid as promised, extracted the funds without resorting to menaces and drove back round to the order point with the wild applause of my children and their play-dates ringing in my ears. We got this, freelancers! Don’t let them grind you down! 

4. Resist the urge to blame, name and shame…

A good few years ago now (honest), a private nursery owner client failed to settle his invoice and proceeded to ghost me for several weeks. Annoyed and then enraged, I visited every one of his social media accounts to ask parents who used the nursery their thoughts on small businesses owners who shafted other small business owners. He paid almost instantly, but I’m not sure who came out looking more unprofessional, me or him.

5. Try not to lose your rag…

Imagine my innocence, on starting out as a freelancer with the assumption that my clients would be happy to pay me, in a timely manner, for a job well done. I would literally combust with embarrassment if I shared the rant I went on many years ago when a client refused to pay for some copy as she didn’t feel it was up to standard. ‘I’m a great copywriter, you can ask anyone, I’m definitely better than you, give me my money or I’m telling my Mum’ pretty much sums it up though. Keeping your cool is always preferable to losing your temper and looking like a tool.

When you understand the impact a late or non-payment can actually have on the life of a freelancer (who you may only have connected with ‘virtually’ while the work took place) it’s easy to see why settling your invoices in a timely manner is so important. Sadly, in my decade as a self-employed writer, I’ve learned that issues with payment are part of the process and, if at all possible, should be approached calmly, logically and realistically.

It’s also safe to say that the majority of payment issues can be headed off in advance with watertight terms and conditions, taking a deposit for every job and putting staggered payments in place to ensure you’re never waiting on a huge lump sum that will genuinely see your kids walk to school with plastic bags wrapped round their feet, if a client fails to make good on their promises.

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