"Sorry, our CEO is away on a sailing holiday". "The dog ate the invoice". "I thought you were doing me a favour".
These are all excuses genuinely given to freelancers, web designers and developers*. While day-to-day you’ll probably find the reasons given somewhat more mundane, they’re no less infuriating.
So what’s the best approach when it comes to chasing payment? Here are some classic excuses that we’ve heard before and our top tips for working with late-paying clients to make sure you get the money that you’re owed:
What clients say: “The cheque’s in the post!”
How to handle it: If you’re pretty sure no payment has been issued, you could try offering a more immediate payment option by allowing your client to pay you online. If you use accounting software, some will let you add a payment link to your invoice email using services like GoCardless or PayPal. Your client can then click to pay you online via their bank account or credit card - pretty much instantly.
What clients say: “But we haven’t used the work yet.”
How to handle it: It’s essential to have a good contract in place before you begin work. The contract should make it clear that the client is paying for your time and work product, not their ultimate use of the work. You can both agree your expectations for the work in the contract (which should include the work you’ll do, how much it will cost, how long it’s likely to take and when you’re going to invoice for it) and then you’ll have something robust to rely on if clients make excuses like this.
What clients say: “...............”
How to handle it: There’s nothing worse than having a client who disappears without a trace. They won’t return your emails or calls, and you can’t get hold of them. You could hire a professional collection agency, or for smaller debts, pursue your client through the small claims court. Both of these options could be time-consuming and may end up costing you money. Alternatively, you could cut your losses and write off the invoice before putting that client on your blacklist. Forever.
What clients say: “I haven’t received your invoice.”
How to handle it: You could resend invoices time and time again, and the disorganised chronic late payer will usually pay up eventually, but not before those unpaid invoices have drained your healthy cash flow. If you think they’re just stalling for time, you could try putting shorter terms on your invoice, in the hope they’ll pay it before it slips to the back of their mind. Send a reminder a few days before the invoice is also a way to jog their memory. But however long your payment terms are, once it goes overdue make sure you chase it!
What clients say: “Money is a little tight right now...”
How to handle it: If you think the client is unable to pay right now, it’s worth having the awkward conversation and picking up the phone to ask when in the future they plan to pay you. If it is just a short-term issue with a good client, you could maintain a good relationship by offering an extension rather than enforcing late charges. And in future, you can quickly check a client’s creditworthiness using online services such as DueDil and CheckBusiness, which provide free access to credit scores for businesses.
*FreeAgent survey of web designers and developers, 2016
This article was written by Emily Coltman, Chief Accountant at FreeAgent, the online accounting software specially designed for freelancers, contractors and micro-businesses, covering everything from invoicing to tax. Emily features in A Field Guide to Freelancer Finances, a free ebook of business finance tips – download your copy.