how to follow up with late paying clients

Three Ways to Follow Up with Clients on Overdue Payments

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Overdue payments can put a real damper on cash flow in a freelancer's business, especially if they happen often.

While it is the freelancer's responsibility to invoice for their assignments, it is also (I suppose, unfortunately) their responsibility to make sure clients are following through with the agreed upon terms of a contract.

No business is sustainable without proper cash flow, so it's vital that clients understand you mean business (no pun intended!) when it comes to paying on time.

Here are three ways you can follow up with clients on overdue payments and avoid the feeling of awkwardness that can sometimes come with these types of issues. Because let's face it... no one likes to be told they owe money. So, let's make it a smooth and less confrontational process if we can!

1. Send a three-day payment reminder.

I got this idea from the CRM tool I use, and it's simple, but genius. You can automate such messages to go out to clients three days before their payment is due. Most clients will really appreciate the reminder, because they tend to be more concerned with the deliverable you sent them than your invoice. Such a reminder can be seen as both considerate and professional. Of course, make sure to turn off the automation if your client has paid their invoice early!

Take advantage of this three-day reminder check-in to see how the client is doing, how they liked your work and if they need any further help on the project you delivered or a new project. You won't be seen as a pest, I promise!

2. Offer to let clients pay you with a credit card or another form of online payment.

This might not seem like a way to "follow up," but when you offer a client an easy way to
pay their balance and avoid any kind of late fee, they will usually take you up on it. This
offers the client something to make the task of paying you easier… a win for both of you!

These days, many U.S. clients still pay their invoices with checks. But more and more (especially in other parts of the world), there is a clear shift toward using online payment methods. Take some time to research a variety of tools, including direct deposit, Stripe, PayPal, Venmo, Transferwise, etc. so you can get paid online quickly.

This way, when a client's payment is overdue, you can write them a kind email pointing it out and letting them know about the option to click on a link or button to pay their balance right away and avoid a late fee. And if you're not charging (and enforcing) late payment fees, you should be!

For a detailed look at international payment methods, you might want to give the Speaking of Translation episode by Eve Bodeux and Corinne McKay on International Payment Methods for Translators a listen.

3. Request 50% of your payment before you begin the project.

Again, this might not seem like a way to "follow up," but think of it more as being proactive rather than reactive.

If you require a client to pay you 50% of the total fee up front, then you don't have to worry about chasing them down for the full amount later. Instead, let them know when you deliver the project that the other 50% is due upon receipt. Just the fact that you are delivering your project with the invoice tells you that 1) they received the invoice (I know, some clients don't even acknowledge receipt!) and 2) it's time for them to pay their balance. Most clients will do so right away. If a client doesn't pay the balance on time, offer them a 10-day grace period and follow up again with a message along the lines of number 2 above.

If you feel uncomfortable about requesting 50% of your total payment before starting a project, remember that a lot of professions do this regularly. In fact, many creative professionals do not release the deliverables until the client's balance is paid!

For whatever reason, it seems that we are one profession that tends not to request payment in two parts. It could be due to the fact that agencies do not pay translators this way, but if you are working with a lot of direct clients, it makes sense to give this a try. Don't worry that you might scare off a client by asking for a deposit. Good clients will accept your terms, because they know you're the right fit for their project.

Not getting paid for a job you worked hard on can put a real dent in your business income, not to mention put a sour taste in your mouth when it comes to taking on new clients who have never paid you before. But don't let that deter you from putting some processes in place to get paid on time (or early!) so that you can keep the cash in your business flowing smoothly.

For more on this topic, check out my Five Ways to Ensure Clients Pay on Time and Corinne McKay's Five Ways to Minimize the Risk of Not Getting Paid.