WHAT TO DO IF YOU DON’T GET PAID FOR YOUR FREELANCE WORK
It sucks, and as much as I would love to say “With the right preparation, it won’t happen to you,” that would be bananas. It will happen to you, probably more than once. So, today, I will lay out the common ways that freelancers fail, look at how to avoid these pitfalls, and discuss the ways to get back on track.
Freelance Failure: You don’t get paid.
This isn’t exactly a failure, as much as a bad judgment call! Some clients overestimate their abilities, some fall on hard times, and some are just jerks. None of these things is your fault!
How to get over this failure?
1. Avoid this pitfall.
- Get a deposit. Be clear that this is nonrefundable once the work has started.
- If you are on a retainer, expect to be paid at the beginning of a month prior to work starting.
- Make sure your contract is clear on what happens when payment is late or nonexistent and have a page on your website that states the same as part of your policies.
- Make it easy to pay you. Is your address correct? Can they pay by credit card? Sometimes you lose a percentage of your payment when paid by card, but it’s better than not being paid at all! I don’t haggle on this or add fees. My policy is basically: Pay however you want, just pay!
2. Don’t get mad.
Emotions sink more negotiations than we could count in a lifetime. Stay calm no matter what happens and weigh your options carefully.
3. Figure out why you aren’t getting paid.
Give your clients the benefit of the doubt and call your point of contact first. Perhaps the bill went to the wrong person. Maybe your point of contact hasn’t approved payment because it’s sitting on her desk. Be understanding and give a deadline for receiving the check if this is the case.
4. Keep the lines of communication open.
I have one client that was supposed to open a store in March. They opened in November and the money ran out long before opening. Everything in their contract was put on hold for a few months. Now they are up and running they are able to resume payment and we can pick up where we left off. No hard feelings. It may not be a perfect scenario, but everybody wins in the long run.
5. Describe the leverage you have.
“You will lose all work performed to this date…” This is usually enough to get things moving, but if not…
6. Get legal.
This is the final straw and should only be taken if the money owed is substantial and available. What do I mean? Lawsuits are expensive and there’s no guarantee you’ll win AND collect money. You could sink your life savings into a lawsuit, win and yet, still not collect money. Plus, if you know your client doesn’t have the money (see store above), what’s the point?
7. Let it go.
Sometimes you have to chalk one up to experience. Don’t let this one pitfall take over your emotions so much that other work suffers. I find that I always have to stay busy filling my sales funnel so that I don’t get too attached to – or reliant on – one client.
You will have little failures in your quest to build a successful enterprise and that’s ok. If I can offer one piece of advice about growing a business, it’s this: you can recover from a lot if you are well-liked or your work is exemplary. If you can’t guarantee the second, you’d better be sure about the first!
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