follow up with an unpaid invoice

He still hasn’t freaking paid me! Now is the perfect time to let him know what I really think of this guy and the organization he runs. This is gonna feel great. Thats the last overdue invoice i’m ever dealing with! 

Stop. I know you’re angry but this is not the way to handle the situation. Good thing this post is here to help resolve this situation.

Speak while you are angry and you’ll make the best speak you’ll forever regret. – Laurence J. Peter

What this post will do is teach you how to get paid while staying professional. Yes, you’ll get your money. And as far as the staying professional part, note that I chose to use the word “professional” instead of “staying on good terms.” That’s because if a client doesn’t pay now, they are likely to be trouble in the future as well. Chasing invoices as a freelancer is not a good use of your time. Instead, soar through this situation for the sake of keeping your reputation intact and not giving into your primal desires. Use the prefrontal cortex of your brain and not the reptilian portion.

With the preface done, let’s see what you can do about getting the money you deserve:

Offer More Work

I’ve had to use this method in the past and it’s worked well. Instead of screaming at the client and saying how you’ll never work for them again, do the complete opposite. Offer to do more. Offer more of what you’ve already done or offer a completely new way to help them. When the client wants more work from you, they will get your invoice paid. Then, for the additional work, require them to pay up front. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you turn a bad situation into one of opportunity. As successful freelancers know, disaster leads to opportunity.

Blame Accounting

I think perhaps what we value most in the world is our pride. Think about it. We become angriest when our pride is being contested. It doesn’t hurt too much if, say, the doctor says you could eat healthier if you want to become in peak physical form. But if the doctor says flat out that you’re fat – that hurts. Insults hurt us in ways nothing else can. No one wants to feel like they’ve dropped the ball – even if they dropped it miles ago.

So what you don’t want to do with a client is blame them for the unpaid invoice. Calling someone out just makes their heels dig in. Not good.

Instead, blame their accounting department. Even if they don’t have an accounting department. This removes the blame from any one person. Your client will then be more willing to work with you. They won’t be embarrassed that it was in fact their fault. You’ll both just casually blame accounting. Darn that accounting department (ha).

Offer an Easier Way for Them to Pay

This may be as simple as giving them your PayPal address rather than having them mail a physical check. Because your client may have the funds, they just haven’t gotten around to the hassle of cutting a check. Sometimes overdue invoice problems can be easily resolved.

Or you may need to think a bit outside of the box. Does the client offer a product or service that could be of use to you? If so, offer to let them pay you via the product or service instead of with cash. The client may be thrilled to have another ‘customer’ and you’ll still get something in return. Sometimes you’ll get ‘paid’ in a way that’s even more valuable than the cash you would have received.

Stay Calm

The biggest takeaway here is to stay calm. It is hard. I understand. More than once have I had to hit the ‘undo’ button in my Gmail after sending off a knee-jerk email. Try to be understanding. And, from your end, know that one late invoice isn’t going to make or break your freelance business. Focus on the fact that you have a skill. A valuable skill. That’s where the big money lies. One flaky client can’t take away your skills.


William Lipovsky owns the personal finance website First Quarter Finance. His most embarrassing moment was telling a Microsoft executive, "I'll just Google it."

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