6 Superb Steps For Handling Late Paying Clients

how to deal with clients who pay late

If you’ve been in business for any length of time, it’s bound to happen. You get stiffed.

You’ve delivered a great design, site, product or strategy…and the check never arrives. It’s not even in the mail!

Having a client pay late, or skip out all together on their invoice is frustrating. It throws our cash flow out of whack, and brings up some serious doubts about human nature. And while you may not be able to recover payment 100% of the time, there are actions you can take to resolve the situation, and make sure it’s not as likely to happen in the future.

Let’s get you paid.


Get Paid Action #1: Calm down

Yes, it sucks. But flying off the handle or sending a nasty-gram isn’t going to help. For best results, being cool, calm and collected is a necessity.


Get Paid Action #2: Double Check

Pull out your contract (you have one, right? If not, we’ll get to that later on, hold tight.) and double check the following: how much you’re owed, when it was due, what fees may apply, what communication is required. Also – pop over to your mailbox and bank account to make sure it hasn’t arrived while you were busy taking calming breaths.


Get Paid Action #3: Stop Work

If your work for a client is ongoing, press pause. Stop investing additional time or effort until the non-payment is resolved. If they’re late on a contractually obligated payment, then you don’t have to keep delivering blog content/VA support/coaching sessions.


Get Paid Action 4: #Follow Up

Send a payment reminder to your client, clearly indicating when the invoice was due. Even better, re-attach the invoice. These followups don’t need to be dramatic, a simple one will do the job:  


“Hi Client, I noticed that Invoice 1234, due on September 1st, hasn’t been processed yet. Can you please advise on when that payment will be issued?”


Still no payment? Followup again in 1 week, bumping up the tone of your message, for example – adding in the mention that work is on hold:


“Hi Client, Invoice 1234 is still outstanding, and I’d appreciate your help in resolving this issue. Work on Project Name has been put on hold until the invoice matter is resolved. Please provide payment within the next 5 days to avoid further impacting our timeline.”


Most of the time, a client will come around after 1 or 2 reminders. Set guidelines for yourself on how long you’re willing to keep following up before you move on to Get Paid Action 5 – Escalation. For some of us, 30 days past due is enough. Others are willing to wait 90 days. You decide what’s right for you.

Pro Tip: Are you following up with the right person? In some larger companies, invoice payments are handled by a different department, so your contact person may have next to no power to speed things up. Finding the right contact will help you cut out a lot of the delay and noise in collecting payment.

Get Paid Action #5: Escalate

Still. No. Money. Whether you’ve been waiting a few weeks, or a few months, there may come a time when escalating matters is required. You have a few options:

Get Formal: If emails haven’t been cutting it, sending a formal registered letter requesting payments is an option. You can find templates online, or hire a lawyer to draft you a straight forward collection notice.

Get Help: If the followups and headaches are distracting you from focusing on doing the work you love, and delivering great results to other (read: paying) clients, hiring out the task of collecting on overdue invoices may be worth the expense. Hot Tip: Julie Elster of Just Tell Julie is an accounts receivable virtual assistant who helps entrepreneurs collect.

Get Legal: It an be tempting to run to small claims court, but it may not be worth the time and expense if the invoice is too small. Find out what’s involved in the process, map out what resources it will require of you – and then make a judgment call on whether or not it’s really worth it. Don’t let yourself be motivated out of spite – sometimes it’s better to just move on.


Get Paid Action #6: Prevent it

Once burned. Twice shy. Let’s whip your contract and system into shape so that dealing with these shenanigans doesn’t become your new part-time job.

Update your contract:

  • include clear payment due dates, amounts and methods of payment
  • include late payment fees to compensate for your extra administrative activities. (If these aren’t in your contract, you can’t charge ‘em.)
  • include specific language to say “late payment = work on hold”

Improve your process:

  • create a follow up schedule and template
  • schedule invoice reminders leading up to the due date
  • enforce the ‘no payment, no delivery of final files’ rule for your work.