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How to Recover Pending Payments for Your Freelance Work

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Believe it or not, but most freelancers spend a considerable amount of time each week chasing payments. Now, most clients pay on time, but many delay payments for one reason or another.

Since freelance work defies boundaries, it can become challenging to chase payments. Most clients are in different states or countries, and the typical modes of communication, as a result, don’t apply here.

Moreover, most freelancers do work on faith. While a smart freelancer will always have something in writing, even if it is on an email, legal contracts are few, especially for quick, low-paying jobs.

So, when should a freelancer begin to worry about their payment?

Statements from clients such as “it’s not about the money” or “your money is safe” or “I’m not running away with your money” are good signs that something is wrong.

Now, to keep long term business in mind, it is best to take these delays in a calm and sophisticated manner. You must remember that in some cases feedback on portals like Upwork and Freelancer are on the line, so you don’t want to get the client upset unnecessarily.

The trick is to try and judge whether the person is genuinely facing issues, or whether they are trying to dupe you altogether. Walking the thin line between both extremes is essential, and here is a step-by-step guide on how to approach the problem of non-payments.

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First and foremost, since contracts are not standard, you must keep everything in digital black and white. Skip chat messages as much as possible, and make sure you have everything on email.

If the client is not sending an email, take the initiative to send one with all the details, requesting them for an approval/confirmation.

It is also essential that you define the ownership of the work. I always mention in the email that unless the client makes the full payment, the work remains mine. For things like articles and blogs, if you don’t get a fee, at least you can use the work somewhere else.

An important part about long-term, high paying work is that you need to break it down. Recently I had a $1000 assignment which I asked the client to break down into ten tasks of $100 each.

This way, worst-case scenario, if the relationship with the client falters mid-way, I stand to lose only $100 and not the entire $1000.

Invoice your work. This gives it a legal stand, should you have to take drastic measures in the future.

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For a well-known and in-demand freelancer, it is easy to get an advance. The same isn’t true for amateur workers.

Still, try and explain to your client the nuances of your work, and how risky it can get. The aim is to get a 25 or 50% advance, as that will safeguard the work you a little bit more.

Once the work is done, and you feel the client is taking their sweet time paying what you agreed upon, start by reminding them gently. If they ask for time till Sunday, wait till Monday or even Tuesday before you send another reminder.

After about ten days, if they still haven’t paid, move the conversation to emails (if not already), and ask them specifically if everything is okay and if there is any reason for the delay in payment.

This works on two levels. Should the client at this stage say that everything is fine, you have it on record that the work is approved. Also, emails will come handy if you have to show due follow-up in a legal proceeding.

If you are working with a company, there is also the possibility to speak with someone else in the organization, in case you can’t get through your regular contact. At times, delays are individual base, and talking to a senior might resolve the issues faster.


I generally appreciate it when a client is honest with me about the delays. One of the most common “excuses” is monetary problems.

There are times when a client might tell you that they can’t pay because they don’t have money. In such cases, remind them that you too depend on payments, being a freelancer. Not always knowing where the next paycheque will come from can be hard on you. Playing an emotional card is okay. I’ve done it a few times and it works.

Now, if at any stage the client stops responding or flat out says no, keep your calm, and do the following;

Go to their social media and send a public message saying, “Hey, I’ve sent you an email, can you please get back.” It’s a little under the belt, but they get the message that you might talk about the situation online.

Nowadays, bad publicity isn’t always the right kind of promotion for a company.

If they still decide not to respond on social media, send them a message clearly stating that payment is pending and you would appreciate if the same can be taken care of at the earliest.

The important point is to keep your tone natural, not accuse them of anything, or not be harsh. Keep it simple, to the point and professional.

Stressing over pending payments

While we all get angry about non-payments, do think whether the amount is worth getting worked up for. That doesn’t mean you don’t follow up or worst case “name and shame” them on social media. But keep in mind the energy, time, and effort that goes into it from your side.

The penultimate step is to name and shame them on social media. However, do not sensationalize it. Explain your plea. Stick to the facts. Don’t give them a reason to counteract anything online or in the courts (later).

I’ve seen people start hashtags and tag random people in the hope things will go viral. That is typically not the best way to go about it.

Lastly, when the amount is significant enough, you have to take legal action.

However, if you break your work into smaller chunks, follow up correctly, in all probability, it will never reach this point. Do remember, going to courts come with its own set of challenges, and often things can take years to resolve.

Image source: Pixabay

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