Getting Delinquent Clients to Pay You on Time


“Where’s my money?!”

That’s a phrase that I used to scream at my monitor whenever difficult clients would skip payments for weeks at a time or, worse, if they would skip paying completely.

Many things have changed since then, and my experience with such clients early in my web working career has made me savvy to such escape tactics. In the end, only one client was successful in evading me. I didn’t let him get out scot-free, either – I reported his company to the Better Business Bureau.

When it comes to money, I believe that prevention is better than cure. Having a mutually signed-contract is the first step you need to take to ensure that the client will be taking your agreement seriously. I also find that a ‘layman’s version’ of the contract can help clients better understand what they’re signing if the legalese gets in the way. However, don’t forget to add a disclaimer that the layman’s version in no way replaces the actual contract.

Sometimes, this stage can be a litmus test to see if the client will have payment problems later on. Red flags go up when potential clients are reluctant to sign a contract because “It’s only a couple of weeks’ work anyway”. But if the deal pulls through, there are other things you can do to ensure that you get paid on time.

Have a clear schedule of deliverables. It’s important to write a list of deliverables for both you and your client – including the payment. Note the following example for an ebook writing project:

August 28 – Client sends materials and initial deposit.
August 30 – You send your proposed outline to the client.
September 2 – Client sends you comments/suggestions for outline.
September 3 – You send the finalized outline to the client.
September 15 – You send the first chapter of the ebook to the client.
September 20 – Client makes second payment, and sends additional comments.

Also, when you send each invoice, don’t forget to note the payment due date. While some clients won’t need reminders, be mindful of which clients tend to be too busy to forget the due date so that you can send them a reminder the day before.

Find a way to make early payments beneficial to the client. One of the things we’ve decided to implement is to give a client a 5% discount if they pay the invoice within 24 hours from the time it was sent. Another alternative you might want to try is giving a discount or promo coupon for the client’s next order.

Have template emails ready. To save yourself some time and the stress of composing payment reminder emails, it helps to have ready templates. I make templates for payment reminders the day after the due date, the week after, and two weeks after. I just adjust the details of the letter to the situation.

Call the client. Emails are easy to delete and prone to misunderstandings, which is why for clients who make delinquent payments, it’s important to call them if you aren’t paid after two weeks – especially if they haven’t replied to your emails. There could be a completely valid reason behind this, but it’s important to hear it from your client directly.

Make yourself indispensable. I had a client who, even after signing the contract and getting satisfactory work from us, decided to leave us hanging when it came to his final payment. The above methods didn’t seem to work – until he needed us to make a minor change on his website. Of course, we only made the changes he requested when he paid the remaining balance. Sometimes, being indispensable can be good insurance that a client won’t run off without paying you for your work.

However, once you realize that a client has this kind of habit, it’s best to stop working with them. You don’t want to risk being left unpaid for a project should they decide one day that they don’t need you anymore.

Don’t be a fool. If a client is notorious for making excuses and avoiding you during payment time, it makes no sense to trust them for succeeding projects. Use your instinct, and if you think chasing them for your fees isn’t worth it, suggest that they find someone else (to annoy).

Have you ever had problematic clients who left you unpaid? How did you try to get your money?



Another small, but sometimes overlooked detail is to put an actual due date on the invoice, rather than just saying “Due within 14 days.” Keeping that due date right in front of them rather than making them figure it out is important.


The issue I have had is when working with a large global corporation, my invoice went into their accounts department and disappeared into a void.

The call centre for their invoices was in Bangalore, and my complaints to my client were routed there instead of to him.

I was eventually paid, but 90 days after the due date, it has made me re-consider working with large corps as a single person company. They completely wrecked my cash flow (it was a long term project)and I was forced to take out an overdraft on the invoice to keep myself afloat.


I hate it when this happens, but as for the total deadbeats you would be amazed that some collections agencies will take on the problem of collecting for 30% of the debt owed, even when it is a small debt. Sure you’re only getting 70% in the end, but that’s better than 0. I have also found that just mentioning it as a recourse in the contract will make most people think twice about stiffing you.

Misty Cryer-Davidson

I never make a statement like “payment due on completion”. A few of my clients felt that the project wasn’t completed until they had requested and received revisions and if they have that mindset, you may not ever get paid. My final payment is due on submission of first draft or within 15 days of first draft.


If you’re discounting your service to get paid on time, something is wrong. Communicate the terms up front, bill on time and vigorously follow up. Most people are not deliberately delaying payment, they’re just busy and your priority is not necessarily their priority. Make it easy for them to pay you. Use paypal, accept credit cards/phone payments…

If you cannot float a payment and feel that you must offer early payment terms, build that into your quote. If you end up paying the discount, you still net out to the amount that you would have originally accepted. If you get paid late, you get a bit more for your trouble.

Jeff Gordon

Great article! I agree with the bulk of your comments except for the suggestion to offer an early-pay discount.

As someone who has been on the procurement side of things AND has worked as a freelancer, I can tell you that I would LOVE to see discounts when I work for corporations. We have the capability to pay quickly and for the right discount, will make it happen. And as a freelancer, I would also like my clients to pay on time.

But as much as I’m a negotiator who drives a hard bargain, I believe in honest pay for honest work. As a result, I’m in the “stick” camp versus a carrot. So if you agreed to $x. for y work, then that’s what it should be. Hopefully your agreement has an interest clause (and a stop-work clause) in there, too. Those two clauses are the tools to encourage payment.

You can always choose NOT to charge someone interest if you believe their non-payment excuse. But there’s no need to discount your services just so someone can write a check faster.


Many credit managers will tell you that offering early payment discounts can cost you more than it will benefit. The main reason is that clients will often take the discount long after the time period has expired. You are then faced with the problem of squabbling with an otherwise excellent client over a very small amount of money. If you plan on doing this, you should consider increasing your rates by the anticipated discount, and then when they take an expired discount you simply ignore it.

Clients all know this, unless they are very new to the world, and even major corporations will play this game.

Good luck.


Great article! I agree, a contract and friendly reminders are usually all it takes. More often than not, a client’s late payment is the result of an innocent oversight and they just need a reminder.

In more extreme cases (thankfully, I’ve only had one or two of these in 8 years in business), I’ve taken the website down until the payment is made. Our contract states clearly that the project may be “removed from service” if the account becomes seriously delinquent. That sure gets people’s attention!


And then there’s the close cousin of this problem:

Clients who for one reason or another stall on asset deliveries and/or approvals, which has the same (or worse) effect on the bottom line as delinquent payment for deliveries already made.

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