What to do When a Client Doesn't Pay

You begin a new engagement, excited about the prospect. You look forward to the work and having a long relationship with your client, it all seems ideal. It goes well for a while, maybe even months or years. Then, suddenly the client stops paying.

You’re confused. It hasn’t happened before so you assume it’s just a simple error.  You justify the lack of payment (they’re just busy, they forgot, everybody makes mistakes) giving them the benefit of the doubt.

At the same time, you watch the mail or your bank account every day looking for that payment. As time goes by, you begin to get concerned. Still, things have been going so well, and you don’t want to rock the boat. You definitely don’t want to lose the client. After a while, you gingerly bring it up with your client. They apologize and tell you they’ll make sure the payment is on the way by the end of the week.

You breathe a sigh of relief and get back to work.

They were so nice about it that you don’t want to bug them again about the payment. Suddenly one week has turned into two, and then a month without payment. You figure if you keep doing the work, you’ll eventually get paid so it’s all good.

Eventually it feels awkward to bring it up again but you’re getting low on my money and your bills are due. And, you've already done the wor

How you do avoid this situation?

How to handle non-payment

When your client stops paying and starts promising, there's only one thing to do.

Stop working.

This might feel harsh (or even scary) but this is your business. They are your client, not your employer. Rather than ask for permission, you need to set boundaries. Being paid for your work is essential. But there’s another reason why you must take this action: if you don't set boundaries now, they'll just continue to erode as your work with the client goes on.

Once you stop working, communicate your action, lack of action to your client. This shouldn’t be a surprise, if you’ve set appropriate boundaries ahead of time.

In an email to your client simply say,

"I haven't received payment. According to our agreement, work has been stopped until payment is received. You can pay me by (payment options). Thanks!"

And that's it.


More tips for client non-payment

  • Always be conciliatory but don't apologize.
  • Be succinct and to the point, avoid explaining.
  • Be professional but down-to-earth, avoid using legal language.
  • Don’t start working again on their word, wait for proof of payment. 
  • Don’t feel bad, it’s a common problem. Take action to protect yourself.

Sometimes the client may not honestly know, especially if you’re working with a company where payment comes from someone other than the day-to-day client like finance or accounts payable. If you suspect this to be true, add language to reflect this.

By the way, if started working without a deposit and the client hasn’t paid yet, this advice applies to you as well. There are countless stories of independents who waived the deposit, started working and still haven’t been paid yet…two years later. Don’t let this be you. With all future clients, make sure to take a deposit and never work without payment.


Stuck in a sticky situation with a client that won’t pay?

Book a FOCUS session, I can help you get unstuck.