When a client drags his feet on paying

Freelance copywriters, like freelancers in other industries, are generally small, self employing businesses.

As in any business, cashflowing is extremely important.

You need to keep the jobs coming in, you need to keep completing them and invoicing them, and you need the fees to keep coming through as a result.

Most copywriters work on either cash-on-delivery (you do the job, you invoice, they pay you) or 30 day terms (you do the job, you invoice, they pay you after 30 days).

It’s important for you to agree up front with every client which of these models you’re going to work to. (Many client companies say they pay suppliers at 60 or 90 days but, if you make clear that you are a freelance as opposed to a large concern which can afford to wait for its money, will usually be agreeable to paying you at 30 days.)

Whatever you agree on, make sure that your invoice clearly shows the date on which payment is due.

Now. Most clients, large or small, will pay you without trouble, when the payment is due. You may need to remind them that the due date has just passed, but that will usually do the trick. (In truth, some companies have active policies of not paying suppliers until they are chased.)

But what do you do when payment becomes weeks overdue, and a client shows no sign of paying up?

I’m assuming that the work was completed satisfactorily, and that the client has made no indication at any point of being dissatisfied or contesting that payment is due.

It’s happened to me only once or twice in all the time I’ve traded, but when it does I take a really tough line on this, and I’d advise you to do the same.

Mail all overdue payers 1-2 weeks after their due date, to remind them that payment is late. Mail again at weekly intervals for 2 more weeks, politely pointing out the increasing overdue period. After a month or so, if they haven’t paid, warn them by email that if payment isn’t recevied by a set date (usually another 2 weeks ahead), you will issue proceedings against them in the County Court.If the sum in dispute is under £5000, which will cover many freelance copywriting assignments, this can be treated as a Small Claim, and can even be done online.

After this, mail them again a few days before the date on which you plan to issue proceedings to tell them that if payment isn’t received “by Friday” proceedings will be issued.

If there is still no payment received, then you issue proceedings, either at the linked URL above or using paperwork from your local County Court. There is a small fee for doing this, but it’s reimbursable by your client on top of the money owed.

Once you’ve issued the proceedings, the Court will take it from there for you.

Email the client again to tell them that you have issued proceedings and that any further correspondence should only take place through the channel of the paperwork sent to both parties by the Court.

What happens next? My experience has been that, within a few days, you receive a formal notification that the client has informed the Court that he is sending you your money forthwith. Within a couple of days your cheque arrives and that’s the end of it.

The other possibility is that your client now reveals to the court his ‘reason’ for not paying. While this can happen, if it’s something the client has never previously raised with you, he’s unlikely to find it easy to sustain from here. After a little more toing or froing, my guess is that you’ll have your money.

A professional debt collector (yeah, scary!) with whom I spoke recently about this had a great way of looking at this.

He said that the money your client owes you is far less of an item on his agenda than it is on yours. The trick is to make it into an item on his agenda. Turn it into something he can’t avoid dealing with.

A registered delivery Service of Claim from the Court, supported by the prospect of a negative County Court Judgement, is usually enough to do that. Good luck.