What to Do When Your Freelance Clients Won’t Pay

by Zawn Villines on Feb 27, 2015

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It’s every freelance writer’s worst nightmare. You’ve submitted the work after slaving away over every detail. Now the client has disappeared or is flat-out refusing to pay. Many clients fail to understand that writing is a premium service, not something just any random fool can do. But freelance writers don’t have to put up with clients who don’t pay. By fighting back, you teach unsavory characters that they can’t get away with scams forever. You also protect other freelancers. Here’s how to get clients to pay up.

Send a Letter 
If the client doesn’t respond to your bill, send a follow-up letter as a reminder. The letter should remind the client that he or she does not have the right to use your work until payment is received in full. Note also that publishing your work without paying for it is a violation of copyright laws (you don’t have to register the copyrights to your work to assert copyright protection; for more information on this issue, click here). If you used a contract, your letter should also make reference to the contract. Keep the tone polite and professional rather than menacing, since your client may have genuinely forgotten.

Add Late Fees
Every bill you send should clarify your policy about late payments. If your client hasn’t paid up yet, send another bill adding on late fees. If the client is treating you like a short-term lender — by avoiding paying you as long as possible — late fees sometimes convince the client to pay up.

Call Them
It’s a lot harder to ignore a real live human being than a letter. When you call the client, you put him or her on the spot, pressuring them to make the right decision and pay up. Don’t be aggressive or call every day. One friendly phone call should do it. If it doesn’t, it’s time to resort to more drastic measures.

Send a Takedown Notice
Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, ISPs are not liable for copyright-infringing material they publish if they remove it upon receiving proper notice. So let’s say your client posts your work on their website (or worse, on their client’s site) without paying you. All you need to do is send a DMCA takedown notice. The ISP is required to remove the infringing work. They’ll also notify your client of the removal, and unless your client is unafraid of a lawsuit, this may scare him or her into paying up. You can find an excellent overview of the DMCA takedown process here.

Sue Them in Small Claims Court 
You don’t need a lawyer, or even a contract, to sue the other party in small claims court. If you win, you can garnish their wages or put a lien on their property to give them a bit more encouragement to pay up. Small claims court rules vary from state to state, so check local laws. In most cases, filing a lawsuit is a simple process that requires only minimal documentation. Emails showing you agreed to do the work for a specific price, for example, are usually sufficient.

Warn Other Freelancers
Clients who refuse to pay tend to scam everyone they work with, not just one freelancer. If the client is a business, post a negative review on their Facebook or Google+ page, as well as on Yelp and other review sites. Sometimes the negative publicity will shame the client into paying. Even if it doesn’t, it will protect other freelancers from falling prey to the same scam.


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