Not Getting Paid – Tips on Avoiding the Freelancer’s Nightmare


Most freelancers face the problem of non-payment sooner or later. Here on we’ve written a lot about the advantages of being a freelancer, but now it is time to shine some light on one of the biggest disadvantages – not getting paid.

In fact, about a year ago, freelancers created the world’s largest invoice, made up by clients who did just that. You can take a look at it over at #GetPaidNotPlayed, the total amount of withheld payments reached 16 million USD, proving that this is more than just a rare occurrence.

Why does it happen? Many companies delay payment or don’t bother with them at all when dealing with freelancers. Be it because they are not quite satisfied with the work you did, the company has financial difficulties or someone just hasn’t cleared up the financial aspect of your work with the top. Whatever it may be, here’s a few tips on how to avoid the freelancer’s nightmare.

1. Make a contract
The first step towards preventing non-payments is to standardize your work. Always have a contract ready and make sure your client signs it. This gives both sides a feeling of security – you know the client is legally bound to pay you and they know you have to do the job as described in the agreement. If things do get messy, a contract is one of the most important assets you have and will guarantee you getting paid in almost all cases.

2. Get money up-front or for reaching milestones
A good way to secure fair-play when it comes down to money is to avoid getting paid all the money at once at the end of the project. Agree on receiving a certain amount up-front, this could vary between 20 and 50 per cent, depending on the field you’re working in and how much the client is willing to give you. Up-front payments are not always the right choice, but can be quite helpful and even necessary at times, for example when having to finance your research or equipment. Drawing up milestones for the different stages of a project and getting gradually paid up to completion can be a great idea as well. Not only will you get paid in a timely fashion for exactly what you’ve done, but when the checks keep coming they will keep you motivated and financially secure.

3. Contact the client through various channels
Sometimes even the tips listed above will not suffice. Or maybe you just skipped them for some reason. Regardless, if you’re still not getting your money, it is time to contact the client. Be quick about it; don’t wait until the check is two weeks overdue. You probably have a contact person in the company. Try to contact them first, however don’t forget the essentials – always remain polite. Don’t assume the worst. If your emails remain unanswered try calling or send a letter. If that doesn’t work, contact the business manager and explain the situation to him or her. Keep the polite tone and give the client the benefit of the doubt. Most cases of non-payment get resolved by this point; otherwise it is time to get down and dirty.

4. Know your rights and defend them
If you fulfilled your end of the agreement, it is up to the client to do his and pay up. In case he ignores your letters, faxes, emails and phone calls, you should consider contacting a lawyer. Most will give you a free first session, providing you with advice and helping you understand the legal obligations for both sides. A court battle can be long and exhausting, financially and mentally. But it can be worth it. Don’t let the client run away with your money, especially if you followed the steps mentioned above. They should give you solid proof of the client’s wrongdoing. Taking a client to court is a last resort, but in some cases there is just no other way. It goes without saying that you should avoid clients with whom you’ve been having problems if you want to enjoy all advantages of being a freelancer without having to fight over your money every single time.

Pic: © Kelpfish -
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