by Leo Wiles
16 May 2018
I’m currently owed nearly $20k by one client only, with invoices dating back to Feb. I do a lot for this client, and they usually pay, but they are really taking their time despite frequent nudges on my part. What are my options? I don’t want to lose them as a client but I’m concerned that this (very) large amount is outstanding and I’m loathe to do any more work for them until they pay me! Help. Anon
Clients who delay payment can have serious repercussions for small business owners, as you’re finding. I speak from experience also – in my early days freelancing I was forced out of business by late payments. Even so, I’m shocked you would be out by that much – and what’s equally worrying is that you’re probably not the only writer they owe money to. If everyone called in similar sums at once, they could they go under.
If that did happen, it would leave you with nothing to show for the experience but resentment, and with little or no recourse to recoup the money. Being realistic, it isn’t just $20k anymore if you add in lost interest and wasted time worrying about it or chasing it.
To salvage the current situation, here’s what I would do. Firstly, tap your in-house contacts to find out what the hold up is (flaky deputy with invoices sitting in his/her in-tray? Publisher stoush? Accounts department down a team member?). At what point in the process from you filing copy, sending your invoice in and it going to accounts did the wheels fall off the trolley? By knowing the internal environment you will be able to best determine which debt recovery route will work best.
As we’re talking a serious amount of cheddar, it’s unlikely to be the standard of your work that’s an issue. Instead there are possibly quite a few bottlenecks to address. If this is the case, you need to locate them and start working out a work-around before the big boss gets involved and in all likelihood offers you a settlement sum to walk away.
At this point, you’re probably feeling a little hot under the collar – that’s not surprising. But stay polite, professional and open-minded to working out a payment plan with the client. Next step: call the person who commissioned you every single day to ask when you’ll be paid. No joy? Escalate to their boss, the accounts department and heck, for that amount of moola, the CFO too.
If you can’t face the confrontation, pen an email – one of these templates from Business Victoria may help:
If you’re still not getting anywhere it may be time to bring in the big guns by writing a letter of demand, seeking legal counsel or pursuing the amount through the court or a collection agency like Collectmore – who are likely to recover it but take a 20 percent cut.
I would also be asking myself some hard questions too, such as how did I get here? How do I make sure this never happens again? Keeping track of your invoices and marking dates on a calendar to chase invoices regularly is key. You should also safe-guard your workflow and income by having a contract in place before you write one more word. I’d also be asking if you want to continue working for this client. They sound like a terrible investment risk and extra stress you don’t need.
Have you ever been owed close to $20k? How did you recover the money?