You've just finished a major project and you're counting on the $1,000 payment headed your way. You know that your client is going to love the job you've done, and you can't wait to deposit that check. Weeks go by, however, and nothing arrives in the mail. What can you do when clients don't pay?
Freelance writers and editors have it hard when it comes to collecting payment from clients. Unfortunately, there are far too many people out there who don't mind taking advantage of a meek service provider to get some free articles or editing. Since you probably don't have an attorney on retainer, you must seek alternative methods for collecting payment.
Send a Snail Mail Letter Once several weeks have passed without payment, you'll need to give up the e-mail. It's not professional enough and it doesn't send a strong enough message. Instead, type out a snail mail letter under your letterhead and send it my registered mail. Remind your client of the amount that is owed and explain the consequences for non-payment as per your contract.
Make the Phone Call Sometimes, snail mail letters aren't enough and you'll need to get your client on the phone. My advice is to call from someone else's number just in case your client is screening. Once you have him or her on the phone, it will be far more difficult to pull the, “It's in the mail" line. Explain that you understand if he's forgotten, but that you do need the payment immediately.
Hire an Attorney If your client doesn't pay after a letter and a phone call, it's time to break out the big guns. This isn't a situation in which you should just “cut your losses"; failing to pay a debt is serious business, and you deserve to be compensated for your work. Hire an attorney to write a strongly-worded letter to your client informing him of his obligation to pay you. Often, just an attorney's letterhead will be sufficient to get your client to pay up.
Publish Your Client's Work Regardless of the writing or editing you performed for your client, you need to publish it until he pays. As long as you've published the work, you technically own the copyright. I don't mean you need to have it printed in a book; just put it up on your website with a copyright notice underneath.
Learn For Next Time If you still haven't been paid, you have a few choices. The first is to take your client to small claims court, which may or may not be worth your time. You certainly need to report him to the BBB and the Federal Trade Commission, but you might be better off playing smarter next time. Make sure that your contract has consequences for non-payment (such as late fees or interest).
Sometimes you have to make a difficult decision regarding non-payment by clients. For example, I'd be far more likely to take a client to court over a $5,000 deficit than I would over a $200 bill. You also have to consider the financial resources of your client; just because you are awarded a judgment in a civil court case doesn't mean you'll be able to collect. If the client doesn't have any money, you're pretty much out of luck.
Laura J. Thompson is a professional editor, ghostwriter and consultant. She provides these services at competitive prices for both businesses and individuals all across the United States. You can learn more about her services by visiting her website (http://www.editingbylaura.com ) or by reading more of her articles. She specializes in fiction ghostwriting and editing, though she also enjoys self-help and other non-fiction articles and books.