How To Professionally Deal With Clients Who Don’t Pay

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where a client completely stops communicating with you, yet still owes you money?

(Raises hand.)

It’s frustrating and can make you feel used and disrespected.

While my very first client experience prompted this article, it’s been mostly smooth sailing since then.

Unfortunately, it recently happened again.

I have to be honest, I didn’t really see this one coming.

We had worked together before, and things had always gone smoothly. Though she worked with another scopist and wasn’t my main reporter, she communicated and paid on time.

So let’s look at what happened:

I completed a job, sent it back, and began a five-month uphill battle.

I sent my invoice through Freshbooks, which notified me that she had opened the invoice.

A few days later, I asked if she received my invoice, but she replied that she never received it and asked me to send it again.

So I sent it again, asking for confirmation she received it.

Confirmation received.

And then crickets…

Now, depending on your personal payment situation and the amount of time that’s passed, it’s an interesting barrage of thoughts your mind can go through during this process: Did something terrible happen to her? Was she not satisfied with my work? Did she already send payment and I just haven’t received it yet? Is she just too busy running my name through the mud? Do I need to find another client to replace her? How many e-mails should I send? What tone should I use?

It’s enough to drive anyone insane.

Over the next few months, I sent numerous “polite reminder” e-mails, but no response.

I decided to send an honest “disappointed” e-mail, which prompted a response.

She informed me that I would get paid when she got paid for her job.

Sound familiar?

Waiting for payment is one thing. Having no earthly idea what amount to expect and/or when to expect it, that’s another feeling entirely, especially when months pass by.

Multiple e-mails later ended with her informing me she had sent half ($100) and would pay the remaining balance next month.

“Next month” came and went, and I heard nothing but those pesky crickets.

By this point, I was pretty fed up with the whole situation. I was grateful it was such a small amount, but it still stung to be treated that way. Everything in me wanted to sit down and write another e-mail, but I knew that wasn’t a wise decision in the state I was in. Plus, I was fairly certain she had blocked me by this point.

Quick Tip

Never send e-mails when you’re in an emotional state.  Since scoping is your livelihood, not a hobby, it’s easy for that irritation to shine through, and this will always affect your professionalism.

Moving On

Let’s face it, it’s not a great feeling to provide a service and meet all of the client’s expectations, only to have them completely ignore your one expectation: payment.

In fact, it’s easy to feel resentment and infuriation every single time you think about being taken advantage of.

For me, these feelings can quickly turn to scheming. I can’t tell you how many ideas would fly through my mind when it came to creative ways to get paid. It was exhausting.

“Hell, she lives one hour away from me. I could just call her agency and drive up there.”

But you know what, it’s pointless. It’s not worth it.

There comes a point where it’s just not worth the exhaustion anymore, and it’s best to let it go and move on.


Before you throw in the towel, let’s look at what you can do to increase your chances of getting paid.

1. E-mails

While I hope you don’t have to use them, it helps to have nonpayment e-mail scripts prepared. It’s important to not let yourself type e-mails and make business decisions when you’re upset. Plus, having a plan in place will save you time and let you get back to work. Avoid being threatening initially and try to keep communication open. Sometimes a reporter may have a valid reason, but you need to know if that’s the case.

This same principle applies to phone calls as well.

2. Call their agency

This next step should not be your first resort.  It will, no doubt, end your relationship, so be sure not to rush into it. But if a month has passed and a reporter is still not responding to your e-mails, it’s probably time to implement this.

When dealing with an agency, be sure and be calm and respectful. Your goal isn’t to have a rant session or to shame a reporter. Your goal is to get paid and move on with your life. You want to do everything you can to increase your chances of payment, not decrease them.

3. Collections

Dependent on your invoice amount, there’s a chance collections could be worth it, especially if you’ve been working on dailies.

Ideally, if you’ve implemented the steps in this article, then your invoices should never be large enough for this to be considered.

4. Court

I don’t recommend this to anyone in the scoping industry.

First, if you’ve followed my advice about not letting your invoices pile up (see above), the amount is probably minuscule compared to what you’re going to be spending in court fees. Plus, it’s a large amount of stress, something we all have enough of as it is.

However, if you choose to take this route (dailies can add up quickly), as a precursor to court, be sure and send a certified letter detailing what you are owed.

5.  Write it off on your taxes

Did you know you can write off your invoice due to bad debt?

Be sure and keep accurate, detailed records if you plan to take this route and consult with a tax professional on details for how to do this.

I am not a tax expert. I’m just recommending you look into it.

6. Therapeutic e-mail

I touched on this in my other article, but it’s just as relevant in this one. Sit down and write out exactly what you’re feeling about your unfortunate situation. Don’t hold anything back. You need to do this for you.

Censored example:  (Insert name), I just wanted to let you know that I won’t be expecting your check anymore. So go ahead and keep the (amount); you clearly need it more than I do.

Do NOT send this e-mail. Type it up, read it out loud, delete, and move on to your next step.

7.  Let it go

Add them to your “Never Work For” list, enjoy the rest of your day, and move on.

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