My client’s invoice was overdue, and I wasn’t sure what I should do. This was a new client, so I hadn’t yet established a particularly close relationship with them. They were also from a big company, so it made things more intimidating. And while it wasn’t for thousands of millions of dollars, it was for a decent amount of money. Money I needed to pay the bills.

I have to admit, my imagination ran a little wild at first. Would they take weeks and weeks to pay, I wondered. Or, *tremble*, would they never pay? After all, I’m “just” a little freelance copywriter, and this was a big company I was dealing with. Would they use their scary big company power and rip off the little guy (girl)?

I wasn’t really sure what to do, or what to say, so I turned to my fellow copywriters and other wordy types on Google+ for a little guidance. They kindly supplied me with a platter of advice.

Don’t Panic – They Probably Forgot

Bridie from Bridie’s Typing Services and Melinda from Click-Winning Content were quick to point out that there was a good chance my client had simply forgotten to pay their invoice. They’d both experienced that in the past. Unless we were talking about a consistent late payer, it was probably an oversight. And that meant that all that was needed was a friendly reminder.

Be Friendly, but Firm

Shauna, a fellow Brisbane copywriter from take my word for it copy, had dealt with an overdue invoice the previous week. Her approach? She sent a “friendly yet polite and firm email”, highlighting the whole “in case you missed my invoice email” thing, attaching the invoice again, and re-iterating her payment terms.

It Always Pays to be Polite

As Belinda Weaver from Copywrite Matters observed, when it comes to dealing with late invoices (or anything else, really), it always pays to be polite. Even if it turns out that your client actually is evil and is purposely not paying their invoice, it’s better to phrase your follow-up invoice email so that your suspicions don’t come across. I followed the advice from the other ladies and sent my client an email like so:

“Hi [human’s name],

“I was going through my accounts today, and noticed that [big scary company’s name] had not yet paid the invoice I sent you for [job description and $ amount]. I’m sure it’s just an oversight as I know you’re very busy, so I’ve attached the invoice to this email to make life easier for you. If you could please follow up the payment of this invoice, that would be wonderful.

“Thanks [human’s name].

“Best wishes,

“Emily”

(Obviously if you’re chasing up an overdue invoice, you don’t have to phrase your email exactly like I did. Just write naturally. But feel free to use my message as a template.)

The Result

Almost immediately after I sent the email, I received an apologetic reply from my client, explaining that they had forwarded the invoice to accounts previously, and promising to follow up immediately. The money arrived shortly thereafter. So it turned out that they weren’t evil, and that there had simply been a few problems at their end – problems they immediately solved after I politely got in touch.

Extra Invoice Tips

When it comes to invoices, let me add a few other tips for any freelancers out there. These tips (and others) are covered in greater detail in this blog post.

Ask for 50% Upfront

Always ask for a 50% upfront payment. Make this non-negotiable. That way, you can never be more than 50% out-of-pocket for a job if your client turns out to be evil. If someone quibbles about paying upfront, they’re not someone you want to work for. So be firm, and if they continue to argue, don’t take the job.

Drop Late Payers

If you have a client who is a consistent late payer, ask yourself the following questions: Do I need their business? Do I enjoy working for them? Do they always pay in the end? If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, consider changing your terms for this particular client and charging 100% upfront. If they refuse, drop them as a client. It’s no loss to you. If you’re starting out and can’t yet afford to drop a dodgy client, consider dropping them the moment you can afford to.

Make Your Terms Clear

Make sure your payment terms are clearly spelt out on the invoice, or in the email that accompanies it. I also suggest having a shorter time period for when it’s due. 14 days is more than reasonable. If it’s clear, then your client has no excuse.

The Overdue Invoice Debate

If you’re a freelance copywriter (or any other kind of freelancer), how do you deal with late invoices? Do you have any invoice tips to share? Don’t be shy now, leave a friendly comment below!

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(Want more advice on invoicing? Check this post out.)

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