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What To Do When You Don't Get Paid for a Freelance Job

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It's bound to happen to a freelancer at some point. The client who won't pay.

Whether you're a freelance graphic designer or copywriter, you're probably reading this because you've got a client who doesn't want to pony up for that project you worked so hard on. You have several options and there's a fine balance between getting your money and not damaging the relationship with the client.

Your Contract
Hopefully, you took the time to create a contract you both signed. In that contract, you stated the payment terms such as how much you were to get paid and when. You also stated the late fees that would be charged if the client failed to pay within your time frame.

If you did all of this and you sent your invoice only to find your mailbox still feeling lonely, go ahead and send the invoice a second or even a third time within a reasonable time. In other words, don't start sending your invoice on a daily basis. Send an invoice and wait a couple of weeks before moving on to the next step.

You can even send a polite note with your mailing to let them know you're re-sending the invoice. A simple note could say that you're re-sending in case the client didn't receive your first invoice.

Things do get lost in the mail so even if the client is avoiding you, this gives you that niceness that Mom always tried to teach us. You might just find a check in your mailbox by the end of the week. Or you may see that the client's true intentions are to avoid you, also proving they didn't pick up that niceness lesson from Mom.

If you're dealing with a client who won't pay and you don't have anything in writing, send them a letter along the same lines as you would if you had a contract. You can tell the client you two agreed on a payment amount and the terms and you're just writing to follow up to see when the check would be sent.

Write the Business Manager
When you're hired for a project, most freelancers aren't dealing with the person who actually pays the bills for the advertising agency. They are dealing with a contact person in the creative department because that person knows what's going on with the project, not the person sitting in the office writing checks to various businesses and balancing the books.

A letter to the company's business manager with a copy of your invoice and signed contract (showing both your signature and the one of the agency's employee) will generally do the trick. That check will usually find its way to your house within a week or two after this move.

You can find out who the business manager is by calling the company and asking that person's name. Don't go into detail about who you are or that you want to talk to that person. Just find out the business manager's name and write your letter.

Business managers have a different take on the situation. First of all, the creative person you deal with may not like that word choice or design you chose when creating that brochure or print ad and doesn't feel like they want to pay you because they had to change two words or move one of the images around.

Business managers, on the other hand, hate the thought of outstanding bills on the desk. They're all about the numbers and are "just the facts ma'am" types of people.

Most of the time, their opinion of the situation is that you did the work, you've got the contract and that's that. You should get paid.

The letter you send to a business manager is also simple. Use the "just the facts ma'am" philosophy stated above.

Tell the business manager the date you completed the project, that you have included a copy of the contract both you and their employee signed agreeing upon the conditions as well as the invoice. Also state that it's been X amount of days since the project has been completed and you still haven't been paid. This is another one of those polite letters because, at this point, you're dealing with a new person and irritating them by being rude won't get you your money any faster.

If you've added late charges to the bill because the initial contact person didn't respond with your payment, consider dropping those late charges and letting the business manager know that as well. Even though collecting the late fees is something you've stated right there in your contract, wouldn't you rather have the hundreds or thousands of dollars they owe you for the project instead of tying everything up over your late fees?

Let the business manager know you're sure you not getting paid was simply an oversight so as a measure of good faith you'll drop those late charges if the bill is paid. You can even set a date that they can get the payment back to you to keep those late charges from being added to the bill. But, again, don't demand your money by being rude because you're dealing with a new person and this is the one who does write the checks.

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