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My client won't pay? What should I do?

Your customer hasn't paid you. It's more than annoying; it may be financially ruinous. Trying to get customers to pay what they owe you may be one of the most frustrating parts of running a business, and you probably wish there were some ways to avoid it.

One thing you may begin doing is carefully vetting any customers to whom you wish to extend credit. This may be as easy as doing a Google search for bad reviews or evidence of financial issues. You may consider requiring partial payments before you begin work or starting with smaller projects. Of course, your contract should include details about payment and penalties for late payments. This may be helpful in the future, but how do you deal with clients who owe you now?

Take action

Before you lash out at a delinquent customer, business experts recommend you make sure the problem is not your fault. For example, is the information on your invoice correct? Is there anything in your contract that your client may have misunderstood? If everything on your end is good, you can only assume the problem is with the client.

If your client has not paid within a week or two, you may wish to take the following steps:

  • Send a polite reminder along with the original invoice.
  • If you get no reply within a week or so, make a friendly phone call to confirm that your client received the invoice and is satisfied with your company's work.
  • Continue to send invoices through mail and email every few days with an occasional phone call.
  • When the deadline has passed, your invoices can include reminders about the late fees accumulating, as per your contract.

Although it is best if you handle each of these contacts with complete civility and grace, you have to be the one who decides when stronger action is required.

Not a good idea

You are probably dealing with a lot of emotions, including anger. It is easy to become enraged when you feel a client has taken advantage of you or is jeopardizing your business by not paying. However, experts agree that there are certain precautions you should take, for example:

  • Stay clear of the line between reminders and harassment.
  • Do not post negative comments about your client on social media.
  • Do not continue doing work for a client who is delinquent or who has made you fight for payment.

Taking timely action to collect what customers owe you is important to the well-being of your business. Some experts say you may reach a point where you have to let it go and cut your losses, but others say this surrender only makes your business vulnerable to unscrupulous clients. At some point in the process of trying to collect what is owed to you, you may consider consulting an attorney for advice on the best options.

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