When a freelance writing client stops responding, it can be the most puzzling and frustrating things that can happen.
It’s particularly galling when it’s someone you’ve had a good relationship with for many months or even years. If the client stops responding about money owed you it’s even worse.
Consider what’s really going on
Before you panic, take a moment or two, or even a walk in a park, to consider exactly what’s going on.
For example, if it’s someone you’ve worked with before, think back on your relationship. Is this the first time the response has taken longer than usual? What’s the nature of the delay – do you need input to complete the writing? Are you waiting on the okay to start something? Do they owe you money? And if money is owed, how long has it really been since they’ve received the invoice? Are you sure they got it?
Getting clear on your understanding of what’s happening will help you make a good decision about what to do.
The same questions can be asked about a new client, or even a prospective new client.
Calm your angst
The goal is for you not to panic when a client or prospective client stops responding. You want to remain or get calm for a couple of reasons, including:
- Your panic won’t help your decision making. Yes, you’ve got some decisions to make about what to do when the client stops responding. More about that in a bit.
- If you’re in a panic about a disappearing client, that’s very apt to effect how you approach the next client.
- You simply won’t write well if you’re in a tizzy.
Take a deep breath, or two or even three. Do what you need to to express and begin to let go of your negative emotion.
Keep in mind that this is not likely to be about you or your writing – really. Take that in. If they were unhappy with your writing, they’d say so – since they haven’t, you can assume it’s something happening on their end.
It may help to know that clients disappear all the time. There isn’t a professional writer whose been in the business for more than a week (Okay, that may be an exaggeration) who hasn’t had a client or two go missing.
What are your options?
First, who is the real decider in this instance? Are you dealing with the person who makes the decisions about the writing and your pay? Or are those functions split.
For example, the editor may, in theory be in charge of getting you paid, but I’ve made it a practice to find out the name of the person responsible for accounts payable and send invoices to both. This approach works more often than you might think.
Depending on the organization, you may be able to go up the food chain to get resolution. In other words, you don’t have to limit your efforts to the client who stops responding.
Email is usually the first choice in communication these days. Make sure your email is correctly addressed to the proper person. If you’re off by one character or space, your communication will disappear and you may not be notified.
The next is to pick up the phone and call. Call the editor about any issue. If you don’t hear back, call the main number if it’s different. Tell the person who answers you’ve been trying to reach the editor… pause and let them respond. You may find out they’ve left the company, have been seriously sick, or has transferred to a new extension. And yes, it’s totally okay to call and ask – you don’t bad mouth them of course.
If the issue is money by all means also call accounts payable. When someone answers tell them you’re a freelance writer, your name, and explain you haven’t been paid yet. Ask them what they suggest.
Rinse and repeat. If after a week or two you’re not getting any responses, try the main number again. See if you can ferret out someone else who may be able to help. Don’t be shy about this. You’ve been hired to do a job and trying to get it done is part of your job.
How often should you contact when the client stops responding?
When the issue is information you need to complete the assignment every other day may be called for, or even once a day, depending on how soon they are expecting the finished product. You don’t want to nag, or maybe you do. Use your best judgement to gather what you need to get your work done.
When it’s pay, companies often have a pay after 30-60-90 days. Ideally you’ll ask what their policy is before you take on the assignment. Sometimes you can negotiate more rapid payment. When it’s individuals, I mark my invoices pay on presentation. Once the pay you’re due is late, once a week contact is certainly in order.
Finally, before you give up, particularly if you’re owed money, send a demand letter, return receipt requested. Although these are often drafted by lawyers, in most states they don’t have to be. Google up demand letters for your state and send one. Sometimes it takes this sort of action to get a client to move in the right direction.
When to give up
It’s tempting to say you should never give up, but that’s simply not practical. It may seem some clients go into witness protection forever. Of course, after a month or two of being the squeaky wheel they turn up again. More than one writer has told of not hearing from a client for a year or more only to have them surface and want you to work for them again.
When you’ve been stiffed for either information or pay, and the client wants you back at some later date, I suggest you demand full payment up front for any new work IF you ever want to work with them again.
Two other notes: If you’ve gotten the gig in question through some agency or service bureau, they may be able to help you collect.
You may have the option of trying to collect in a small claims court somewhere. Check it out on the web for your state and county.
What problems with clients who stop responding have you had? How did you solve them?
Write well and often,