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What Do You Do When a Client Can’t Pay You?

can't paySometimes a client simply can’t pay you. It almost doesn’t matter why, except I’d rather know the non-paying client has no choice than deliberately stiffed me.

Businesses go south all the time. It may be the owners or the CEO, depending on the size of the organization, did something stupid or failed to do something necessary. Chances are when they contracted with you for some writing they fully expected to pay you on time; instead they do not have the money, don’t know where to get it  and literally can’t pay you. Oh sure, there are a few real crooks out there, but they are pretty rare.

What can you do if they can’t pay?

Although a few businesses will let you know as soon as they know that you won’t be getting paid, mostly you find out after trying to collect over a period of time. If they truly don’t have the money to pay you there’s not a whole lot you can do.

It might be worth talking with your contact to determine exactly the situation. They might, for example, be able to make a partial payment or offer something else of value to you. It’s certainly okay to ask, but as a solo practitioner you’re probably better off to just let it go and move on to your next client.

If the contract is a big one, you may want to try collecting through a law suit or small claims court. (Remember, I’m a writer, not a lawyer.) Be careful about getting obsessed with getting your money… it may not be possible.

What can you salvage?

There may be more you can salvage from the situation that you first see. If the client can’t pay you’re free to use the material you’ve created for someone else. Use judgement here. If you’re involved with trade secrets and/or have signed a non-disclosure agreement, you may still be bound to not use certain information. I’m not a lawyer, as you know. If you’re in this situation it may well be worth paying one who is familiar with that industry just what you can do.

Ask yourself who else might benefit from what you’ve written so far? You may be pleasantly surprised. Even if you don’t find an immediate use for the information, I find that over time I’ve probably used everything I’ve written for myself or others at least twice, maybe more. It’s the nature of writing and writers that we tend to use and reuse.

Multiple clients means one who can’t pay won’t hurt as much

The occasional client who can’t pay is the biggest argument I can think of for not limiting yourself to a single company or person for all your paid writing assignments. Even that dream client who pays a retainer and gives you enough well paid work to make a full-time job of it leaves you vulnerable if you have all your income coming from a single source.

If you have a dream client like this, at least have a discussion about your vulnerability. Maybe they’d be willing to help you set up some sort of fund that would tie you over if the worst happens to them. Perhaps they’d be willing to introduce you to others in that industry and encourage you to find at least a few small gigs. You won’t know unless you ask.

Savings is another hedge that can save your business if your primary income source goes belly up.

It’s up to you to do your level best to build a sustainable writing business. Knowing in advance that  you may run into a client who can’t pay you makes planning for that easier. Give it some thought.

Write well and often,

Anne Wayman, freelance writer



Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Thanks James. Glad you found it helpful.

  • Lori, he doesn’t really sound like much of a friend. Go get paid!

  • No problem Lori, typos allowed here… and you make very few of them.

  • No, the client’s need to understand ours.

  • You’re welcome James, glad you found it helpful.

  • And what I didn’t add but will address today, is this need for a hefty deposit. And Lori, it doesn’t sound like he’s much of a friend, actually.

  • Yes
    This situation occur many times.
    So we should understand Client’s perspective.

  • That would be “interested.” Ugh. I’m letting upset ruin my spelling!

  • Sometimes, it’s a book client, and a friend. And sometimes you have the double sting of being shafted by a client who is also a friend.
    In my current situation, I’ve told him it’s time to start paying, and offered to let him work out a monthly payment plan. He’s cried poor, but it falls flat when it’s on the heels of his public bragging about how great sales are.
    Time to get tough and sacrifice the friendship, perhaps. I know from my side, I’m no longer interest in being friends if it means compromising my principles. And what’s owed me.

  • Clients who do not pay employees due to various reasons despite the fact of having been working on a company for quite some time or after the completion of a certain project is no longer new to many people. Although a lot of employees who have experienced such incident don’t exactly know what to do and personally, I have been there. Good thing, though, there are numerous helpful articles online just like yours that offer useful tips. Thank you for breaking this down so well. I hope this helps more employees out there who are experiencing the same situation. Cheers!

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