Freelance Nightmare — When the Customer Doesn’t Pay

What to Do when your Customer doesn’t Pay


It is a freelancer’s worst nightmare. You’ve slaved for hours working on a project for a client, you’ve done a fabulous job, delivered on time, and then your customer doesn’t pay their invoice.

It could be that the client is completely avoiding you, or promising to pay by a certain date.  Time and time again, and always failing to make the payment. Worse still is the client has paid but with with a bogus cheque. In the world of freelancing, it does happen. Yes, deadbeat clients do exist!

It happened to me when I first started my business…

So, it can happen to you too; In my case he was one of my first clients’. I was so happy to have another client. I was innocent and far too trusting. OK, I let my guard down, and did no checks on him or his business beforehand.

We sometimes learn the hard way…

I now have procedures in place to try to make sure it doesn’t happen again:

  • Avoid bargain hunters – He was one
  • Get references and credit check – Use Due Diligence Checks
  • Make sure your clients know when and how to pay – which should be a given within your T&C’s and on your invoice.

What about if you’ve done all that and the work, payment reminders have been sent and still the customer doesn’t pay.

How do you make the payment happen?

If the client has been avoiding you, or promising to pay and then failing to do so, be candid with them. Ask them if they need to make payment instalments on the project, instead of paying a lump sum; They could have just run into a cash slump, so this is a viable solution that works for everyone — Ask if they can pay what they owe over time, and then you will still have a working relationship them, and you get paid. It may not be ideal for you, but getting paid a little at a time is better than not getting paid at all.

If the client still won’t pay you?

If regardless of the fact that you’ve tried to work out an arrangement with them, you must move onto the next course of action in the following ways:

  • You can turn the bill over to a collection agency. You can sell the debt to a collection agency, but typically, you will be paid pennies on the pound. But, some money is better than no money.
  • You can also take them to small claims court. Which is a relatively simple process which you can find out about here: Gov.UK Small Claims Advice 

You have to decide which option is best for you!


If you go to small claims court, you will win, but you may still have problems collecting on the debt. I’ve gone through the process of small claims court on behalf of a client. Yes, they won the case only to find that they received a minuscule amount over 5 years.

If everything else fails:

Obviously, you can let other business contacts know about the deadbeat client, and let the client know that you are going to let other freelancers and small business owners know. This may give the client incentive to pay you right away, because they will eventually need more work done, and they know that if word gets out that they don’t pay for the work, they won’t have much luck finding a freelancer.

I’ve done this in the past…. and yes, it works. It’s testament to the old saying:

‘ It’s not what you know, it’s WHO you know’.

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Karina Bailey

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Written by Karina Bailey

Karina is the real person behind the Virtual Assistant. I support local small business owners, helping to relieve their admin stress and concentrate on their core business. When not at my desk working I can be found in graveyards, researching my family history. Dancing the Salsa and listening to local bands.