So you’ve finished your assignment, checked it three times over for mistakes, and created an invoice to send to your client. A few days pass. No response from your usually hyper-connected client. You email them again. Silence.
Looks like you’ve been ghosted. Unfortunately, disappearing clients aren’t just a sideshow attraction and being owed money for work you’ve signed, sealed, and delivered isn’t exactly a rare occurrence for solopreneurs and freelancers. In fact, the Freelancers Union has found that more than 70 percent of clients have been stiffed.
Last year the advocacy group created a movement in New York City, one of the top freelance hubs in the world, to formally push for legislation designed to protect freelancers right. The Freelance Isn’t Free Act was signed into law in Fall 2016, and goes into effect in just a few days, on May 15.
Not sure where to start after your client’s gone MIA? We spoke with lawyer Quinn Heraty, a specialist in so-called “ghosting” clients to gather some concise, actionable tips for freelancers.
Make your terms crystal clear
You know all that fine print you scroll past on your way to the “agree” button at the bottom of a terms and conditions page? Well, when you’re crafting your own terms and conditions, you have to be a bit more thorough. “Have a written agreement and discuss the terms of the agreement so both parties know what their rights and obligations are,” says Heraty.
When you’re drafting your freelance contract, be sure to take note of their style and demeanor. “If someone is flaky or dismissive, then those are red flags as far as how they will conduct business with you,” he says. Another way to protect yourself is to include their address and phone number in the contract so you can easily follow up on the phone or bring them to Small Claims Court.
Terms and conditions aren’t just for the contract—you can include them on your invoices as well (AND CO’s free invoice templates can help with that!). Specify how you’re owed and when, as well as how you expect to be paid, and whether you’ll charge late fees. Heraty also advises to be as accommodating as possible when it comes to payment. If they use an online payment service, he advises to create an account there, even if you’d rather use a different method.
When it comes to being paid by your client, try to be as accommodating as possible. Click To Tweet
Remember, the easier you make it for your client to pay you, the more likely you are to get paid in a timely manner.
If you just read through those tips and thought to yourself, “But I did all that!” don’t fret. Here are three steps to take when your client has decided to skip out on their end of the bargain.
1. Play nice
It might take you an hour to craft a carefully worded email, but if that’s what it takes to fight off the desire to write in all caps, exclamation points and swears, then take all the time you need. “Let [the client] know that you want to resolve things with them amicably,” says Heraty, even if that means working out a payment plan in the off chance that they don’t have enough money to pay all at once. She also warns against “shaming or haranguing your client,” as in most cases you’ll want to salvage the relationship for future projects.
2. Give a final warning
If you’ve sent several follow up emails (and/or made calls) and still haven’t heard back, then you might consider bringing in a lawyer, depending on the size of the project. Legal fees can add up, so a good first step is to send your client an email notifying them of your decision in order to give them one more opportunity to settle everything simply. Sometimes, knowing that you’re not joking around is all it takes for a vanished client to suddenly appear at your doorstep with money in hand. And if you get permission from your lawyer, you can even ‘cc’ them in the email for added gravitas.
Pro-tip: Want to really get their attention? Physical letters cut through the clutter in an age where 99% of communications occur on digital channels. AND CO recently released a new tool, called Williams&Harricks, which allows you to send a demand letter to your client of varying degrees of sternness, for just $3. If you’re an AND CO user, you can send these directly from the app.
Stiffed by a client? Bring in Williams&Harricks to send them a demand letter on your behalf. Click To Tweet
3. Take them to court (if it’s worth it)
Technically, you can file a case against your client through your local Small Claims Court, but depending on how much they owe you, it might not be worth your time and the additional money you’ll have to cough up for fees. If you’re not sure whether Small Claims is the way to go, Peter Hilton’s article via the Freelancers Union is a good starting point.
The truth is, even after all of this, you might still get stiffed, which is why it’s crucial that you never start a project without a signed contract that lays down both of your obligations when it comes to payment. It’s simply the easiest way to protect yourself from Day 1.
Confused about how to write a contract? AND CO has your back.