It’s tough being a freelancer – you not only have to do a full-time job, you also have to handle your own admin; everything from advertising your services to collecting payments.

That leaves little time to chase non-paying clients when they bring out the same old excuses; with that in mind, here’s how to react to ten of the worst reasons for delayed payments.

1. The Supply Chain Excuse

“I’m waiting for my customers to pay me before I pay you.”

Unless you agreed this kind of credit relationship beforehand, you have every right to demand prompt payment.

If you’re feeling generous, however, offer flexible terms such as part-payment up front or accept post-dated cheques to guarantee payment by a certain date.

2. The Cheque Scam

“I sent a cheque, it must be lost in the post.”

If you never received a cheque, your client effectively still hasn’t paid you – and the same applies if a cheque bounces, too.

Ask for proof of postage, or full details of when the cheque was posted, and whether it was sent by first or second-class mail.

You may also want to request the number of the cheque, which your client should have on record, and keep this safe for future reference if you need to ask them to cancel or reissue the cheque (and if you are of a particularly suspicious mind, to check against the cheque when it finally does arrive).

3. The Dispute Fallback

“I’m not paying you, the account’s in dispute.”

If there is a genuine conflict over the work done, resolve it as quickly as possible so that you can receive payment.

You should detail the conflict in writing, and agree a course of remedy – and on an ongoing basis, contacting the client once an invoice is issued can help to warn of any such disputes that might arise.

4. The Missing Invoice

“You haven’t invoiced me yet.”

You shouldn’t pay the price for clients losing your invoice or simply failing to pay it – but unless you check that it has been received ahead of time, it’s often impossible to prove that your invoice ever arrived.

Be proactive in your credit control processes to make sure clients acknowledge receipt, even if the deadline for payment is weeks away.

5. The Details Dispute

“The invoice you sent was wrong.”

It’s not out of the question that you might, from time to time, issue an incorrect invoice.

You should make every effort to avoid errors upfront, and confirm any details in writing if they have changed since the work was originally discussed.

6. The Absentee Accountant

“The person who pays our bills is on holiday.”

Waiting for an individual to return from holiday to pay your invoice can be frustrating, but is often necessary with the smallest firms.

There may be a solution though – check whether anyone else there can authorise a BACS transfer, whether the person left pre-signed cheques for such instances, or at the very least, confirm when they will return and chase for payment on that day.

7. The Deathly Dodge

“The company owner / director has died.”

This is clearly a sensitive situation, but in many cases the business goes on – and your invoice is still owed.

Limited liability companies (look for PLC, LTD or LLP in the business’s full name) should continue, while the surviving partners in a partnership become accountable for the debts.

You may, however, want to take a sympathetic approach – give extra time to pay, and allow a compassionate break before resuming your pursuit of the payment, if it’s a particularly close-knit or family business.

8. The Receivership Ruse

“We have gone into receivership / liquidation / administration.”

Have they really? This is sometimes used as a scam – and you should ask for full details of the process by which the company ceased trading, and on what date.

Contact any insolvency practitioners or administrators, particularly if you have a legitimate claim to intellectual property or any other form of security, and make sure you can prove if the company signed your own terms of business, which may help you to retrieve any goods supplied to them.

9. The Priority Pickle

“We’re paying priority suppliers first…”

Every supplier should be a priority, so shout loud and long until you get your money.

There’s little else to say on this one – he who shouts loudest gets paid first, so be vigorous and relentless in pursuing your client for payment.

10. The Finance Finagle

“We’re between banks right now.”

Switching accounts is a legitimate reason for very short-term disruption, but no business can survive for long without an active bank account.

Banks are committed to switching accounts as quickly as possible, and most businesses will have a contingency plan in the meantime; whether it’s a PayPal account, credit card or stockpile of cash.

If your customer is unwilling to consider any of these options, be warned – their reason for non-payment might be nothing more than a scam.

  • We get the supply chain excuse from time to time, which is quite frustrating. Also a good bit of “the check’s in the mail” when it clearly isn’t.

    One notorious “check’s in the mail” client once said “the check is LITERALLY in the mail” and it still didn’t arrive for three weeks… 🙂

  • Chris

    I’m currently chasing a client for payment. I delivered the job on time and they were absolutely delighted with it, but once I asked for payment they said they hadn’t collected from their client yet, and I’m still waiting after 5 weeks. I contact them once or twice a week to remind them of the pending payment, but they keep telling me the same thing. I even suggested that they paid me in stallments – the amount owned is less than $200! – and I’m always nice and polite, but I’m tired of the situation. I never agreed to partner with them! If their client is not paying them, it is not really my problem. I did my part, and all parts were happy with the results. But it seems that all I can do is wait patiently… as I know it serves no purpose to get angry, it would only hurt my reputation.

  • Sharon Jackson

    I have one client who has every excuse in the book – paypal not working, had to have xyz done to car, can’t find my payment details (clearly set out on invoice) – I’ve told him if he doesn’t pay by Friday I will add 10% to the invoice and 10% every week thereafter. I don’t hold out any hopes though, I had the same problem last year & he only paid when I took his website down. It was a total last resort but I knew he was messing me around. Then he had the cheek to have a go at me and tell me he’d turned over £!!K last year and what was my problem.

    This is for a £50 invoice.

    • Jon Norris

      Crikey – sounds that client needs sacking ASAP!

  • Still owed over three grand from 21 months ago, and the colleagues I worked with are owed more. Lots more, for some. Had a debt collector involved and they couldn’t get me my money, decided client is simply a “won’t pay”, not a “can’t pay”. He says he disputes the quality of the work we did, but he used it for it’s intended purposes as soon as it was finished.


    First they asked to confirm the bank details, despite being written on the invoice. Then they claim “We only filled out half your company name on the payment, and your bank rejected it.” 76 days after invoice. I have instructed my lawyer to press charges


    call them every day, call your lawyer, write to the credit agency