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3. When Client Ignores You Completely: Nudge Harder
What if your client won't return your email or phone calls and Accounts Payable department only has a voice mailbox? (This is a sure sign of trouble!)
Make sure that your contact person is actually in town! I've had editors leave for three weeks without any notice and Accounting department couldn't pay freelancers without approval from Editor. If this is case, you'll have to call (or leave a message for) accounting department and fax them a copy of invoice and initial contract. Explain that copyright doesn't transfer to their company until you're paid and that signature on contract authorizes your payment. (It's a matter of CYA for them...Cover Your Assets)
If you're still being ignored, and it's almost been a month, it's time to get serious. Before you go report them to Better Business Bureau, or decide to sever your relationship, make sure it's worth losing their business in future.
Try sending a "friendly" past-due postcard from this collection agency website: http://www.madagency.com/postoffice.html. (I've used one of "light" postcards twice and didn't lose either client!)
Make sure you note all of dates and times you've called and keep copies of all of your correspondence. If you work for this client in future, make sure that you ask for a larger up-front deposit, just in case.
4. When Client Is No Longer a Client: They're a Debtor
Once you've figured out that you're NOT getting paid without some outside interference, don't panic, harass, or spread vicious rumors about your client. There *are* steps you can take, but if you're owed a lot of money, it's wise to tread lightly and remain civil to stay out of court.
If you're a member of National Writer's Union or another organization for writers, it's time to make a phone call. Your union representative can help mediate disputes with clients. If you're not a union member, you can try contacting Angela Hoy at Writer's Weekly. She regularly "goes after" non-paying clients in front of an audience of 67,000 readers/writers!
Report to Writer's Weekly http://www.writersweekly.com/forms/report.html
If your client is a member of Better Business Bureau, you can contact their local branch. You may also want to consider hiring a collection agency. If you handled transactions solely online, you can also consider reporting them to FBI's Internet fraud department at www.fbi.gov. You can also start sending snail-mail collection letters with 30, 60, and 90 days "past due" notices.
You can download some sample collection letters here: http://www.toolkit.cch.com ools/letter_m.asp
Sometimes, however, no matter what you do, your client won't pay. They may "skip town" or go directly into bankruptcy, absolving themselves of debt. Unfortunately, as a freelancer, you can't write this off as a "loss" in your taxes. What you CAN do is go to court and try to collect what ever you can. As long as you keep records of all of your correspondence, you'll have a decent court case. However, even if you go to court and a judgment is entered against them, chances are slim that you WILL get paid.
The only certainty about a non-paying client is that you'll learn from your mistakes. It's a painful lesson, but at least you can go back to warnings boards listed in first section of this article, and share them with your fellow freelancers.
Luckily, paying clients usually outnumber non-paying and late-paying clients about 30-to-1. And they're ones who make freelancing worthwhile, anyway.
Melissa Brewer is a full-time freelance writer and author of The Writer's Online Survival Guide, available at http://www.webwritingbuzz.com. She hosts a website for professional freelance writers and she publishes a free weekly newsletter, The Web Writing Buzz, featuring articles on freelancing, writing jobs and publishing news from around the web.