At some point during your VA career, you’re going to get some late-paying clients – it’s just the way things are. Some clients are fantastic and pay your invoices immediately, some like to cut it fine, and some will really test your patience. Here’s how to deal with the late payers without going all Daenerys Targaryen on them.
How to deal with late payers
Some people are anxious or embarrassed to talk about money but, after a few late payers, I can guarantee you won’t be one of them! Make sure you state in no uncertain terms what the payment terms in your freelancer contract are from the get-go and ensure new clients are clear about what they are.
Put your payment terms on all invoices and make it easy for clients to pay you. Good client relationships involving regular communication mean late payments are far less likely to occur in the first place.
12-step late payer procedure
- You have a clear payment policy and terms within your contract.
- You email new clients a copy of your T&Cs and contract and verbally outline your payment terms.
- You invoice new clients after two weeks (or less) to reduce any impact.
- You retain open and regular communication with your clients and ensure you’ve both agreed on the timescale and budget of each new project.
- You know how much time they want you to spend, and they know how much their invoice is going to be.
- Your payment terms are on each invoice you send out along with clear instructions on how to pay you.
- You email a friendly reminder a day before the client’s invoice is due.
- You let the client know their invoice has gone overdue a day after they’ve breached your payment terms.
- You send your first formal reminder a week after their payment is overdue. Calls are good but you need a paper trail.
- You send your second formal reminder a week after the first.
- You send a final demand telling them you’re about to start legal proceedings to recover the payment.
- You follow through with your threat. (This is where you get on your dragon and burn their house down).
My own experience
Steps 1-6 usually work for me, but I once did some market research for a new client who failed to pay me even after I’d chased him a few times. I’d never worked with him before and, looking back, I did get a ‘dodgy’ vibe off him from the start.
He’d wanted me to do some research on local companies so he could target them in the future to potentially do business with them. After only completing around £100 worth of work, I emailed him an invoice but he failed to pay me or return my calls.
Despite many chases (and rather unprofessionally I admit), I left him a voice message saying I would be contacting each person on that research list to tell them he was untrustworthy and not to do business with him.
The money was in my account within the hour.
I also have a client who used to regularly pay me late but I very much like her and the tasks she gives me. We had a discussion and it turns out her Accountant always pays invoices once a month on a specific date – so I just moved her invoice date so my 14-day payment terms fell within her set pay run date.
The Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act of 1998 allows you to claim costs outlined in your invoice alongside any compensation.
This means, even if it was not stated in your payment terms, you can get compensation against public sector organisations and businesses with more than 50 employees. And you can also claim up to 8% interest from other small businesses starting from the day after the day it should have been paid.
“The interest you can charge if another business is late paying for goods or a service is ‘statutory interest’ – this is 8% plus the Bank of England base rate for business to business transactions. You cannot claim statutory interest if there’s a different rate of interest in a contract.” (this is also outlined in the freelancer contract I sell)
Taking legal action
If the amount owed to you is very low then you could just suck it up and learn from the experience. However, law firms will send standard payment demand letters for just £10 and it only costs around £30 to go to the Small Claims Court.
HMRC says you can also charge a business a fixed sum for the cost of recovering a late commercial payment on top of claiming interest from it.
The amount you’re allowed to charge depends on the amount of debt, you can only charge the business once for each payment and you can currently charge £40 for debt up to £999.99.
You can avoid a lot of hassle simply by setting out from the beginning what your payment terms are and agreeing with your client how much work you’re doing, at what rate, and over what time period before you start work.
Managing your clients and their expectations is a large part of being a Virtual Assistant so deal with late payers professionally, don’t bad mouth them all over the Internet and have procedures in place to avoid it in the first place.
- You can find free example overdue payment letters on my Downloads and Training page.
- This is how you make a claim to take court action in the UK.
- Here is the HMRC page on how much interest you can charge for late payments I mention in the article along with a link to the current Bank Of England base rate.
- Here’s a free calculator from the Small Business Commissioner on how much interest you can charge on an unpaid invoice.
- You can get all your legal contracts and policies here. These are written by an international contracts lawyer and should the law ever change in the future, the contracts will be updated and sent to all buyers free of charge.