The Business

(Free Email Templates) How to Chase Freelance Clients for Money

"Dear client..."

Envelope with the words "PAYMENT REMINDER" on its way to a client

A common gripe faced by freelancers everywhere is not being paid on time for client work.

Payment is delayed for 30 days, 60 days etc. Some clients pay up only after 4 months(!!) of chasing. While others say, “Sorry we can’t pay you yet because my own client has paid me.”

And on some occasions, the client doesn’t pay at all.

So what should you do if a client has missed the payment deadline?

As email is the primary mode of communication between clients and freelancers who work remotely, I’ll be discussing how you can chase for payment from freelance clients via email.

In the discussion, I’ll be assuming:

  • You work remotely instead of in your client’s office
  • You did awesome work for your client (if your work was slipshod, the client might have good basis for saying you didn’t fulfil your side of the bargain. And therefore, they aren’t obliged to pay you in full.)
  • You’ve invoiced your client for the work, with a clearly-stated deadline for payment
  • The payment deadline has passed but you haven’t received payment
  • You haven’t sent any emails to chase for payment yet (but if you have, feel free to skip to the part of this guide which goes through what to do if your client doesn’t reply your emails)

Also, you may be feeling embarrassed about having to chase your client for payment. Don’t be.

You’ve done work for your client, and now it’s their turn to uphold their side of the agreement. From a legal and ethical point of view, you deserve to be paid. So don’t hesitate any further – get ready to fire up your email client!

If you’ve already sent a million payment reminder emails to your client to no avail and are ready to start taking legal action, consider sending a letter of demand.

This is a formal letter demanding for payment and includes a strong warning to the client that you may sue them if they fail to pay within a certain deadline (more on letters of demand below).

I’ve set up a letter of demand generator that will churn out a customised letter of demand for you at a fraction of the price that a lawyer would charge to do so. You can start building your letter of demand here.

Contents Menu

Writing the Email

Black ballpoint pen on top of black keyboard

Email body

This is the meat of the email, so it’s important to get it right. But we go into what the email should say, let’s talk a bit about what its tone should be.

What should the tone of your email be?

At this point, you’re probably feeling frustrated and annoyed that you’re being owed money by your client. However, it’s important to keep your cool (and sound like it) in your email.

This is your first email reminder to the client to chase for payment, so you don’t want to immediately go in with all guns blazing.

Instead, be nice. Give your client the benefit of the doubt instead of immediately assuming that they are withholding payment on purpose.

If you make accusations (even if you have a good reason for doing so), you’re likely to offend your client. And an offended client may get defensive and less willing to go the extra mile to ensure that you get paid.

What should go into the body of your email?

Your email should include:

  • Your purpose for emailing: you’re writing to remind your client that payment is due.
  • Why you’re entitled to get paid: you’ve already completed the work requested of you and sent an invoice for payment. However, the client has missed the deadline for payment stated in the invoice.
  • Follow-up action for the client: request the client to settle up as soon as they can. You can also ask the client when they would be able to make payment to you, or state your own deadline if you prefer.

Following the points above, your email could look something like this:

Dear [Recipient Name],

I’m writing about the invoice (attached) for $XX I sent over for the “[Name of Project]” project that I completed on [Date of Completion of Project].

Payment for the invoice was due on [Due Date for Payment], so I’d appreciate it if you could settle it at your earliest opportunity.

Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks and hope we can resolve this soon.

Regards,

[Your Name]

Remember that you should keep the tone of your email friendly. If you’re feeling so worked up that you’re having difficulty not using ALL CAPS or passive-aggressive language in your email, hold off sending whatever you’re writing for the time being.

Save it as a draft, then give yourself a day or two to cool off. You can come back to it when you’re feeling calmer to edit out all the angry bits (or just rewrite the email from scratch if that would be easier). You’ll thank yourself for this.

Should you mention late fees?

If you’re entitled to charge late fees (i.e. additional charges on the agreed fee in the event that payment is not made on time), you can mention this in your email as well.

However if you think that you’d like to work with the client again in the future and/or they have a history of paying you promptly, you can extend some goodwill and waive the late fees.

Email attachments

It’s recommended that you attach a copy of your invoice (or other supporting documents) to the email.

Your client will be able to quickly review these documents after receiving your email and confirm that you are entitled to be paid, instead of having to dig these documents out from their computer.

In short, don’t overthink what your email should say.

There’s no need to write a long sob story – go straight to the point about why you’re writing, and be friendly about it.

Email subject

The subject of your email will be the first thing that your client will read, so make sure it states exactly what your email is about in sufficient detail.

For example, an email subject that just says “Payment” might be too vague. You’ll want to give a heads-up that your email is about how payment is overdue. (But ideally without saying that “O” word expressly.)

Try one of the following instead:

  • “Payment reminder for [name of project]”
  • “Payment for [name of project]”
  • “Reminder for payment for [name of project]”

Another option is to keep using the same subject of the email thread that you already have with the client. But if you want to be more specific about what your latest email to them is about, you could edit its subject to one of the examples above.

Email recipient

Unless you’ve received other instructions (submitting your invoice to the finance department, for example), the email recipient should be your contact person for the project.

Resist the urge to shoot your email chaser to that person’s supervisor, or even the CEO. Skipping levels at this point is uncalled for – give your contact person the opportunity to attend to you first.

Sending the Email

Paper plane in the air with a trail of lines behind it

After writing your email, you must be itching to send it out. But hold your horses:

Double-check your spelling, grammar etc.

Having spelling or grammatical errors in your email isn’t fatal to your reminder to your client for payment. But it does make you look slipshod, so make sure your email is typo-free when it goes out.

Have you attached all relevant attachments?

Many a time emails have been sent out saying “please see attached”, BUT the sender forgot to actually attach the documents. Facepalm.

So before you hit Send, do a quick check that you’ve attached everything that needs to be attached.

Pro tip: Gmail has a handy feature which will remind you to attach your files if your email contains the phrase “please see attached” or similar. But this feature doesn’t check whether an email has the correct number of attachments, so you should still double-check your attachments manually.

What day and/or time should you send your email?

There are various theories on when the Ultimate Best Time to send an email is. Some of these are:

  • Sending your email on Mondays or Tuesdays (i.e. at the start of the week, before people get bogged down with work)
  • Sending your email before the work day starts, or just shortly before the end of lunch break (so that when people get to their desk for the day/after lunch, they’ll see your email at the top of the inbox)
  • NOT sending your email on Friday (people may be in “TGIF mode” and feel less of an urge to clear your email)
  • NOT sending your email at night/over the weekend (it’ll go unread until people are back at their desk, and by then your email may be buried under newer emails)

I don’t have any concrete proof on whether following these practices will better ensure that your email will be read. However if it isn’t too inconvenient for you to follow them, there isn’t any harm in trying.

If you’re keen on giving this a shot, here’s a hack: instead of dropping everything to send your email the moment the clock ticks, say, 1.55pm, you could schedule your email.

In other words, you can set a date and time which your email should be sent out, and it will automagically do so when the clock ticks to that time. Pretty sweet, huh?

Here are a few email plug-ins that can help you schedule your email:

After Sending the Email

A pair of black binoculars

Don’t be too quick to congratulate yourself just because you’ve finally sent your email off.

You sent the email because you’re owed payment. The journey ain’t over until your client coughs up. And one part of that is making sure that your email has actually been read. Here’s how you can do so.

Check whether your email has been read

There are email plug-ins that help track whether the recipient has opened the email, when the email was opened, and how many times. All this info is handy when you’re trying to determine whether your email is being taken seriously. For example:

  • If your email has been opened multiple times since being sent last week, perhaps the recipient is highly interested in it and is working on repaying you. Therefore you could give them a couple more days to respond/make payment before following up.
  • However if it’s been 3 weeks since your email was opened for the first (and last) time, perhaps the recipient has let your email fall by the wayside. You might therefore want to send another email to follow up ASAP.

If you’re using Gmail, I would recommend (again) that you check out Streak. It has a lot of awesome functions – including email tracking, of course. Just make sure you’ve enabled the feature before your email is sent out.

Disclaimer: email tracking isn’t 100% accurate

If your recipient has blocked images in emails, your email tracking app may not work. This is because email tracking apps typically track email opens by checking whether a small image embedded in an email has loaded.

Also if you open your own email from another device or another browser, the email tracking app may count your own view as a view by someone else.

So while I would use email tracking to get a better idea of whether my email has been read, I would take what it’s telling me with a pinch of salt.

What to Do If There’s No Response to Your Email

Pink sand falling to the bottom of an hourglass placed on newspaper

So you’ve sent your email and patiently waited, checking your inbox every day (or even every other hour). But your client doesn’t write back or release payment to you.

What can you do? Try the following (and in the order mentioned too – skipping steps isn’t recommended):

Follow up via email

How long should you wait before following up?

If your client hasn’t replied your email, you can send another to politely remind them about the situation again.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule on how long you should wait before following up. However, giving your client a grace period of 1 week (max 2 weeks) is a good rule of thumb.

If you’re using email tracking plug-ins, you can monitor your email’s open rate to gauge whether your client is looking into the matter, even if they aren’t replying your email.

How to send a follow-up email

Once you’ve decided not to wait any longer, send a quick follow-up email to:

  • Ask whether your client whether they’ve received your previous email (this is a nicety to show that you’re giving your client the benefit of the doubt on why they still haven’t paid you. For all you know, the email could have landed in their spam folder.)
  • Remind your client that payment is still outstanding
  • Mention that your late fee rate applies for late payment (assuming that you do charge late fees and want to enforce this)
  • Request to be paid ASAP/by a certain date

For example, your email could say:

Dear [Recipient Name],

I sent an email on [Date of Email] about payment for $XX for the “[Name of Project]” project (see below). Did you receive it?

The invoice for that project is still unpaid. To-date, late fees of $YY have also already been incurred. I’ve re-attached the invoice to this email for your convenience.

I would appreciate it if you could settle payment without further delay. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thank you.

Regards,

[Your Name]

The tone of your email should be a bit less friendly than your first email – after all, you don’t want to be too nice to your client at this stage. But again, keep your language professional and avoid being overly aggressive.

How many times should you follow up?

If there is still no reply to your follow-up email after 1 or 2 weeks, you could send Email #3:

Dear [Recipient Name],

This is a further reminder that payment of $XX still hasn’t been paid for invoice [Invoice Number]. I’ve attached another copy of the invoice to this email.

Late fees of $YY have also been incurred to-date in accordance with the terms of our agreement. The total amount due is therefore $ZZ.

Your prompt cooperation in settling this outstanding sum would be appreciated.

Regards,

[Your Name]

Unlike the previous follow-up email, this email makes reference to the terms of the agreement between you and your client. It’s a subtle reminder to the client that they’ve bound themselves to certain legal obligations – including paying you for your work.

And what if you still don’t get a reply? Continuing to send more emails is one option, but perhaps you want to take things up a notch by picking up the phone.

Follow up via phone

Calling the client can be an effective way of making them deal with the situation.

Because for that period of time that both are you in a call, they’ll be forced to focus their attention on you and it’ll be more difficult for them to ignore you and your questions.

Of course, you can only do this if you have a phone number to call.

If you don’t already have your contact person’s phone number, try checking their email signature or the client’s website.

What should you say in the phone call?

When making the call, no need to bother too much with the niceties like “how are you doing” and “hope everything has been going well for you”. Go straight to the point, in a polite but firm manner.

“Hi [Caller Name], [Your Name] here. I helped out with your “[Name of Project]” project last month. I wanted to check what’s the status for the payment? Because I’ve sent a few emails about it but I haven’t heard from you, so I was wondering if you’ve seen them and when I can expect to receive payment.”

If the person you’re calling says they’re busy / in a meeting / not in the office right now, don’t let the conversation end there. Ask when they would be available to talk instead, then call them again at the time that they say they’re free.

What should you do after the phone call?

Over the phone, your client may give you some assurances that they’ll be making payment on such-and-such date. If they do (or even if they say something else instead), make sure you get down what they’ve said in black-and-white.

In a short email to the client, recap what they’ve said during the call. You can also include details such as who you spoke to and when the call happened. Here’s an example:

Dear [Recipient Name],

Thank you for speaking to me over the phone earlier this morning about the outstanding payment for Invoice [Invoice Number]. As spoken, I look forward to receiving the cheque after you’ve issued and mailed it out this Thursday (30 Aug). I’ll let you know when I have received it.

Regards,

[Your Name]

What should you do if the client still doesn’t pay you?

First: do a cost-benefit analysis

You’ve sent out 3 emails and called the client once. At this point, if the client still isn’t paying up and shows no signs of intending to do so, you will need to consider whether the payment is still worth chasing after.

This is because all the time that you spend chasing this particular client for payment could possibly be time better spent elsewhere on other things, such as:

  • Completing work for other clients
  • Closing new projects
  • Rest & relaxation

A big factor that should affect your decision on whether to continue chasing for payment is the amount that you’re being owed. If the sum is small (say a few hundred dollars), it might be more economical to put the client on your blacklist and never complete projects for them again.

However, let’s say you’ve decided that it’s worth continuing trying to get your payment back. Here are a few options:

Continue calling

Be persistent and keep calling the client.

Call every other day, or even every day if you have to.

If you think your client will start to anticipate the timing of your calls, you could call at different times of the day each day.

You can also combine this approach with a daily email with your invoice attached.

If you keep this up long enough, your client may eventually cave and pay you to go away.

Follow up in person

This works in the same way as calling, only that you’ll be seeing the client in person. However, be prepared to wait if your contact person is currently in a meeting.

Also prepare yourself for the possibility of making a wasted trip (and then having to come back another day) if that person isn’t around for the whole day.

Singapore is small enough that you can drop by your client’s office, but you may be spending a lot of time doing so and with no guarantee of success.

Send a formal letter of demand

When you send a letter of demand, it shows that you really, really mean business.

Because apart from requesting demanding for payment, this letter usually also includes a warning to the client that failure to pay within a specified deadline can result in you taking legal action against them.

Letters of demand are typically drafted and sent by lawyers on their clients’ behalf. However, this is not a legal requirement. Laypersons can write and send letters of demand too.

When writing a letter of demand, include details such as:

  • Why you’re entitled to payment (e.g. you’ve completed work for the client, and under the invoice you’re entitled to charge $X, but payment has been due since a certain date)
  • How much you’re being owed
  • When payment must be made by or else you may take legal action against them

You should also attach the invoice under which you’re owed payment to the letter of demand.

Before you send a letter of demand however, consider whether you are really prepared to take legal action. The client may call your bluff and ignore the payment deadline stated in your letter of demand, believing that you’re not serious about taking them to court. How prepared are you to do so?

If you aren’t sure how to write a letter of demand, try my letter of demand generator.

It’s easy to use and can customise a letter of demand for you based on how much you’re being owed (including late fees) and when payment was due – in less than 10 minutes. Build your letter of demand now!

Sue the client for payment

If you’ve sent a letter of demand and the client still doesn’t pay, the next step would be to commence legal proceedings against the client (assuming you’re prepared to do so).

If you’re owed less than $10,000, you can do so by making a claim in the Singapore Small Claims Tribunals for a nominal fee.

Your claim has to be filed within 1 year from the date of payment becoming due. You can file your claim online through the Small Claims Tribunals’ e-services system.

Parties who go through the Small Claims Tribunals are not allowed to engage lawyers, so you will have to represent yourself in court.

The Small Claims Tribunals’ claim limit can be increased from $10,000 to $20,000 if your client (as the other party to the lawsuit) is agreeable to this. If your client doesn’t agree, you will have to start your claim in the Magistrate’s Court, which hears claims up to $60,000.

The procedure for filing a claim in the Magistrate’s Court can potentially be more tricky. Therefore you may want to hire a lawyer to assist you if you’re owed a sum so large that it makes financial sense to get expert legal help.

You can read more about making a claim at the Small Claims Tribunal here.

How to Reduce Occurrences of Late Payments in the Future

Piece of paper with the words "I Agree", and a box next to the text. Yellow ballpoint pen on the left of "I Agree".

Having to chase for payment can be a tiring and time-consuming affair. In an ideal world, all clients would pay on time without prompting.

But unfortunately that’s not the case. Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself from being paid late (or worse, not being paid at all):

Collect payment before the project is completed:

As a deposit before starting work

To safeguard yourself from not being paid, you could ask to receive a deposit before you start work on the project. So even if your client doesn’t pay you the balance later on, at least you’ve received some payment which can compensate you for your opportunity cost and expenses incurred.

You can try asking to receive the full sum up-front, but it’s likely that you’ll be rejected. A more reasonable sum might be 30% to 50% of your fee.

Also, even with a lower deposit amount, not all clients may agree to your request. This is especially if they’ve previously experienced freelancers disappearing on them after receiving advance payment.

If a potential client is unwilling to give you an advance on the project, you could try collecting payment:

According to certain payment milestones

If the project is a big one that will stretch over some time, request that you be paid according to certain payment milestones (i.e. upon the completion of certain stages of work) instead of only at the end of the project.

You may need to negotiate with your client what these payment milestones should be and when they are expected to take place.

If you haven’t been paid after reaching a certain payment milestone, you can consider stopping further work on the project until you’ve received payment.

Being paid according to payment milestones will save you from putting in a substantial amount of time and effort into a project…only to find out later that you won’t be getting a single cent for your hard work.

Charge late fees

Charging late fees encourages clients to settle invoices promptly so as to avoid incurring additional fees for missing payment deadlines.

Late fees are often calculated as a percentage of the total fee – usually a monthly rate of around 2% or 3%.

Some clients may be less willing to hire you in the first place if you insist on being able to charge late fees. And if you don’t get any work, you definitely won’t be paid anything. So to soften your stance, you could give yourself the option of charging late fees instead of requiring late fees to automatically kick in once the payment deadline is missed.

For example, instead of saying “Late fees will be charged …”, your late fee policy could be “I reserve the right to charge late fees …”

Withhold certain project assets until you have received payment

As a sort of “bargaining chip” to ensure that you get paid on time, make it clear to the client – before starting work on the project – that you will only release certain project assets to them after you have received payment.

For example if you’re being engaged for your video editing services, you can let the client know that they will get a copy of the finished video at the end of the project. However, you will only hand over the raw project files after you’ve received payment.

Before starting the project, get the agreement between you and your client in writing and signed

If a potential client has agreed to any of the above, make sure that you get that potential client’s agreement in writing before starting work on the project.

While an agreement doesn’t need to be in a Hard Copy contract to be legally enforceable, the terms of the agreement would be easier to prove if they had been recorded in writing as opposed to just being agreed upon verbally.

The agreement should also be signed to indicate both parties’ acceptance of the terms.

Having a written and signed agreement will help avoid disputes later on (or help resolve disputes faster). For example, a client may argue that they had never agreed to certain terms, and therefore they’re not bound to follow such terms. This would be where you take out the agreement and (politely) remind them that they had agreed to those terms beforehand.

If a potential client isn’t agreeable to certain of your terms during the pre-project negotiations, you will have to work with them to find a solution that both parties are comfortable with. Once both parties are happy with the terms of the agreement, you can proceed with the signing.

On the other hand, if the potential client refuses to sign a contract altogether, saying that it isn’t necessary, think twice about whether you want to proceed to work for them.

Most Clients aren’t Evil

Two stick figures (one of whom holding a briefcase) shaking hands with each other
The whole of this guide has so far portrayed the client as a villain who has been unreasonably withholding payment from you for work done. However, you should also keep in mind that this isn’t always the case.

Clients are busy too

Most clients are sincere about wanting to pay their freelancers. If they don’t reply your initial email for payment, it could just mean that they’re busy and forgot about it. (Not a good excuse, but it happens.)

A follow-up email or two is usually good enough to nudge these clients to put paying you back on their to-do list (and with higher priority).

Some clients do want to pay you, only that they aren’t able to right now

On the other hand, other clients who are genuinely sincere about paying may currently be in a tight spot and can’t afford to pay the entire sum owed.

For sure, such “genuine intentions” cannot put food on your own table. But if a client admits to you that they’re unable to make payment for the time being, it’s worth recognising their sincerity and seeing whether something can be worked out.

This would especially be the case for a long-time client who has regularly been giving you work, such that you might not want to cut ties with them yet.

For example, you could offer to extend the payment deadline in return for some assurance that they’ll clear your invoice as soon as they’re able to. Such assurance could come in the form of partial payment of your fee.

At the end of the day, when chasing a freelance client for payment via email (or otherwise), give your client the benefit of the doubt first instead of immediately marking them as your enemy. With some polite reminders, you may be able to recover what is owed to you without burning any bridges.

And as the matter progresses (or fails to progress, depending on how you look at it), regularly ask yourself whether it would be worth spending more time and effort to continue chasing for payment. In some situations, it may be better to cut your losses and not work for this client any further.

How have you handled situations of clients not paying you on time? Leave a comment!

Tan Siew Ann
Fuelled by a long-standing interest in media, Siew Ann ventured into digital marketing while in law school and has not looked back since. Being inspired by the struggles that she and others have faced while freelancing in Singapore, Siew Ann started lancerX to help freelancers turn their craft into sustainable and meaningful full-time businesses.

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