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Though we all hope we will never have to experience it, it’s inevitable that freelancers, designers, agency owners, and other creatives will eventually have a client that will be late on payment or won’t pay for their project at all. That is one of the downsides of the industry, bad clients exist. Should you find yourself in the unfortunate situation where you have a client that isn’t paying on time, here is how you can professionally cease work on the project until you (hopefully) get the payment you are waiting for.

Step 1: Initial Attempt When the Client is Late

You could immediately end a project when a client is late, but we all know things can happen, so it’s best to give the client the benefit of the doubt. If nothing more, it maintains your reputation as a professional that is supportive of your clients. The first message I recommend you send would be something like the below:

Hi [Insert Client Name],

We love working on your project. Like any business, we have costs we need to cover to continue production on your project without delays. When can we expect payment so we can keep production going?

This message subtly sets the expectation that you cannot incur unnecessary costs without adequate payment (but does not assume the client will never pay).

Step 2: Last Try Before Putting the Project on Hold

If you still don’t receive payment from your client after the last message, then it’s time you move on to more directly informing them that they need to pay ASAP, otherwise the project cannot move forward. Afterall, you have other clients to tend to and you don’t want to get too upside down in what they have paid versus what you have completed. Here’s how you could approach that:

Hi [Insert Client Name],

The project is going great. Unfortunately, we didn’t receive payment on the day you committed to. Would you be able to make payment today so we can keep the project moving forward?

While our last message was subtle, this message directly tells the client they need to pay today if they want the project to continue progressing.

Step 3: Placing the Project on Hold

Should you still be left without the payment, it’s time to officially let the client know you will be placing the project on hold. The message below is a considerate way of doing so:

Hi [Insert Client Name],

Rather than continue to incur further costs on the project, it will be best if we put the project on hold until payment of the outstanding invoice is made. I hope you understand.

The message gets straight to the point, explains the why, but is still short and concise.

Step 4: The Final Attempt

Your client should already be well aware that their project is on hold at this point, but one final message gives you another opportunity to hopefully get payment. Try something like the below as a last attempt:

Hi [Insert Client Name],

The project is now on hold. We will provide new milestones after you catch up on payment. We love the project and hope to restart soon.

If your client still doesn’t pay after you send the above message, you may never get payment from them. At this point, you could either cut your losses and move on, hire a collections agency, or pursue legal action. That decision is up to you. As for me, I usually just moved on (never having much luck with collections and always disliking legal recourses). Consider it an opportunity to pursue new opportunities with better clients…you know, the kind of clients who pay their bills on time.

Michael Janda

I am Michael Janda, an executive level creative leader with more than 25 years of experience in both in-house creative departments and agencies working with some of the greatest brands in the world including Disney, Google, Fox, ABC and NBC. I create books, courses, workshops, lectures and other training materials to help creative entrepreneurs run successful businesses.