How to Handle Stingy Clients

A few years ago, I received an email from someone in Nigeria and I'm not sure why I didn't get suspicious. I guess the initial communication stood out from the typical scammers found online.  Anyway, they offered me a writing job with a pay structure and not much else listed.  Hmmmm.

If you've been at this a while then you probably see at least three red flags going up.  Well, things went rather well for the first couple of months, as rewrite requests were minimal and there were zero rejections.  Even better, I got paid as promised.

Until the winter holidays came around.

Firstly, I didn't take time to research (or outright ask the client) if their holiday celebrations were anything like the States.  My focus was noting the submitted (and most likely, accepted) articles and how the wait time was getting longer and longer.  Even worse, communication between myself and the client was becoming non-existent.

When Christmastime in the States got closer, my communication became more direct and less cordial but I also sought answers regarding the payment schedule.  I stressed that none of my other clients made me wait longer than a week and my goal is to find a happy medium.

The client paid me cricket sounds and the wait time got into two weeks.

At this point, I was hot and in my final communication, I stressed that freelancing isn't free.  I pointed this out to everyone in his office with a threat to report him to a government consumer agency.  Can't remember which name I dropped but it was enough to make him drop some cash into my PayPal account...along with a notice to terminate services immediately.

After thanking him in really bold capital letters, I realized that taking a stance early could prevent this in the future.  And it made sense...there was no rule that I couldn't make ground rules from the start.  Since a lot of my clients came from outsourcing sites (I was pretty active on oDesk back then), I'd become accustomed to their restrictions when it came to demanding payment from clients.  Sometimes they retrieved it on my behalf and sometimes they didn't.

The example given above is what separates businesspeople from just hired labor.  Being assertive early in the game gives the receptor time to process the kind of person they are dealing with.  Although I showed them in the end that I'm not to be messed with, establishing guidelines would've freed my services for someone who communicates and pays immediately.

Have a list of government resources that can assist when clients refuse to pay.  Like my account, sometimes name-dropping is all it takes. It's not a bad idea to have a letter template that can be filled out quickly instead of constructing something while frustrated (because we all know time is of the essence).

Create a collection letter template.  No one wants to begin a new task when they've already wasted their time and have other things to do.  A good idea would be to create a folder with a template, a spreadsheet log of actions and other information that will help should the matter escalate further.

Create a client questionnaire.  Instead of jumping to excitement because someone paid a few compliments and wants to pad your bank account, take time to get to know them first.  Like any quality relationship, feeling them out can prevent a lot of heartbreak (just like in personal relationships) .

Determine the pay structure immediately and get it in writing.  Sometimes, accommodating another party's schedule is par for the course and it can mean many things.  If they have a separate accounting department, find out when checks are being run. The individual I dealt with may have had a personal matter to tend to, which is why I sought resolution before going in for the real money grab.

PayPal is never "broken or wrong".  There's a client from years ago that owes me a few dollars because they had problems with PayPal.  Most likely, it may be something that the client needs to remedy but freelancers shouldn't have to pay for this in any way.  If you sign up and choose to receive payments this way, educate yourself about the many options for sending and receiving payments from anywhere in the world.