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How to Deal with Slow-Paying Copywriting Clients

Try These Tactics to Resolve Your Cash Flow Problems


slow-paying copywriting clients

Clients who pay slowly is a common problem among freelance copywriters and often you have no clout to demand faster payments.

Hi Susan,

I wanted to get your advice regarding one of my copywriting clients. I’ve been writing articles for this client for about six months. After sending the most recent batch of articles to Jason, my client contact, he just informed me that the company has moved to an invoice date plus 45 days, then the end of whatever month that falls on before they send out payments.

They have requested 36 articles over the next month and a half, but with the change in their payment cycle, I will be eating ramen and living in a car waiting for those checks to come through.

I think I know what you would say (get paid first), but what would you do in this situation?

Thanks!

Ivan O.

Hi Ivan,

I feel your pain. My biggest client, the one who has assignments for me weekly, pays at 45 days. And half the time, the person I send the invoice to takes a week or two to put it in for processing, so often 45 days becomes 60 days. It’s infuriating but I know I have no clout to get the client to pay sooner. If I want the work, I’m stuck with their corporate-wide accounts payable process.

I think you’re probably in the same situation. You deliver a quality product on time and your client loves your work, but they take advantage of you and all their vendors by paying slowly. Ugh!

Assuming you’re dealing with a company and not just an individual (one-man band business), there’s likely nothing you can say that will make them change their policy just for you. 

I did a little research and found that freelance copywriters are not the only ones dealing with this issue.

Despite small business optimism for improved cashflow in 2019, 80% of small businesses are still plagued by late payments, according to a survey by PaySimple. And The Wall Street Journal reports that “Many small-business owners say they’re seeing payments from larger customers stretch from 30 days to 60 and even 90 days after an invoice is issued.”

This is one area where large firms often take advantage of their market power to strong-arm small-business suppliers and customers.

“If you’re working with one of these large companies as your only customer, they have the power. They can go to somebody else, but you can’t go anywhere,” says William Dunkelberg, chief economist of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), a small-business lobby.

They found that up to 64% of the 850 small businesses the lobby group surveyed reported having invoices that went unpaid for at least 60 days, and 20% said delinquencies were becoming more common. Almost all the companies surveyed had less than $5 million in annual gross sales.

So, Ivan, it’s clear you and I are not alone when it comes to dealing with slow-paying customers. Here then, are some ideas for you to consider trying:

  1. Raise your prices to make it worth your while to continue working with Jason.
  2. Take on less work from Jason and use the available time to write for other clients who pay faster.
  3. Ask Jason if you can invoice in advance of completing the work, so the clock on payment begins ticking sooner? I have a client who takes 60 days to pay. It’s a large hospital. My client contacts know this is unfair, so when they ask me for a quote on the job, and they approve it, they have me immediately send an invoice even before the work begins. That helps shorten the payment cycle.
  4. Offer a small discount of 1% to 2% if you receive their payment within a certain number of days.
  5. Institute a late payment fee, although it’s possible they’ll ignore it and just pay the original amount.
  6. Give the option to pay electronically online via PayPal or Zelle (no fees!), or direct to your bank account so there’s no delay due to U.S. mail and check clearance
  7. Stop doing work for the client if their account is 30 days past due and let them know you’re waiting for them to “catch up on billing.”

If none of these ideas works for you, then my suggestion is to continue to work for Jason now, but set your sights on finding new clients. Make that your mission. As you grow your business, you’ll be able to say adios to sucky clients who are low or slow payers.

In an article on slow-paying clients, Forbes offers this useful advice worth keeping in mind, “Never, ever underestimate the power of maintaining harmonious professional relationships with your clients. Regardless of how frustrated you may be, keep your cool and remain respectful when checking on invoices that have gone overdue.”

I hope that helps, Ivan.

Susan Greene

Copywriter

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