What to Do When a Client Is Refusing to Pay You

Being a freelance developer comes with many challenges, and dealing with less-than-pleasant clients is one of them. However, there’s a serious difference between putting up with someone’s annoying quirks and letting them get away with not paying you.

Fortunately, in situations where your income is being threatened, there are actions you can take to get stubborn clients to pay up.

In this post, we’ll share some key actions you can take to protect yourself from clients with sticky fingers. Then we’ll walk you through four steps for dealing with them if they still refuse to pay. Let’s jump in!

How to Set Yourself Up for Successful Relationships With Clients

If you don’t get off on the right foot, the relationships with your clients will be strained from the off. Therefore, it’s vital to plan out an onboarding process in order to get on the same page and have the best chance of success.

The best way for most freelancers to go about this is through the use of two key documents: a client intake form, and a contract. These tools will make the expectations on both sides clear from the get-go.

A standard client intake form might include basic information about the client’s budget, time constraints, and goals for the project. You might also provide space for them to describe their vision for the end result.

On the other hand, the contract will outline your terms. This is where you should put information such as how much and when you expect clients to pay for your services.

You can also detail what you plan to provide over the course of the project. This might include the final product (such as a WordPress website), specific features it will include (e.g., e-commerce capabilities, contact forms), and any related services (for example, content creation).

Finally, it’s wise to include a ‘Dispute Resolution Clause’. This section will detail what will happen in the event you and the client disagree on what they owe you (or anything else pertinent and relevant).

If these documents are clear and detailed, and both you and the client read over them thoroughly, you should each know what to expect from the other. In many cases, miscommunication regarding expectations is what leads to clients withholding payment.

This way, you’ll hopefully avoid the situation altogether. If not, you’ll at least be prepared to defend yourself.

What to Do When a Client Is Refusing to Pay You (4 Actions You Can Take)

In the event that, despite a crystal-clear contract, a client has decided they shouldn’t have to pay you for your work, you have several options when it comes to how to respond. We’ve discussed four appropriate ones below.

1. Communicate With Your Client to Rule Out Simple Mistakes

Before you do anything drastic, you might want to make sure that a misunderstanding or other accident hasn’t caused a missed payment. It goes without saying that you don’t want to burn any bridges if you don’t have to.

If a client misses a payment’s due date, get in touch and politely remind them about it. They may have gotten the date wrong or simply forgotten to send your money. In these cases you may be entitled to ask for a late fee, depending on the contract you set out.

In other cases, the missing payment may be due to a technical error or another issue not the fault of the client. You could benefit from granting a little leniency here. Giving the client another chance to correct the problem is a show of good faith and could lead to a rave review, recommendation, or further business.

2. Stop Working on the Project

Unfortunately, sometimes clients withhold money on purpose. If you’re working in ‘milestone’ payments and the latest one has failed to reach you after a reminder, you may have to down tools and stop working on the project.

In a nutshell, continuing to work when you aren’t getting paid simply tells the client that they may be able to take liberties, such as not paying you.

In contrast, if no progress is being made on their website or other projects, your client may feel more inclined to pay up. Once they realize they’re not gaining anything by refusing to give you what you’re due, they may hand your money over.

Most importantly, you shouldn’t put your time and energy into a project that isn’t paying off. Especially if it’s taking away from your ability to work on other paid projects, working essentially for free is a damaging move.

3. Disable or Withhold the Final Product

If you’ve already completed the project, you obviously can’t stop working on it. However, you may be able to prevent your client from getting their hands on it until you’ve been paid.

It’s a smart move to ensure you retain access to client projects until your fees have been paid in full. If the client then tries to get away with not paying you for your work, you can deny them access to the project itself.

While it may seem petty, it’s only fair – according to your contract, you’ll provide the finished product in return for a specified amount of money. If you don’t get your paycheck, the client shouldn’t get their website or app.

4. Take Legal Action as a Last Resort

Lawyers can be expensive. For this reason alone, you and your client both probably want to avoid going to court over your project. However, there may be certain cases where none of the other strategies available help resolve the situation.

As such, taking legal action should be a consideration. Once again, letting clients get away with not paying for your services sets a precedent, and you don’t want to present yourself as someone who is easy to take advantage of.

Your first step should be to refer to the Dispute Resolution Clause in your contract. Take the steps you’ve outlined there first. This may involve a process called ‘arbitration‘ where you bring in outside parties to assess the situation.

If this doesn’t work, you may find yourself on your way to small claims court. However, this should be your absolute last resort, as it will likely be expensive, time-consuming, and draining. Fortunately, many disputes rarely get to this stage.


An unfortunate fact of being a freelancer is that sometimes you will run into terrible clients. Whether they’re just unorganized and forget to send payments on time, or are stubborn and stingy with their money, you’ll have to find a way to work with them to get your due.

In this post, we discussed four actions you can take when your paycheck doesn’t show up when it’s supposed to:

  1. Communicate with your client to make sure it’s not a mistake.
  2. Stop working on the project.
  3. Disable or withhold the final product.
  4. Take legal action as a last resort.

Do you have any questions about dealing with clients who won’t pay you? Let us know in the comments section below!

Featured Image: Pexels.

Tom Rankin is a key member of WordCandy, a musician, photographer, vegan, beard owner, and (very) amateur coder. When he’s not doing any of these things, he’s likely sleeping.

The post What to Do When a Client Is Refusing to Pay You appeared first on Torque.

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