You finished a project and the client owes you money. You billed them three weeks ago, well after fulfilling all the terms of your contractor agreement, signing all those forms, and even asking for instructions on how to request payment. And still, you keep refreshing your account balance page to see no new deposit.
What's worse, trying to collect your hard-earned money has devolved into a wild-goose chase. You email yourself to make sure your account is working because surely this many messages couldn't have gone unanswered. Your credit card bill is due and you'd love to buy more eggs from the grocery store. You're tired, so tired.
This may sound like an embellishment but ask any contractor who's freelanced with more than a handful of clients and they'll have at least one cautionary tale of the rigmarole they've endured when asking for their hard-earned income.
Since contractors and clients alike want nothing more than a streamlined payment process, this guide will walk you through how to ask for payment professionally and show how Rippling's Global Workforce Management can squash the threat of late payments and run payroll instantly.
Step 1: Send an invoice as soon as the project is completed
Contractors should send an initial request for payment as soon as they've finished their assigned project.
This often includes addressing any client feedback and submitting extra drafts. Every client has a different workflow, and your work may linger in the next person on the assembly line's queue for longer than anticipated but if you've finished your job, the client owes you money.
If you're ever confused about whether you're "done" after addressing a round or two of notes, email the project's supervisor and ask if there's anything else they need you for. Immediately after said project's completion, you should submit an invoice. Its formatting can vary, but it should always include:
- The date
- An invoice number
- A brief description of services provided
- The total amount due
- A due date—usually two weeks or a month after you submit the invoice
Attach this invoice to the body of an email to either the client contact who assigned you the project or to whichever payroll entity the contact tells you to invoice.
If it's a new client, you'll also need to fill out a W-9, provide your banking information, and crucially, sign a contractor agreement that establishes your responsibilities, deadlines, and payment terms. Make sure this agreement includes a timeline for payment and has a protocol for late fees if the client misses the deadline.
Apart from that, different clients have different payment processes for contractors, some of which resemble a neverending vision quest. It may involve signing confidentiality agreements, downloading new software, clearing a background check, emailing a supervisor to get the email address of their supervisor, reading an onboarding manual that rivals the length of the Old Testament, only to get ghosted when that check comes due.
Before you submit an invoice, try to make sure you understand the unique payment process of your client, including the tools they use, contacts to email, and forms to sign.
If your clients use Rippling, they can streamline the cumbersome parts of contractor management by quickly gathering e-signatures for any needed documents, paying international contractors in their native currency, and quickly running payroll.
If the process, by contrast, feels frustratingly opaque, ask the manager of your project for guidance.
Once you're ready to send the first email, double-check that you have the right point of contact and are billing the correct amount. Then keep the message short and sweet, like below.
Email template for your first payment request
Subject: Invoice [Invoice Number/Brief Project Description]
Hello [client's name],
I'm attaching my invoice for [brief description of your services] to this email, due by [due date]. Please let me know if you have any questions or need any additional information.
What time of day (or week) should you send payment request emails?
Ask five emailers and you may get five different answers for which day of the week you should send your message to maximize your chances of getting a reply.
Whether it's Monday or Friday matters much less than anchoring your follow-ups around your invoice's due date. After that initial email on the payment's deadline, touch base between two days and one week later, and follow that same sequence until you get paid.
If you want your message to stand out, consider sending the emails at some point early in the morning before the work day (6 a.m. to 8 a.m.), in advance of your client's inbox getting flooded with other tasks.
Step 2: Send an email reminder if the invoice hasn’t been paid
Say the due date on your invoice is here and you haven't been paid yet. Take a deep breath and follow up!
Since your client needs a payment reminder, you can reattach the original invoice and, like the first email, keep the message short, polite, and direct.
Email template for following up on your payment due date
Subject: Payment for invoice [number] due date
Hello [client name],
Hope all is well. Wanted to remind you that my invoice [number] for [brief description of services] is due today.
The bill of [amount owed] is payable by direct deposit to the [bank, account number].
Step 3: Reach out by phone, if applicable
Most recipients reply to emails within two days of receiving them. If you haven't gotten a response after your reminder email within that time frame, follow up with a quick note: "Hello. Hope all is well. Could you confirm receipt of my last email?" If you haven't gotten a response two days after that, it's time to pick up the phone.
Phone calls are more direct than emails, and if you can get your client on the line you'll learn more about what the hold-up is. While you don't have to worry about scripting out the entire conversation, be prepared to remind the client how much they owe you, when the deadline was, and what the invoice was for.
While you may be on the edge of exasperation at this point, introduce yourself and try to strike a polite, professional tone. There could have been an honest payroll mishap on the client's side and you want to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Alas, not everyone is reachable by phone. On the off-chance your contact checks their voicemail, leave a message. And if you still haven't heard anything a whole week past your payment due date, send another email. This one can be firmer and should broach the topic of late payment fees.
Still crickets… What now?
If a whole month goes by and you haven't been paid, you're likely entitled to late fees. Check the original contractor agreement and you should find language about payment being due within a month of invoicing. Since the client breached those terms at this point, let them know in your next email.
Email template for an invoice one to three weeks overdue
Subject: Payment for invoice [number] is [time since due date] overdue
Hello [client name],
Writing again to remind you of your outstanding payment on invoice [number] for [brief description of services]. The invoice is now [time since due date] overdue. Wanted to remind you of a late fee for all invoices after 30 days.
Let me know if you have any questions. If not, please send the payment of [amount owed] as soon as possible. Attaching a copy of the invoice to this email for reference.
Please confirm receipt of this email. Thank you and hope all is well,
Email template for a payment one month overdue
Subject: Payment for invoice [number] is 30 days overdue
Hello [client name],
Invoice [number] for [brief description of services] is now a month overdue. Per my contractor terms, a late payment fee of [daily fee stipulated in contractor agreement] per day will start tomorrow.
Please let me know if you have any questions about the payment terms. Otherwise, please send the payment of [amount owed] immediately via direct deposit to [bank, account number]. I've attached another copy of the outstanding invoice to this email.
Please pay your invoice and confirm receipt of this message. Thank you,
Step 4: Consider third-party help or legal option
If your client violates your payment terms and continues to give you the runaround after repeated reminders, you should seek third-party help.
One option is to hire a collection agency. These services can put pressure on clients to finally pay, through public records searches and dinging business credit scores. Unfortunately, they usually charge somewhere between 10% and 50% of the amount they collect.
Another option is to hire an attorney to sue your client. This can be a long, onerous process that costs money. But it's important to hold companies legally accountable for the money they owe you when all else fails. Sometimes the threat of litigation puts enough pressure on clients to pay up.
Lawyers will help inform you of your rights, as different jurisdictions have different laws for how contractors can recoup the payment they're owed. Contractors in the UK can charge statutory interest for late payments of 8% on top of the Bank of England base rate for business-to-business transactions. Independent contractors in the US who haven't been paid on time may be able to take clients to small claims court, but may also have a difficult time getting money—even if a judge rules in their favor.
You should also ensure that you are, in fact, a contractor, and are not being held responsible for duties that resemble an employee. If you've been misclassified, you could be entitled to back pay and benefits.
The best way to make international payments to contractors
As you can see, a hold-up with a contractor payment can turn into a headache. Contractors are stuck badgering clients with a steady stream of email chasers and phone calls in a desperate attempt to avoid contacting collection agencies and attorneys that they can't afford without the money they're owed.
Clients, meanwhile, have trouble pinpointing what the payment snag is, and run the risk of alienating stellar workers who won't take on more assignments unless they're paid.
The best way to address this is by using global payroll software. But most tools won't let you manage a global workforce—composed of employees and contractors alike—under the same system.
Luckily, there's one global workforce solution that makes it easy to onboard, manage, and pay global contractors.
You can save hours of busy work by:
- Onboarding contractors in a matter of minutes
- Providing consulting agreement templates prepared by local employment counsels
- Paying contractors in their local currency
- Reimbursing expenses and paying invoices
- Transitioning contractors to employees with a few quick clicks
Ready to make late contractor payments a thing of the past? Request a demo to see how Rippling automates all the pain points of contractor management.
Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.