It happens to most creatives at some point. The client won’t pay. And they leave you in the position of deciding what to do next. I covered this topic in the “Getting Paid,” chapter of my latest book, The Creative Professional’s Guide to Money. When it comes to dealing with clients who won’t pay, you have a few options:
Take them to small-claims court?
Almost everyone has an opinion (and a story) about whether taking a client to small-claims court is worth the time and money. Some say it will cost more than the project is worth and you’ll never win; others say it doesn’t cost much (it varies from state to state in the United States) and is worth it, if only on principle. This is a personal decision and should be decided case-by-case.
Write it off?
It’s important to distinguish between the situations that are most valuable as “lessons learned” and those that are worth fighting for. They can be very valuable lessons, teaching everything from the unpredictability of business to the importance of adhering to your professional policies. Take your lumps and move on.In most cases, you’ll do better to write off bad accounts, especially the small ones. Unless the sums involved are significant, you may waste more time trying to collect than the invoice is worth.
It’s a more positive use of time and energy to focus on new business development than chasing down bad debt. In some cases, you may receive payment months or years later.Much of this can be avoided by not ignoring red flags early on and making sure you establish—and adhere to—standard business policies regarding advance payments and contracts. You can usually weed out the bad seeds through that process and avoid the headaches later on.
Ideally, the longer you are in business, the better you get (and the more confident you are) about handling these situations.
Maybe next time it will be easier to ask for that deposit.
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