Open Thread: Has a Client Ever Stiffed You?


I can still remember the very first time somebody hired me to write for them on a freelance basis. A thought flitted through my mind: “Who is this person and how do I know she will pay me?”

I was being hired to write web articles and would be paid per article. So I wrote just a few articles initially – as a way of “testing” my client.

Boy, was I ever so pleasantly surprised when my client paid me within minutes of receiving my Paypal invoice.

I’ve never really been stiffed by a client. The worst experience I’ve ever had was when a client sent me a Paypal e-check that didn’t clear. I had to wait a few days but the payment eventually came through.

Nevertheless, I do take steps to protect myself. With new clients, I ask for a 50% down payment before I begin work. And then I invoice for subsequent payments as I complete a specific stage of the project.

But since I haven’t been taking on new clients, I simply bill my current clients at the end of each month.

How about you? Have you ever been stiffed by a client? What did you do? And what do you do to protect yourself?

Do share by posting a comment below. Thank you!

Creative Commons License photo credit: walknboston

18 Responses to Open Thread: Has a Client Ever Stiffed You?
  1. Michelle
    August 13, 2009 | 11:19 am

    Actually I have been stiffed by a client, but the worst part is it was someone that I had worked with for about a year.

    Payments had always come in a timely manner but a few months back the client emailed and stated they were having some financial difficulty and would be unable to pay for a few weeks. That was over three months ago and my emails to the client have gone unanswered.

    I don’t know what you do to protect yourself in an instance like this. I certainly would not have expected this to happen with a regular client. I guess it is just a possible risk of being a freelancer.

    • Alexis
      August 13, 2009 | 11:28 am

      Wow, Michelle, that sounds tough! Wonder what would be a good course of action at this point?

      As I’ve mentioned in the post, I tend to be very trusting of clients I’ve worked with for some time (and right now, all my clients are). So I wouldn’t know what to do if this happened to me. Hopefully, somebody can chime in with their thoughts.

  2. Kelly
    August 13, 2009 | 11:55 am

    It’s happened once. They sent out a mass promotional email I wrote for them from OUTLOOK–instead of using an email provider as I recommended. So they had no way to track response and then said it hadn’t gotten results, so they wouldn’t be paying me for it. I let it go because it was such a small amount, it was clear that I never wanted to work with them again, and it was easier just to drop it. Other than that, I’ve never had someone refuse to pay. People have paid extraordinarily late before, but mostly because they’re big companies and we all let them get away with it. Grrr. Just one reason why I no longer target big companies!

    • Alexis
      August 13, 2009 | 12:07 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Kelly! I agree, the big corporations, including government agencies, have plenty of red tape – which means delayed payments for outsource staff.

  3. Reza Tehranian
    August 13, 2009 | 11:55 am

    Good post.
    I guess it happens to us one way or another.

    I remember when I was starting out ten years ago, a client was referred to me by another client, but cautioned me that he is somewhat “special”. I worked very hard on his project. But he wasn’t happy with the result, and so he decided to pay 1/10 of the invoice..:) Too bad for him, because I never gave him the original files.

    I’ve had another client who paid 1/3 of the invoice, and because on our contracts it clearly states that until he pays the full amount, all the design rights are mine, he won’t be able to manufacture them.

    It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of our business…!

    • Alexis
      August 13, 2009 | 12:10 pm

      Thanks for sharing @Reza!

      Good idea to withhold certain parts of the project until you’re fully paid. I’m wondering how writers could apply this principle…?

  4. Michelle
    August 13, 2009 | 6:09 pm

    I haven’t decided on a course of action, or if I will even do anything at this point. Yes, I earned the money, it wasn’t a huge amount but I’m more bothered by the principle of it.

    If they can’t pay me, I’d much rather they say that and either pay in installments or at least pay a portion. Anything other than just ignoring my emails.

    • Alexis
      August 13, 2009 | 6:35 pm

      Oh @Michelle, you just reminded me that when my client was delayed in paying, I did offer the option to pay me in installments.

      You’re right; it isn’t the amount that’s the issue here, but the principle.

      I hope you get paid soon!

  5. Susan Johnston
    August 14, 2009 | 4:38 am

    Unfortunately, I have been stiffed. I had an ongoing blogging gig with a client and he seemed happy with my work until one afternoon he emailed me and said he felt my posts were way too short. Gee, buddy, couldn’t you have said something sooner? They’ve been the same length for the past three months, and they are the same length as the posts I showed you as examples before you hired me.

    Nevertheless, I told him I respected his decision to end our client relationship and sent him a final invoice for the work I’d already done that month. He said his secretary would send out the check the following week. Well, over a month passed and no check, so I tried emailing him and couldn’t get a response. Then I called his secretary and asked about the status of my check. She didn’t know. Then I sent a registered letter, and that *finally* got his attention, but he still refused to pay me for those posts. I eventually told him to take down the posts he hadn’t paid for, and I would agree not to take him to small claim’s court.

    Frankly, this client was a bully and he could have trounced me in small claim’s court (not to mention the fact that wasn’t really an option since we’re in different states). Part of me wishes I hadn’t settled but another part of me is glad to put this ugliness behind me. I have since changed my timeline for invoicing so that this can’t happen in the future.

    But it’s still tough with magazines and webzines, because they have their own set of rules writers have to play by. I almost got stiffed by a trade magazine, because they claimed my check had gotten lost in the mail and it dragged on for months. My first registered letter got a check, but that check bounced, so I sent another registered letter and demanded reimbursement for the two letters on top of the writer’s fee they owed me. I finally got a guaranteed check that covered my fee and both letters, but it took months. Remember that it’s your legal right to request reimbursement for registered letters if that’s what it takes to get paid. :)
    .-= Susan Johnston´s last blog ..Open Thread: What’s Your Business Structure? =-.

    • Alexis
      August 14, 2009 | 5:13 am

      Hi @Susane, thanks for sharing your story! It helps to be assertive and to know your options. Would never have thought about using registered mail to follow up. Terrific advice!

  6. Marya Miller
    September 2, 2009 | 8:52 pm

    I have gotten stiffed before for freelance work, but not in the copywriting field. Nowadays, I don’t write for someone unless they pay up front via PayPal. That way, I don’t have to be assertive (which I can be, but hate going there) and I tend to get really professional, enjoyable clients.
    .-= Marya Miller´s last blog ..If Gilderoy Lockhart Was An Internet Marketer =-.

    • Alexis
      September 3, 2009 | 5:15 am

      Glad to read “going with my strengths” – that’s wonderful advice!

      It’s part of crafting your Unique Selling Proposition, which is the one thing that will annihilate competition and allow you to dictate your rates.

      Thanks again, Marya!

    • Alexis
      September 3, 2009 | 5:16 am

      It’s critical to always ask for at least a partial payment before beginning any work.

      Do you ask for payment upfront even for returning customers, or those who request recurring work (e.g., one sales page per month)?

  7. [...] Alexis of The Savvy Freelancer asks for 50 percent of the project to be paid before tackling the project. Yuwanda Black expands on this on her article for Buzzle, offering a variety of plans the self employed may adopt for charging clients ahead of time. Deb Ng of FreelanceWritingGigs shares her point of view on how to collect funds. [...]

  8. Fluellhed
    May 15, 2010 | 11:21 am


    I’m a student from Raanana (Israel).

    I have to analyze how much time someone spend on internet.

    There are websites which are a guilty pleasure, but there are websites which only have a visits duration of 40 seconds.

    I would like to know how much time do you spend on internet (day/week/month).

    Thanks for your help!


    • Alexis
      May 19, 2010 | 10:04 am

      Rick, according to RescueTime, I spend over 20 hours every week on the Internet. But then, I’m a web writer, Internet marketer, blogger and online marketing consultant :-)

  9. Temi
    March 3, 2011 | 11:35 pm

    Yes, I’ve been stiffed and it hurts. Produced some books for a client, and because I knew he was cash poor, offered to accept payment later. Cue to a few months, he ignored my calls, and eventually disappeared. My fault for letting compassion override business sense

  10. Konner Jerkins
    January 29, 2012 | 12:38 am

    Very good blog.Thanks Again. Want more.

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