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ven the most experienced business owners deal with late and unpaid invoices. According to a 2022 survey, nearly half of all business invoices in the United States become overdue. As a business owner, your job is to recover as many of those unpaid invoices as possible to keep your business running.
That means sending out the occasional letter to remind customers about invoice payments. It's probably not your favorite part of doing business, but here's how to make it as painless as possible.
When you become aware of an unpaid bill, your first step is to ensure everything is correct and complete on your end.
Check payment terms and invoice due date
Clerical errors happen, and it's important to catch them before you message a client. You don't want that person to think of you as unprofessional — or worse, take offense toat your claim that they haven't paid.
Make sure the payment terms and due date are what you initially outlined. Verify the invoice is overdue and payment hasn't gone through.
Review records to ensure accuracy of the invoice
It's also important to match the invoice with your work records. For example, did your company complete the job as scheduled, or was there a delay? These kinds of miscommunications can happen in growing companies.
Likewise, ensure there was no change to the project between contracting and invoicing. If the client received an invoice with outdated information, they might hold onto it until they can clear things up. For example, a client might send an order for two products and later cancel one. If the client mistakenly receives the original two-product order, they’d need to get an updated version of the invoice before paying.
Consider alternative payment methods and plans
Assuming all your information is correct and the invoice is overdue, consider why it might be late. Maybe the client is struggling with cash flow or isn't set up to use your payment method.
You don't have to know the answer, but showing consideration for your client always helps. Ask them: What other payment types or schedules might work for you?
Also, consider whether you can accept a payment plan. Many businesses are struggling in the current economic climate. A recent report from the National Federation of Independent Business indicates 28% of small business owners are struggling with inflation, and a decreasing number of owners see profit growth.
If you can offer a payment plan, you may earn the long-term loyalty of a valuable client.
How to ask for payment professionally
Think of your reminder email as a professional courtesy to someone with multiple tasks on their plate.
Use a polite and professional tone
Maintaining goodwill is crucial, especially if you hope to retain the client. Even if you don't, protecting your reputation as a respectful professional is vital.
Avoid accusatory or angry language in your request. Keep it polite but firm.
Check that the client received the invoice
Start by giving your client the benefit of the doubt. Ask if they received the original invoice, providing the send date as a memory aid. Invite them to call you if they have any questions.
Provide invoice number and amount due
Include these key details in your reminder email. Doing so is a courtesy to the client, who can then use the provided details to locate the original invoice or create a reminder for their accounts payable department.
Restating this information also helps you trace the reminder back to the original project and maintain a paper trail.
Remind the recipient of the payment terms and due date
Now you get to the important part — the clear reminder that the payment is late. Don't be accusatory, but emphasize the agreement.
State the original due date and terms of payment. If your agreement includes a late fee, include a reminder and an updated total as necessary. For example:
Your contract includes a late fee of $X for all invoices 30 days or more overdue. Please send payment immediately to avoid incurring this extra charge.
Your contract includes a late fee of $X for overdue invoices of 30+ days. As your payment is now 45 days overdue, your updated amount due is [original invoice + fee].
Again, double-check fee schedules to ensure you provide the correct details.
Offer to provide additional information or clarification, if necessary
Keep the conversation active by offering to answer any questions. Clarification often speeds things along, especially if your invoice got stuck in an approval process.
Inviting questions also emphasizes goodwill and the benefit of the doubt. It shows that you assume an honest mistake and not the desire to evade responsibilities. In the long run, this approach helps you maintain positive relationships.
Provide a clear call to action
End your message by politely asking the client for immediate payment. Include helpful information, such as a link to your online payment platform or a mailing address for a physical check.
If you can offer alternative payment plans or methods, say so here. Consider mentioning payment options even if you believe the client is already aware. They may have forgotten or not realized that you accept multiple payment types.
Sample of a payment request email
Use this template to customize your letter for invoice payment. It's designed as an email, but you can use it for a traditionally mailed letter if you prefer.
Hello Mr. Jones,
I hope this email finds you well. I am reaching out to confirm you received Invoice #XXX dated [Day, Month, Date, Year], for the amount of $XXX. I understand your team is busy, and I want to ensure this payment doesn't fall through the cracks.
According to my records, payment is currently overdue by X days. Our contract stipulates a late fee of $X for all balances over 30 days past due. This additional charge brings your current balance to $XXX.
Know that I value our working relationship, and I'm here to answer any questions you may have. You can reach me via email or by calling XXX-XXX-XXXX from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Please send the full balance due as soon as possible. We accept checks, electronic funds transfers, and PayPal. Checks are preferred.
We do provide payment plans for clients experiencing financial difficulty. Let me know if you're interested in discussing this option.
[Your Contact Information]
What if you don't hear back?
Even the best-composed message can fall on deaf ears. But don't write off that overdue invoice. Take these next steps.
Wait a reasonable amount of time for a response
Turnaround times for payment reminders vary dramatically. Your client may receive your reminder and instantly send a PayPal payment, but don't panic if that doesn't happen. They may need to send your reminder to someone in charge of issuing payments.
Allow a week for the client to receive and act on your message. If they haven't replied by then, following up is reasonable.
Pause existing work
If your client has neglected to submit an agreed-upon payment and has not replied to reminders, they have broken their contract with you. It's fair to pause any ongoing work until they have brought their account current.
Notify the client that you've taken this step. Stay professional and avoid threatening or aggressive language, but be clear. For example:
Dear Mr. Jones,
I hope this email finds you well. As I mentioned in my previous email, we are waiting on your payment of $XXX for Invoice #XXX.
We will need to pause work on your current project until you have submitted payment. Please send the full amount noted above via check, electronic funds transfer, or PayPal. Checks are preferred.
If you have questions, please reach out via email or call me at XXX-XXX-XXXX between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
[Your Contact Information]
As with other payment reminders, list the forms of payment you accept and provide a link for electronic payments, if relevant.
Close by reassuring the client that you will resume work on the project as soon as you receive payment.
Be friendly but firm in subsequent communications
Although having to send multiple reminders is frustrating, keep your tone professional. Take care not to sound angry or threatening, but be decisive.
Avoid language like "It would be great if..." or "If it's OK," even if you have an informal relationship with the client. Your words and tone should establish full payment as an expectation, not a request.
Give them a call
If you can't get an answer by email, your next step is to pick up the phone. You can try texting if you've done so with this client, but a call is more immediate and harder to evade.
Pull up the invoice before you call so you have all relevant information at your fingertips. If possible, have the client file on hand to refer to other information about the account, such as prior payments or work history.
As in your email, be polite and get straight to the point. For example:
Hi, Jennifer. This is Nicholas from XYZ Services. I'm calling about the invoice we sent you on [date] for the XXX Project. Could you tell me if you received that?
If they say no, be ready to email a copy of the invoice and ask for verbal confirmation that they received it. Upon receipt, ask when you can expect payment and how the client prefers to pay.
Should the call go to voicemail, leave all relevant details in the message. Ask the client to call you back or email to let you know when payment will arrive. Tell them you'll follow up in a day or two if you haven't heard back.
Throughout the call or message, maintain a gentle but firm tone. You don't want the client to feel attacked, but you need them to respect you as a professional.
Consider legal or collection services
If you've made multiple attempts to collect a payment, you may need help from an attorney or collection service.
The Collection Bureau of America recommends waiting at least 90 days before taking this step. You can keep sending reminders — once a week isn't too often — but avoid seeking third-party help for about three months.
If it's been that long, talk to an attorney or debt collection agency. An attorney is your best bet if your client owes you more than $5,000. Attorneys are also helpful when dealing with a large corporation or a complex legal situation.
How to avoid missed payments
Late payments take time to pursue. Save yourself the trouble by setting clear expectations up front and instituting a reliable payment system.
Have a clear contract
The best way to avoid non-payment is to have a written agreement to fall back on. If the client argues about your rates or claims they never agreed to a specific payment date, you have a record as proof.
Every time you onboard a new client — or start a new project, depending on how your contract system works — have them sign a document that includes the following:
- Your rate
- Details about your billing system, such as frequency of invoicing and payment due dates
- Late fees
- Consequences of non-payment
Keep contracts easily accessible so you can refer to them if you need to pursue payment.
Get an advance deposit
People value what they've paid for. That's why many freelancers and solopreneurs ask for advance deposits, especially on large projects and for newer clients.
A deposit is your client's good-faith investment in the project. It confirms their commitment to paying for work while also serving as a de facto reservation for your time.
Accept a variety of payment methods
The more payment types you accept, the easier it is for clients to pay you. If you have clients who struggle to pay on time, ask them if a particular payment method would make things easier, and add that to your accepted payment list if possible. Chances are, other clients will appreciate the addition also.
Have a clear line of communication
Open communication with clients avoids all kinds of problems. If you're already in an ongoing conversation with them, it's easier to touch base and ask about a recent invoice.
Aim to have one ongoing conversation and at least two monthly communications with each client. Slack and text messaging are particularly effective for normalizing regular moments of touching base.
Professionalism and persistence are the keys to getting the payment you're owed. Present all of the critical information and document everything so all the client has to do is pay you. Most importantly, have a regular and familiar invoicing process, which makes it easy for the client to pay and keeps you from having to chase after payments.
Make the whole process easier on yourself with Novo's free invoicing tool. We offer automated invoicing and multiple payment options to help you get paid up to 2.5 times as quickly. Sign up for a Novo account today to take advantage of this feature.
Novo Platform Inc. strives to provide accurate information but cannot guarantee that this content is correct, complete, or up-to-date. This page is for informational purposes only and is not financial or legal advice nor an endorsement of any third-party products or services. All products and services are presented without warranty. Novo Platform Inc. does not provide any financial or legal advice, and you should consult your own financial, legal, or tax advisors.
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