I Didn’t Get Paid Because the Client Argued I Didn’t Deliver What They Wanted

disagreement in office meeting with client

You’ve spent countless hours building a website and putting the finishing touches on your design for your client. When you send out your invoice for services, you’re met with an email or phone call from the client saying they are withholding payment because the completed site doesn’t meet their expectations.

It’s perhaps the worst-case scenario for most freelancers, and it’s difficult to see what your options are when you are in a flurry of emotions ranging from anger to self-doubt.

Here’s what you can do now, and what you can do in the future, to make sure you are getting paid for your work, time, and talents.

What to Do Now

If you are in the throws of waiting for payment or discussing payment with a client, you need immediate action items that can help you receive your full payment or a partial payout. Start with your contract.

Evaluate and enforce your contract

If a client is withholding payment, start by re-reading the contract you signed with them. See what guidance is offered in regards to paying for services.

Return to the Scope of Work

After re-reading your contract, return to the client-approved Scope of Work (SOW). Your SOW is helpful because it should have client-approved (or client-written) specs and information for your project.

Follow up with the client

Perhaps the scariest part of your efforts in resolving non-payment issues is to follow up with the client. But before you pick up the phone, ensure:

  • You aren’t angry or frustrated; this can come through your communication and leave the client feeling defensive
  • You have clear examples of how your project met the SOW guidelines

Be prepared with the next steps

When you speak with the client, you need to be prepared with the next steps. Potential next steps are:

  • You talk about how the project met the SOW and your client decides to pay
  • You enlist the guidance of an attorney to get the money you are owed
  • You start a new contract to be paid for your past work as well as any new work you complete to make adjustments to the project (don’t forget to get a new and approved SOW)
  • You walk away

What to Do in the Future

The best way to ensure you are paid for your work is to have policies you keep to make non-payment a non-issue moving forward. Here are the best practices you can put in place today to ensure you are paid for your work, time, and talent.

It starts with the SOW

Most freelancers start with a contract and then continue to create the SOW with the client. This tactic is backward. The key is to begin with a client-approved Scope of Work and use that information to lock in a quote. Then, it’s time to use that information to guide the contract.

The next most important step in ensuring payment is to live by your Scope of Work for each project. Ideally, you will be involved with the SOW process and your client will lay out exactly what they need in each part of the project. Remember, your SOW should also include how many revisions or additions you are willing to make as a part of the design process as well as your rate for any revisions or additions after that set amount.

Write up the contract

Use your SOW.

Many freelancers don’t have a standard contract they use when signing new clients. There’s a variety of reasons why freelancers do this, one of which is not investing the money into an attorney fee to write one up. However, a standardized contract is simply a must and definitely worth the investment.

When you write up your contract, mirror the SOW as much as possible. Include references to the SOW throughout, including any revision limit or policy.

man reading contract document on laptop

Change your payment policy

Finally, switch up your invoicing so that you are billing by the month or milestone, and not waiting until the end of the project to make all of your money.

Talk in advance with the client about your expectations

Communication is key, and you should be upfront about your payment policy as well as your revision policy before you begin the process. It’s also helpful to note to the client throughout the design and build process how many revisions they have left before your overtime rate kicks in. This ensures everyone is on the same page throughout the time you work together.

Make Your SOW Better

Getting payment, and decreasing your stress, starts with an effective SOW. Clients generally provide a SOW that they believe covers everything in the project, however, it often misses important details like page function or flow of their page or shop. This is where your expertise comes in; make sure you review a SOW and return it to the client with specific questions that will clarify their expectations.

Once you receive answers back, you can complete the SOW and use it to estimate your price for the project. Keep in mind that everything they want to be done should be included in the SOW. There’s a phrase, “if it’s not in the SOW, it’s not included,” that most freelancers live by. It’s a great way to protect yourself from any disagreements that could happen along the way.

Unfortunately, it only takes one time being burned by a client before you make sweeping changes to your contract, SOW, and other policies. Ideally, you can avoid this situation altogether if you implement best practices now.

Not sure your SOW is effective or comprehensive enough? Learn more about how to build a better one here.

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