Email templates that get clients to pay

“Three Ways to Raise Your Rate” is part of “How to Hustle,” a free, 8-part guide on how to freelance as an independent pro. Get the whole thing here.


Is there such a thing as a Hardboiled Freelancer? You know, like the cigar-puffing pro who draws on two or three years of grizzled experience with conversation-prefacers like “Kid, when you’ve been in the game as long as I have…”?

That’s basically me (minus the cigar… or grizzled charm). I’ve struggled with clients who pay late, who pay partial amounts, who pay in bounced checks, who don’t pay at all.

What did I do? I created and tested template emails for collecting from slow or negligent clients… and for the first time, I’m sharing them here.

Stage #1: The Friendly Reminder

It may seem obvious that you’d, uh, send a reminder, but there’s an art to doing it. Take a coldly professional tone, and you’ll give the impression that you’re just in it for the money. But take an over-gratifying tone, and you’ll give the impression that clients are welcome to take liberties with your time and money. The key is to send a note that’s understanding of reasons why we’re not getting paid while establishing a deadline for them to follow.

Like this:

Hi _____,

I just wanted to reach out with a quick reminder of the invoice I sent last month. I’ve reattached it here just in case you missed it. If there’s anything I can do to facilitate the payment, just let me know, and no worries as long as we can take care of it by the end of the week!



Stage #2: The Power Move

Clients might try to renegotiate that deadline — on occasion, they might not respond. Here things get tricky depending how close we are to the client and how reliable they’ve been in the past, so our response tends to vary depending on the case. That said, good negotiation tends to mean asking for more than you’ll conceivably get, so we encourage asking for advance payments. The key at this point is to make it the client’s problem that they haven’t paid us, so they’ll be incentivized.

Here’s our quick template (and we do try to keep it quick):

Hi _____,

I just wanted to check in again about my last invoice. I know things get hectic, but unfortunately, I can’t keep working until payment has been handled. Maybe we could set up a protocol to set up payment ahead of time so that we both don’t need to worry about this again?

Let me know if a phone call would be helpful here to follow up.



Stage #3: The Shaming

If after all of this they still haven’t paid, then we definitely want to drop them as a client. But that doesn’t help us get our money. And, as Rihanna would say…well, you know.

The trick to getting it? A quick email — one known as “the magic email.”

Here’s the full text:

Dear _____,

Since I haven’t heard from you on this matter, I have to assume your priorities have changed.

And yes, that’s it. Under no circumstances add anything to the end.

Stage #4: The Legal Flex

Depending on how much money we’re talking about, we can mention (but for the moment, just mention) that we’re looking into legal action.

That looks like this:

Dear _____,

I’m very sorry I haven’t heard back from you. Obviously, I’d like to resolve this as amicably as possible since I’m proud of the work we did together.

Nevertheless, if we don’t have this resolved ASAP, my plan is to file a small claims suit by end of week, and you should expect official notice in the mail shortly.

Stage #5: The Legal Action

If the above steps still haven’t worked, it’s time for the nuclear option: lawsuit.

Here’s what you can do:

1. File a formal complaint in your county’s small claims court, either in person or electronically.

2. Send the details of your claim to the client, letting them know the hearing date and that they can expect a subpoena. That should get their attention.

If the fact of legal action doesn’t drive them to settle and you still don’t hear from them, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that they’re not likely to show for their hearing. The bad news is you have to figure out how to collect. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

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