Imagine you’re a site designer, and an online learning platform hires you to create a landing page for their latest course. You email the company an invoice, and your point of contact tells you to move forward on the project. You promptly deliver the landing page, the platform publishes it…but you’re still waiting and wondering how to ask for payment.

This scenario is all too common. About 59% of small business owners have experienced not being paid on time. Too many late payments, and you’ll end up operating a business with poor cash flow.

Keep your company secure by learning how to quickly collect outstanding invoices and minimize future late payments—all while maintaining a friendly rapport with clients.

1. Know when to ask

Ask for payment a day after the previously agreed payment due date. This timing is ideal because:

Just make sure you’ve delivered great work to your client by then. While it isn’t wrong to send a payment reminder before you finish working, it’s easier to ask your client to hold up their end of the deal after you’ve done some part of the project.

2. Request payment from clients by email

If a day passes after your due date, email the client to request your payment.

Keep the email friendly, straightforward, and actionable. Let the payer know you have attached the invoice to the email and share your payment details. Conclude politely and mention that you’d love to work with the client again.

With every new email you send, start a new thread, so you can get creative with the titles. Write subject lines that reflect how overdue the payment is.

Still not sure what to actually write in the email? Use these payment request email templates:

Payment reminder email template for a day overdue

This first email works to jog the client’s memory and remind them to pay.

Subject: One day overdue payment: Friendly reminder for [Project name]

Hi [Client’s Name],

I hope your day is going well. From the records I have, the payment for [Project Name] was due yesterday. The current balance is [Amount Due].

I have attached the invoice. You can pay via [Payment Methods/Link].

Let me know if you have any questions or issues with the payment.

Thank you. Hope we get to work together again!

[Your Name/Email Signature]

Payment reminder email template for a week overdue

If you still haven’t gotten paid after one week, send a follow-up email. While you shouldn’t send a new email to the defaulting client every day, weekly or biweekly reminders will encourage payment without being overbearing.

Subject: One week overdue payment: Friendly reminder for [Project name]

Hi [Client’s Name],

I hope you’re having a great week. Based on my records, I haven’t received your payment for [Project Name], and it is now overdue by a week.

If you worked for a company and not an individual, add this line – Do you mind checking this payment out for me? If there’s someone else I should be talking to about payment, please let me know.

If you have previously agreed on payment terms for late fees, add this line – As outlined in my payment terms, I charge a [Late Fee Amount] late fee for overdue invoices that kicks in after [Number of Agreed Days] days.

I have attached the invoice here for easy access. The balance of [Amount Due] is payable via [Payment Options/Link].

Could you please share an update on when I should expect this payment? Also, please let me know if you need anything on my end to initiate or fast-track the payment process.

Thanks!
[Your Name/Email Signature]

Payment reminder email template for a month overdue

At this point, it’s time for your tone to get more serious (not rude, though).

Subject: One month overdue payment: Friendly reminder for [Project name]

Hi [Client’s Name],

This is my third email regarding the overdue payment for [Project Name]. The balance of [Amount Due] is now one month late. Please, share an update on when I should receive this payment.

Add this line if you signed a contract with the client, including clear payment terms for late fees – Note: This payment is overdue by [Number of Agreed Days] days and is subject to [Late Fee Amount] in late fees, as outlined in our contract.

Find the invoice attached, payable via [Payment Methods/Link].

Kind Regards,
[Your Name/Email Signature]

3. Try calling

If emails aren’t working and you have the client’s phone number, call to discuss payment. Remember, reminders are better when the client is still likely to remember you (pun intended).

Your invoice emails are not effective if:

  • The payment is already one month past due.
  • You’ve sent at least two emails.
  • The client hasn’t discussed a payment plan with you, much less of paying.

A short, direct, and polite call with the client should be able to resolve the issue that email hasn’t been able to. On a phone call, you’ll be able to reach an agreement for finalizing your payment quicker than emailing back and forth.

During the call, speak in a friendly tone—talk clearly but don’t raise your voice or get sarcastic. Now is also not the time to get emotional. Just give the client the benefit of the doubt (by not accusing them outright of not paying you). Simply confirm that you’re speaking to the right person, introduce yourself, and say why you’re calling. Before the call ends, state the terms of your business agreement before the call ends.

If you’re nervous or bothered about what to say on the call, start with something like this:

Phone call intro template

Calls are very fluid, so this template only covers an intro you can use to get the ball rolling.

“Hey [Client’s Name]. I’m [Your Name] from [Your Company]. About a month ago, we worked on [Project Name] together. I’ve sent you some emails about payment for the project, and I think you may have missed them. Did you get them?”

Phone call follow-up email template

After the call, send another professional email detailing the highlights of your conversation and clear next steps.

Subject: Re: Payment for [Project Name]

Hi [Client’s Name],

It was great talking to you today. We spoke about the payment for [Project Name], and you mentioned that you’d be paying by [Date Agreed].

Add this line if you wouldn’t mind waiving late fees to get a quick payment and more amiable closing – If I receive the balance by [Date Agreed], I’ll write off the late fees.

Please, call me a day after [Day After Agreed Payment Date] if you aren’t able to make payment by then.

Thanks,
[Your Name/Email Signature]

4. Send a text message or DM

There are any number of reasons why a client may not pick up your phone call. They may be in a meeting and put their phone on DND (do not disturb). Or maybe they don’t have your number saved on their phone and don’t like picking up calls from unknown numbers. It could also be that the client gets anxious about calls and avoids talking over the phone on most days.

Whatever the reason, contact your client by text message if they’re not answering your phone calls. Don’t have the client’s phone number? Consider reaching out through a social media DM (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc.).

For a client who is uncomfortable with phone conversations, a message may be less overwhelming.

Text or DM template

“Hi [Client’s Name]. It’s [Your Name] from [Your Company]! Last month, we worked on [Project Name], and my records show that you haven’t made payment yet. Could you share an update on when I should expect the payment?”

5. Revoke the client’s access to work or assets

You’ve emailed, called, and texted the client, to no avail. It’s time to stop any ongoing work and refuse to take on new assignments from them. If your contract allows, restrict the client’s access to shared documents or brand assets.

Then calmly inform the client (via email, call, or text) that you can’t continue doing business with them because they keep delaying your payment. This boycott will prevent you from losing time and money on unfinished projects (if you’re no longer sure of getting paid).

No matter how professionally you handle this message, your client may still get annoyed—and that’s not your fault. If any defaulting client wants you to keep working for them, they’ll have to pay you.

6. Consider third-party options

After two or three months of unsuccessfully trying to collect overdue payments, consider getting help from a collection agency or lawyer.

For debt collection, you’ll send an agency—like Atradius Collections or Rocket Receivables—all records of your transaction with the client, including a copy of the invoice and services you delivered. The agency will then work on collecting your overdue payments from the client in exchange for a percentage—typically 20 to 35% of the amount owed. Note: When you use a debt collection agency, you may completely damage your reputation with the client and ruin any possibilities of future work.

Or hire a lawyer to represent you against the client or their company in court. Let your client know before you sue them, though. You could avoid a long court process if the client pays you now instead of allowing you to press charges.

7. Take measures to prevent future payment conflicts

Avoid chasing clients for your payment after delivering great work by following a few best practices:

  • Sign a contract with the client: Contracts outline the legally binding terms of business agreements, so it’s possible for you to press charges if the client defaults.
  • Invoice before you start work: In your invoice, include the details of the work you’ll be delivering to the client, how much you’re charging, and your payment terms and methods. If your client acknowledges receipt of the invoice and responds positively, then you know for sure that they’ve seen it and are okay with the terms you outlined. Charge clients for your services by using Neat’s free invoice template.
  • Include net payment terms: Clearly state when you expect to get fully paid in the contract and invoice. The payment deadline could be days or even weeks after you issue the invoice or finish work. You can even choose to ask for a deposit or the total amount upfront. It’s up to you!
  • Charge interest on late payments: To discourage clients from owing you, include a late fee clause in your contract—stating the interest rate unpaid invoices will incur. For example, you could charge 5% extra for invoice payments 30 days overdue.
  • Set up auto-reminders: If you use a provider like Neat for instance, you can automatically send payment prompts to clients any time you want. Alternatively, you can download all our payment request templates and use them to send professional and polite reminders.

The best time to tackle late payment is before it happens

It’s easy to put off asking for payment because you don’t want to mess up a good client relationship. But if you fail to ask for your payment on time, you’ll risk:

  • Losing a lot of money on bad debt
  • Spending more money to collect outstanding payments
  • Struggling to keep your business afloat

If you want a wide range of bookkeeping functionalities, that can help you get paid faster, consider Neat — accounting, cloud storage and invoicing! Sign up for a free 14-day trial for the full experience!