How to Deal with Clients that Never Pay on Time

I’m going to preface this entry by firstly saying this.

If you’re in this position where a client owes you money, then its’ your fault.

Not the client, it’s yours.

Now before you punch the screen or send me a nasty email – hear me out.

I’ve been doing SEO a long time, and it just amazes me how many coaching clients, freelancers, consultants and even people running agencies that I speak to that are essentially working for free. That might sound ridiculous but I see it a lot.

Infact, I got off a call this morning from someone who is owed a whopping $32,000 in outsanding invoices.


Why it happens.

There’s probably a number of reasons why this happens. It could be a lack of a contract, it might be a crap client, it could be the simple fact that you don’t have processes in place to prevent this shit from happening in the first place, but in any case, its stupid – and it needs to stop.

Here’s a few of the main reasons why I think people end up in this position.

Lack of confidence

This would definitely be the biggest one.

Most people (especially freelance SEOs) lack fucking confidence. They’ll get on a call with me and they’ll say –

  • “I don’t want to upset the client”
  • “I’m worried that I’ll lose the client”
  • “I’m just not confident asking for payment up front when I haven’t done any work”

You have a choice.

You can sit there hoping you’ll get paid, or you can get some balls and start demanding clients fucking pay you.


This is other one – fear.

  • “John, I need the money, I can’t upset this client incase he cancels”
  • “No, I’m not going to demand full payment in advance, because that’s too pushy”

Let me tell you this – while you’re sitting at home worrying about whether or not you might upset or offend someone by asking for payment, they’ll be relaxing by the pool sipping Pina coladas laughing about how they took advantage of you because you’re a pussy. It really amazes me how many people I speak with that want to make money, but are afraid of it.

Stop being scared because it’s keeping you broke.

Pushy or demanding clients

I’ve had clients over the years push me around and eventually I got to the point of saying “no more”.

Not simply because it’s not good for business, but it’s just not good for your mental health – especially if they’re causing stress or anxiety.

If you’re dealing with a client at the moment and they’re sending you emails with –

  • “Hey can you do this real quick?”
  • “You don’t need to invoice me for that do you?”
  • “Shouldn’t that be included in the original quote?”
  • “I didn’t think I’d have to pay for that?”

…then it might be time to get rid of them.

Lack of processes

This is usually the main reason why most SEO consultants end up in this position.

They’ll take any prospect on, and just jump into a campaign, not having covered anything. So the client ends up not knowing –

  • How the payment process works
  • When payments are due
  • How they actually make payment

Believe it or not I’ve worked with coaching clients that are asking their clients to pay them via Paypal “when its’ convenient”.


How to fix this shit – fast.

Chances are, you’ve either experienced this problem, or you’re sitting there right now thinking “Fuck, this client owes me $9,000, and I’m dead broke – what the hell am I going to do?”

I’m not going to sugar coat this.

I’m going to give it to you straight, so take this advice, act on it, and quit fucking around.

Email or call all of your clients right now.

Get in touch with all of your clients and do the following –

  • Inform them (politely) that there are no more “pay later” options
  • All payments must be made in advance before any work is performed
  • Any outstanding invoices are to be fixed up immediately

Now look, chances are you’re going to have some shitty clients come back and say “This is unfair”.

Too bad.

You need to be mindful that once you’ve let the dog sleep on the couch, then it can be real hard to keep the dog outside. In other words, you’ve subconsciously trained your clients to take advantage of you – and that needs to stop.

Say this to anyone that complains – “Listen Kate, I understand this might be frustrating and its not what we agreed to, but I have to do whats right for my business. Unfortunately we have too many clients taking advantage of our payment options (either late or non payment) which has led to us having no choice but to take this action”

If they want to cancel out, then let them go – chances are they’re a dead weight anyway.

Focus on clients that value you and your services, instead of trying to “haggle” with lolly scramblers.

Stop letting clients walk all over you.

The other thing you need to do is – stop letting clients walk all over you.

Get some fucking balls.

If a client hasn’t paid you, or they’re constantly late with payment then do something about it.

Tell them. Send an email. Get on a call.

Say “Listen, this months invoice is outstanding, can you please take care of it?”

Make them aware that –

  • No work is going to be done unless the invoice is paid
  • A 10% late fee may apply if they’re constantly late with payment

But remember, be firm, but be fair.

I don’t have a problem jumping on a call with a client and asking “Hey, what’s going on? Is there a problem, if so, can I help, or can we work something out here so that we’re not having this awkward conversation each month”

Offer to help, but be mindful that this is business.

Don’t get sucked into helping someone out, or doing them a favour because their fucking cat died.

Get paid first.

I cant stress this one enough.

Write it down.


There is absolutely no reason why, you should be sitting there doing SEO on a clients site if they haven’t paid you. The same goes for web design.

I just can’t believe how many people are sitting there at their desks, banging away for hours, days or even weeks on end, without being paid. It’s mental.

It’s all based around fucking hope.

…..“I hope they pay me”

Fucks sake, knock it off.

Get paid first.

I don’t do anything, until the invoice is paid.

So I send the invoice, and remind the client that work will start once payment is received.

  • I don’t want logins
  • I’m not interested in looking over their site
  • I don’t want a list of 50,000 keywords
  • I’m not interested in spending hours assessing data or metrics

I want payment.

Once payment is received, then fantastic, I’ll do whatever I can to help the client as best I can.

But I’m sure as hell not going to sit here working for nothing, and neither should you.

Stop doing small shit for free.

It’s easy to think “Oh I’ll just do this now, it won’t take long”

But guess what?

2 things will happen –

  • It either ends up taking much longer than you expected, OR
  • They’ll send another 5 “quick tasks” for you to do 10 minutes later

This is never good because it encourages that “John will do this for me, it’s cool” mindset – and that’s shit.

All these small tasks add up.

5 minutes here. 10 minutes there. Then half an hour, a day – a week.

Next thing you know, you realise you’ve spent about 6 weeks doing small shit for nothing.

Pro tip – if a client makes continual requests that are outside the scope of the agreement then sell them prepaid blocks of time. In other words, when they email you and ask “Hey can you do this real quick?” You reply with a link and say “Sure, follow this link, purchase 5 hours and as soon as payment clears I’ll take care of it”

This way you can sell blocks of prepaid time in advance, and you’re not fucking around with small shit for free.

When you do this, one of two things will happen –

  • The client buys the time, you get paid and you do the work, deducting time as they use it up
  • The client doesn’t pay and you don’t do anything.


Be upfront with your pricing and rates.

I’ve spoken about this at length, and I often joke around by telling people “I’m expensive” when they ask for my help – but to some degree, I mean it.

Not because I’m trying to be a smart ass, but because I want to get that discussion out of the way now, not later after having wasted time with someone that isn’t serious about doing business.

For whatever reason, a lot of freelancers aren’t comfortable when it comes to talking about what they charge. They’re also scared of offending or upsetting the client.

Infact I had a discussion today with someone who said “Yeah, I’m really not comfortable saying that, I’m just trying to be kind so I don’t upset them.”

Not upsetting them?

They owe you $12,000.

I’d be ready to strangle someone, not concerning myself with whether or not they might get upset.

But keep my advice in perspective. You don’t have to be sending Jimmy Smalls around to bust some knee caps. You can get paid and still be kind without upsetting anyone. You’ve just got to be upfront and straight forward with your pricing, and payment processes right away.

Nothing gets done until payment is received.

Here’s a line you can use. I use it all the time.

“Sounds great (clients name), I’ll send you an invoice now, and as soon as payment is received we can get started”

This puts it back on the client and reminds them in an indirect, friendly manner that nothing is going to happen, until they make payment.

And lastly…..

Stop putting the clients business ahead of your own.

Years ago I was sitting in on a meeting and heard the expression, “Yeah, I’m really not interested in destroying my business in order to save yours”.

That was a business associate who was being haggled down on price for a very large web project. We both walked out of there, and as confusing as that meeting ended, I knew he had guts to say it, and walk out.

That moment has stayed with me since.

If you’re constantly trying to save everyone else’s business, whilst jeopardising your own – you wont be in business for long.

Every time you agree to something you shouldn’t is another day closer to having to tell your clients “I’m sorry, but I’m closing the business” and that’s not fair for clients that value your services, paying on time and are doing the right thing by you.

Had to deal with late or non payment?

If you’ve been in this situation, I’d love to hear what happened, or even just your thoughts. Post up a comment below and I’ll respond.

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