It sometimes happens to medical writers: Your client hasn’t paid your final invoice and is ignoring your emails. It’s been weeks or even months since you submitted the final draft.
You’ve emailed, phoned and been polite, but nothing is working. You’re now at a point where you need to take further action to get paid.
So, what are your options?
What to do when your medical writing client isn’t paying
Before taking any further action, it is important to review your contract terms carefully to ensure that you have met all of your obligations and that the terms of your final payment are clear.
If your contract includes any dispute resolution procedures, you must also follow those procedures before taking any further action.
Your contract should clearly outline the terms and conditions of your working relationship with your client, including the payment terms for your final draft.
If your contract does not have clearly defined terms or if the terms are vague, you could be in trouble.
For example, in a recent LinkedIn post, I described a scenario where the terms and conditions simply stated that the final invoice was due upon completion of the project. This meant that a client could potentially hold up the project by claiming that they were waiting for internal feedback before the project could be finalised.
However, even if you have made a mistake with your terms, you still have the right to demand payment if enough time has passed.
At this point, you have two options:
- Send a letter of demand
- Engage a lawyer or debt collector
Let’s look at the first option in more detail, as it’s the easiest and you’d like to see it work.
What is a letter of demand?
A letter of demand is a formal written request for payment of a debt – in this case, your overdue invoice. You usually send a letter of demand when the client is failing to pay the bill despite repeated reminders.
Your letter of demand should be clear and concise, and it should state the following:
- The amount of the debt
- What the debt is for
- When the debt was due
- What steps you have taken to collect the debt so far
- A deadline for payment
The letter of demand should also warn the client that you will take legal action if the debt is not paid by the deadline.
In some cases, a letter of demand may be enough to persuade the client to pay. However, if the client does not pay, the next step is engaging a formal debt collector or getting legal advice.
Example letter of demand
Here’s a sample letter of demand that worked perfectly for me once when a client of mine didn’t pay.
Sending this was all I needed to do to get paid months after my final invoice was due.
Hi [CLIENT NAME]
I am writing to you today to request payment of an outstanding invoice for [INVOICE TOTAL] in relation to the [PROJECT] with the final copy submitted on [DATE].
As you know, I provided the final content in accordance with the terms of our contract, which states that [INSERT CONTRACT PAYMENT TERMS].
It has been [INSERT NO. OF MONTHS] since I sent the draft copy. Enough time has passed now, and I cannot keep waiting.
It is not fair nor lawful to continue to ignore my emails and unpaid invoice. I expected a more professional approach from a respectable organisation such as [CLIENT COMPANY NAME].
I have tried to contact you on several occasions to discuss this matter, but my emails have gone unanswered. I am therefore writing to you today to give you formal notice that I will be taking further action if I do not receive payment within [INSERT NO. OF DAYS – I SUGGEST 5] days of the date of this email.
This further action may include legal action, which would result in you being liable for my legal fees. I would prefer to avoid this, but I am prepared to take it if necessary.
I therefore ask you to pay the outstanding invoice immediately. I have resent it to [CLIENT EMAIL] today.
If I do not receive payment within [INSERT NO. OF DAYS] days, I will take the necessary steps to enforce my legal rights.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
What happens if your client ignores your letter of demand?
If your client ignores your letter of demand, it can be frustrating and concerning. Still, there are several steps you can take to address the situation and potentially recover the unpaid invoice.
Here are some actions to consider:
- Send a follow-up email – send a second letter of demand reiterating the outstanding amount, the deadline for payment and the consequences of non-payment; it’s possible your initial letter was overlooked or misplaced
- Phone the client – try to phone them to discuss the outstanding invoice, and maintain professionalism
- Engage a debt collection agency – a debt collection service is a business that tries to recover the money for you for a fee; you can also find no-collection, no-fee agencies so you won’t end up out of pocket
- Take legal action – speak to a lawyer about recovering your unpaid debt and any associated legal fees; this option is obviously more time-consuming and can be expensive, but it is your last resort if all else has failed.
Remember: If the idea of involving debt collectors and legal professionals makes you uneasy, you have the option to step back and view it as a valuable learning experience. Taking the high road is often less stressful and easier in the long run – and, there’s no shame in walking away!
Regardless of the path you choose, it’s important to act professionally, ethically and within the legal framework when attempting to collect your unpaid invoice.
Always maintain thorough documentation of all communication, including copies of any paper letters, emails, invoices and notes from phone conversations. This documentation can be crucial if you do end up taking legal action.
The final word on clients who don’t pay
While I’ve given you some successful strategies when your clients don’t pay, the best strategy is to make sure this never happens!
To avoid ending up with clients who don’t pay, here’s what you need to do:
- Maintain open communication with your client at all times
- Make sure your payment terms are clearly defined in your contract and there’s no ambiguity
- Add terms to your contract stating what happens if invoices remain unpaid and if feedback is late or never arrives
- Discuss your payment terms with your client on the phone, and highlight the key terms via email, to ensure they understand their obligations.
Hopefully, you’ll never need to send a letter of demand or recover an unpaid invoice. But, if you do find yourself in that unfortunate situation, don’t blame yourself: It’s not your fault. Some clients just don’t do the right thing by you. The steps in this post and my free letter of demand can help you get paid and move on.