No matter how much we hate it, late payments are common for freelancers and small businesses. Unfortunately, you'll need to write and send past due invoice letters sooner or later.
A past due invoice letter is a formal request for payment after the agreed-upon payment window has closed. It includes information on how much the client owed when the payment date was and how they can make payment.
Past due notices can help you collect payment while maintaining a positive relationship with your clients. Not every client is late on payment for malicious reasons, and they may need a firm but polite nudge in the right direction.
How you present your past due invoice letters will significantly impact the client's next steps. We're not looking to threaten anyone! At this stage, it's a good idea to stay polite and friendly, no matter how frustrated you may be behind the scenes.
So, let's look at how to write past due invoice letters — the right way.
At this stage, there's a fine line between demanding what you've earned and maintaining a positive business relationship. However, you can walk that fine line easily by following these tips.
Set the tone from the get-go by including the invoice number in the subject. If your client has forgotten to pay you, it will instantly trigger a response to get you paid quickly.
It can also be helpful to include the company name and what the invoice is for to provide context to your email before they even open it.
It's a little counterintuitive to send a past due notice without including the invoice. Clients get countless emails every day, and searching through them can be a nightmare. It's possible your invoice simply slipped through the cracks.
By attaching the invoice, you can remind clients that have seen it before and allow those who missed the original email to see the invoice at the top of their inbox.
A past-due notice isn't an escalation. It's a reminder that your client needs to pay you. Keep things civil in these early stages. You need to get paid, but you also need to maintain the client relationship.
Be clear about the importance of paying the invoice, but try not to burn any bridges.
You could start the email with a bit of friendly small talk. Address the client by name (when appropriate) and reference the work you did for them. Something like, "Good morning [name], I hope [service or product provided] is working out for you," can set a positive tone for a tricky topic.
Remember that tone is everything here. To avoid coming off coldly, consider using phrases like:
The person you communicate with during a job may not be responsible for paying invoices. As a result, you may be hounding the wrong person!
Politely ask if the payment is late because you're talking to the wrong person. For example, if you're working with a marketing team, you might need to contact the accounting department to chase the payment.
It's crucial to get across the fact that this invoice is overdue. You should include when the invoice should have been paid and how much is owed. Use clear formatting in your email to set the payment due date and invoice amount apart from the rest of your text to help emphasize the important details and reinforce the need for swift payment.
You should make it clear how your client can pay you. This saves them time, but it also doubles as a call to action. For example, if you use an online payment portal, include a link so the client can directly pay you after reading the past due notice. You should also have details on how to send payment in other ways, like by money order or wire transfer.
If you have a late fee policy, this is a good time to mention it. You should clarify what could happen if your client continues to ignore your payment request.
Again, it's important to note that this past due notice shouldn't be threatening. However, you can emphasize the importance of paying quickly by adding potential next steps in the event of non-payment. Most people know that these are last resort steps and are rarely needed, but motivating the client with "what if?" scenarios doesn't hurt.
As time goes on, follow-up emails and past due notices will become more severe in tone. Therefore, it's good to create a schedule for sending past due notices to help stay organized.
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