The top 7 excuses clients make for not paying their invoices (and how to get past them)

invoice invoices

We’ve all been there. You’re looking to wrap up a contract but the customer is refusing to pay for work done. In these circumstances it’s important to remain professional whilst still finding a way to get past client excuses for not paying invoices. There are a number of simple strategies for dealing with clients who refuse to pay, and today I’m going to run through the top 7 excuses clients make, and how to get past them.

1. “I can’t afford to pay you until my customers pay me.”

This is a very common excuse, particularly when dealing with small businesses – and yes, sometimes there can be some truth to it if the business is struggling with managing cashflow. But this is definitely not an excuse that justifies not paying at all. The best way to deal with this excuse is to suggest the customer pays in instalments. This will allow you to open the lines of conversation with them, strengthen your relationship by showing that you can be sympathetic with the trials of running a business, but still be on your way to recouping your debt.

2. “I haven’t received the invoice.”

At times this excuse can stem from disorganisation (maybe they genuinely have not seen your invoice), but it’s also just a go-to excuse for many customers refusing to pay for work done. There are a couple of ways to mitigate the risk of not being paid here. The first is to set up email read receipts early in your relationship with clients so that you can see when the emails with invoices have been opened. The second is to follow up your emails and reminder letters with phone calls to guarantee that your invoices have been received, and noted by someone at the business.

3. “We’re in the process of changing banks.”

Whilst unlikely (it seems a little too convenient for the client to be changing banks at the exact time that you’re chasing payment), this excuse is credible. But in the modern world there are more ways to receive payment than the good old bank transfer. One of your first ways around this excuse should be to request a PayPal or credit card transaction – both these facilities should be readily available to your client. If this doesn’t work, or if those attempts are rejected, ask for a concrete payment date and advise them that a debt collector will be engaged immediately after that date.

4. “We’ve been liquidated”

The very first thing you should do if someone gives you this excuse is to check the truth of their claims. You can do this either by speaking to other businesses or people you know who do business with that client, or you can check a company’s liquidation status through the ASIC website. If it is indeed true, you need to find out who the liquidators are and lodge a debt claim with them immediately.

5. “Our accountant is on holidays/has made a mistake.”

Put simply, this is not your problem. Learning to manage cashflow is one of the most basic aspects of running a business – including managing contractors and ensuring they get paid. So if someone pushes blame for non-payment onto their accountant, you are well within your rights to request a concrete date of payment and to politely notify your client that if payment has not arrived by that date, a debt collector will be immediately engaged.

6. “I think we did pay, I’ll look over it” (faux disorganisation)

If a client uses this excuse, there is a very simple resolution. Phone them directly, assure them you have not been paid and ask them to check. Tell them you’ll hold while they confirm. They should be able to very quickly bring their accounts up and say for sure whether the payment has been made. If they can’t for some reason, it should take them an absolute maximum of 24 hours to respond definitively. When they confirm that they have not paid, ask them to pay within two days and inform them that if payment has not been received by that time, a formal debt collection process will be started.

7. “I’m not paying, there’s a mistake in the work!”

In these circumstances, you always want to remain professional and to avoid burning any bridges. The client was not happy? Why? When did this come to light and why was it not mentioned earlier in the relationship? Keep the dialogue open, identify the issues and work out a way to resolve the situation that is agreeable for all parties – then ask for payment again. In doing this, it’s important to keep written details of conversations so that you will have solid records to rely on should the situation escalate. If you reach an impasse, refer back to your contract – outline how the work you’ve done fulfils the contract requirements and again, ask for payment.

Dealing with clients who refuse to pay can be tricky. You walk a fine line between not wanting to damage relationships by calling out excuses, but you still need to get paid. It can be incredibly frustrating, but by using the strategies above you will be able to get past client excuses for not paying invoices while still maintaining good client relationships. A professional debt collector can help you with this.