How to request payment — and actually get paid

Use these exact scripts to request payment and get paid by your clients faster

Ramit Sethi

Back in college, I discovered there were other ways to make money besides serving rowdy people at restaurants and bars for tips.

For example, I consulted venture capital firms on how young people were using social media, videos, music, and photo sharing sites.

I also showed companies how they could improve their websites to get more customers.

I was making thousands of dollars when most of my peers were barely scraping by. However, I quickly learned it’s one thing to charge for your skills and services. And it’s a completely different ballgame to actually get paid for them.

If you run your own business or manage invoices for a company, you know what I’m talking about. You’ve probably dealt with invoices that were three months late or never paid.

People are really bad at paying on time if you leave the ball in their court. So don’t. Take action and get them to pay you faster.

Here’s the 3-step system I used to get my clients to pay on time — every time.

Step 1: Politely request payment

Let’s say you did some fantastic work for a client. He’s practically glowing every time he mentions your work, and he can’t say enough good stuff about you.

Obviously, you’re very happy. And you’re more than happy to send him your invoice.

So, as soon as the job is done, email him using this script:

There are a few things to notice here.

First, the subject line doesn’t mention any exact numbers. You’d be surprised how many people mess this part up. Mentioning the exact amount in the subject line is basically an invitation not to open your email. After all, nobody wants to open an email that’s going to cost them money.

Second, the opening lines of the email are friendly. Like Jane, you want to let your client know how much you enjoy working with them.

Then get straight to business. Let them know you’ve attached an invoice for the amount you agreed to earlier, and tell them how you’d like to be paid.

Finally, keep the closing simple and polite. The last thing you want to do in this situation is seem overbearing to your client, who may be having a bad day.

This type of invoice script goes over very well with both old and new clients. I couldn’t recommend it enough. Especially if you’re new to the whole consulting/coaching thing. It’s quick, respectful, and actionable. Most clients should respond with payment within two weeks.

Step 2: Follow up as if you’re doing them a favor

Okay, so you did your part and sent that invoice over like a total professional. But your client isn’t responding.

After two weeks go by, send them a follow-up email. This time you want to be much more firm with your request, but make it seem like you’re doing them a favor.

This is when you want to be completely transparent about payment terms. You haven’t been paid, and if your client doesn’t pay soon, you will charge a late fee. Be sure to include the date that kicks in. Make it easy for them and re-attach your invoice, too.

This makes it seem like you’re doing the client a favor, as opposed to pestering them to pay their bill.

When you close, you don’t want to use an exclamation point here. This implies that the email is more serious than the first one.

The last thing I want is a client who’s late with payment to think that I have a big dopey smile on my face as I’m writing reminder emails.

Because I don’t. I’m annoyed — but still respectful. It’s all part of being a professional.

Step 3: Pick up the phone and call!

If your client still hasn’t replied after two emails and 3–4 weeks have gone by since the first email, it’s time to put on your grown-up pants and call.

It’s a lot harder to ignore a payment request when someone’s reminding you about it from the other side of your cell phone.

Remind them of the project and payment history, and give them an exact date by which you need to be paid. Make sure you’re gracious and assume they haven’t seen your emails. Otherwise, if you go in with a negative attitude, (“You haven’t paid me! You screwed me over!”) things will not go well.

Here’s a simple script you can use to kick off a respectful conversation:

“Hi Michael, it’s Jane, I worked on XYZ project with you about a month ago. I’ve sent a couple of emails about payment for the email ebook, and I think you might’ve missed them. Have you received them?”

This will get a conversation started about where any miscommunication might’ve happened. And your payment should be on its way!

Lastly, make sure you close the loop and reply to your previous two emails with a message like this:

At this point, you’re going to get paid. In fact, if a tardy client doesn’t pay you after all three of these steps, then you should cut all ties with them immediately. I don’t have time to deal with awful clients, and you don’t either.

The exact words you need to write any email

No matter who you are, there are dozens of other problems you’ll have to deal with over email. By using tested, proven email scripts, you’ll save yourself a whole lot of grief.

I’ve put together 5 bonus email scripts for everyday situations, including:

  • How to set up an informational interview.
  • How to ask for recommendations for people to talk to.
  • How to cold email a stranger for advice.
  • How to write a pitch for a consulting gig or a job interview.
  • How to reach out to others in your company to get to know them.

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