What to do when an Elance client won’t pay

It happens to many Elance writers, especially when they’re new. You get a client, the project is ticking along, you submit the work, and then… crickets. Nothing. Not a peep.

What do you do when your Elance client disappears without paying you for your work?

The good news is: if you insisted the client fund escrow before you started work, your payment is secure, even if you never hear from the client again.

If you forgot to wait for escrow, things may get a bit trickier. But even in this case, you can take steps to protect your work, if not claim the money you’re owed.

If escrow was funded…

Wait a week before taking action. People get sick. They have accidents. Unexpected things happens. So don’t be too quick to take a defensive position. It could cost you the good will and repeat business of a good client.

Mark the job as “complete”. If you’ve submitted the first draft of your work and you haven’t heard anything from the client after a week, mark the job as “complete” in your status report. If the client remains unresponsive, the escrowed funds will automatically be released to you 30 days later.

If escrow wasn’t funded,…

We all make mistakes sometimes, and if you made the mistake of submitting work to the client before making sure your fee was safely stowed away in escrow, there are still things you can do.

Send a polite note. First, send the client a polite note to say you just noticed they hadn’t funded escrow, and that you’ll need them to do so immediately. You can also take the opportunity to remind them that ownership of the material you wrote won’t transfer to them until they have paid you in full. (This is in the Elance terms of service, so whether you used your own service agreement or not, you’re covered!)

Check the client’s login details. You can see whether your client has accessed the workroom since you delivered your work. Go to your project workroom and check the “People” tab in the upper right corner. You’ll see your client’s name listed there, along with a note about their login activities. If they’ve logged in recently, but haven’t communicated with you, they may have grabbed your files and vamoosed.

Mark the job as a “problem”. If the client hasn’t responded to your request for funding, and if they seem to have logged into the workroom since you uploaded your work, it’s time to mark the job as a “problem” in your status report. This will alert them that they need to take action.

Issue a DMCA notice. If the client ignores your attempts to communicate, you can do a search to see whether they are using your material. Try typing a few phrases from your work into a search engine and see whether anything comes up. If you find that the client has published your work online without paying you, you can issue them a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) notice. Here’s how it works:

  • The DMCA protects your intellectual copyright under US law. That includes situations in which a website has posted your content online without your permission and without making the agreed-upon payment.
  • The DMCA notice must be sent to the ISP (Internet Service Provider) who hosts the offending website, so you’ll need to look up that information on www.whois.com. Look for the domain name server (DNS) listed for the website in question.
  • Send a DMCA takedown notice to the listed DNS. It doesn’t need to be written by a lawyer: you can write it yourself. Here’s a link to a popular takedown notice sample you can adapt to your own purposes.
  • Most ISPs take these letters very seriously, so they will take action quickly. They’ll issue a request to the website owner to remove your content or risk having their service suspended.
  • Either your client will have to pay you for your work, or they’ll have to remove it from their site. Hopefully, they’ll choose payment, in which case you can follow up with the ISP and let them know copyright has now passed to the website owner. If they still won’t pay, at least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing they’re not enjoying the benefit of your work, and in some cases, you may be able to find another buyer for it.

Looking for more ways to stay safe and sane on Elance? Check out “72 Insider Tips for Elance Writers”, now available as an ebook on Amazon.

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