The Freelancer’s Guide to Getting Paid on Time

Step 1: Protect your work with a contract

Establish clear expectations before working with a client to avoid conflicts later on. Use a contract to define the scope of work, rates, and payment terms. If you don’t have your own that works for you, use our Contract Creator to customize a simple agreement with freelance-friendly clauses.

Ask to be paid a portion up front or in multiple installments throughout the work process so you don’t shoulder all the risk.

If any changes occur to the scope, ask your client to sign off on an addendum to the original contract.

In New York City, the Freelance Isn’t Free law mandates that hiring parties use contracts with clear payment terms for work over $800. Learn more about the law in plain language or read the full text.

Step 2: Practice prompt and planned invoicing

Send dated invoices promptly and include your full contact information, project name, payee name and tax ID number, and instructions for the payment method. Clearly note delinquency or late fees. Take away all the excuses for not paying!

Have a follow up system and keep all copies of collections communications.

In New York City, the Freelance Isn’t Free law mandates that payment must be received within 30 days of work completion, or by the date specified in a contract.

Step 3: Pressure clients to pay

Still not getting paid? Send a formal collections notice that explains the entire situation and provides copies of contracts and invoices. Craft your own with our collections letter template.

You may not want to go to court, but your client doesn’t know that. Send a letter saying that you will be forced to pursue legal action if payment is not received within two weeks.

Step 4: File a claim

In New York City, you can file a nonpayment complaint using this form with the Office of Labor and Policy Standards, who can help you to resolve your issue.

You can file the complaint or reach out with questions…

  • Via email at
  • In person at the Office of Labor Policy & Standards in Manhattan at 42 Broadway, 9th floor
  • By phone at 212-436-0380

In Minneapolis, the Freelance Worker Protection Ordinance protects freelancers from nonpayment.

Step 5: Take legal action

It’s hard to know if and when you should escalate. Legal action takes a lot of your time, energy, and possibly money if you choose to hire an attorney.

Search for information about your local city or state small claims courts (we have a New York City guide), a special part of civil court that provides a practical way to sue for relatively small amounts without an attorney. The maximum amount you can pursue in these courts varies by state ranging from $2,500 to $25,000.

In advance of a legal consultation with an attorney or filing a claim in small claims court, gather the evidence and complete this checklist to prepare your case for review.

If you choose to go to court in New York City, under the Freelance Isn’t Free Law, freelancers may be awarded double damages and reasonable attorneys fees. There can be a fine of up to $25,000 for repeat offenders.