How to Handle Late Payments and No Payment as a Virtual Assistant

At this point everyone and their dog knows the story of how I completed my first two projects as a virtual assistant without being paid. Maybe you’re new here and don’t know. I’ll tell you all about it.

It was 2019 and I was a new and very trusting make-money-online enthusiast. I didn’t know there was anything like “virtual assistant” even though I was pretty much offering virtual assistant services. These two clients were friends and the first introduced me to the second. I was happy about the referral because it meant she loved my work, right?


She only loved it for as long as it was free.

The first one went cold turkey when I asked to get paid and the second said she had no interest in using the content I had created for her anymore and so she wasn’t going to pay.

These things were bound to happen.

I had no contract, didn’t take a deposit, and offered a discount after stating every price. I lacked confidence and it showed. Although this is a story of no payment but sometimes “late payments” quickly become “no payment”.

Long story short, I learned my lesson and got a contract. Now I have something that deters clients from swindling me and protects my interest if they refuse to pay or delay payment.

One thing I put in place after rebranding my virtual assistant business was an agreement.

In the agreement, I clearly state that 1 will collect at least 50% of the project fee before I start any work. This worked well for me until I got a client who had money issues and was unable to pay for almost 7 months. Initially I was understanding and didn’t initiate the late payment charge.

But the end of January became the end of February, which quickly changed to the end of March and then the end of April, I couldn’t keep waiting.

At the time, I was expecting my second child and was too out of breath to spend time chasing payments with a belly so long I couldn’t see my toes. So I had to initiate the late payment charge. Now this is a peculiar case. I waited that long because I loved the client. We had built a relationship for years and that had never happened. On the occasions when she delayed a payment, one or two emails got her to make the payment so it was a first.

I won’t go into all the details but I got paid a few weeks before I had my son. Thank God!

There are two types of virtual assistants who will be reading this post.

one: you are having difficulty collecting payment from a client and are simply googling what you should do

two: you are just binge reading to be prepared and avoid having this situation altogether.

Whatever the case, I’ll share how to prevent this from happening and then what to do if this happens.

How To Prevent Late Payments As A Virtual Assistant

1.) Attract quality clients

This seems like a no brainer but it’s where a lot of problems stem from. If you do things the right way and attract or entertain only high value clients, you’ll avoid the devil. There are a lot of dubious people on the internet who scam unsuspecting virtual assistants and so if the client has red flags from the onset, don’t work with them. I talked about how to detect scam clients in detail so you should read the post.

2.) Have a signed agreement before you start

If you’re subscribed to my email list or read my blog posts over the years, I’d probably sound like a broken record. You need an iron clad virtual assistant agreement. It is not a nice-to-have, it is a must-have. An agreement protects your interest even if your client is in another end of the world.

An VA agreement isn’t a document you just slap some words in and call it a day. It has to be detailed and contain all the essential parts of an agreement.  Your agreement must state how much you will get paid, when you will get paid and what will happen if you don’t get paid when payment is due. It sets expectations and any client worth having won’t be scared by a reasonable agreement that protects both parties. I mean, if you are committing to get work done for them, the least they can do is commit to paying you for the work you do.

3.) Collect a deposit

I tell the virtual assistants I mentor this. At least the first time, ensure that you collect a minimum deposit of 50% of the total amount before you start any work. Point blank period. There’s no going through the back door or starting while expecting the payment.

If their bank is having an issue etc. then let everything wait until that gets sorted. Don’t start calculating and even mentally spending money a client promised to pay. The only time that money is truly yours is when it’s in your bank account.

I sometimes collect 100% of the money before I start work. I do that when the project is on a low end. For example, if I price a project at NGN50,000, I believe that is way too low to split payments and go through the stress of sending payment reminders. But that’s me. I am an established virtual assistant and have been doing this for over 5 years so I have skin in the business. However, as a rule of thumb, you must collect at least 50% of the project fee before you lift a finger.

Here Are 7 Steps To Take When A Virtual Assistant Client Delays Payment or Refuses To Pay

late payments

There are times when you might have an agreement, collect a deposit and then complete the project before the client refuses to pay. It happens. It’s simply one of the downsides of being a virtual assistant. Some people will happily take advantage of the benefit of doubt  you offer them but refuse to pay when the time comes or delay your payment for as long as possible. It’s frustrating. What makes it annoying is that they have the perfect excuse on why they can’t afford to pay you but are almost always spending money on something else. 

1.) Review the agreement

Review the terms of the agreement or contract you have with the client. You want to pay attention to payment terms, due dates, and any penalties for late payments. You’ll need to follow this to a T.

Related: Virtual Assistant Contract For VAs in Nigeria (why you need it and what to include)

2.) Give them the benefit of doubt.

Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t think the worst. Yet. 

I know. 

It sucks.

It’s frustrating.

Don’t throw accusations at the client. It’s not a professional thing to do. The client might not be ghosting you or trying to evade payment. Think about it, if you accuse a client and it turns out that you are wrong, you would ruin a good work relationship. If the client has a good payment history, then there may be a good reason why the client hasn’t paid so give them sometime before you begin the chase. I think one week is just fine, but use your discretion.

There are a couple of reasons why a client might delay your payment or outrightly refuse to pay. Either they are not happy with the project you did for them, they don’t have the money available or they have money and do not prioritize paying you and are spending it on something they believe is more valuable or of greater priority. I know you might not care what their reason is. But you might only know if you follow up.

Which brings me to my next point.

3.) Follow Up

Sometimes they haven’t seen your invoice or forgot to pay. Following up brings it to the top of their inbox again. I recommend making a thread. It might be difficult sorting through multiple emails you send about your payment so I recommend you reply to your previous email instead of creating a new one.

If the client is not happy with your work and did not say so after you sent the invoice, they might say so now.  So all you can do is to find out if it’s something that can be easily fixed, and then fix it. Please note that their complaint has to be reasonable. Some people want to evade payment and come up with flimsy excuses not to pay. 

If the client has financial issues, (bank issues, cash flow issues etc.), all you should do is empathize with them, maybe give more time or offer a payment plan. This shows flexibility and willingness to work with them.

Following up is not a one time thing. I follow up at least 2-3 times before I initiate a late payment charge.

4.) Contact The Client Via Social Media or Phone

If the client hasn’t replied to any of your emails, there may be a chance that they haven’t been receiving your emails so contacting them through another means is always a good move. You can reach out to them via WhatsApp, Linkedin, Facebook etc. If you choose to reach the client via phone, ensure that you follow up with something written. I don’t fancy discussing anything money related via phone so if you must, make sure you send your client an email recapping your phone conversation.

A simple template is:

“Hello [Client Name],

It was nice catching up today.

To recap: We agreed that:

  • List one thing you agreed on
  • Another thing your agreed on

And so on”

As a virtual assistant, you must always leave a paper trail. If it’s not documented, it didn’t happen. Needless to say, it is important to remain professional no matter the platform you contact them through.

5.) Initiate The Late Payment Charge

Some virtual assistant clients would keep promising to pay and you will realize months later that they just keep shifting the goal post. I have found that it’s just a delay tactic to wear you out and make you reconsider if it’s even worth the chase. A lawyer advised me to initiate the late payment charge as early on as possible. If the client comes around and asks you to reconsider, you may choose to forfeit it or take a percentage for your troubles. However, it is important to do exactly what your agreement says you should do.

6.) Employ the Services of a Debt Collector

Debt collectors exist. Most of the Nigerian virtual assistants I tell about debt collectors tell me they are learning about it from me. So if this is the first time you are learning about them, you’re not alone. You can use a debt collector to recover payments from a virtual assistant client in another continent. However you must note that it involves several steps. 

First, you’ll need to evaluate the debt to ensure that it is a substantial amount of money to justify the cost of hiring a debt collection agency. Next you need to gather all necessary documentation, including agreements/contracts, invoices, communication records (emails, social media chats, recordings etc), and any payment promises made by the client. See why I said it is important to leave a paper trail? I’ll be the first to say I prefer these conversations over email because no one can delete any evidence. It’s a different case on social media because stuff can be deleted or edited before you even take a screenshot.

You’ll have to research international debt collection agencies, and look out for those that specialize in international debt collection. Check the agency’s reputation, ask questions, google is your friend here, find out their success rate, and reviews from other clients etc. 

Once you are comfortable with your findings, take time to understand the fee structure.

Open your eyes and read the next sentence twice. 

Most agencies work on a contingency basis. This means they’ll take a percentage of the recovered amount. So if you don’t want to give a portion of your money away, avoid them.

Some agencies may charge upfront fees and others take a percentage and make the client pay it in addition to whatever they owe you, so go this route if this is your jam. 

So if a client owes you $5,000 and the agency charges 10% of the amount owed, your client would pay $5,500. So you’d get your $5,000 while they get $500. I recommend you add it to your agreement if it’s not there.

I prefer agencies that work on a contingency basis if their percentage is reasonable or the client pays their fee. This is because they don’t get paid if I don’t get paid so in my books, that’s a win-win.

Please note that:

Debt collection laws vary from country to country so you’ll want to familiarize yourself with local laws and regulations. This is why I recommend a collection agency that specializes in international debt collection because they are usually knowledgeable about the legal framework in different countries. You want people who will comply with international regulations, including the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) if applicable.

Depending on the collection agency you choose to work with, you’ll need to have an initial consultation and provide them with all relevant details and documents you have. After that, you’ll be required to sign an agreement with the agency that outlines the terms and conditions, including fees and the process they will follow.

The collection agency will typically start with a series of demand letters and phone calls to your virtual assistant client, and may negotiate with the client to arrange a payment plan or settlement. Some even meet the client in person at their job or home. They’ll do everything legal to make sure you get paid. If necessary, the agency may take legal action in the client’s country and handle this process, including court appearances if required.

That’s wild. I know!

All you’ll need to do after handing over the reins to a collection agency is to stay in touch in order to receive regular updates on the progress of the collection efforts and keep all correspondence and reports from the agency for your records. Once the debt is recovered, the agency will deduct their fee and transfer the remaining amount to you. Ensure you receive an invoice from the agency detailing their fees and the amount recovered.

As a business owner, it is important to review the entire process and evaluate the agency’s performance and see if it’s a path you’d want to thread again. Using a debt collector can be an effective way to recover unpaid invoices when you’re dealing with late payment or no payment.

7.) Take Legal action. 

If steps 1 to 6 don’t work or you don’t want to use a debt collector, get a lawyer to draft a letter. A letter from a lawyer may make the client see that you are serious about getting paid and compel the client to contact you and at least work out a payment arrangement. 

However, if the amount the client owes you is not worth the stress or even your legal fees, then you might want to cut your losses, learn your lesson, move on and take better measures to ensure it never happens again. 

Wrapping Up

I learned this the hard way. Don’t continue to provide services to a client who has outstanding payments. Even if they promise to pay. Hopefully, at least one of these will work for you. Then put some terms in place for future purposes. Use your experience to improve your future payment processes by requesting part or full payment upfront for future projects. Ensure that your virtual assistant agreement clearly outlines payment terms, deadlines, and penalties for late payments. Never let things deteriorate into social media fights or any kind of abuse even if the client deserves your wrath.

If you are serious about setting up your virtual assistant business the right way, you’ll love my membership platform for new and aspiring virtual assistants. I teach step by step how to handle different client issues, how to set up your business and get paid early.

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