As a small business owner, you’ve probably streamlined your business accounting software down to a science: You know exactly how to create your invoice, and you send it out immediately after completing a job. Despite your organization, however, it’s pretty much inevitable that a few of your customers will fail to send in their invoices on time. And, when that day comes, you’ll probably wonder how to send a payment reminder professionally.
If a client doesn’t pay you on time, you might be tempted to let that delinquency slide to avoid confrontation. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, you might feel like you need to be a little too harsh when you send that late payment reminder email.
How do you strike that balance, then? What’s the best way to send a polite payment reminder email that’s firm enough to get you the compensation you need for your hard work? (And, not to mention, for tax purposes, since it’s not always possible to write off unpaid invoices.)
We take the guesswork out of the occasionally uncomfortable, but crucial, task of requesting late payments from delinquent customers. These five professional payment reminder email templates will help you feel like you have a handle on your late payments—even if you need to get to Red Alert Status—and, hopefully, get you your balance due.
And, if sending late payment reminder emails still makes you cringe, we’ll show you a few methods on how to prevent late payments in the first place.
How to Ask for Late Payment in an Email: 5 Email Templates to Follow
The best practice, of course, is for your customers to send payment immediately after receiving your invoice. However, “best practices” is never guaranteed. So, if you’re waiting on a bill from a job you completed weeks ago, and you’re worried about a late payment, it’s smart not to wait for that late payment to occur. Rather, send your first follow-up email a week before the payment due date.
Then, if you’re facing a late payment, you’ll need to continue sending follow-up emails until you receive your bill.
Asking for late payment can be tough, but the key is to modulate your tone across these reminder emails. You’ll need to be equal parts polite and firm—but, depending on how late that payment is, your tone may need to tip in one direction more than the other.
We’ll show you exactly what to write, and when to hit send:
1. Initial Reminder: One Week Before the Bill Due Date
Email subject: Follow-up on invoice #10237
Hi John Doe,
I hope you’re well. This is just to remind you that payment on invoice #10237, which we sent on March 25th, will be due next week.
I’m sure you’re busy, but I’d appreciate if you could take a moment and look over the invoice when you get a chance. Please let me know if you have any questions.
- Why this payment reminder works: Your first reminder should be short, friendly, and informative. There’s no need to bother your customer with too much information, and you don’t need to request payment straight away as the bill isn’t due yet. In this email, the customer should recognize that you regularly track your invoices, so you’ll get back in touch with them if they don’t send their bill on time.
2. Second Reminder: On the Day the Payment is Due
Email subject: Invoice #10237 is due today
Hi John Doe,
This is just a reminder that payment on invoice #10237 (total $5,400), which we sent on March 25th, is due today. You can make payment to the bank account specified on the invoice.
If you have any questions whatsoever, please reply and I’d be happy to clarify them.
- Why this payment reminder works: This is one of the most important emails in the sequence, since you’re requesting your first call to action to your customer to make their payment. It should be short, straight to the point, but still friendly—that bill isn’t technically overdue yet!
3. Third Reminder: One Week After Late Payment was Due
Email subject: Invoice #10237 is one week overdue
Hi John Doe,
Our records show that we haven’t yet received payment of $5,400 for Invoice #10237, which is overdue by one week. I would appreciate if you could check this out on your end.
If the payment has already been sent, please disregard this notice. And if you’ve lost this invoice, please let me know, and I’d be happy to send you another copy.
- Why this payment reminder works: This is the first email addressing that the invoice is overdue, so you’ll want to start firming up your tone. Include details about the invoice such as invoice number, amount due, and repayment timeframe for a clearer reminder of what the customer owes, and when they owed it. Also offer a copy of the invoice, as sometimes they do get lost or accidentally deleted.
4. Fourth Reminder: Two Weeks After Late Payment was Due
Email subject: Invoice #10237 is two weeks overdue
Hi John Doe,
I wrote to you several times to remind you of the pending amount of $5,400 for invoice #10237. As another reminder, payment was due two weeks ago.
If you have any queries regarding this payment, please let me know. I’ve also attached a copy of the invoice to this email, in case the original was lost or deleted.
Could you reply to this message and let me know you’ve received it? Thank you.
- Why this payment works: Okay, now it’s time to get more direct. In this email, you should clearly ask for payment, and ask the client to confirm whether they have received the message. That way, they have one less excuse to ignore your email.
5. Fifth and Final Reminder: One Month After Late Payment was Due
Email subject: Invoice #10237 from 3/25 is overdue—please send payment ASAP
Hi John Doe,
This is another reminder that I have yet to receive the $5,400 owed on invoice #10237. Please be aware that, as per my terms, I may charge you additional interest on payment received more than 30 days past its due date.
Again, please reach out if you have any questions on this payment. Otherwise, please organize for settlement of this invoice immediately.
- Why this payment reminder works: At a full month overdue, and several ignored attempts to reach out to the customer, you’re entitled to take a tougher approach about reclaiming your compensation. But don’t let it get personal. Making accusatory statements toward your customer undermines your professionalism.
What If Email Reminders for Late Payments Don’t Work?
If you still haven’t received payment after a full month, it’s time to step out from behind the email curtain and call your client directly. First of all, it’s possible that your client changed email addresses, or accidentally provided you with an incorrect email address. Or, if you’re working with a larger institution, you may be sending your invoice requests to the wrong person or department.
Either way, it’s always more effective to speak directly with your client, person to person, than it is to send an email. That way, you’ll give them the firm but kind reminder they need to pay up, and hear their side of the story firsthand.
A Better Strategy? Prevent Late Payments in the First Place
Even with these email templates to arm you, you still might feel a little uncomfortable chasing down your customers for their money. So, the best way to avoid that discomfort is to prevent the possibility of late payments in the first place.
Implement these invoicing tips upfront, as they may help you avoid late payments down the line.
- Be honest: If you’re at all concerned about the possibility of being paid late, gently make your client aware of your repayment terms either before or right after signing on for a job. That way, you won’t leave it up to chance that your customer will (carefully) read your repayment terms when they receive their first invoice.
- Be clear about your timeframe: Often, business owners write “Due upon receipt” as their repayment terms on their invoices. But that’s a little vague, and it leaves too much room for your customers for incorrect interpretation. Instead, clearly indicate your repayment timeframe in terms of days, e.g. “Due 30 days after receipt.”
- Charge interest on late payments: Just as you’re privy to interest charges on late business credit card payments, your clients can also be held financially accountable for paying you late. Clearly indicate the terms of your interest charges directly on your invoice. If you’re not sure how much to charge for late payments, first read up on best practices when including finance charges on your invoice.
→TL;DR: To prevent late payments, be candid with your customer about your repayment terms upfront. Then, on your invoice, clearly indicate the timeframe in which you expect to receive payment. Indicate that you’ll charge interest on late payments, too.
When You’re Dealing with Late Payments, Be Professional—And Kind
If your invoice payment is seriously overdue, it can be hard to keep your cool. After all, “doing business” means more than doing your job well. It also means receiving timely compensation for your hard work. So if you don’t receive that compensation, you’re more than entitled to be diligent about tracking that money down.
Keep in mind, though, that late payments are rarely a personal affront. Most of the time, delinquent customers have simply been busy, distracted, or dealing with an overflowing email inbox and lost or forgot about your invoice in the process.
So, whether you’re sending an initial reminder about an impending payment deadline, or if you’re checking in on the status of a weeks-late invoice payment, remind yourself that you and your customer are both human beings. And human beings make mistakes! Maintain that attitude even when you need take a firmer approach toward reclaiming your compensation.
If you follow the email sequence and tips above, you’ll definitely notice your overdue invoice pile going down. But you’ll also ensure that you’re establishing and preserving trust between you and your client, which, in the long run, is just as important in running a successful small business.
Written by Mark Thomasson