If you work as a freelance writer then it is guaranteed that you’ll be screwed out of money at some point. I have been – twice.
The first was on two proof-reading jobs. They didn’t pay the first invoice and I stupidly agreed to do a second job for them. They didn’t pay that invoice either. I eventually gave up and lost about $400 I think (can’t really remember).
Second was a ghost-writing job for a guy who fancies himself as a bit of an entrepreneur. Did preliminary work on his book, couldn’t come to agreement on fee (I have this weird thing about being paid, yeah, crazy I know) so project ended. He agreed to pay $1000 for work done so far. He didn’t pay anything.
What can you do?
Now, when you get screwed you have some options. The first thing to do is print out your invoice on paper and ring the company and ask to speak directly to their accounts department. Get a name and post the paper invoice directly to them. This may get you paid.
If that doesn’t work then don’t be afraid to send a reminder letter stating that you expect to be paid for your work. Are you worried about burning bridges? If they won’t pay you then you don’t want them as a client.
If that doesn’t work then a phone call and a hint of “I know a lot of freelancers and it would be terrible if they became aware your company doesn’t pay invoices”.
I just heard an intake of breath there. Yes, you may need to talk very bluntly to people who owe you money and you may need to threaten the reputation of their company.
There are many people who simply don’t understand how difficult they are making your life by not paying you. You can ask them to imagine what it would be like if their employer simply decided to stop paying them for months at a time. Could they make house payments, car payments, pay bills and buy food?
Depending on the amount owed to you, the next step is Small Claims Court. It’s not hard to apply and there is a lot of information on government websites walking you through it. Just make sure you follow the steps. Send the invoice by registered mail (proof they received it). Send some emails. Don’t harass but be firm with dates and expectations. Then send a letter of demand. You can download free copies on the web.
Don’t threaten anything. Simply state the facts.
Once you’ve done that – then you need to make a decision. Is the money worth pursuing it in Small Claims Court?
I’ve been pondering this myself over the $1000 owed to me. I don’t have much power over this guy apart from telling the world that he doesn’t pay invoices. This guy’s name is his brand so telling the world about him not paying would be pretty bad for him. He doesn’t seem to care so far from his utter lack of response to my requests for payment.
A contract only offers limited protection
Really, a contact is still a friendly agreement and the only benefit later is if you go to court. The main benefit up-front is to get your client thinking about money and accepting the basic premise that they have to pay you for your work. It seems a bit ridiculous that you need to get this out in the open but freelancer writers and editors seem to be one of the few classes of jobs where employers will say things like “work now for free and get paid jobs later!”. Or the “the experience is the payment!”.
Or far more insidious is the … never talking about money. Just inching along through the project and they never bring it up and when you attempt to they brush it aside.
Remember: if you work for free then you have set your future market price for that client at ZERO.
Always get some money upfront
Learn this phrase: “Sounds great! Let’s sign a contract and I’ll get started!” In your contract there needs to be an advance payment that is made upon signing. No work starts until that first payment is made.
This one step will cut out about … 80% of the people who will never ever pay you and were only stringing you along for whatever reason. You will encounter people who agree to this, sign the contract and then just can’t seem to make that initial payment. They may give you every excuse in the world as to why they can’t pay right now and can you just get started and we’ll get it sorted out mate, c’mon, it’ll be okay …. NO! No it won’t be okay. Hold firm. Simply say “I’m sorry but I can’t start work until payment is made as per the contract.”
But I’m burning bridges …
The big worry for freelance writers is that a lot of work comes from referrals and if you become known as a hard-ass then you won’t be hired. Or that once you publicise non-paying clients on your blog (like I am here) that new potential clients will assume you must be bad or they would have paid you.
I do sometimes wish there was a registry that writers could list clients on as bad debtors. Perhaps one day someone will start one and we could know ahead of time the bad clients to avoid.
The truth is that you simply don’t list these bad clients on your resume. Businesses don’t talk to each other as much as you might think and businesses who screw freelancers out of money don’t advertise it.
In the meantime, you can tell your freelancer friends who hasn’t paid you and then they’ll tell people and they’ll tell people and one day that company won’t be able to find anyone to hire.
If you want any contract advice send me a message and I can help you out.