When Sue quit her job as a features writer in a local media house to go out on her own, she had big dreams for the future. “I quit after six years of working in the magazine business. I wanted to be in charge of my own time and focus on my personal projects. I had my expectations in check; I knew that income for freelancers can be irregular, but I was prepared for the change,” she says.
She had made necessary changes around her lifestyle in the wake of a new financial reality. When she got her first gig, she was excited. “I did the work and I did it well. The editor loved it… so much that she assigned me another story,” Sue says.
She was so excited that she didn’t ask about the terms of payment. “The editor was a friend of mine, so I felt rather uneasy bringing that up. Money is a difficult subject to bring up. And I was too grateful for the gig,” Sue says.
When she finally did ask about the terms of payment, she was told she would get paid the same month her story ran. Six months later, nothing. “It was a terrible experience wondering if I should put my foot down and demand for pay which kept accumulating because I’d been taking other assignments, or just walk away – something I couldn’t do at the moment because I needed the money. I wasn’t sure if the delay was deliberate or not. I wasn’t sure when or if I was even going to get paid. At some point, I figured I’d made a terrible decision by quitting my job.”
You might find yourself in Sue’s situation, whatever your motivation for freelancing. One of the challenges freelancers face is delayed payment. You get a gig, do the work, send an invoice and you go unpaid for a long while.
“As a freelancer, you face challenges that staffers don’t. And while companies get slammed with penalties if they don’t make their payroll, no such protections safeguard freelancers from deadbeat clients,” says Sara Horowitz, author of The Freelancer’s Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Have the Career of Your Dreams on Your Terms.
The worst part – money is an uncomfortable subject. Negotiating how much you want or demanding for pay can be hard for many, especially if you think doing so would rock the boat. Here’s how to protect yourself.
Have A Written Contract:
Have a written contract that specifies the terms of payment, even if the client is a friend. It protects both you and the person you’re rendering your services or goods to. This should specify how, when and how much you’re getting paid. It should also specify the interest you’ll be paid for overdue payments
Bill a certain percentage up front, or halfway through the project. If it’s a flaky client, let them know that they have to stick to the contract for you to deliver the service or goods.
Invoice Promptly And Often:
Sometimes, the problem is you. Don’t send a late invoice and expect to be paid on time. Make it easy for your client to pay you by providing all the details required in the invoice. Make sure to keep a copy of the invoice.
Email A Reminder:
Send a friendly and firm email when pay is overdue. Be polite but assertive. Sometimes, things fall through the cracks.
Issue A Statement:
So you’ve called or emailed a reminder and still haven’t been paid? Send a statement to the accounts department which indicates the date of the invoice, a description of the work you did and the amount owed. If you’ve done everything by the book and still haven’t gotten paid, have a lawyer send the client a letter. Usually, they pay at this point. Note: Before you sue, weigh your options. Is the overdue pay worth the cost of suing? If it’s not, suing will only cost you more time and money.