When it comes to getting paid, freelancers are often the low men and women on the vendor totem pole. Magazines, websites and other clients think nothing of waiting months — or years in drastic cases — to settle up.
In the years I’ve been self employed, I’ve only needed outside collections help once, and I eventually got every penny. But there’ve been times I’ve waited months to get what I was owed.
In a past WordCount writer chat, a handful of writers shared how they collect past-due freelance payments. Here are some:
1. Set out payment terms.
Document assignment terms, including what you’ll be paid, before starting any work. If it’s a big project, negotiate getting paid at various work milestones, i.e., after completing 25%, 50% and 100% of the work.
2. Don’t accept payment on publication (POP) assignments.
By popular consensus, POP assignments seem to have the worst track records when it comes to timely payments, possibly because many POP stories are essays that are evergreen and can keep indefinitely.
3. Ask around.
Before saying yes to an assignment ask other writers you know if they’ve ever had trouble collecting from the publisher. Writers who belong to ASJA, Freelance Success or other writer forums can query their colleagues. Or use websites such as WritersWeekly’s Whispers and Warnings, or Wooden Horse Publishing, which frequently share news of magazines that are in trouble or going out of business.
4. Always use a contract.
If a client doesn’t have one, use this sample contract from the Freelancers Union, which includes payment terms.
5. Bill immediately.
Send an invoice right after filing an assignment, especially if you’re the forgetful type. Follow up at regular intervals.
6. Find whoever’s responsible for paying bills.
At some publciations, an editor’s involvement in payment issues ends as soon as he or she forwards an invoice to accounts payable. If you’re chasing a late payment, find out who’s responsible and contact them directly. Be the squeaky wheel!
7. Send a collections letter.
Write “a strongly worded but professional email stating that (they) must pay or cease using (your) material,” says freelancer Lisa Tabachnick Hotta. Here’s a sample collections letter from the freelance blog Men With Pens.
8. Minimize the damage.
“I have a variety of clients so I’m not dependent on 1-2 for the bulk of my income. Diversify, diversify, diversify!” says Boston freelancer Susan Johnston.
9. Take a publication to small claims court.
Every once in a while, it works, as freelancer Yael Grauer explains in this post: I Took a Deadbeat Client to Court and Won.
10. Join a union or professional writers’ group.
Grauer is a member of the National Writers Union and got help from their grievance committee for her small claims court case. ASJA and the Freelancers Union also have grievance committees.
[Flickr image by Oldmaison]