6 Ways To Be Sure You Get Paid

by Anne Wayman

getting paidHi Anne,

What do you do about companies or other employers that do not pay?  I did several articles for someone and although they keep promising to pay, it hasn’t happened.

Thanks,

Jennifer, in comments.

Hi Jennifer,

I’m sorry you’ve not gotten paid. I suspect this happens more often in the low-pay article market than we know about. The truth is, unless you’re owed at least several hundred dollars and you know exactly where the company or individual who was supposed to pay you lives or has their office, there’s probably not much you can do.

If you are in the United States and so is the company or individual, you could file a small claims case. For small amounts of money it probably isn’t worth the time and effort. It may be best to just let it go and move on.

Here are 6 tips to help you avoid getting shafted in the future:

 

  1. Insist on some payment up front. If you’ve got some decent credits, ask for a third or half the pay upfront. This is a professional approach that does two things. You look like a professional and if they aren’t willing, they are not pros and you may want to avoid them. If you don’t have credits yet, insist on maybe five or ten percent up front.
  2. Avoid writing a sample or two. Instead, when you’re asked for a sample give them a link to other work of yours that’s published on the web. This is particularly true of low-paying article writing gigs. Asking for samples is often a way to get ‘free’ articles and they will never pay. The exception to this is writing magazine articles on spec.
  3. Get something in writing. A contract is best, and an email agreement counts.  Make sure email from them includes the price they plan to pay and how long after you submit the article before you can expect your compensation. Email provides a legal trail that may be helpful.
  4. Follow up promptly. Send an invoice along with your writing. If there’s a rewrite, send a copy of the invoice along with that. If you don’t get paid shortly, pick up the phone and call! Ask when you should expect it. It’s up to you to be proactive about your pay.
  5. Keep your communications professional. In other words, don’t beg or threaten. Begging makes you look unprofessional and never ever threaten unless you’re certain you will follow through. Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t give them a warning and one more opportunity to pay before you take it to collections or small claims court. 
  6. Add a penalty for late payment. Your invoice should show some sort of penalty, maybe five-ten percent, that will be added if the it isn’t paid by x days after it’s due. Again, this is the way a professional acts, so be professional.

The more professional you are, the more you treat your writing like a business, the fewer problems you’re likely to have.

Got a question about freelance writing? Contact me and I’ll do my best to get it answered here.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Maurer May 14, 2013 at 9:58 am

I’ve found that the easier you can make it for the client to pay, the more likely and more quickly they will pay.

I have several out of country clients, including one in Germany. I use PayPal for invoicing and payment. Since they send the invoice, keep track of payment and handle currency conversions, I find the small fee well worth it.

Furthermore, when the client gets the invoice all they have to do is click the Pay Now button to make immediate payment. If they don’t pay immediately, you can send a reminder notice, again, through PayPal.

Many companies are more than willing to make payments via PayPal or some other service. Of course, some still prefer the old dinosaur of payment by check.

Your invoice can contain the terms of payment.

Here’s an idea to ponder and I wonder if anyone else has tried this, especially with new clients. Instead of charging a late fee, give a discount for early or quick payment. Build the late fee into the overall fee. This works mainly for people who bill after the final deliverable.

I agree with Jen that many clients will pay up front, either all or a portion of it. If using a split payment, have the second payment due at the final deliverable or final draft. Then follow your revision policy. If they haven’t paid but have asked for a revision, stick to your guns. Let them know you would be happy to make the changes after the final payment arrives.
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annew May 14, 2013 at 10:27 am

Steve, I’m using Paypal more and more and have always liked it for out of the US clients… and paypal invoicing is a snap. And you’re absolutely right… the easier it is for the client the better – and a simple click is great.

Knock on wood department. I have very few late pay situations… I suspect discounts for early or immediate pay could work… but so far I haven’t’ needed to do that. And like Jenn I usually charge at least half up front… or a large deposit on a book or other large project.

My contracts spell out clearly that if I don’t write, they don’t pay, and if they don’t pay I don’t write or revise.

Thanks – good to see you hear and I like your thinking.

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Elizabeth West March 7, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Ha, making collection calls at work sucked, but now I’m a bit glad they made me do it for a while. I know how to handle it if I have to do it in the future for myself.
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Jenn Mattern February 21, 2011 at 7:20 am

The majority of my clients pay in full up front. They’re far more willing to do that than writers tend to realize. It’s about two things: 1) building enough demand that you can always say “no” when someone tries to refuse your payment terms and 2) understanding that you are the business owner and no one but YOU gets to set those terms. When you have the confidence to set stricter terms, the payout does come. If you’re not comfortable doing that all the time, you can require full payment only for new clients on their first project so you minimize risk when taking on clients you don’t know. Remember, the buyer has ways to recover their money if they’re not happy with a project. Recovering your lost billable hours if you naively trust a company to pay up and they refuse or ignore you? A little more difficult unless you’re prepared to go to court over it.

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Suzanne February 18, 2011 at 12:59 pm

I had trouble getting paid for my first gigs as a freelancer, even though I eventually got paid, I don’t think I will be working with those clients again with out a downpayment, contract (of course), and a penalty fee for not paying on time! I used the suggestion from your newsletter to “call and keep calling until you get paid” and evenually got the check.
I have even seen freelancers suggest a “blacklist” of bad clients who systematically take advantage and don’t pay, but that is probably too extreme. Right?

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