I often hear from freelance writers who are having trouble getting paid. It turns out many are actually afraid of asking for the money that’s owed them. Could this be you?
It used to be me.
For the longest time I thought it was rude to ask for the pay that I had earned as a freelance writer. I don’t really know why. When I had jobs I expected to get paid and the one time I didn’t – I was waitressing and the paycheck bounced – I had no trouble in insisting on cash and getting it.
But when someone didn’t pay me for writing when I had expected it, or even worse, actually stiffed me, I rarely took any action toward getting paid. It was as if, on some level, I didn’t feel I deserved to be paid for something I enjoyed doing so much.
I had no idea how rare the ability to write is
It took me a long time to realize that most people don’t love to write the way I do. Nor do they find it, well, almost easy. Words flow out of my fingers onto the page and sometimes it feels like magic rather than work.
Just in case you feel even a little bit like that, let me suggest that the first bold step you need to take toward getting paid is to recognize you have a skill than most of the world doesn’t. Don’t believe me? Widen your blog reading. Pick something other than writing or blogging as your topic – cats, gardening, hair care, fly fishing… anything. Google up some blogs on a variety of non-writing topics and the chances are you’ll see several that are poorly written, and yet they’re out there for all to read. You know you can do better and that’s exactly why you got hired.
State how and when you’re to get paid in your contract
Every writing project should have a contract, even if it’s just an email summing up what you’re to do. Make sure that not only the amount you’re to be paid is clearly spelled out, but how you are to receive it (check, cash, Paypal, etc.) and when.
Getting at least some of the money up front is always a good idea. Often it’s a matter of asking. Other arrangements include half or a quarter up front with the balance to be paid at the end or on stated milestones as the project gets completed.
Getting paid means send an invoice!
You should invoice the client at each negotiated pay period. Sure, they may remember to send you a check, but often they won’t. When the person who hires you isn’t the one who actually pays you, they will find an invoice helpful to hand off to their accounts payable department, or whomever actually writes the check or pays you with Paypal or Dwolla or some other payment method.
Paypal and Dwolla let you create invoices or payment requests which works well when the client is expecting to pay you via those services.
When payment is late it’s time to get bold
If your payment is more than a couple of days late, the most direct way to getting paid is to pick up the phone. Call your client or the editor or the publisher. Keep it simple, and polite, saying something like “I haven’t received my payment yet… are you the one I need to talk to about that?” Then wait for their answer.
You don’t need to explain yourself in any way. You’ve done the work, you deserve to be paid. By asking if the client or the editor is the one to talk with you’re avoiding accusing them of not paying. Instead your finding out who you should talk with – that’s all.
If it’s the client, they will probably admit they are the bottleneck and tell you what you need to do. You might, for example, be asked to resend the invoice, or send a copy to accounting… any number of things.
Do what they suggest and ask how long before you should expect payment. The day after it was due, start the calls again. If you were told to contact accounts receivable, do so. If your clients are part of a big organization, AR can be your best friend.
Don’t hesitate to tell them you’re going to add a late charge. In fact that should be on your invoice. “A late fee of 10% will be charged” will put them on notice. Then re-invoice them the higher amount clearly showing the late fee.
Should you go to court?
The legal options you have are pretty limited. Generally if the amount you’re owed is $5,000 or less you’re option is small claims court. If it’s more you may want to sue. But filing a lawsuit is expensive and doesn’t always work. You’re often much better off if you can avoid court and just keep calling and invoicing until they pay.
How do you handle getting paid?
Write well and often,
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