We often talk of the benefits of freelance writing, extolling on its flexibility and comfort. Something we don’t cover enough is what I call the “dark side” of freelance writing including scammers and non payers. One thing I learned over the years is how so many freelancers are embarrassed after being “stiffed” and don’t want to admit they’d been had. I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed of. The more we talk about these situations, the more ammunition we have to protect ourselves against unsavory clients.
Here’s a question for you: What do you do if a client doesn’t pay?
Clients don’t pay for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, their intentions are honorable, but they ran out of funding. Sometimes they’re counting on the writer not to pursue legal action because they don’t feel it to be worth the time, and sometimes they’re just scamming to get something for nothing. There are occasions however, when the client forgets. It’s best to give your client the benefit of the doubt. At least at first.
When I worked in publishing, I was the “check is in the mail” girl. I was the one who had to promise payment was coming, even though it wasn’t. I can tell you I wasn’t comfortable with this, and it was one of the many reasons I left publishing for good. However, it also puts me in a good position to discuss this issue with you today.
If your client misses a payment:
Check your contract. Nothing annoys a client more than if writers start nagging for payment before the agreed upon time period. For example, if payment is to be 15 or 30 days within receipt of the finished product, and you’re looking for payment the day after submitting your work, your client won’t feel the love. Wait until that period is over and then:
- Issue a gentle reminder – Don’t demand payment. Instead send a copy of the invoice or a past due notice. Give it one week to ten days.
- Call – After a reasonable amount of time passes, call. You will probably be able to gauge whether or not your client is putting you off by the tone of his or her voice. If you have to call more than once and never get put through to your contact, or if the client never has time to talk to you, there’s a pretty good chance he’s putting off payment …at least for a little while. If he apologizes and promises to get payment out, ask for a firm date. Make sure he knows you’re holding him to it.
- Call again – I know, this is getting to be a pain in the butt, right? Now it’s time to start getting annoying. If the client didn’t send you payment as planned, bug him. Bug him every couple of days or once a week if you need to. You did the work and you deserve payment.
- Write – Let your client know when you’re going to have seek other action. Send a copy of your letter to his supervisor, the CEO and the head of the accounting department. If this is just a person and not a business, you can’t obviously can’t do this. However, all letters sent of this nature should be certified and a return signature requested.
If they’re not paying you and keep putting you off, you can take several courses of action:
- Put a halt to any work and future work you’re doing for this client: If they’re not paying you for past jobs, your chances of being paid for subsequent opportunities are slim to nil. Ask yourself if you should continue writing for this client, or put off work at least until you’re paid.
- Offer a payment plan: If your client is short on funds and you have a good relationship with her, offer a payment plan. It might be easier for her to pay $50 per week for one month instead of a lump payment of $200.
- Take it over his head: If your client isn’t the head honcho, you may have to go over his head. Find out who else to talk to. Contact a V.P or the person in charge of accounting. They may not even be aware you’re having problems.
- Threaten legal action: Many clients will count on your not having the time, money or inclination to seek legal recourse. They’re right. Not many freelancers wish to take legal action. They don’t want to deal with court fees or attorneys. Small claims court will allow a judge to hear your side if the amount in arrears is under $3000. You don’t need to contract an attorney for small claims court and you can request your client pay any court fees if you win. Yes, it takes time, but it also sends the message you’re not someone to be messed with.
- Report them: Let your client know that you will report him to the Better Business Bureau, Ripoff.com and offer warnings among the freelance writing community if he doesn’t pay. Anyone who doesn’t want his name tarnished will pay up immediately.
You deserve to receive compensation for your work. If you’re not receiving payment you can always write it off as, “Oh well…I’m only out $500” or you can say, “This person took up my time and best effort and I deserve to receive payment for my hard work.” Don’t worry about burning bridges. Clients who don’t pay aren’t so concerned about a good relationship, after a certain point this should be the least of your concerns as well.
If you’re not paid and you let it go, you’re only paving the way for other writers not to get paid. Moreover, you’re going to earn yourself a reputation as a pushover. Trust me, I know. I worked for someone who counted on pushovers. Those who didn’t make a big fuss fell through the cracks. As far as I know, they’re still hanging out there today.
Have you ever been ripped off by a client? How did you handle it?