This post was written by Jennifer Parris, career writer at FlexJobs, the award-winning site for telecommuting and flexible job listings. FlexJobs lists thousands of pre-screened, legitimate, and professional-level work-from-home jobs and other types of flexibility like part-time positions, freelancing, and flexible schedules. Jennifer provides career and job search advice through the FlexJobs Blog and social media. Learn more at www.FlexJobs.com.
You land a plum writing assignment from your favorite magazine/newspaper/website. You do your research, go through several drafts, and craft what you consider to be a masterpiece. (In other words, you nailed the story.) You submit the piece to your editor, who sings your praises and thanks you for your hard work—and for also handing the story in on time, too. He promises that you’ll receive payment ASAP.
And then, nothing.
You wait, and wait, and wait. Days roll into weeks, which then turn into months, and you still haven’t gotten paid. Sadly, this is a fairly common occurrence for freelance writers. While it shouldn’t discourage you from continuing your freelance writing career, there are ways to protect yourself from clients who take forever to fork over the cash. Here’s how to make sure that you get paid as a freelance writer.
Get it in writing.
The single best way to protect yourself (and your work) is to have a contract between you and your contact. In the contract, it should include the story title, story tips, word count, the deadline, a kill fee should the article be rejected, the amount due to you, and most importantly, when you can expect payment. Magazines might not pay until they publish your article, and if the magazine has a long lead time, that may mean you’ll be waiting months to receive a check.
Connect with your contact.
Let’s say that you only had a verbal agreement with your editor, or you simply don’t have a contract in place. While a verbal agreement can be harder to prove in court, it doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily lose your earnings, either. It may simply be that your editor forgot to process your payment. After all, you don’t want to threaten legal action when it could have simply been an oversight. So before you panic, reach out to him by email first. This way, you are establishing a traceable history of trying to recoup your payment. In your email, you should be nice, courteous, and above all, professional. You can say how much you enjoyed working on the story (and working with your editor), and mention that you haven’t received payment yet. You should then ask when you can expect it, and then follow up with a phone call a few days later if you don’t receive a response.
If a week or two has gone by since your initial email/phone call reminder and you haven’t heard anything, it’s time to send a second invoice. Be sure to write “second invoice” on the invoice to show that this isn’t the first time you sent in an invoice. In addition to the invoice, you should write a letter to your editor as well. You should mention that you sent an email on X date and followed up with a phone call on X date, and haven’t heard back. State that while you liked writing the story, you really need to know when you may expect the payment, since it has been X number of weeks/months since the article was submitted. If time has passed since your second invoice (about a month or so), you should definitely call again to find out what’s going on. If there is a business manager on staff, you can reach out to him directly to see if he has received your invoice.
If you still don’t hear back from your editor—or feel that you’re getting the runaround—it’s time to prepare for battle, er, a potential lawsuit. Remember the invoices you’ve emailed? That was the beginning of creating a paper trail that you could potentially use if you needed to in court. Now, it’s time to get real. Send a final invoice/notice via certified mail stating that if you don’t hear back from your editor by a certain date, you’ll be forced to take legal action against them and file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. Your final date should be approximately two weeks from the date that you send out your certified letter. In some cases, the threat of legal action can be enough to prompt a client to cough up the cash.
Make a decision.
At this point, it’s been months since you submitted your story and you haven’t received payment. In some cases, the editor may have even had the audacity to publish it, which will irk you all the more. While you’ve taken the necessary steps to file a complaint against him, you have to decide if it’s worth it to you—literally. A small claims case may take months to get through the system and even longer for you to get a court date. At this stage, you probably won’t work for this company again, but you should still try to leave the freelance writing gig tactfully.
That’s why you have to weigh if all of this effort, stress, and energy are worth it for whatever amount you were to receive for your story. Even if you are able to prove your case and win, there’s never a guarantee that you’ll receive your payment. Most people who plan to sue at this point do it more for the principle than anything else, and you may be successful and receive what’s due to you. Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine how much more of your time you want to invest in this issue.
Many freelancers face the issue of nonpayment from their clients at one point or another in their writing career. While freelancing might be the right career for you, be sure to work with reputable companies and always get a contract, no matter how big (or small) the article will be. Sometimes those simple steps can prevent a lot of unnecessary stress and will ensure that you’ll be paid for your work—every time.