Getting paid – the freelancer’s challenge

Once the excitement of making the decision to freelance passes and you get your first paying work, you need to channel some energy into making sure you’re paid promptly. Now, you’d think that the world is a nice place where submitting a nicely presented invoice, with all the details correctly completed was enough. Sadly, it’s not. While you may have lots of good clients that pay promptly, every freelance writer has horror stories of clients who don’t like parting with their cash.

Here are a few guidelines on getting paid. All of these are things I learned by experience and through listening to those who walked before me.

Although you might be grateful that all your door-knocking, cold calling and emailing has resulted in someone offering you some work, you need to understand the terms of the business engagement. Make sure you

  • Know the pay-rate
  • Understand the payment cycle
  • Invoice accurately and track payments
  • Know who to call if there’s a problem
  • Communication
  • Escalation

The Pay Rate

It might sound silly, but I’ve taken jobs where I’ve known the editor but not the publication. If the publication is new, it’s possible that the editor isn;t really sure but makes comments like “I’ll look after you”. My advice is that you need to get the rate in writing before you start.

I’ve written some notes on how you might like to consider pay rates in this recent post.

The Payment Cycle

Every publication I work for is a little different to the others. If you work for an online publication, they might run a weekly, fortnightly or monthly pay cycle. Find out!

Others will only pay either once the magazine has hit the news-stands or some period after. One of the most annoying clients I had paid 30 days after the magazine went off the shelf. While I was working regularly, it meant that I was getting a monthly payment. However, it took three months for the first invoice to be paid.

Invoice accurately and track payments

A decent invoicing system will make it easy to send the correct information to your client so that there aren’t any excuses for not paying. If your budget is modest when you start out, you can create a nice invoice template using either spreadsheet or word processing software. You can also create a register of invoices and payments so that you can track outstanding debtors.

Who you gonna call?

It’s inevitable when you’re a freelancer that a payment is going to be missed or late. Rather than just sitting there, stewing on it, contact your editor and ask what’s going on. In many cases, the person commissioning the work is not the person paying the invoices. In fact, once they pass the invoice off to the accounts people they may not know any other art of the process.

Once, I worked for a large daily newspaper and they took six months to pay an invoice. It wasn’t for a huge amount but I deserved to be paid. It turns out that I needed to fill in some form for the accounts department so they could set me up in their system. Once I found that detail out I was paid promptly. The trick was to find out who is actually in charge of the payments. In large publishing companies it’s rarely the editor.

Communication

Incredibly, even though, as writers we’re in the communication business we seem to not like talking about money. Although I’m reiterating something I’ve said earlier, if you’re not being paid, make sure you call your commissioning editor and get on to the accounts department.

Escalation

If all else fails, it’s time to call in some help. Most countries with a free press have a trade union. I suggest that you strongly consider joining. It’s not cheap (in Australia, it costs several hundred dollars per year) but one service my union offers is debt collection from tardy payers. And, unlike commercial debt collection agencies, the union doesn’t charge extra for the service – it’s covered in my monthly dues.

2 thoughts on “Getting paid – the freelancer’s challenge”

  1. I freelanced for years and one thing I always did was send my invoice with the story same day including my bank details plus Paypal details to give them plenty of options how to pay me. Any delay sending out your invoice is not in your favour!
    Pl\us, don’t forget to ask for a better rate once you’ve done a few stories – a reliable, good writer is worth the extra money.

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