Show Me The Money: What To Do When You’re Not Getting Paid for Freelance Work
Urrrgggghhh! That’s the sound every freelancer makes when the first of the month comes, rent is due and that check from the gig you did six months ago is still floating somewhere in space…or snail mail, per the editor’s last email.
Ask any freelance writer or stylist and 9 times out of 10, they’ve been there. For many of you who have followed my career on this blog, you know I’ve occupied permanent positions for the most part. But in between gigs recently, I decided to test my waters in the world of freelance.
It was invigorating. I pitched my buddies (and some strangers!) at various magazines and everyday, was a new assignment accompanied by a new adventure. Interview this person, report on this phenomenon, fill out this W-9 and turn it in on this day. Despite the snafus that any writer faces (i.e. hunting down contact info), it worked flawlessly. Until, it came time for pay.
The same editors that seemingly hunted me down for a story suddenly became M.I.A. And aside from a few established and renowned companies, my checks were overwhelmingly delayed. And sadly, I’m not alone.
Here are four tips for making sure it doesn’t happen to you:
The most obvious, and often least-used way to steer clear of money hunting is to get a referral. Ask someone who has worked with the company to tell you honestly and off-the-record how their experience was. Usually, if they didn’t get paid on time (or at all!), neither will you. This has helped me avoid major disappointment and frustration when working with several magazines in the biz. Having learned certain companies’ reputations, I either chose to work with them for exposure (not expecting a check to ever come) or move on to another publication altogether.
Wait, let’s rewind to the beginning. Be sure to always have a contract prepared whenever you are going into a business agreement with any company, even if you’re writing for your bestie. Now that that’s out of the way, you can include a timeframe of when you must be paid and an amount in your contract to show you mean business and to have a paper trail that makes the “I-owe-you’s” and “once the advertising money comes in” promises null and void.
3. GET PAID UPFRONT
When I learned that a stylist who freelanced for a popular magazine demanded her check on the day of the shoot, I saw firsthand the need to aggressively protect yourself from checks that never come. Don’t be afraid to ask for your money during or immediately after providing services. Asking for money on the spot puts pressure and most importantly, a timeline, on the company to compensate you.
4. FOLLOW UP
Let’s say you provided a contract and got a referral and asked to be paid the day of. And you still weren’t paid. Do not give up until you get your check. Let’s be honest: asking repeatedly for money—when you’re getting ducked and ignored—is annoying. But you deserve to be compensated for your work, and shouldn’t stop emailing/calling until you do. And in my experience, the workers who were persistent were the ones who got their checks cut first.
Hope this helps you freelancing Glamazons! Have any of you had a similar experience? What was the outcome? What advice do you recommend for other freelancers?