Getting Paid

What’s on the iPod: Uprising by Muse

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Good day yesterday. I finished a case study draft, worked through some project parameters with the client via phone, and got a little marketing done. Today, articles to write (small ones, amen), and more marketing. January is looking good, but I want it to look great.

This month’s theme of contracts, rates and payment continues. Today, payment. More specifically, how are you going to get paid? If you’ve been at this a year or a decade and a year, payment is as important as writing talent. The savvy freelance writer will have a contingency for every situation. 

Payment should always be contracted. I hate using the word never, but this is one area in which I feel that strongly. Never let payment be this ambiguous agreement between two people. Have it written. I prefer (strongly recommend) contracts for everything, but if you feel okay with email confirmation, that’s your choice. Just get it in writing somewhere. 

Your payment plan should reflect the job. You wouldn’t ask for an upfront payment for a small magazine gig, but you should if you’re working on a longer-term project. Figure your total payment, then split it into either half or thirds. Bill at the outset of the project, and particularly for a new client, get the check in hand before starting any work.

Payments should stretch across the project. Suppose you sign on for a four-month project. You secure a third up front, but do you really want to wait until those four months are up to collect? Set some midway point in the project, state it in the contract, and invoice on that date.

Payment plans should spell out when the end has arrived. I made this mistake early on with a book project that lasted just under a year and a half. Make sure you have a clearly stated end date, not just “At delivery of final product” because guess what? That product can come back six times in the next year and a half and you’ve no recourse for payment. None. Instead, try something like “At delivery of final product or June 28, 2013, whichever comes first.”

Payment terms should include additional work. Nothing is worse than finishing a project only to have it come back with a request like “I’d really rather it be half this length; and oh, could you add this one more area of concentration? Shouldn’t take you more than four days…” Your contract should spell out exactly what you’re being paid for, and mention your fee for any work over and above those items. 

Late fees should be part of your invoicing/contract process. Clients should read it in your contracts and see it reflected on the invoices — a due date and a late fee if that date isn’t met. Whether you give them 15 days or 30 to pay you, make your process consistent and practice it faithfully.

An action plan for non-payers is essential. It costs little to file in small claims court (make sure it’s in their jurisdiction –easier to enforce). It’s also relatively cheap to hire a collection agency. Know what you’ll do and when you’ll do it before you ever sign that first agreement. For added teeth, you may want to work that plan into your contract so that clients are well aware of what to expect.

Whether you decide to get paid upfront or wait until a project ends depends on you. However, protect yourself with clearly defined deadlines for payment so that you aren’t left hanging endlessly.

How do you make sure you’re paid?

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  • Paula November 28, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    Speaking of being left hanging endlessly… A couple weeks ago I asked the Late Payer AGAIN when I would finally be paid for article that ran in their September and October issues. While he replied – and said he hopes to continue working together in the future – he never answered when I'd be paid.

    If there's no check in today's mail, I'll kick it into high gear.

  • Lori November 28, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Don't ask anymore, Paula. Hand him an invoice with a late fee. And include that "collection/litigation" notice. He's dragging his heels.