4 Ways to Collect Without a Contract

What I’m reading: Pigs Will Fly by P. G. Wodehouse

Right now, I’m in southern England, hopefully relaxing. I know I’ll be coming home to a number of client projects — I’m just not sure how many. Right now I have two, but there are at least that many more in talks right now. It’s going to be a busy return and, hopefully, a busy October.

I was talking with a local writer friend recently. She told me how she’d been stiffed by a client for a sizable amount of money — all without a contract. It was one of those times where she trusted the client (for good reasons) but they turned out to be less than honest in dealing with her. Now she’s out the money and the time spent on the project.

Or is she?

Just because there’s no legal document doesn’t mean there isn’t some form of agreement. Depending on how you handle it, you may not be out the money. Here are some ways that may save you the aggravation:

Written agreement of any sort. If you’ve discussed the project in email, you might be able to make a strong enough case for compensation. I like to get clients with whom I’m more comfortable with to give me the go-ahead or agree in writing to what I’ve spelled out in email. If you and your non-paying client have any email exchanges at all, look through them to see if there’s any formal acceptance of the project or the terms.

Recorded conversations. Mind you, if you’ve not told your clients you’re going to record the conversation, it’s not admissible in court. However, if you have their agreement on tape and their acceptance, you could have a fighting chance of collecting (remember, I’m not an attorney, so check this with a legal expert).

Your own notes. Track all communications, especially those at the end of a project. That’s when most clients go silent until you hit them with that final invoice and threats of legal action. If you’ve followed up to gauge their satisfaction, make note of it. If you’ve tried to get in touch via phone, write down when and what message you left. These notes establish a pattern on your end, and show how you tried to satisfy the client. It also can show the client’s lack of follow-through, which is good for your case.

Billed as a service. Think about it — you don’t have written contracts between you and your plumber or HVAC person, do you? You call, they respond, they bill you. You don’t pay, you still owe. Talk with a legal expert (I’m not one) or a collections agency to see what your options are.

Also, make sure to watch the client’s website/publications for a while. There’s a chance they’ll try to use your content without payment. Should that happen, you can then go through legal channels to get what’s due you.

Writers, how do you collect from a client who isn’t contracted with you?
Do you work with any clients at the moment who aren’t contracted with you?
Under what circumstances do you think a contract isn’t necessary?

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Comments

  • Cathy Miller September 10, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    Hope you're enjoying your trip, Lori. I never work without a contract. Simple, right? 😉

    I may start a project for a long-time contract before the deposit is received but they already have the contract (Statement of Work) before I do.

    Reply
  • Paula September 10, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    Most of the contracts with my regular clients span a year's worth (or more) of projects. And each assignment letter spells out the specific terms.

    On the increasingly rare occasions when I write or update resumes, the terms are stated (and accepted) in email. And when not working for a resume company, I require payment upfront.

    I'm envious of your trip, Lori. I just got off the phone with an interviewee whose in London…so at least I got to hear a British accent today.

    Reply
  • Paula September 10, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    Most of the contracts with my regular clients span a year's worth (or more) of projects. And each assignment letter spells out the specific terms.

    On the increasingly rare occasions when I write or update resumes, the terms are stated (and accepted) in email. And when not working for a resume company, I require payment upfront.

    I'm envious of your trip, Lori. I just got off the phone with an interviewee whose in London…so at least I got to hear a British

    Reply