Free Advice Friday: Excuses That Will Sink Your Writing Business

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This week, I tried doing the impossible — make more time show up between Monday and Friday. With several deadlines this week and early next week, I was looking at a disappearing weekend. Luckily, all but one project is completed. But there’s no rest coming. I have two more projects ramping up next week and the week after.

When we writers are busy like this, it’s easy to let the little details go untouched. Invoices that should have been paid lapse without notice, clients who wanted to get in touch “within the next few weeks” are temporarily forgotten, or marketing is shoved not just to the back burner but right off the stove. 

So when you get back on track, it’s almost forgivable when a client comes off with an excuse for why the payment is late or where the delayed project went.

Almost. But not really.

While the majority of clients and companies are professional in both attitude and action, there are those few who make the job more challenging than it needs to be. If you’re newer to the freelance writing world, you might be tempted to accept excuses or even the guilt trips handed to you. That is, if you don’t know what to look for.

Any freelance writer who’s been at this a while can tell you that the excuses given are common. I’m not sure if there’s a manual out there on how to behave badly as a client, but it seems some of these people are reading from the same book.

Here are excuses you as a writer should not accept:

We didn’t like the result. If this occurs before the invoice is sent, it’s legitimate. If it occurs months and a few invoices after the final product is delivered, it’s a piss-poor excuse for not paying you. If they had legitimate gripes, they had ample time to voice them. Don’t get locked into a heated battle. Simply restate the obvious — they owe you money due upon receipt of final bill. If it’s not paid, you’ll have no option but to take legal action.

I didn’t receive your invoice. This one comes three months later after you’ve attached the final late fee to the total. Why it doesn’t fly– clearly, they received this one. I had a client once chastise me for sending the invoice via email, saying he wasn’t paying the late fee because I didn’t mail it. Funny thing, though, he managed to find the one threatening litigation….

Silence. Worse is when there’s no response whatsoever to your attempts to get an answer or payment. My advice? Send a registered letter with your final invoice attached. If they don’t pay, take legal action.

We decided to go in another direction, so we won’t be using it. Just forget the invoice. Right. Forget that you just spent hours putting together the project for them, and just negate the hours you didn’t spend with other clients. If the client changes direction, that’s not on you, and it’s certainly not a good reason to not pay you.

If we like it, we’ll pay you. How about this — if you ask me to write it, you’ll pay me. I don’t work for free, nor do I hand you targeted copy that you can then claim you don’t like. Hiring a freelance writer can’t be done in stages — the writer either does the job and gets paid or doesn’t do the job at all.

Writers, what are some of the excuses you’ve received from clients who won’t pay?

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  • KeriLynn Engel August 21, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    It can be such an awkward situation asking after late payments, but I try to just focus on the fact that I'm a business!

    These are great points here, Lori. There was one time I did accept #1 (We didn't like the result) as an excuse, last year. They had already paid 50% upfront, and it was a small project fee anyway. They were terrible to work with and I dreaded every time I had to contact them. So when they refused the last invoice, I just gave up. I couldn't deal with it. For a larger amount I would have been more persistent, but in this case it just wasn't worth the hassle :/

  • Lori Widmer August 21, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    Sometimes Keri, it's so much easier, I agree. In two cases, I did what you did. I looked at the remaining amount due, decided it was too small to chase, and walked away from the trouble.

    Nothing wrong with that, either. To forego say ten working hours to chase what amounts to one working hour just isn't worth it.

  • Paula Hendrickson August 21, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    Very early on in my freelance life, fresh out of college, I stupidly waited for an editor's approval before sending the invoice. I never got paid – and never knew if they even ran the article. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid Newbie Error. That has not happened since.

    I have to admit this week has been one of those weeks where it's easy to let things slide. But today I need to finish an article and hound one person for answers for something due Monday. Luckily my editors have been really supportive and have shouldered a little of my workload – leaving me enough to keep me occupied and allowing time for me to breath.

  • Lori Widmer August 24, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    Paula, that's a common mistake. I made it, too. I remember waiting for a guy to publish a profile piece. It took me a year and a half to get the measly $200 out of him for it. But I persisted. I think I became his weekly headache. LOL

    How are you doing this week? I'm so sorry you lost your pup Lily. It's so tough to explain to non-pet people just how much pets impact our lives.

    Here's to better days for you.