Freelancing and self-employment are not for the faint-hearted. Along with the joy of being your own boss, you’ll also have the “fun” of being your own payroll clerk, accounts receivable department, and occasionally a collection agency.
How do you make sure you’ll get paid?
1. Screen your potential clients well. Look for any hint of problems, and don’t ignore red flags or a gut feeling if something feels “off.”
In my many years of self-employment/freelancing, I’ve only once had a problem getting paid. Ironically, it wasn’t in my early days, it was recently.
I have to take some responsibility for this because the organization that hired me showed me a few red flags right up front that I ignored.
It was a content mill, for one thing, a fairly recent development in the world of freelance writing. Content mills churn out those often badly written “how-to,” list articles, and lightweight blog posts that make up so much of the internet these days. Content mills generally don’t pay well, but if you are building a portfolio or need to refresh your portfolio fast, this is one way to do it. In my case, I held out for work that would either pay reasonably well or let me add something to my skills set such as SEO editing.
The red flags came fast and furious. The managing editor regularly sent out mass emails for work to be done that she needed back, often within two hours. The compensation for dropping everything to crank out a blog post on industrial laundry? A whole $7.50.
The first draft of work I submitted received no feedback or even acknowledgement – it was as if it had gone into a great big hole somewhere. I couldn’t even tell if the work had been received.
The next work I submitted came back with accusations of plagiarism. I was stunned, and sick at the accusation. It turned out the work they had sent me for editing had actually been plagiarized, long before I came into the picture. There was never any apology offered; nor did anyone take any responsibility for not screening the material.
After the plagiarism accusation, I went to Indeed.ca where there are reviews of employers. I soon found a long list of grievances from writers, and one of the common complaints was, guess what. Not getting paid.
The moral of the story is an old saying I heard growing up: if you lie down with dogs, you’ll get up with fleas. There is plenty of work to be had. Don’t settle. Don’t work for free, either. Here’s a great article on what to say when you’re asked to work for free.
Even if you’re about to do work for a friend, or a friend-of-a-friend, a work agreement is crucial. It should include your fee, what you will deliver, when you will deliver it, when you expect payment, how you wish to be paid, and to me, most crucially, how many changes/edits/versions you will be willing to make.
When you engage in work without a work agreement to limit the number of versions included in your fee, you’re setting yourself up for potentially dozens of edits and “little changes” once you’ve delivered the work.
3. Request a deposit
When you’re negotiating your rate, include a requirement for a deposit before you start. If the client balks, you’ll have dodged a bullet.
When You Don’t Get Paid
This article on Entrepreneur.com gives some good advice on getting paid.
I also want to give a shout-out to a friend of mine named Lisa Jibson, who does a lot of interesting things through her company The Ross Street Agency. She’s a whirlwind who can help with anything from government relations to setting up a home office to helping people navigate red tape.
Most of us can’t afford to hire a collection agency, but Lisa can help with something she politely calls “accounts receivable follow-up.” If you’re owed money, get in touch with Lisa through her website.
When all else fails, you can learn from the experience — and even use it to write a great blog post.
Stephanie Regan is a guest blogger. She has been a writer, editor and communications specialist since 1997. Her skills are occasionally for hire through her website Durham Writing Services.
The views expressed here don’t necessarily reflect the beliefs of the members of the Zonta eClub of Canada1 or Zonta International.