Look, I just want to be paid please

Last month I was treeeeeemendously busy. This wasn’t just work work. It was admin work. That is, when you work a lot, you have to keep track of it.

It took me about half a day to sort out the invoices alone, plus, given recent scares, chasing accounts departments for assurances that monies will be paid before the end of the month. As Yul Brinner would have said “Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.”

So, imagine my surprise and delight when the end of the month comes and goes and no one pays me?

Thing is, it’s a tough old time for everyone but I have a strong feeling larger companies are more able to absorb non-payments than freelancers. For me, it’s fairly simple: I borrow money off a mortgage lender so that I can live in my house; I work for people who pay me; I pay the mortgage lender back so that I don’t get thrown out of said house.

You can probably spot the difficulty here. If the people I work for don’t pay me, I can’t pay the mortgage lender, and I get thrown out of my house. I think the same sort of thing happened to a lot of banks, albeit on a slightly larger scale and with less accountability.

So if you have a freelancer on your books, here’s some advice in nice, easily digested bullet points:

  • If the freelancer asks for a commitment to a pay date, and you give that commitment, you need to keep it because the freelancer needs to as well. That’s why it’s called a commitment.
  • If your accounts person ‘only comes in on a Tuesday’ or ‘just got back from holiday’ – or indeed, has ‘just gone on holiday’ – this is not an excuse, especially if you’ve been copied several times on correspondence.
  • If you ‘forgot’ to forward invoices to the accounts department then you deserve to be the middle section of the Human Centipede. Talk about easily digested. Yuk.

Finally, if you think ‘it’s just us’, think again. I have just been let down by three clients and now I’m in a bit of a pickle. So I guess the fourth point should be:

  • If you forget to pay a freelancer, it’s entirely possible other clients have too. OK so it’s not a conspiracy but the net effects are similar.

Part of me wants to get even and list the clients’ names publicly on this site, particularly the miscreant who has now let me down twice in a row. But that would be foolish in the extreme. Or would it? Comments and/or large sums of money here please.

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10 thoughts on “Look, I just want to be paid please

  1. A familiar tale, mate, I think we’ve all been there. As a single parent, I find it incredibly hard – if my clients don’t pay me, then there is literally NO cash to pay the mortgage, there’s no buffer, and what I pay in additional bank charges tends to reduce my earnings by 10% per annum, depressingly.

    Naming and shaming is pointless unless you’re completely sure you’ll never want to work for that company again, and in some instances, that’s an understandable decision.

    My tips are:

    – If doing any work over a certain amount or time period then I insist on stage payments so I’m not being let down by 5k, but only 1k, for example.

    – I always ensure I have at least three different clients per month – it reduces the risk of being reliant on one accounts department although, as you know, it doesn’t eliminate it entirely.

    – When sending invoices, I always add, “Can you ping me a quick reply to let me know this landed?” so I can later confirm exactly when the invoice was delivered. With clients I know are bad payers, I also email them a week before the payment due date so I can get a confirmation of the payment schedule in writing.

    – If it comes to it, I have visited offices to collect cheques in person (and sometimes the threat of so doing is enough to galvanise people)

    – I also know of some freelancers who offer a 5% discount for prompt payment of invoices. I don’t do that but I absolutely do add on late payment charges and penalties when I’m paid late, and I’ve never had any problems in that regard.

    • Hi Brendan,

      Have you thought about factoring? A company “buys” your debts/invoices, they guarantee you a certain sum to be paid on time (if memory serves me right, it’s around 75%) and then they take a commission on the final sum paid – likely to be around 5%. Sounds a lot but 5% is cheap compared to losing out on payments. You spend that 5% just in the time you take to chase people up. Customers generally don’t mess factoring companies around as they know they have the financial muscle to take them all the way if they want their money back…

      I have heard of some other freelancers using an escrow type system for bad payers/new clients. You agree your rate, the money is left in escrow and released if both parties are satisfied. Again, a small fee applies but it is worth it if it means getting paid.

      Finally, no business wants a CCJ against their name as it can drastically affect their credit rating and credit worthiness. It is easy to make a claim online against a company. Google “moneyclaimonline” and it should take you to the government site. The court will issue an order to your debtor to pay within a fixed time. If they fail to do so, they get a CCJ against their name. T

      • Sorry, I submitted that while in full typing mode!

        Was going to say, that this is a highly effective means of getting bad debts paid, albeit that it usually prevents further working relationships in the future with the company concerned.

        My source for all this – 18 years running successful small businesses, priding myself on having little or no bad debt…

  2. Hi Sally,

    Good points all. I might consider the stage payments in future. In my case it’s actually four clients this month, although one of them I’d already written off as a bad debt. 😦

  3. Hi Nick,

    Wow, that’s pretty full-on! Good advice, although I might leave it a while before I get out the nukes. The bad debt wasn’t a big deal – one hour’s worth of work done for a client who, I got to realise over the previous six months, didn’t know his arse from his elbow (and we’re back to Human Caterpillar – gotta get that image out of my head). So I’m more than happy to let that one go.

    But yes, given that this time it was in total a fairly hefty four-figure sum that didn’t make it to my account, next time around I might be a bit less forgiving. Apart from anything it takes yet more time to hunt these people down, plus, well, it makes you far less well-disposed towards them in the future. It’s a relationship, and they’re the ones screwing it up, right?

  4. As a fellow freelance copywriter, I feel your pain. I haven’t yet found an adequate solution to the old 50/50 deposit stand-off. I have to hand over the work in full before getting the other 50% of my pay – but there’s no guarantee the client will pay up. It’s not like being a web designer, where you refuse to put the site live until being paid in full…

    Does anyone have any suggestions? It’s only usually one in ten clients that cuts and runs (I can usually spot them a mile off, and don’t take the work in the first place) but it all adds up.

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  6. @Alistaire – I still find it incredible that this happens. I have to say it’s something I never even considered when I went freelance.

    @Wadds – It’s just seriously bad practice to do this to suppliers. Imagine if you said to clients “Oh, sorry, we forgot.” You’d lose the account pretty rapid and rightly so. I know the difference is that clients pay you (good), whereas you pay suppliers (bad) but it’s just malpractice, and probably illegal.

    I’m still chasing some of the monies owed and we’re now into the second week of September. So what happens now? Do I start charging the client the admin time that I’m incurring to get paid?

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