I finally got paid by my late-paying client (client no. 2). The money turned up in my bank account sometime yesterday morning, a mere 21 days after the expiry of my 15-day payment terms. Four hours later, I was most amused to receive an email from my ex-client saying they no longer required my services. Hello? Did you not notice I failed to send you any copy last week? Obviously they did but it didn't occur to them that it was deliberate on my part.
Late payment is one of the hazards of being freelance. It ain't funny and it ain't clever but it goes with the territory. Some magazines or papers only pay on publication - that can be months away if your article is held over for any reason. Some publications over-commission as well, and never publish your article (this has not happened to me yet, touch wood) - I sometimes hear horror stories of hacks who filed copy 9 months earlier and are wondering, timidly, if they should ask for a kill fee. Hell, yes. If a journalist keeps their side of the deal and files the commissioned copy on time, they should absolutely invoice for it, even if it is not used.
One reason why us freelances love The Guardian so much is not because its rates are quite low, or even because of its woolly left-liberal middle-class politics. No, we love it because it pays promptly and efficiently. Get published in the Guardian and you can expect to see quids in your bank account within about 4 days of publication. If only all other publications were so considerate and took into account the fact that we have bills to pay and mouths to feed.
I dislike late payment as much as any other freelance does. I tend to be proactive, though, when it comes to getting my money. In the above case, it was a simple decision - to continue earning a regular few hundred pounds every month but deal with all the aggro of chasing invoices and - worst of all - being lied to as to why I hadn't yet been paid. Or find another client. I chose the latter.