10 April 2008

More payment woes

This seems to have been the week for payment problems among quite a few freelance friends. On quite a few of the forums/email groups I use, it has been a hot topic of late. For me, this was the week that I finally saw clearance of a payment that was due to me at the start of March. That particular client has now been dropped, even though I was offered a regular contract.

My payment terms are a bog-standard 30 days and I apply this to all clients for whom I edit, proofread or do commercial writing. It's rather different when it comes to journalism - often it's payment on publication, which might be weeks away. Some papers pay at the end of the following the month of publication, which is even worse. There are some good payers around, including a national that pays within 30 days of the date on the invoice, and some small magazines that do actually understand that freelances need to eat and pay bills.

This particular client has a policy of 42 days from commission. I agreed to these terms because it all seemed very straightforward and there was plenty of work on offer. And the publisher was what you might call an international institution. So I grafted and filed and waited. And waited. And waited. And 17 days after my money was due, I was still waiting. So I sent an email asking why I hadn't been paid as promised. Back came the reply apologising for the delaying and saying my invoices had been prioritised. This was followed by the offer of a contract.

A fortnight later I was still waiting, so I fired off a polite but angry mail saying how very disappointed I was to still be awaiting payment (and rejecting the contract). This being an overseas client, I next received notice of an e-cheque being paid into my PayPal account. The cheque took 6 days to clear, bringing my wait for payment to a grand total of 13 weeks. Worse, as well as the small fee PayPal took for allowing me to receive funds, the publisher charged me a fee to get paid, which was subtracted from the cheque. It wasn't a huge amount but I find the notion of being charged an admin fee to be paid highly objectionable. And it's not as if this international institution couldn't afford a few dollars.

You can see why I dropped this client.

Bad payment practices are rife in this industry, which is why I post about them so often. I've been fortunate in not having any clients who didn't pay at all. I'm ruthless about dropping clients who think it's fine to delay payment for as long as they can get away with it - I will never work for them again once payment has finally cleared. And I'm wary of new clients too - for commercial writing work I almost always ask for a deposit upfront.

It's awful to have to be so suspicious of clients because I want to be able to trust them. Experience shows, though, freelances need to have their radar on constantly.


Juliet said...

Just got paid for work completed last October! Client insisted invoice had been paid; client kept on insisting it had been paid; client admitted payment had in fact been made to wrong account (ie one which does not and never has belonged to me); client said they'd pay me once the mis-payment had been credited back to them by whoever it was they'd paid in error; on receipt of my response to this suggestion, client apologised and agreed to pay by return. Client is leading corporate member of SFEP and a former employer of mine. My invoices all clearly state they are payable on 30 days. Suspect that if client's accounts dept staff had to chase as long and hard for their monthly salary payments they would leave in droves. But it's OK to treat freelancers like this, because, as previously (and oft) observed, freelancers are not human beings, do not need to eat and have no mortgages to pay or children to clothe. So it doesn't matter, then. Phew.

Unknown said...

That is an appalling tale! I wish I could say I was shocked but sadly stories about waiting for payment for 6 months are not uncommon. Hope you complained to the SfEP. Sending virtual hugs and chocolate biscuits in sympathy.