One of my favourite comics (see above) illustrates the problem with working in a creative industry, especially as a freelancer. Often people are unaware of what it takes to produce content, and they try to pay creatives less. I, like many freelancers, have been threatened with not being paid. Luckily for me, I have yet to encounter someone who has flat out refused to pay me for my work. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen one day, but there are things I can do to try and avoid it.
So, here are just a few things I’ve learned about making sure you get paid.
Chose your clients. I can’t stress enough how important this is, especially for anyone new to freelancing. You do not have to take every client who seeks you out. I know it can be terrifying to say no, especially when you have bills to pay, but I promise you that saying an automatic ‘yes’ is never worth it. I have taken clients on that colleagues warned me about working with, and I took them on because I needed the money. It was a huge mistake. I ended up working well over the agreed amount of hours and was not adequately compensated for that.
Stay on top of your billing. Again, for new freelancers, this can be especially hard because you may not have systems in place. However, there are tons of sites online that can help you organize your finances. None of your clients are going to remind you that they need to pay you; that’s your job. Stay on top of it, submit clear and regular invoices, and for 90% of people you work with, you won’t have any problems.
Ask for money up front. There are of course still those clients who like arguing about the bill, even if you’ve screened them before taking them on. As a matter of principle, I insist on 25% of the project cost up front. For particularly big and long projects, I ask for installments as I work. This stops anyone holding your bill hostage once you’ve spent 50 hours on a project. Again, this means staying on top of your billing, but it’s a chore well worth doing to make sure you keep your bank account healthy.
If you have any ideas for freelancers and how to avoid getting ripped off, please leave a comment, I’m always looking for tips.