Working as a freelancer? Here's how to make sure you get paid.
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Author Bio: Gavin Alexander knows freelance photography from both sides of the bookkeeping coin. He is a freelance videographer and photographer, as well as being Video Content Exec at Crunch Accounting. You can follow them on Twitter @TeamCrunch.
According to research by Hilton Baird Collection Services, 88% of businesses have been affected by late payments; but none are disadvantaged quite as directly as single-person businesses such as photographers. As the last link in the supply chain, the humble freelancer sadly tends to be the last to get paid.
We all have a friend like it. Unless you really pile on the pressure, they'll let their debts to you fester, as if you being able to put food on the table isn't an issue. It's irritating when a trusted pal does it, but even worse when you've put in the hours in for a client who's more than happy to use your snaps, not in such a hurry to cough up for them.
We know, clients can be hard to win and easy to lose – but you must never be shy about getting paid for your work. Having fixed procedures in place will reinforce your professionalism, and might even increase your client's trust in your service.
Invoice and chase letters – how stern should you be?
A polite reminder should always be the first course of action, as it's unlikely the client is being tardy just to spite you (perhaps they're just busy or understaffed). Drop them an email and ask for a confirmation of receipt, so you know someone is dealing with it. More often than not, just making contact should ensure the transaction is made in a speedier manner.
If the client hasn't responded within a week, a firm reminder is appropriate. Make contact with the client by telephone or email, asking them again to confirm the invoice has been received. If you feel the need to soften the conversation up a bit, you can always ask them if there are any issues with the services provided so far—but there's no need to feel guilty about asking for the money you have earned.
Be sure to keep notes of any calls or emails from the client regarding payment, as you will have the record of the broken promise to reference later on. Hopefully you won't need to, but it is good practice.
If another week of silence goes by and your requests are falling on deaf ears, it's time to show you are really serious. From day 15 to day 30 you should make regular contact with the client by telephone to ascertain the reason for the delay. If you have a clause in your contract in place which allows you to stop work due to non-payment, tell your client that it is your policy not to produce any further work until this issue has been rectified.
This may seem harsh on all accounts, but if this happens again next time, will you be able to cover your costs? Whilst you may have built up a strong personal relationship with the client, you are better off spending your time looking for clients who actually pay their photographers.
Getting a third party involved
At this point you might be tempted to jump on Twitter and let your unreliable client have it—but do consider first how this may come across to potential clients, who probably want to avoid anyone who is prone to drama, regardless of whose fault it is.
If you have exhausted all reasonable routes to securing payment, it is worth checking the laws in your state or country to see whether it makes sense to take the client to court, or enlist a (reputable) third party debt recovery agency.
In some areas you can add the subsequent costs to your claim; meaning it is the client who must bear these extra costs for any third party collection. In other places there is no such luck, and agencies take a large percentage of the money they help recoup.
Whilst having an agent assisting in recovery of funds will free up company time to concentrate on other clients, choosing a rogue one will reflect poorly on your business. Always seek out recommendations from other freelancers or an accredited body (such as the CLLA in the United States) before making any rash decisions which will potentially cost you customers and return business.
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