Freelance editors have to run the business as well as doing the editing. Getting paid doesn’t just happen, you need to invoice, you need to follow up on the invoice, and (sometimes) you need to push to get the money you are owed.
Asking to be paid does not make you a money grubber. So get over that idea. Here are some steps to take when the money hose seems kinked.
- Send the invoice again.
Give the benefit of the doubt at this stage: “I’m just checking up on the attached past-due invoice. Could you check that it is being processed?”
- Call to ask for an ETA for payment.
“Who should I speak to to get an idea of when to watch for this payment?” If accounts payable is the answer, get in touch with them.
- Send a revised invoice, adding the late payment fee that was stated on the original invoice or in your contract.
“Attached is an updated invoice for the work I did [last month].”
- Engage third-party help.
Better yet, get payment up front. But we’ll talk about that another time.
When They Won’t Pay
Rarely, a client will either refuse to pay or be unable to pay. I once had about $8000 tied up in bankruptcy proceedings.*
A client might argue that the edit was not what they asked for or of poor quality. You can discuss their concerns directly and try to come to a resolution. Or, this might be when your professional association is a real life-saver: the Editors’ Association of Canada has a mediator who can (at no charge) serve as an arbitrator. While they don’t pass judgment, a mediator can be that dispassionate third party (go-between) who helps both sides come to some kind of agreement. Search your local phone directory (or Google) for mediators near you.
The most unscrupulous “clients” simply want to avoid honoring their contract. When that becomes apparent, you have to ask yourself if one of these options is worth the time, effort, and stress:
- small claims court
- collections agency (who either buys the debt for cents on the dollar or charges you for collection)
- letter from a lawyer
- online shaming service**
You Own Your Edits
Sometimes it helps to remind clients that (in Canada and the US) you retain the copyright to your edits until the work is paid for (and maybe after that; check the contract terms). They can’t use the edited files without violating copyright. And should they, you’ll have an additional means of legal recourse.
*Yes, taking these steps meant I got every cent I was owed. Other editors caught in the same situation, who didn’t take these steps, were not as fortunate.
**Beware of public shaming which will likely burn bridges (with potential clients too) and may make you vulnerable to a libel suit.