Captain Mal of the oft-lamented, early-cancelled, just about perfect Firefly said “I do the job, and then I get paid.”
Freelancers need to take this attitude, although we should think a little longer than the Captain when it comes to the subject of shooting people who are slow to make good. I mention this today because I’ve come across a small hitch that’s all too common in the freelancing world: the gap between acceptance of work and payment for that work.
My accountability post on Sunday noted that I’m $130 behind — don’t worry, I’ve already caught up. But further troubles have reared their heads.
- One client asked for revisions on $120 worth of articles, which I’ll need to do without further payment. Revisions are part of the job for a freelance writer.
- One client received $180 worth of work last week and still hasn’t gotten around to reading for approval. Lags like this are part of the job for a freelance writer.
- Another client has amassed a $470 bill for my work, but won’t be able to pay until May. This kind of payment cycle is part of the job for a freelance writer.
As another example, two weeks ago I got a check for an article that was originally accepted in 2007. You read that right. Accepted in 2007, paid in 2011.
I don’t post this to complain. The operative phrase from the above list is part of the job for a freelance writer. I post this to share a facet of your worklife if you think you want to take on this as a career. For the most part, money you earn this month should be earmarked for spending next quarter. If it comes in early, great — let it earn some interest until you need it. Budgeting, planning and strict personal discipline are absolute necessities if you’re going to go full time in this field.
That’s not to say I’m an expert at any of those three things, just that they’re important.
This payment lag presents a special problem for people who want to break in as freelance writers. You’re looking at a four to six month gap between the first month that you make your living expenses and the first month you can pay for them — and we’re not even talking yet about how long it will take you to land that much work. There are several different ways to make this work.
The way I did it was I worked a job I disliked, writing for extra money when I could. When I landed a long-term gig with a client who paid promptly and reliably, I pulled the trigger. That client won’t last forever — although they’re still going strong two years later — so I make it a priority to pursue other gigs as aggressively as possible.
Bottom line: expect to get paid late. Expect to get stiffed on occasion. Plan your finances so you’re always living off money already in the bank, not waiting for a payment to come in just so you can cover your mortgage. Understand that this isn’t a special hardship — businesses face this payment cycle problem every day. It’s part of the price you pay for the privilege of owning your time.
Thanks for listening.