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It can be tough for freelancers to score gigs these days. Hours of trawling online for jobs and sending out samples is grating work, but the promise of a paycheck at the end of the suffering makes it all worthwhile.
That is, of course, if you get paid on time, or at all.
Unfortunately for freelancers, late and non-existent payments are hard realities that will probably arise at some point. Learn to protect yourself from these eventualities and what you can do if you’re caught in a jam:
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Nothing sucks more than putting in the hours to produce great work only to be treated as an afterthought when a client “forgets to add you into their budget this month”. The deposit will give you some juice to live off, if you’re running on fumes. It also creates a paper trail and diligent clients will record the cost immediately.
It also frames you as more of a professional. Requesting a deposit will also help you filter out bad clients as a test of commitment.
Prepare an invoice
It’s a good idea to send a monthly invoice a week before your payday. Don’t send it in too early because whoever reads it might just put it off for later and forget about it.
If it’s a long-term job requiring a monthly output, you could also suggest they set up an automatic monthly payment. It takes human error out of the picture, but most clients might be adverse to this.
The invoice will also make your client’s job easier, especially if they are handling multiple projects from different freelancers. Things can get crazy and slip through the cracks. Help them help you.
Meet with your clients
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Yes, I know, part of the reason why you chose to do freelance work was because you didn’t have to leave the house. But establishing a solid working relationship with a client is always a good idea. It’ll probably give your project a clearer direction, and it also humanizes the process.`
Offer “early-bird” discounts
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Getting paid before starting a project remains as a fantasy for many freelancers. Clients rarely take the risk of getting nothing in return. But as any successful marketer will know, it’s all in your branding message. Early bird discounts will put you at ease, and at least offer your clients some value in return for some trust.
Another approach could also be to break down your project and be paid for individual components or once you reach a predetermined milestone. Not only does this protect your interests, it also encourages regular communication to minimise miscommunications.
Unfortunately for freelancers, not getting paid on time has become a rite of passage. Getting more experience will help you get a feel for the right clients, and when to start raising concerns. More importantly, having experience gives you the confidence to fight for yourself.
Beginners to the trade will most certainly be burnt at some point, and learning how to fight those battles is something that’s part of the process.
Legal action & Unions
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Unfortunately, freelancers aren’t covered under the employment act. If you do decide to pursue legal action, you will have to settle outside of court or fight it out in the Small Claims Tribunal. While it may be satisfying to think about the money you might get, it’s usually not worth it since the potential legal fees and risk will probably overshadow what you’ll be rewarded with.
Another alternative is to join the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC). Besides legal advice, the union can also pressure late payers into action.
For the odds to be in your favour, it’s important to have the right tools and knowledge to deal with these problems. At the end of the day, prevention is always a better option than a cure.
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