It's something that freelance writers don't like to talk about or hear about, but it happens more often than we like to admit.
The Scenario: The perfect project -- one with a decent budget, and a wonderful project manager or editor, has finally been completed. You send an invoice to person in charge, who promises to forward it to accounting department. The contract stated "payment on acceptance/ completion", and you have their signature on file, so you're pretty sure there is nothing to worry about. Besides, they sent you a deposit. Of course they'll want to send you remaining balance as soon as possible.
A week goes by and check hasn't arrived. You hear sirens going off in your head, but you decide to give your client benefit of doubt. The check is in mail, you're sure, and new Anthrax-prevention equipment at post office sure has slowed mail down.
Week two sets in. Your bills are arriving on time in mail, so you decide that your client may have cut checks late. You promise yourself that at beginning of next week, you'll make sure you give a friendly reminder call -- if check isn't here. When you call, your contact person isn't there to take it. You leave a message for them to call you -- you don't want to sound like a collection agency!
Days go by with no return call. You send an email that goes unanswered. Alarm bells are going off in your head. Did you do something wrong? Are they going out of business?
How can you retain your client relationship AND get paid?
1. First Things First: An Ounce of Prevention
We all like to think best of our clients and new projects, and sometimes, in earnest, we gloss over some of fine details.
It's important to "check out" our clients before we begin working for them. Retailers and goods suppliers always do a credit check before taking on a customer. Most freelancers can't afford time or money to do this. However, if company is publicly traded you can always look them up on web. In fact, always do a quick check on search engines for any press releases client has put out, bad publicity, etc. If your client is a day away from bankruptcy and you're their last hope, they're not going to tell you that! If something looks unstable, go with your gut and ask for a larger deposit or pass on job. It will save you much frustration at end!
You can also check following warning reports for writers and consumers to see if other writers have had problems with your client in past. If they're listed, steer clear!
Writer's Weekly Warnings Report http://www.writersweekly.com/warnings/iaq.html
The Rip-Off Report http://www.ripoffreport.com
Writers Alerts http://www.sfwa.org/beware/general.html
National Writer's Union Alerts http://www.nwu.org/alerts/alrthome.htm
A legally binding contract is an essential MUST for any freelancer. You can change contract to reflect time allotted, deposit, and completion date. I always include number of allowed revisions, a "kill fee", and a statement explaining that copyright for project transfers AFTER I receive final payment. Here are a few links to contract resources you can use when "sealing deal":
Sample Contract http://freelancebank.com/resource.asp?id=14114
When is a Contract a Contract? http://freeagent.com/advice/legal/makesacontract.asp
2. When "Pay by" Date Comes and Goes: Nudge Them!
Nothing makes me, as a freelancer, want to panic more than an unpaid invoice from a company. The thought of Ramen noodles and Tang are terrifying - or, at least, humbling - and I must admit my cash flow is still somewhat limited some months!
Approaching your client about a delinquent account, initially, isn't too difficult; you can send a "thank you for project" email and a short note saying, "By way, check hasn't arrived in mail yet, I was wondering when you mailed it?" If you don't get a response, call main office phone number and ask for fax number to Accounts Payable department. Send a polite note to AP office explaining that, "I'm afraid that this invoice may have been lost in shuffle. It's several days past due. Please update me on status when you have time." Usually, this will do trick, and you'll get a polite phone call or email with a notation about "paid" status. Make sure you note all of dates and times you've called and keep copies of all of your correspondence.