As with any small business, freelance copywriters need to make sure they get paid – consistent cash flow is fundamental to the success of a business and you can get into financial trouble very quickly if your clients fail to settle their accounts on time. Sadly, many freelance copywriters haven’t got the best business heads and tend to collect debts irregularly, frequently only acting when the situation gets out of hand.
You need to be vigilant from the beginning when it comes to payment. That means that when taking on a new copywriting client you need to make sure you know exactly who you are dealing with – if a new client only has a hotmail account and a mobile phone number then this could lead to problems later down the line. Politely ask for a full postal address and contact details for your records – if they can’t provide that then proceed with extreme caution. You’re perfectly in your rights to ask for payment up front from a new client, which if they seem a bit shady is a particularly good idea.
Set out your terms and conditions clearly, so everyone knows where they stand. State exactly what you will do and for how much – if the terms of the job change then immediately renegotiate payment, don’t just assume that the client will pay you more. This will help in the long run if any dispute is raised by the paying party. If any objections to your terms are raised at the outset, you can either renegotiate them or consider whether it is worth having that customer as a client. Ensure that all terms are agreed and incorporated prior to carrying out any work.
Once an invoice is overdue, chase the client with a polite email or informal call after a set time. Leave it for a fortnight and then, if payment is still overdue, send a more strongly worded missive along the lines of ‘I am disappointed to note payment has not been received. I am sure that this is an oversight and would be grateful to receive payment within the next seven days.’
Unfortunately, you are likely to encounter a lot of late paying clients as a copywriter – there are many reasons why people won’t pay you. They may have a long list of creditors and the humble freelance copywriter is a long way down the list of people they have to pay. Frequently they do not think you are serious or, alternatively, they think they can bully you. On many occasions they think if they ignore you, you will not persist. If someone is putting them under more pressure, they will pay them before they pay the copywriter. The solution is to make sure that you are putting your creditors under pressure and make sure they know you are serious about being paid.
Email or call bad payers every week – if that fails to have any effect then threaten legal action. If this also gets you nowhere then ask a solicitor to send a letter giving your debtor a set time in which to discharge the debt, normally 14 days in accordance with court guidelines. Don’t let cost put you off – most solicitors will do this relatively cheaply and you will be amazed by the effect it has! A solicitor’s letter means you are serious and the vast majority of debtors will then pay up.
Obviously some common sense has to be used when chasing debts – base your actions on the client, so if your best copywriting client fails to pay an invoice after four weeks, don’t immediately start chasing, the chances are there’s just a small glitch in the system and payment will soon come through. If another four weeks pass without payment, then by all means send a very polite email querying the situation.
You also need to think about the size of any debt and the amount of time and money you want to spend in chasing it. If someone owes you £50 for copywriting work, then just how much of your precious time is it worth spending on chasing this up?
However, the message is don’t let anybody take copywriters for granted – you provide a valuable business service and deserve to be paid promptly and in full.