If you write for the love of the game or perhaps as an outlet for your creative genius, then kudos to you. I did that for a while too. It was a glorious time. Then the bills started rolling in and I figured I should probably try to get paid to write instead as well.
Fast forward almost a year and I’ve managed to pull in some regular freelance clients that actually pay me to write for them each and every month.
If you’ve followed all the sound advice in articles like How to Maximize Your Earning Potential As a Freelance Writer, in theory you too should have well-paying regular clients and can now stop worrying about the bills. The money will roll in every month (or week, or whatever) and you can concentrate on the sole task of writing instead, right?
Well in theory, yes – but only if your clients actually pay you. And only if your clients actually pay you on time.
Those are two very big ‘ifs’ that I personally didn’t fully consider when I first started out as a freelance writer. The thing is, particularly in the beginning, it can be difficult to know whether you should get a full-scale formal contract in place to ensure you’re paid on time.
Should you really approach each new working relationship with a firm hand, demanding that the client sign legal papers before you’ve even conjured up a single word for them?
When clients refuse to pay
A reader of my freelance writing blog emailed me recently to ask whether I thought she was right or wrong in her decision to not use a formal contract. While a recent overdue invoice had made her reconsider things, there was still something holding her back from using a contract with each and every client:
“I’ve been writing freelance for about 3 years and I’ve never had a formal contract with anyone. The general advice seems to suggest I’m completely bonkers, but so far it’s worked OK…The contract templates I’ve encountered online were running to 6 or 7 pages, and seemed full of legalese and stuff I couldn’t understand, and which didn’t seem necessary.”
Like this reader I didn’t use contracts for the longest time and never had any problems. Also like this reader people were always telling me I was crazy because of it. I guess I felt I had good relationships with my clients and just didn’t feel the need to introduce such a formality.
Then a new client I took on (who was recommended to me by my first and most loyal client by the way) became – how can I put this? – less than forthcoming about paying my first invoice.
I’d worked hard for them for a month and a half, making constant revisions and generally complying with their every whim and request, yet as soon as it came time to pay me they went quiet.
Or the person who paid the invoices was on holiday.
Or they would pay “in a few days.”
Or the dog ate my invoice. (I made that one up.)
In the end it could have been a lot worse; they eventually paid after another month of me sending daily emails and refusing to amend any work until the money hit my account.
I then (respectfully) dropped them, claiming we just weren’t a good fit. Too much time, effort and worry and life’s just too short don’t you think?
How to ensure you always get paid to write
After this incident and without much free time on my hands (nor any lawyer friends,) I drafted a quick one page ‘Working Agreement’ and pinged it over to my existing clients to sign and get back to me. Yep, even the ones I’d trust with my grandma’s life savings.
The basic elements of this ‘Working Agreement’ were made up of:
- Basic details – Client name, date etc.
- Services provided – In list form, i.e. 4x blog posts per month
- Deliverables – i.e. Blog posts to be uploaded to client’s WordPress site or sent by email etc.
- Fee – Weekly, monthly or otherwise
- Payment terms – Kept clear and concise, possibly including penalties for late payment
- Cancellation terms – How and when either party can end the agreement
- Confirm – Asking the client to sign and date
I now use this every time I get a new client. It makes me feel much better about starting work for them and really cuts down on any initial delays or confusion. You can easily write your own using the above detailsbut remember – if it spills over to two pages you’re missing the point. (Feel free to email me here and I’ll send you my own template if you ask me nicely.)
I’d still advise getting a more formal contract in place of course, but this one page ‘Working Agreement’ is a ridiculously simple way of having something concrete to refer to. Its main use is to provide clarity and proof of agreement rather than having the same powers as a formal contract, but anything that helps me to get paid to write – on time and every time – works for me.
What about you? Do you have a contract with your clients? Feel free to share how you ensure you actually get paid to write by leaving a comment below.
Kirsty Stuart left full time employment in 2012 in a perilous bid to write more and travel more. Her plan worked and these days she enjoys doing just that while also helping other writers and free-spirited entrepreneurs do the same via her website: www.freelancewritersonline.com