freelance writing

How to Make Sure You Get Paid to Write

By Kirsty

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:

18 replies on “How to Make Sure You Get Paid to Write”

Francesca Nicasiosays:

Oh I’ve been there. I had a client who just stopped responding to my messages after I delivered the content.

I learned from that experience and I decided to put a new rule in place: I would require a 50% deposit prior to writing. Clients can refund that if they’re not satisfied with my work (they’ll also get unlimited revisions) but I won’t start writing until I see the money in my account.

Hi Francesca. Yep, great idea. Getting some of the money upfront is a perfect scenario. It also shows that your new client is serious about your working arrangement – which can only be a good thing!

i have been the victim of fraud when i wrote for someone and he did not pay to me .and the result was for a time i left freelawncing and hated it but it was the time that brought me back in this field.Hope i would have got this tips before i completed his work.

I’ve actually gotten kind of laid back about using contracts, but I insist on a deposit up front. I usually deduct the deposit from the final bill. I do like the idea of a working agreement for new clients, though. That sounds a lot less ominous than the word contract.

I was thrown into freelancing when the world collapsed in 2008 or whenever it was. I’ve loved it ever since. When I started a good friend of mine who had been freelancing for some very big clients told me right from the start: “ALWAYS have a well thought out contract, an NDA (sometimes when necessary) and ALWAYS require a deposit. If the client acts insulted, it’s a sign that they’re either a very immature business person or just a jerk.” And my friend was right. It has saved my rear end more than once. Some people do act insulted but if that’s the case, then they’d probably be a nightmare to work for anyway. Nuf’ said! 🙂

We’ve probably all been there, but I sure am glad to see some help for those younger freelancers on the web these days who haven’t really dealt with this much. Sharing with my 1k writing community on facebook. Thank you very much for taking the time to post it!

It’s a shame you got caught out Rohan but I’m glad you’ve decided to give freelancing another try.

Abel – glad you found the post useful and thanks for spreading the word!

I agree with you John and DeAnna about the deposit. It’s a great way to make sure that the client is serious about the working relationship apart from anything else. A working agreement can be used in conjunction with a deposit to really firm up the details and make sure you don’t get stung.

Very well done Kirsty..Hope & Pray will be getting some of those soon.
Like how You address the problem…Is funny that when it comes to money and for a service so many people just think they can take their
sweet time….As You say it’s better to nip it right on the butt right at the start..Gratitude, Love & Blessings!

Definitely Maria – more time spent on getting paid to write instead of chasing payments makes much more sense to me!

I am an avid advocate for using contracts for any type of work. It will help you have a legal backdrop for collecting money should anything go wrong (and it most likely will). I also adhere to the upfront deposit as well. The percentage can be anything you feel comfortable with. If a client balks at the use of a contract, they are probably not professional to begin with and will be most likely to give you a headache in the long run.

Agreed Valerie. A reluctance to sign an agreement/contract or provide a deposit are all early warning signs of a client that may cause headaches further down the line.

Nice post here @Kristy and Oni. A very timely one too. I’m currently in this problem, bun my scenario with this client was different from the start. The client is a big name I can’t mention here (and I think that’s where the problem started – I was a bit intimidated), but they only needed few Lifestyle/Entertainment articles from me monthly. I loved the pay per article, but the work flow is just below expectation – too few.
They (the editor specifically) approached me via Twitter and since I was into niche writing and commercial writings like copywriting, press release, etc, I had no ‘entertainment/lifestyle’ sample to show them. They eventually gave me just one topic to write on (guess as a test) and they were blown by the result.
This is where my case got a bit different; they sent me their own contract for writers, a template I should use for my invoices, etc. who would have thought I’d have problems when it’s pay time?
I at first felt bad they allowed few of my articles at the end of July to fall into August invoices. Till now, I’m still waiting for my ‘July’ payment. I’ve intentionally not pitched them any story ideas recently and demanded in an email that got the ‘in few days time’ reply. I believe they will pay, but I’m just worried I can’t be going through this everytime.
I’ve got some idea from the post, but great for future clients. What else can I do with this current case? I really do not want to burn this bridge!

Plus; one of my articles is in their ‘most popular’ category, and 3 or thereabout are in ‘editor’s pick’. Guess this is an indicator I’ve been doing good. Or what do you think? {just thinking whether there’s a reason they might not be paying yet}

By the sounds of things Oludami your articles are popular and obviously working for them so I don’t think this is the issue.

It sounds like the problem is a common one – they’re simply slow at paying their freelancers. You bring up a good point here too – large companies are perhaps more likely to fall into this because they have so much on. It could be down to a communication breakdown between departments or a simple case of how they prioritize things.

Either way it’s not great for you – unintentional or not. You need to make it clear – get them on the phone if you can – that while you like working for them, late payment is not going to be tolerated. It’s time-consuming but if you want to continue working for them you might need to send follow up emails (or call them) once or even twice a month after invoicing. Just a casual email to check they received the invoice and that it will be processed on time. If they keep putting you off then no matter how big a company they are, you may want to consider ceasing working with them altogether. You don’t have to burn bridges – you can be tactful and professional about this and then move on.

Good luck!

Thanks for the reply, Kristy. Thought I’d never get one 🙂
You really hit the nail on the head here; “large company…communication breakdown between departments or a simple case of how they prioritize things”. I was surprised Monday morning to see the editor’s email asking me to make sure I send the invoice for my last articles before Tuesday ends, and I had to reply that I had not seen the earlier promised payment. I was further surprised when she asked; “have they not paid you for last month’s submissions?”
I think it is unintentional and as you’ve rightly said, I only have to do some follow up after invoicing. Learning from others is part of this job.
Thanks so much, Kristy 🙂

It’s the difference between can’t pay, won’t pay and pay according to our systems but we aren’t trying to screw you pay. I have a client who waited months to be paid by a university – I kept quoting stories from freelancers who had clients who really were screwing them around. In his case it was big organisation uber paperwork, it getting lost, people going on holiday, usual drill. He said next step was late payment fees and paying him went up someone’s priority list and he was paid next day.

From the other side, I have lots of freelance writing clients, and it happens frequently that helping them gets delayed because I require payment up front, and their client hasn’t paid them. The clients who say so get more time and it’s all fine unless there’s a deadline involved (which only happens in January anyway). I offer coaching about getting paid and it’s part of being professional to be on the ball about getting paid, on time, and chasing late payments. Plenty of help if you don’t want to do it yourself (apps, VAs, software, etc).

Bottom line is getting paid on time is what you deserve and it’s often the self respect part that’s hardest – yes, you do deserve it.

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