When working with a party hiring a freelance writer or small business the last question anyone wants to ask the buyer is, “Are you going to follow through when it’s time to pay me?” Unfortunately, every freelance provider having spent any amount of decent time working with customers has had at least one job where a customer just disappeared after delivery was made. While it is true the better path sometimes may be to simply chalk up a loss and move on, this does not have to be the only response.
The Preventative Approach
Some of the best ways to avoid being cheated on a job is to require an upfront partial payment. However, a provider needs to already have an established reputation for delivery and quality of service. New providers will have a hard time convincing a buyer, especially over the Internet, to put money down without some kind of recovery method. Alternatively, where available, using an escrow account can ensure upfront payment while protecting a buyer as well. An escrow approach usually works better with jobs worth $1,000 or more.
Being a Nag
One cheap but sometimes effective approach is simply reminding a party he still owes money for work performed. Guilt has a way of working on people, and eventually some parties cough up the payment due with enough prodding. However, this is not an immediate solution; it can take months of repetitive nagging via notes, reminders, emails and calls to get a payment. Then again, it is effective. Nagging is the number one tool collection agencies use on people who owe consumer debt to lenders.
Threaten to Go Legal (But Not Yet)
Sometimes people need to realize how serious a freelancer provider is. A warning letter from an attorney can usually get a reaction, especially when it threatens pending legal action if there is no response or payment. People begin to calculate the amount due versus hiring their own attorney, and the math quickly suggests paying the bill due is far cheaper. Hiring an attorney to send a simply letter usually costs $100 to $300 for an hour’s worth of work, so the job amount involved should be at least three times more to make it worthwhile.
Small Claims Court
Eventually, some large amounts are worth pursuing in small claims court. That said, parties should have their supporting documentation ready for review. They should also be able to clearly explain to a judge in 15 seconds what their case is. Trials are 50-50 situations, requiring fees paid up front without any guarantee of success. Further, they can take up to five years to be heard, so this approach is definitely not speedy.
Tom L is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.