Based in Chicago, Illinois, The Freelance Beat is a blog exploring the triumphs and challenges that freelance journalists encounter in their early and mid-careers.

Freelancer payment pet peeves

Freelancer payment pet peeves

As a freelance writer, you’re not just the creative person. You’re the accountant who balances the books, the quasi-lawyer who handles the contracts, and the writer, fact-checker, and — depending on your skillset — the photographer or graphic designer.

With all that going on, there’s nothing that freelancers can’t stand more than having problems getting paid. We don’t want to hear excuses. We don’t want to wait. If we deliver the work on time and of high-quality, we deserve to get paid on time and in full.

But that doesn’t always happen. When publishers fail to pay writers on time, it can royally screw up the rest of their financial well-being. Here are some of the annoying things freelancers experience regularly when trying to get paid.

The company has a cumbersome payment platform.

Getting paid should be simple. Just tell us where to hand over our banking information and where to send the invoice. If we have to sign multiple forms, sign up for multiple platforms and read too many documents, it makes the process for freelancers so time-consuming. Keep it to one platform, and tell us where to send the bill.

The editor doesn’t respond to payment inquiries.

Talk to your fellow freelancers to find out who pulls this kind of crap. Editors and writers live on their devices. Of course, editors are flooded with way more emails than freelancers are. I get that. But in order to cultivate relationships with top freelancers, you need to be responsive. If I have a hard time getting in touch with you to find out when my check is coming, I likely won’t send you my top pitches. No freelancer wants to put a lot of work into a piece only to have a publication ignore his or her inquiries about money. That’s not fair or right.

The payment problem isn’t spotted until months later.

Mistakes happen. People misspell things or enter the wrong information on forms. We’re only human. But if a freelancer emails you to ask what’s going on, and you don’t spot the payment error until months after its due, that signals to me that someone wasn’t paying attention on the backend. Your editors often catch errors in your work before publishing the piece. The accounts payable department at your firm needs to make sure that everything is correct before it becomes an issue later. Check your paperwork before sending it in, so that no errors can be blamed on you if the funds arrive late.

Employees are rude when responding to payment inquiries.

Hold up! If anyone should be mad, it’s me. You know when your paycheck is coming, but I don’t. Anyone who’s ever been laid off or fired knows how terrifying it is to not know where your next meal is coming from. Anyone who’s interacting with freelancers needs to be kind and willing to answer a question in a non-condescending way. You remember that old saying, “Treat others the way that you want to be treated.”

The rate fluctuates from story to story.

You should have a base rate that you can afford to pay all freelancers so that you’re not underpaying freelancers for similar work. Ultimately, it’s up to the freelancer to negotiate pay based on the work the story requires, but even so, the rate shouldn’t vary wildly from one story to the next. Be upfront with your freelancers, and let them determine whether the rate is a right fit for them.

Editors and accounts payable departments ghost you.

Publications have been called out these days for not paying writers a fair rate, paying late or not at all. The fastest way to kill your source of quality content is to ghost your writers when it’s time to pay up. Not only will you get any more work from your existing talent pool, but they’ll quietly or publicly spread the word about your deadbeat tendencies.

A lot of this frustrated can be avoided by talking with fellow freelancers. Use sites like Who Pays Writers to avoid crappy clients. Talk your inner freelancer circle or local freelance groups to figure out who are the best clients to work for. The Columbia Journalism Review has a good list of freelancer favorites. And when you’re burned by a client, warn other freelancers so that they don’t face the same financial insecurity.

What are your freelance payment pet peeves? Leave a comment here or email me at You can also tweet me at @Freelance_Beat.

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