No, Freelancers are not banks
Did anyone else catch that tweet about CNN changing its payments terms? Per a tweet from freelancer Marcus DiPaola, The company is changing its invoice policy to net 90, meaning that it will pay freelancers within 90 days. I’ll wait to see if any more news comes out about this, but it’s no secret that some media companies take up to three months to pay independent contractors.
SCOOPLET: In a blow to their financial stability, CNN sent a letter to several of the network's freelancers this week, extending their payment terms to Net 90 (payment 90 days after invoice). The change is to "be better aligned with our corporate requirements" per letter— Marcus DiPaola (@marcusdipaola) May 29, 2019
If you’re a freelancer who is new to the 1099 game, it’s important for you to know now that some publications will take their sweet time paying you for your work. That means you need to get prepared for the long wait time.
However, I never understood this dynamic, And I probably never will. Generally speaking, when full time or part time workers complete their work within a weekly, biweekly or monthly pay period, they are paid for their time via paper check or direct deposit. If companies can pay their full and part-time staffers on time, why can’t they pay their freelancers within 30 days?
Un-fun fact: Bonsai found that women freelancers were more likely to be paid late than men, and overall freelancers are paid late 29% of the time. There weren’t stats for nonbinary/gender non-conforming folks.
Yes, freelancers occupy this are the space between being business owners and workers. But that doesn’t mean that we should be putting the bill for publications as they decide whether or not to publish our work. And for freelancers, waiting for our paychecks can have dire consequences for our finances and personal well being. Paying bills late due to a overdue freelance check can mean incurring more fees and thus experiencing great stress that’s detrimental to our mental health. If a freelancer completes their work on time, I don’t see why they should have to wait for their wages.
Don’t want to deal with clients that take too long to pay? Here are some strategies that may get money into your bank account faster:
Research the publication before pitching
This sounds basic, but it is so crucial. Talk to other freelancers to see if the publication you’re thinking of pitching is going to take forever to pay you. You can find this on sites like Who Pays Writers or ask around in freelancer networking groups. If it’s going to take forever for you to give paid, you need to consider looking for other publications that pay within a timely fashion and are likely to accept the pitch.
Ask about payment terms during the pitching process
In my experience, publications will have the payment terms outlined within the contract. But if they don’t have a contract at all or if they have not explicitly explained how long it will take to receive payment, ask your editor how long it will take to receive payment. Ideally, you can request payment within 15 days on your invoice.
Get the contact of the accounts payable department and the publications invoicing guidelines
Most publications that solicited freelance contributors have a set of guidelines for invoicing. Sometimes, you’ll have to send your invoice to your editor but other times you will have to send your invoice to the accounts payable department directly. Ask your editor for invoicing directions after they have accepted your pitch. The sooner you know who to send your invoice to, the faster you can get paid.
Make it easy for your clients to pay you
It’s so easy to have a professional invoice software. I personally use waiver for my accounting software, but there are other options such as QuickBooks or Bonsai. With Wave, clients have the option of paying with their bank account or with a credit card, but the company takes a fee for processing the transaction. Every company is different. Some media companies provide their freelancers with direct deposit, others will send a check via snail mail and a few will opt to pay you online via your invoicing platform. Regardless, make sure that you have your banking information available and offer the option of paying online or via direct deposit.
Don’t be afraid to be annoying
With Wave, as I’m sure is true with other accounting software, you can schedule payment reminders to your clients. A gentle nudge can be the difference between being paid on time or early and being paid late. In some cases, your accounting software can confirm when your client has received your invoice and reminders.
Be prepared to take action
Going after a late paying client can take several forms. If you’re working with a New York-based company, you can file a complaint with the Department of Consumer Affairs under the Freelance Isn’t Free Act. Depending on the amount owed, it may be worth it to hire a collections agency or take the client to court if they violate the terms of your contract. You should also notify other freelancers and perhaps freelance advocacy groups who can point you towards more resources. Publications have faced public shaming and civil litigation for failing to pay their freelancers.
It’s hard work to be a freelancer. If you’ve done the work of understanding your clients accounts payable department, invoiced them properly and made it easy for them to pay you, you should be getting paid within a timely fashion. At a time when diversity is desperately needed within the press, it’s important that media companies paid freelancers of all backgrounds on time, but the impact of not paying them on time will be uniquely felt among the most marginalized contributors to their publications. If it’s not financially feasible for journalists to enter the industry on a freelance or full-time basis, our media ecosystem as a whole will suffer.
What’s the longest time you’ve waited to receive payment for freelance work? How have you taken action? Tell me in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.