Freelancing isn't free

February 2007. I was seven months pregnant and thought growing and carrying a whole human being inside my body was the most dramatic thing that would happen to me all year. But then my company's CEO called to tell me my services were no longer needed, and the bottom dropped out of my world.

The call only lasted five minutes; but I spent long hours alternating between wracking sobs and angry rants. What were we going to do? Who was going to hire a heavily pregnant woman? How do you just tell someone that they aren't necessary when the past six months had been nothing but lavish praise and pats on the back? More tears. More anger.

I finally I picked myself up and sent out a mass email telling every one of personal and professional contacts that my "contract" with the company had expired and to update their contact information. I closed my laptop, blew my nose, and crawled into bed to hopefully sleep off the grief. But then the phone rang.

My mentor was on the other line with exactly the pep talk I needed. She reminded me that I am smart and talented and that I didn't need a boss or a CEO to tell me what to do and how to do it. We talked for hours and at the end of our conversation I was ready to embark on a freelance career as a writer, editor, and consultant. We weren't off the phone for 30 minutes before she sent me an email with my first freelance job.

The burden wasn't completely lifted from my shoulders. A door had slammed shut right in my face, but I could feel the cool breeze coming from a window somewhere. That was almost three years ago and I have succeeded in freelancing. When one job tapers off, I'm prepared with another job to take its place. I'm always pedaling, always looking, and always at the ready to take on some new project or client.

But there's something I'm failing at: making the damn money. I have to fight and claw for every dime that comes my way. I just don't understand why I'm busting my butt to produce excellent content by whatever deadline established, but then I wind up stalking my mailbox for the check that's always "on the way" yet mysteriously arrives weeks later than it should. Why do people think it's okay to play fast and loose with a person's livelihood?

I don't have answers. What I have is a full calendar of editorial work that must be delivered on time and no idea of when or if I'll get paid for it. Three years and I still haven't figured out how to effectively earn a paycheck. I can't call their bluff and stop performing the work. I can't force them to pay me by their own predetermined schedules, and I can't prove they're purposely dodging me on pay.

I'm starting a new contract in February. I think I'll add a line in my contract that reads, "If contractor is not paid within 30 days of submitting an invoice, client will add $1,000 for each day late. After 10 days, client will pay $10,000 for each day late. After 30 days, client will sign over entire account to contractor and watch as contractor smiles her way to the bank."

Maybe they'd at least get one invoice paid on time. (But probably not.)


  • Cheryl

    LOL, I like your new clause. ;) But in all seriousness, how frustrating! This is a really timely post for me as I've been considering freelancing when my FT contract expires. Now I know that I need to read very carefully and ask about payment schedules. TFS, and here's hoping those checks come soon.

  • Anonymous

    Ugh, Kelly. I'm so sorry this is happening, but believe me, you're not alone. And it frustrates me to no end. Why do we have invoices at all? I'd rather just assume and pay everyone on a schedule, and then *we* will let payroll know if someone goes MIA. Lindsey created a contract about her payment issues, so you might want to email her about this.

  • Kelly Miller

    Dear Anon: You are fantastic and payroll sucks. The end. :) You know who I blame? Her name starts with an S and ends with an i and she's a miserable mean little person.

  • Unknown

    Kelly, I feel your pain. I am still waiting for payment on an invoice I submitted weeks ago for $4,000 worth of expenses I incurred on my personal credit card. I am going to be uber-pissed if I end up spending more on interest than I earned doing the actual work. Blah!

    I like your new clause. Hope your checks arrive quickly!

  • Angie - The Work at Home Wife

    Sorry this is happening, Kelly. My contracts always state that I am either paid in advance before work commences, or sometimes I change it to require half up front the remainder due before completed work is given to the client.

    Needless to say, since I started doing this I haven't had any pay issues. Maybe give that a shot.

    Here from Lady Bloggers!

  • Holly Lefevre

    Coming by from Lady Bloggers. I have not ever written freelance but have had some frustrating experiences with agents and my books...what ever/whichever way it is it stinks! I used to have a clause like that in my wedding planning contracts....it was added for those very special clients.

  • Kelly Miller

    Thanks ladies. I thought things would be fine with this company because there's a 30-day limit on payments. However, since a recent payroll policy change, they only pay on the 15th ... ugh.

    I'm working on establishing some new contracts, but it's hard to give up on a company that sends me so much work, even though I'm never quite sure when I'll get paid for it.

  • Unknown

    Stopping in from Lady Bloggers! Really like your thoughts and your honesty. And honey - I would have put that on my contract to begin with. We do business contracts in my work and there are certain people we know are going to be a "handful" to say the least and we purposely but practically insane stipulations in the contracts...surprising how many of them actually sign...and then follow through!

  • Val

    hello - Lady Blogger sent me here. best of luck with the freelancing payments - i love the new clause and definitely think you should add it in!!

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