Freelancers’ Questions: Should they pay what’s owed before I supply more?

Freelancer’s Question: I’m an audio engineer with an estate agency client which I failed to ensure paid me in advance for my initial phases of work because they wanted a webinar series recorded rapidly. I usually get an upfront fee for the first labour-intensive phases.

The agency now say they won’t pay me for these initial phases until the penultimate phase, by which point I’d ordinarily charge another fee for ‘draft pre-completion,’ but which the agency is suggesting they won’t pay until the very final draft phase. What should I do?

Expert’s Answer: A proactive approach to managing the risk of non-payment is a precaution for small freelance businesses like yours that we encourage. I’m therefore pleased to learn that you usually practice what we preach!

Freelancers should put this precaution in place, in the shape of incremental payments, deposits or by using a staggered fee structure, particularly with new clients. If a new engager who you don’t know turns out to be unreliable, you want to be able to cut your losses at the very first opportunity, before you invest in many hours of work and potentially many hours of lost revenue.

In your situation, insisting on payment for the work completed so far, before you supply the final draft, is absolutely the course you should take. Try to remember, once you deliver the work, you lose the leverage you hold. By you holding firm and politely demanding payment prior to you investing your time in more work or sending them more work, the agency has to decide if it wants the final draft or not. So be firm, patient, courteous and articulate to the agency about the reason(s) you need payment for the work completed. Being flexible is part of the course of being freelance but in this instance, we’d advise you not to budge!

If you reach an impasses and the agency won’t pay what you have invoiced for to date, then we recommend you attempt to agree a reduced fee to be paid to you, so this would at least cover your initial costs. If afterwards they still don’t pay the rest of the money, the worst is you won’t have made a profit, but impotently you won’t have lost anything further either. Best of luck!

The expert was Adam Home of Safe Collections Ltd, a specialist in debt recovery for out-of-pocket sole traders.

Editor’s Note: Related --

Freelancers’ Questions: How to tackle a client I suspect won’t pay?

Freelancers’ Questions: Can a client not pay if it dislikes my work?

Freelancers’ Questions: What if an Upwork freelancer we paid didn’t do the work?


3rd February 2019

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