Freelancers' Questions: What if I didn't price up for a client who now won't pay?

Freelancer's Quesition: I’m an experienced digital video editor but chose not to set a fee with a small company whose advert I responded to stated, ‘starting from £200 a day.’

They just wanted to see how things would go and although I agreed, for me, it’s been bad. I received opposing briefs; old equipment and when trying to hit their deadlines, late feedback.

Eventually, the three producers I deal with said they were happy with the final version which was a relief. But now they say they are not willing to pay my invoice for all my services!

I offered to meet them in the middle and cut my rate to £250 (my rate is usually £400 a day), but they refuse. I would like to take them to a Small Claims Tribunal because the total of the disputed invoice is £3,000. But I fear I might waste a lot of time and energy and lose, because I didn't spell everything out from the start. Please help!.

Expert's Answer: Unfortunately, clients like this exist in every industry and the only way to try and protect yourself and your bottom line is to have a defined role and scope backed up by a clear and unequivocal contractual agreement.

At its barest minimum, this agreement should outline what services you will and won’t be providing (if necessary), and the fee you are charging in return. A formal contract is ideal but may not be suitable for many freelance or micro-businesses. However, an email confirming these details is still recommended and would be good enough in most cases to prove what was agreed.

Unfortunately, not discussing your fee at the outset was a critical mistake and one that may have fundamentally undermined any claim you make in respect of payment. The issue here is proof, or more accurately the lack of it.

If you don't get paid, you can only take action to collect what you can prove you are owed. In this case, it appears the only rate in existence is the £200 in the advert itself. The fact that it said ‘starting at’ is unfortunately immaterial as you have no evidence to confirm what was agreed in this case.

Always, always issue a formal quote, contract or annotated email to every client confirming the basic details of the gig. Do this without exception. Again, at its most basic level, this text should outline the agreed rate, the exact nature of the work you will undertake for this fee plus any other specifics that might later be required to prove (in court if necessary) what work was done, how much is owed and who or what is liable to pay for it.

If you issue a formal quote for works you can also link acceptance of this to acceptance of any Terms & Conditions you have that are reproduced on the reverse. A good set of Ts & Cs can bring a number of benefits and protections to a business, including those in relation to copyright, payment, release of raw footage or finalised projects.

Such T&Cs can also help you to limit the number of free revisions, put time limits on changes or give you the ability to charge for any additional works beyond those listed on the quote provided. I’m saying all this to help you avoid having to endure a rerun of the work problems you encountered with other clients in the future.

In our opinion, you are right to be concerned about the prospect of trying to litigate in recovery of this sum, as it does not appear that you will have the necessary documentary evidence to prove to the satisfaction of a court that you are due what you say.

In addition, while costs awards in these types of cases are rare, it is possible that you could lose the case and then be faced with a bill for your opponent’s costs! This is especially risky if the court feels that the claim is without merit, or if it appears to be an abuse of the legal process.

Given these unappealing outcomes, we would recommend you try to settle with the client in question, as we have serious doubts as to the viability of any court action in this case.

The expert was Adam Home of Safe Collections Ltd, a specialist in debt recovery for unpaid freelancers and self-employed sole traders suffering from late payment.

 

14th May 2019

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