Freelance Writer's Guide to Getting Paid

Freelance writing is one of those industries where you put all of your effort in upfront and then hope to get paid on the flip side. That may be one of the main reasons so many people give up on freelance writing before they get started. You can write the article on the hopes it will be accepted and even when it is accepted you may not get paid until the article is printed (that can be up to a year or more).

Online writing is usually much faster when it comes to getting paid. I have even read about some freelance writers that require a partial payment for large projects BEFORE they will get started. To each his own, but I don’t pay my contractor or plumber until the job is done (and to my satisfaction) so I don’t really expect the client to pay me.

The good news is that most of the clients I have dealt with over the last few years have been straight forward and honest. Just like I run into problems with deadlines, sometimes they have run into problems with payroll. That is one of the main reasons I do not budget on anything other than what has already cleared the bank.

There have been occasional weak links in my writing career, but patience and a civil tongue can go a long ways towards working things through.

    1. You spend hours on a project only to discover that is not exactly what the client wanted or needed. Do you demand payment anyway? This happened to me a few months back. We discussed exactly what was wanted (and I have it in writing) and I completed the project ahead of schedule. But the client was working for someone else and that someone else changed the rules AFTER the project was completed. The client I was working for offered to pay me for the project even though he ended up doing a new one for the client. I passed. The relationship I had built up with this particular client was more important than the paycheck. I just asked that if the client was able to use the material in the future that I be compensated then. THE CLIENT IS SOMETIMES MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE MONEY – PARTICULARLY IF THAT CLIENT REFERS YOU TO OTHERS OR OFFERS REGULAR WORK UNDER NORMAL CIRCUMSTANCES.

    2. The client does not respond to your request for payments. What do you do? This has only happened to me a couple of times. I have sent a final notice along with the suggestion that I still owned the article and had another party interested in the material. If payment wasn’t received then I would assume that the articles were rejected and would not be utilized under copyright laws. Sometimes I received payment and sometimes I sold the article to another or used it on one of my own websites.

    3. There is no response to anything I have sent to the editor or the company and the article is showing up on the client’s website. What are my options? I am sure there are some legal options for you to take at this point, but is it really worth it? Many of the articles that are written online are contracted for a few dollars. The amount of time that you would have to spend collecting those few dollars could be better spent creating new opportunities instead of dwelling on those that are lost. I have also known writers that would send out emails to the company (and to any other writers working for that client) demanding payment and even badmouthing the company. I’m a firm believer in the idea of “catching flies with honey” (not that editors are flies) and I try to keep my correspondence with the company and editor and not outsiders. We may not all have the same deal after all.

These are just some of the situations that I have faced as a freelance writer. The money is important, but so is my peace. I no longer stress over checks that may, or may not come. Setting up a budget based on what has already arrived (and not based on what is expected) has made that easier.

I still do all that I can to protect myself. There are unscrupulous people in the world and the internet has made it easier for them to find some prey. Diligence, research and tough choices can keep me from becoming that prey.

    1. Always research a company before you sign up to work with that company. The age of the company, the way that company has treated writers in the past and even the pay that the company offers will give you a sense of what to expect. Although the internet has made it easier for the bad guys to prey it has also made it easier for the good guys to uncover them.

    2. Work from references. The best jobs that I have landed have been those that are discovered through a reference. They have also been some of the most trustworthy paychecks that I have seen to date.

    3. Start small and work your way up. You wouldn’t jump into a business relationship with someone you met on the street (well, most of the time 😉 ). Complete small projects with a company and see how it goes before you invest regular time and effort into a venture that you are unsure of.

    4. Invoice regularly. If the client wants monthly invoices then send them every month – include what you have written, how much you agreed on AND an expected payment date (DUE ON RECEIPT is one of my favorite phrases).

    5. If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is and you must choose to walk away. Freelance writing is like any other industry. It is the proven writers that get the high paying gigs. If you are new to the industry and someone promises you $1000 per article “just send a dozen articles and they will send the check” you might want to reconsider the job.

Getting paid as a freelance writer can be an adventure all its own. There is no way to guarantee 100% that the client will come through with the check. Trial and error are going to play a part in the experience. Learning from the mistakes of others (by visiting websites created by and for freelance writers) will help you weave your way through the maze. Most importantly – NEVER count your chickens before they hatch!

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  • Hi Kathryn –

    Thanks for the good advice. Most of it would apply in just about any industry.

    I have a small parts business. My late husband established much goodwill. After he died, those who could use parts stuck by me. I consider them not only colleagues but good friends.

    Have a great weekend!

    Susan 🙂

  • Hey Susan,

    You are so right – a big part of any business is building relationships. I think that follows me from my days as a salesman (Vutco and ballroom dance lessons). I want the customer or client to be happy so that he or she will recommend me to the next guy and so on. It makes finding jobs so much easier!

    You have a great weekend as well.