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A freelancer’s pet hates


Confession of the day

“Dear Miriam. We have received your invoice, but we noticed a couple of discrepancies and wondered if you could re-issue it for payment ASAP.”

This is how an email by one of my clients – a South African financial agency – started. It was a reply to my email asking when they’d pay me.

YOu have to understand that chasing payments and clients is one of the things freelance writers – or any freelancer, I suppose – loathe.

It is stressful, it is time consuming, and it is annoying as hell. Most of us have 100 other things we’d rather do and chasing invoices is not one of them. Besides, it is frustrating that clients expect you to meet deadlines at all cost (if you miss them, you risk losing that particular client, thus par of your income), while most of them do not particularly seem to care a great deal about meeting their deadline: paying what they owe their  freelance writers and photographers!

A leading construction company for instance (yes, the one that was in charge of Cape Town Stadium) told me again last week “You will be paid at the end of this week, promise”. I checked my bank account 5 minutes ago: Nothing, nada, niks.

The Portuguese newspaper Publico is another fantastic example of how clients mistreat their freelancers.  Publico owes me money from last year November.  That is right: last year November (2009!!). It is October 2010 now. I have sent about a gazillion emails and every time they come up with some kind of a lousy excuse that makes my skin crawl. I am fed up and am not even bothered being nice to them any longer. My patience and sense of humor flew out the window a very long time ago, I guess. I can therefore say that Publico is the worst publication to work for as a freelancer. Do not work for them! Ever! Stay away, regardless ofthe fact they pay in Euros. I repeat: If you are a freelance writer or photographer and Publico asks you to do work for them: REFUSE and run for the hills! It is *NOT* worth it, trust me.

Back to my South African financial client and their email. Clients have complained about invoices before, despite the fact they okayed my rates, quote, and time spent on the project. I therefore feared the worst.

Last year for instance, I did some PR work for a Dutch developer who needed exposure for his eco-estate to-be. As promised, my monthly invoices always were provided with a detailed break down of the hours spent on his project – including a breakdown of the media exposure he received.

All went well until the third month.

“You did not do this or that, we did this and that,” he blatantly told me. While I was able to show him that I was the person responsible for the said activity (and positive outcome, namely an interview in a national South African newspaper) he kept his foot down. Very annoying and shitty situation, as what do you do in this situation? Do you keep your foot down, piss off the client and risk a) not getting paid all and b) losing your precious retainer? I bowed and rewrote my invoice, and then I fired him myself.

Last year another company – an add agency in Cape Town this time – hired me to do some copy writing. Beforehand, they asked me how long I thought I needed for then job. “Between ten and fifteen hours, but more towards ten”, I told them. I was given the go ahead, under the condition I’d let them know by hour number ten how far I was and how much time I needed to complete the project.

And so I did, and they gave me the go-ahead. The total number of hours came down to thirteen. Well, fourteen, but I gave them a discount. This was met by moaning and complaining. So again: what do you do? Keep your foot down? Risk not being paid at all? Risk not working for them ever again?

Back to my South African financial client and their email.

“Here we go again,” I thought to myself, rolling my eyes before reading a bit further.

“According to my calculations, the daily stories should be: Wednesday – XXX words @ RX p/w & 1 picture should be RXXXXX  (you have RXXX). Also the overall total, according to my calculations is RXXXXX (you have RXXX).”

In other words: It was me who made a mistake and was about to sell myself short. The client noticed this. Instead of keeping it to herself, she notified me.

It has been a first, really. And I am grateful. If only more clients would treat their freelancers with the same respect, they’d be getting even more for what they bargained.

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