A raised fist, held up against a painted brick wall
Image credit: Scott Webb on unsplash.com

The past few years have seen a flurry of workers organizing across the country, from Starbucks and Amazon workers to new forms of cooperative ownership and governance sharing. NPQ’s column, We Stood Up, features the voices of people doing the hard work of realizing economic justice in their workplaces. These stories come from workers who want to share their experiences building a democratic economy and a fairer world so that others can learn from their efforts.

The freelance world is riddled with challenges, but perhaps none greater than late payments. When “freelancers” and “money” are featured together, it’s rarely a happy story. We don’t hear the stories of making a good, consistent living from this kind of work.

Going into freelance social media strategy, I knew what I signed up for. What I did not know was how bad it could get, until I was short on rent last October even after a ton of work in the weeks prior. I was not alone. Two of my freelancing colleagues, one a web designer, couldn’t take care of a medical issue, and another, a technical writer, couldn’t fix their car—all due to unpaid checks. You don’t want to play “collections” but getting paid on time is the most important part of running a successful freelance business.

Many companies treat freelancers as talent they can get rid of whenever they want.

As freelancers, we typically use the “firm and professional” method in communicating with clients. But many companies treat freelancers as talent they can get rid of whenever they want. In most cases the person you are in contact with has little power to speed up payment or correct a mistake. If you are nice, your contact may try to fix the problem. But sometimes, even copying all contacts on an email results in dragging payments or getting ghosted. With minimal legal and employment protections available for freelancers, the responsibility falls on us to forge our own paths. We need a system where we can get paid for our work without needing someone to pity us.

So, we made one ourselves. The only way to reduce our risk was to make our clients have a stake in the work we do. My freelance colleagues and I came up with the idea of making one key change: asking for a 50 percent up-front payment. This shift in strategy was not without its challenges.

In our meetings with clients, we emphasized the mutual benefits of up-front deposits for both parties involved. We also communicated the importance of financial stability and the need for fair compensation for our services. Asserting our payment terms confidently, we were not only securing our financial wellbeing but also setting a precedent for respect for other freelancers.

To protect ourselves legally, we drew up contracts and had them reviewed by a lawyer. These contracts were sent to all new and existing clients, and clearly stated that we expected a 50 percent deposit and full payment on completion of our projects. We also included language to keep project completions on track, ensuring that the work was done and that we were paid for it.

This model keeps us on our toes because it instills a proactive approach to managing client relationships. Though it has meant occasionally parting ways with clients who are not on board, we have been able to say goodbye to late payments.