How to get paid as a freelance writer

The problem with being a freelance writer or copywriter often lies not in getting the work, or doing the work, but in getting paid for the work.

Quite naturally (in their philosophy) some of the people who own or run ad agencies don’t like paying the people who do the work. Nor, quite naturally (in their philosophy), do the companies who commission the work like paying the agencies who farm out the work to the freelancers who do the work.

This can leave the freelance copywriter at the end of a long row of people who don’t like paying for the work. Then, of course, most people in Europe are sick or on vacation most of the time, which adds to the delays. And that’s before you factor in the staggering incompetence of many accounting departments.

Quick guide to get paid as a freelance writer

  • The power of protest

The longest I’ve ever had to wait for payment was 18 months, from a company in Munich called Gate One. Or Late One, as I renamed them. In that particular instance there was little I could do except vow never to return to Munich in this life or the next.

When the late- or non-payer is closer to hand, one’s natural instinct is to go along at night and paint phrases such as ‘Give me the money’ all over the building. Or to stand outside during the day protesting. But I’ve tried this and you just get cold. Moreover, you can’t get on with your work when you’re standing outside waving a banner that reads ‘Justice for freelancers’.

  • Sharpen your words

Thus one’s only recourse is, on the whole, a politely worded but slightly biting email. For instance, I have one client who is completely incapable of paying a regular and small amount for a newsletter I write. They are one of Europe’s leading business schools, an irony that I pointed out in an email recently. This did in fact elicit a response from someone quite senior in the accounts department, and prompted the payment of an invoice that had been ‘lost’ in the system.

But this client has already returned to its usual ways, which brings me on to another observation. Namely, that companies who are unwilling or unable to pay promptly will never change. I have worked with one agency for over 12 years now. During that time they have been through various management structures, not to mention countless locations, agency websites, art directors and coffee machines. The only constant has been their complete and utter failure to pay a single invoice within a reasonable time period. Time and again they have promised that things will change, blah, blah. But it never does. It’s in their DNA – Do Not Authorize.

  • Meet The Man

If you’re freelancing at an agency for a few weeks you can actually go and challenge the accounts department personally. This involves entering deathly parts of the building that have not heard laughter since news of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact filtered through. It involves being polite to people that you would normally cross the continent to avoid, and who really, really don’t understand the need for ‘creatives’ or why they should be paid.

I remember one accounts guy at what is generally acknowledged to be the world’s most cynical agency network. To this day I’m not sure whether he was actually alive, or simply a ghost, condemned to walk the corridors of Amstelveen forever. (Excepting those periods when he wasn’t sick or on vacation, of course.)

  • A shameless plug at the end

Of course, one way to get paid promptly is to work via The Copywriter Collective. Sure, they sometimes have to wait a long time for the client to pay. But at least they do all the calling and emailing that’s involved in chasing payment so that you don’t have to. And when the money has been received, The Copywriter Collective pays you instantly, unlike some freelance agencies.

To be fair, most people and companies do their best to pay quickly. In fact, I am sometimes surprised by how quickly some payments are made. But you can never relax. And to work as a freelancer is to be frequently reminded of man’s inhumanity to small suppliers.

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5 replies
  1. Doyle Harcavy
    Doyle Harcavy says:

    Your piece in one sentence: “Gosh, it’s hard getting paid.” Yeah, we already knew that. I kept looking for practical advice. Silly me.

  2. daniel Devon
    daniel Devon says:

    However good Jack may be, a phrase like ‘most people in Europe are sick or on vacation most of the time’ shows not only a lack of knowledge about Europe but also a gross lack of respect, even if it’s meant as a joke. I totally disqualifies you as a writer.

    European copywriter Daniel Devon

  3. phil brown
    phil brown says:

    Wow! I read the comments above and think, ‘that went well’.What you have done is written an amusing piece that will have lots of people nodding along but you have not delivered on the promise in your headline. I’m not disappointed because there isn’t a simple solution, except to say, it’s up to you. But I am amused by the tone of the comments

Comments are closed.