The Copywriter's Crucible

Surviving the Vagaries of the Freelance Life

How writers (and clients) can avoid getting screwed out of money. And time.

Posted by rachelwriter on July 6, 2009

Photo Courtesy: jk5854/Flickr

Photo Courtesy: jk5854/Flickr

Okay, so, here’s the thing: as a professional writer, I take deadlines very, very seriously.  Why?  Because if I don’t meet my deadlines, you (my clients) may not meet your deadlines.  Oh, and also because lateness is  unprofessional, inconsiderate, and just plain unacceptable. 

Anyway, I pride myself on my ability to turn in projects on time—sometimes even ahead of schedule.  This helps develop a trusting relationship between my clients and me.  Indeed, I’m a woman of my word.  I strive to meet or exceed expectations.

But, what happens when clients don’t meet their deadlines?

Wait, clients have deadlines, too, you ask?

Yep.  ‘Tis true.  In fact, the first one’s spelled out in plain English smack dab on the front page of that contract you read thoroughly and then signed.  (Uh, you did read it thoroughly before signing, right?) 

First, there’s the part that says your deposit is due within three business days of the contract’s effective date (which is noted in the very first sentence of the contract, by the way).  If you don’t pay the deposit on time, I can’t begin working on your copy.  And if I can’t start writing, you won’t get the copy by your deadline. 

Then, there’s the part that says the balance is due as soon as I submit the first draft.  No, not the revised, second or third drafts.  The first draft.  You may not particularly like this idea (which I can understand), but it’s a precaution I must take in order to avoid having my payments held hostage.  And, until I receive the balance, I cannot begin working on your revisions.  Unfortunately, that probably means you won’t get your copy when you need it.

I could continue, but the point is this: in order for me to meet my deadlines, my clients have got to, got to, got to meet theirs.  Sure, clients hire me to provide a service for them.  But we’re still a team.  And we need to work together.  If one of us doesn’t live up to his or her end of the deal, both of us get screwed out of money and time.  Not to mention, we both want to throttle each other’s necks.  Which is never a good thing.

So… Tips for ensuring both writers and clients get their time, money and money’s worth?


• Be sure to go over the contract thoroughly.  Read every line.  Heck, read every line twice!  Know and understand your responsibilities.  If you don’t agree, don’t sign.  But, don’t think other professional writers won’t have similar stipulations.

• Once you’ve signed the contract, for Pete’s sake, FOLLOW THROUGH with your end of the bargain!  Be a team player.  Help me help you.

• If you sign the contract blindly (not recommended), don’t get all huffy-puffy and moody-attitude-y with me once you realize what you’ve gotten yourself into.

• Mark all relevant deadlines in your Outlook calendar, in your Blackberry or iPhone, and on that corny aquatic life-themed calendar that your Aunt Betty bought for you.  As a writer, I have all of my deadlines noted in multiple places.  With constant reminders, you’ll never miss a beat—and your project will stay on schedule.

• Don’t try to coax me (or any other writer, for that matter) into starting work on the copy with lines like, “Oh, you know I’m good for it!”  Or, “I’ll get the check out as soon as Accounts Payable gets to it; they’re just swamped right now!”  Or, “I promise I’ll send payment as soon as I can, but, in the meantime, can’t you just do me a favor and get started? I really need this!”  ‘Cause you know what?  I really need my money, too. 


• Make sure your contract clearly defines and explains (in plain English—not legal mumbo jumbo) what your client’s responsibilities and deadlines are.  You may even want to have him or her initial each stipulation that applies directly to deadlines.

• Stick to your guns!  Don’t cave to a pushy client who insists that you start work on his or her copy before you receive payment.  It’s not worth it.  Don’t put yourself in a position where you can get screwed.  If your client is a business owner, ask her: could she even imagine accepting a similar proposition from one of her clients?  Her answer will probably be a big fat NO.

• Offer clients the option to pay by credit card.  This comes in handy when a client says his Accounts Payable department is too “busy” to cut you a check.  If you can’t afford the credit card fees, opt for a service like PayPal, which lets you send instant invoices and receive instant payment (which is what I do).

• Don’t feel badly.  There will come a time—if not several times—when a client will yell at you, argue with you, and accuse you of being a wretched person and a terrible writer because you wouldn’t start working before receiving payment.  This, my friend, is not your problem: it’s the client’s.  No need to apologize.  In the end, you’ll be known as a strong and respectable business person—not some easy, breezy pushover.


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