Sunday, November 29, 2009


Checklist for Freelancers

by LuAnn Schindler

You've submitted queries and you're playing the waiting game. Once the editor bites on your pitch, there are a few items you need to cover with the editorial staff. Clarity of expectations will help the project progress smoothly. Use this list when working with an editor.
  • Ask for a precise explanation of the project. What's the word count? Are photos necessary? Do you need a sidebar?
  • Note the deadline.
  • Determine what format should be used to submit the final product: an attachment? body of an email? mailed on a disk?
  • Learn what rights the publisher is asking for.
  • Discuss payment. Will you receive a flat rate? Are you being paid by the hour? Will you earn a certain amount for each word?
  • Decide what types of expenses, if any, will be covered as well as the payment procedure for expenses.
  • Review invoicing policies. Who should receive the invoices? When should they be sent?
  • Check if multimedia products (photos, videos, drawings) will be returned.

Many publishers will send a checklist of this nature when they decide to use your article. If a publisher does not use a similar form, a writer can send a form with her understanding of the project and ask for the editor to return it with an electronic signature via email. Protecting your bottom line and your projects will establish a solid relationship with an editor.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009


Been Stiffed? Steps to Getting Paid

There's been a lot of talk lately about slow paying or *gasp* non-paying markets and what a writer should do when this happens. It's a dilemma that practically every business faces. And as a freelance writer, you're certainly a "business." If this has happened to you, here are a few tips on collecting payment.

** This is an excerpt from a column I wrote for Premium-Green, More Than Your Magic 8-Ball (Sept '08)

Steps to get paid

Step 1: If you have sent an invoice and the client hasn’t paid you within the time frame, send him a notice with a late fee. Include another deadline of 15 days for payment and let him know that he will be charged another late fee if payment isn’t remitted on time. You may also want to remind him that copyright does not transfer to him until the work has been paid for in full. Make sure you include all your contact information: your phone number, mailing address, and email address.

Step 2: If the client hasn’t made any effort to contact you within 15 days, give him a call. Be polite, professional, and firm. Most people want to pay their bills. If he asks to set up a payment plan, make sure you are prepared for this or he may walk all over you. If he wants to break it up into 2 or 3 payments, make sure you calculate your late fee into each payment. Whatever you do, don’t let him talk you into paying $10 a month, or something ridiculous like that. It could take him a year to pay you!

If you are unable to get a hold of your client by phone, send a certified letter with return receipt requested. Hopefully, you won’t need it, but it’s good to be prepared. It lets him know that you mean business. Unfortunately, if you did not have him sign a contract before the work was completed, you won’t win in small claims court.

Step 3: If the previous efforts have been fruitless, it’s safe to say that the bridge is officially burned. But don’t worry; there are still a few things you can do.

If you’re a member of a National Writer’s Union or another organization for writers, it’s time to make a phone call. Your union representative can help mediate disputes with clients. You may also want to report his business to the Better Business Bureau.

Another option to consider is hiring a collection agency. If you choose to go this route, there are a few things to look for:

  • Look for an agency that works with small or home-based businesses.
  • Make sure the agency is licensed in the state your debtor is located.
  • Verify that the collection agency employs skip tracing. Skip tracing allows the agency access to various databases to locate the debtor in case he’s moved with no forwarding address (skipped town).
  • Make sure the collection agency has Errors and Omissions insurance. This insurance protects your business and the collection agency in case the debtor decides to sue.
  • Compare costs. Collection agencies earn income based on either a set fee or on a contingency basis. The contingency is based on a percentage of the debts collected. Before choosing whether to agree to a set fee or contingency, find out the collection agency’s success ratio and contingency fee percentage.

Step 4: If none of the above has worked, it’s time to cut your losses and move on. Yeah, it sucks, but without having drawn up a contract in the beginning, there is not much you can do. You’ve just learned a valuable lesson...the hard way.

The best way to protect yourself is to have a contract in place and signed by both parties before you do any work.

Now I want to know: have you ever been stiffed? Do you use contracts?

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Monday, October 27, 2008


Collection Tips

by LuAnn Schindler

A freelance writer assumes multiple roles. Not only do you determine editorial content (you ARE the writer and editor), but you also are responsible for researching topics, finding a home for your work, marketing your stories AND yourself, and devising an accounting system that works.

Within that last role, not only are you responsible for sending invoices and paying the bills, but at some point, you will have to be the collections enforcer. Establish a system for accounts receivable and share it with potential clients before you find yourself chasing the money trail of slow paying clients.

Here are some tips that will make collecting payment an easy endeavor:
  • Get it in writing. A contract needs to spell out the terms of payment, including if you need to send an invoice, when the invoice should be sent, and how much you will earn. Also ask if the invoice should be sent via mail, email, or fax. If you write for a foreign market, ask the publisher to include how the payment will be sent (company check, international money order, PayPal). You might also want to include language about the exchange rate so there aren't any surprises when you receive your payment.
  • Ask for payment in advance. This is especially applicable for copywriters. Explain you require a retainer before you begin work on a project. Some magazines might balk at paying for an article sight unseen, especially if you are new to the magazine. But, if you have established yourself with the publication, they may consider the advance.
  • Submit contracted articles on time. You are a professional, and you need to meet the deadline agreed upon.
  • Invoice on time. Submit invoices per the contract language. This should assure that the check will be in the mail. If you invoice past the deadline, payments will naturally be delayed; writers should not expect a company to adjust its accounting system because the writer did not meet this deadline.
  • Follow up on a late payment. Most publications work on a Net 30 system. If payment is not received within the specified time, call the publisher and work out a time frame when you can expect to receive payment. Be polite! It is possible the missed payment is a simple oversight. If you do not receive a response (or check) within an agreed period of time, work through the accounting chain of command to receive payment.

The writer-as-collection-agent isn't always a fun aspect of your creative mindset, but it is a necessary role that needs to be filled, especially if you want to receive payment.

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