Imagine walking into a fancy restaurant.
You like what you see on the menu and you order a three-course meal plus a bottle of Bordeaux. After a short wait, the food arrives, meticulously prepared by an expert chef. The meal is delicious. The wine is divine.
When it’s time to pay, you tell the waiter:
“I’d be happy to take care of the bill, but I’m afraid I can’t do that right now.”
“What seems to be the problem?” the server asks. Your response:
“Well, I’m a little low on cash right now. I’m waiting for someone to send me a check. Once that money is in my account, I can pay you. That could take a few weeks or even a month. I’m sure you understand the position I’m in. I promise you’ll get your money. Just not today.”
It’s an absurd scenario, but if you’re a freelancer it’s not uncommon. According to the Freelancers Union,
Tisch Parmelee says
As always, fantastic post! I love reading your blog and you’ve helped my career immensely. 🙂
I’ve been fortunate in VO to never experience a client evading payment. My VO business is my baby and I will turn into Mama Bear if my baby is not fed. I don’t really attract evasive clients. When establishing a rapport with a potential client I ask qualifying questions and listen for red flags (“this economy”, “once we get ours, you’ll get yours”, “we’ll have lots of work for you”, etc).
I did have a client try to dodge me when I performed (danced) at a wedding about 10 years ago. I told the bride that payment would be due at the end of the last set. Last set came and went and she purposely avoided me. Long story short… A kind but curt email the following week using the words “theft of service” quoting the Texas Penal Code prompted her to remit payment forthwith.
I don’t like conflict, but if it’s a choice between that and someone stealing from me, it’s a no-brainer. Bear claw. Rawr.
Philip Banks says
Contract. Agreement between two parties and consideration (money). Nothing in writing is ever needed. No payment – contract fails.
“Dear production company would you like to tell your client that they must NOT use my voice on their production or would you prefer I did it?”.
– We take 90 days to pay –
Ok. Permission to use my work is with held for 90 days. I will write to you giving you permission to work with my material upon receipt of funds.
Phone call – “Coz of your bad attitude Mr Banks we ain’t gonna use you again!”
“Would you be prepared to sign something to that effect?” I politely reply.
The reason, boys n girls, that I earn the big bucks is not because I have a mediocre talent it’s because I am a HORRIBLE PERSON!!!
Helen Lloyd says
More fantastic advice Paul … and not just about the financial side of being freelance.
The money and payment side of things stinks sometimes. I recently did a four figure job for an audio production company, a regular client, who had been subcontracted to edit a large number of audiobooks for an American producer. The UK Production company paid me on the dot and in full. I recently contacted them to ask about something else and discovered that they had never been paid by their US colleague for any of their work … and I know that they had paid all the artists involved, so for them a huge hole in their books. The US publisher was having ‘financial difficulties’ despite having been paid by the end user. I felt for them … this will have left a huge hole in their accounts … and may have put a very good audio production company in financial difficulty because their client is refusing to pay them even though the audiobooks are now live and for sale, so I assume that the US producer will have been paid by the end client and will be making money on sales. There are losers across the board.
Pragmatism is necessary to survival I guess.
Raúl Méndez says
Thank you Paul, I´ve been dealing with that kind of client recently and your words give me hope that i can solve that issue.
matt forrest says
Ironically, I’ve never had a problem with a client not paying until earlier this year, when it took nearly 5 months for a client to pay me – and she was a fellow CO-WORKER at my previous radio station! Needless to say, I will not be doing anymore work for her.
Mike Harrison says
A year or so ago, a production company in another country emailed to ask my availability… and offered full payment in advance of the session. This, after having previously worked… and played the delayed payment game… with this company.
Still, I accepted their offer.
The morning of the session (a Sunday, at 9am U.S. eastern time, to accomodate their schedule), payment had not yet arrived. But an email did, explaining that payment would come within 10 days via Western Union. I did the session.
After waiting patiently for 28 days, I emailed and politely asked if my payment – which was due within 10 days – could be looked into. I was then told “We usually have a 30 day payment term from the date of the recording. Will follow up with the accountant and advise as soon as possible.”
I then had to remind them of what they had initially promised: by way of providing the text of their previous emails in which they said full payment would come prior to the session.
Full payment arrived via Western Union… six days later.
I did another job for this company a month later, for which payment was promised within 30 days. It did not come. Several days beyond the payment due date, they asked my availability for yet another job. I accepted, and politely reminded them that payment was now overdue for the previous job.
When payment had still not arrived by the morning of the newest session, I politely yet firmly said that we would not be moving forward until proof of payment transfer – for the already owed job as well as the one scheduled for that morning – had arrived.
Payment notification from PayPal arrived shortly after, and we completed the session.
Since that time, this company has asked me to do two projects. Now, when I accept jobs from them, they are reminded of my payment policy: full payment is expected via PayPal Instant Payment one day before the session.
I initially tried trust. They weren’t up to it.
Mike Carta says
Paul, An excellent article which should be required reading for “newbies” from the get-go and reviewed from time to time by seasoned VO talents as well.
Laura Branch Mireles says
Well Paul, you’ve managed to crawl inside my brain again. I must admit I like that very much. Thanks!
Rueben Marley says
Excellent post, Paul. I’ve also used the restaurant analogy with bad clients (it comes naturally to me, since I was a chef for many years) but it’s amazing how quickly they can conjure up weak arguments to support their position. In the end, the conversation usually ends with me telling them that I won’t go away until I get my money. Then I grab a chair.
I’m a firm believer in the free market (you and I have sparred over this topic in the past, haha) and fully accept the often harsh terms that come with it, but I don’t think we guns-for-hire should make ourselves exceedingly vulnerable to deadbeat clients. I’ve met and talked to a dizzying number of other freelancers who “feel bad” and “can’t be cut-throat like you” when it comes to getting paid. I then immediately ask them if I can quickly borrow one hundred bucks, seeing as how I probably won’t have to worry about paying it back 😉
All jokes aside, I have had to adapt-or-die many times over the last few years. It’s not something I enjoyed. Clients who were once gracious and fun to work with… started becoming disorganized, evasive, and only good at delivering lame excuses about new policies, the bad economy, and even 180-day billing cycles!
What rubbish. I fired ’em, as soon as I was paid. Was I nervous about cutting them loose? Of course I was. But it’s important to remember that companies fire their employees all the time, and they don’t get all emotional about it. You should also keep in mind that the same companies pretend that “the economy is in full recovery” when they are advertising to their own customers, but they immediately bemoan “the effects of the global recession” when they need to pay for anything. Besides that, these companies have financial obligations that make mine look like a drop in the proverbial bucket. In other words, the injury I inflict by getting paid for my work is equivalent to ripping a band-aid off, as opposed to transplanting an organ. Bite your lip, pay me, and get it over with.
When the world is nice, be nice. When times are tough, you get tough.
Paul Strikwerda says
Rueben, thanks for pointing out the hypocrisy of certain companies when it comes to paying for what they commissioned us to do. In many cases, our pay is indeed but a small drop in a big bucket. Some commentators on other platforms told me to learn to live with deadbeats because it supposedly comes with the territory. I dispute that wholeheartedly. Am overwhelming majority of my clients pay on time all the time. I’m not going to enable those who think it’s okay to use what they have received without paying for it first.
Laura, I think I must have been a brain surgeon in one of my many past lives!
Mike Carta, thanks for taking the time to read my stuff. Please pass it on to as many colleagues as you can. Voice acting is so much more than what we do in the studio. That’s what I wrote about, most of the time.
Mike H., as I said in my article: trust needs to be earned and your client clearly didn’t earn it. Think of all the time lost chasing after this client… You’ll never get paid for that. With foreign clients it’s even more important to be vigilant and make sure you get paid before you hand over the goods!
Matt, your story just proves that you took the right step by leaving the place you’d worked for in the past. I’m sure you didn’t need that confirmation, but you got it anyway.
Raúl, in many cases it is absolutely possible to get your money. Still, you have to ask yourself: is the amount due worth my time, effort and money? The more is owed, the quicker you should take action.
Helen, doing the right thing isn’t necessarily easy. The company that hired you did the right thing. How they handle their American partner is up to them. I’m glad you didn’t have to pay the price!
Philip, as always, your comments are funny. It is true that some clients make us the bad guy when we ask for money owed. I’m not losing any sleep over it. If anything, I get even more determined to make them pay every penny!
Tisch, some clients forget that teddy bears can turn into grizzly’s! It’s unfortunately that we sometimes have to pressure clients into paying us, but in those cases I always remember that I did not create the situation.
As the President and Principal Consultant of a professional Debt Collection company that specializes in recovering past due balances for freelancers, I can tell you that you’ve hit the nail on the head.
There will always be non-payers, especially among freelancers. I spend a ton of time helping freelancers recover debts, and showing them what they can do to minimize losses, and strengthen their position in the future.
What a fantastic article!! I have just re-tweeted it, and will post it to my LinkedIn as well!
Paul and all the other freelancers, I invite you to save my website and call anytime you need advice or assistance in handling these issues. I’ve seen it all from both sides of dozens of industries, thousands of times!!
Paul Strikwerda says
Many thanks for telling us about your services, Jason. I have to question one sentence in your response: “There will always be non-payers, especially among freelancers.”
In my experience, the fact that clients don’t pay has very little to do with them being freelance or not. I’ve worked with companies big and small, and it’s hard to predict who might give me a hard time and who won’t. If I could have such a crystal ball, I probably would steer away from certain clients from the get-go.
I too have had trouble recently with non-payers and excuse-makers. Collecting can be daunting when the clients are overseas. Legal action abroad? (I’m looking forward to your next post about collecting.)
As a sign of the times, as a last-ditch collection effort, I think voice over social media, groups, and forums can play a role in obtaining payments from client. I know, it’s regrettable to even contemplate such options, but…
Taking a cue from vo talents who now require payment in advance, I also have that policy, at least with new clients.
Regarding “I’ll pay you when my client pays me”, here in sushi-land, that’s the mindset of many, many agents! It’s one reason they have 90-day payment terms. At least one agent here makes talents wait 6-months!
It seems that a fundamental aspect of running a business anywhere is that payments to employees will be made on time regardless of receivables due.
I see the situation exactly as you do in your restaurant example.
Robin Rowan says
Paul, yet another winner. I find myself drawn to your commentary–you always seem to come up with amazing themes. I JUST received payment for a vo I did in JUNE for a NYC production house. I e-mailed politely to the person who hired me. Three more times, and no response. I call the company. NO ANSWER. So, are they out of business? Finally I find another e-mail address on the company’s web site and e-mail him. Get an answer that the person who hired me no longer works for the company and payment will be coming….uhhh…right away. That was 3 weeks ago. So I decided I would e-mail them every day until I had the check in hand. Too aggressive? I don’t know…is 4 months too long to wait?
Paul Strikwerda says
Robin, I think you’ve been very patient. Killing a company with kindness doesn’t always work. Sometimes you need to annoy the heck out of them!