Freelancers and independent contractors scored a considerable coup earlier this month with the passage of the Freelance Isn’t Free act—a piece of legislation that provides nonpayment protection for those working without a formal employment contract. The law, according to the department of Consumer Affairs establishes and enhances protections for freelance workers, specifically the right to:
• A written contract
• Timely and full payment
• Protection from retaliation
The law establishes penalties for violations of these rights, including statutory damages, double damages, injunctive relief, and attorney’s fees.
About half of all freelancers and independent workers have been “stiffed” by a client before, making this need for nonpayment protection highly pronounced—and therefore, this win a huge one. The catch? This legislation only applies to those working in New York City. It is the first of its kind, which means that those of us working outside of NYC are on our own…for now. However, that doesn’t mean that we’re unprotected. Client “stiffs” don’t have to be an inevitability. We can arm ourselves with tools and strategies to lessen its likelihood and, when done well, may even be able to prevent it for others!
Do your detective work.
Let’s face it: Google can be your best friend when it comes to most interactions with new people. We do it before dates, so why shouldn’t we do it before we start a new working relationship? If it works for Nev and Max on Catfish, it can work for you!
Gather as much intel on your new client as possible, between interviews and correspondence with them, and their online presence. Do they have a profile on sites like Upwork, Fiverr, or other bidding sites? How about Yelp? (You’d be surprised how many things you can review over there.) What are prior collaborators saying about them? If their reviews are less than glowing, are they able to answer to why? This last question is important—reconciling the two accounts, however you can, can help you distinguish a disgruntled individual from a larger systemic problem. And it’s not to say that you shouldn’t work with a client if you can’t find details in their online presence—but you will need to stay alert and diligent as you work with them.
Draw up an airtight contract.
Occasionally, especially when starting out, some work gets done in good faith—we assume we’ll get paid regardless, or that once we get the job, it’ll be fine. Resist the urge to do this. Make sure that all work you do is conducted under contract, a written agreement stating the scope of the project, the rate at which payment will be assessed, and the time in which (a) work will be completed and (b) payment will be rendered. These two pieces are the key pieces for nonpayment protection. Unsure of what to include? AND CO and Freelancers Union have teamed up to give you some guidance through the process with a contract template. Customize the template to fit your business and trade, and go from there.
There are times where the scope of your project will change from what was originally written. This is okay, but should be agreed upon in writing to amend the contract. This way, should there ever be a dispute, there is a paper trail that can be followed. Even emails wherein the changes are agreed to can be admissible in some places. Keep records of the time you spend on projects, and the tasks you complete. It may feel tedious in the moment, but if there’s ever a problem you’ll be glad you did!
Automate or pre-populate invoices.
Yes, it’s our job to make sure that we get paid. But the most nerve-wracking piece of enacting our own nonpayment protection can often be… asking for our money. I overcome this hump by automating my invoices, pre-populating them and then sending them a short time after I’ve put them together. Somehow, separating the preparation and sending task lessens my stress. Again, AND CO can help with this—populating invoices is simple, as is sending them. You can also use these free invoice templates for every kind of profession. A tip from Freelancers’ Union’s Sara Horowitz: “send the invoice while they’re still in love with your work.” It’ll be easier to connect you to their work, and their satisfaction will remind them of your worth.
Enforce the late or nonpayment clause.
Having a clause in your contract about late or lapsed payment means very little if you don’t enforce it. So if your payment terms aren’t met, it’s on you to enact your own plan for nonpayment protection. Resend your invoice as the deadline looms, call/email/message to verify receipt. Here, too, it can be helpful to have a template email prepared in advance—should your terms go unmet, send off a copy of the template (customized to the client) to remind them of your terms and of the lapsed payment.
If this prompt fails to garner a response, AND CO’s Williams and Harricks service can act as an advocate and additional form of nonpayment protection. The official demand letter reminds delinquent clients of their legal obligation to pay their bill on your behalf. While a demand letter doesn’t provide any support if a case goes to court, it can be helpful to have the backup of a third party to reinforce legal requirements.
Pay experiences forward with client reviews.
In a way, acting on this step makes the whole process cyclical. After you work with a client, make the next person’s online intel gathering easy with an honest review of your experience—including the pacing and method of payment. In the independent worker economy, it’s incredibly helpful to have this information from others to guide decision making.
If your client takes formal testimonials, share your experience with them. If they don’t, or if you’d like to supplement what you share, leave a review on Upwork, Fiverr, Yelp, or another review-type platform to ensure the feedback is public. Additionally, in your parting correspondence, consider letting them know you’d be willing to serve as a reference if other prospective contractors ask.
Please note: this can be valuable whether your experience was good or bad. In truth, barring a truly irreconcilable experience, it’s helpful and instructive to share your experience working with someone. From their next contractor’s perspective, it provides a window into their prospective work environment. From the client’s perspective, it gives them the opportunity to improve where needed or can reinforce positive and unique behaviors. You can make a mediocre client better, or help a great client stay that way.
Freelance and independent work truly isn’t free, and we should look to New York City as a shining example of enacting protections to affirm that fact. And until the rest of the country gets on board with similar legislation, nonpayment protection is in our own hands. With the steps above, and other acts of diligence, we can lower the likelihood that we’ll end up stiffed.
What other steps do you take to ensure you’ll get paid for your work? Drop us a line in the comments below!