Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Your Writing Held Hostage

It's always an uncomfortable situation when your client appears to be in a hurry, insisting that you rush to get their work done--and then they take weeks to get back to you on revisions. When half your paycheck is tied up with those revisions, these delays can become a hassle.

So what do you do with nonresponsive clients? Here are a few things that have worked for me.

Don't lose your cool. First, take a deep breath. It can be stressful to worry about whether or not your client intends to walk off with your payment. If it makes you feel better, though, this is relatively rare. I've dealt with hundreds of late-paying clients, and so far (knock on wood), I've never had anyone fail to pay me.

But late-paying and nonresponsive clients are pretty common. Maybe they really are so harried and busy--or so flaky--that they forget you exist after you send in the first draft. My personal theory is that some people just hate parting with their money, so they procrastinate as long as possible. But they aren't actually out to cheat you. They simply allow themselves to forget. If you force most of these people to make an active choice not to pay you, most of them will pay up. Those who are comfortable making the choice not to pay you are the crooks.

So how long should you wait before you start to worry? It depends. I remember when I was first starting out, I got nervous about a client who didn't pay me after a month. I asked a question on a writing forum I belonged to, and everyone said I was crazy for worrying about a month delay--some clients took 90 days or more to pay, and that was normal. But most of those writers worked offline. In web writing, a month is a pretty long delay. I usually start to wonder if I don't see a response to a draft or a payment after one or two weeks, depending on the client.

Set a deadline. If I've sent in a first draft and haven't heard back from a client, I usually give it a week. I'll then send them a note asking about the draft--and I'll let them know that if I don't hear from them on revisions by a certain date, I'll assume everything is fine and send over an invoice. It's important to keep the tone friendly and casual.

Don't rewrite time-sensitive material. I signed on to write for a blog once. The agreement was to write one post a day, and posts couldn't be written too far in advance because the client wanted them to reflect current events in his field. I would submit the posts to draft by deadline, and the client wouldn't sign off on them by the due date--so they'd never get published. Then he'd get back to me weeks later saying, "you know that old post you wrote about widgets? That's out of date now. Can you rewrite it so that it's about flanges instead?"

Don't do it! You shouldn't do revisions that require you to do a major rewrite based on anything outside the original directions. If the client asked you to write a post about widgets, he can't come back later and ask you to rewrite the same post about something else--not without paying for a second post. If the content is time-sensitive and he didn't get back to you in time, that's a cost he should absorb.

Don't let it go. Those procrastinating clients will "forget" about you forever, if you let them. For some writers, it can be easy to just shrug it off and move on to the next gig. This is a dangerous habit to get into. Don't cheat yourself by failing to chase after the money that's owed you. 99% of the time, you'll get your check eventually--but you have to be persistent.

Don't take on new projects with them. I try to weed out nonresponsive clients as much as possible--they're just too much hassle to deal with on a regular basis. If I do work with them again, I'll usually charge more for the added hassle of chasing down my paycheck. At the very least, ask for a larger upfront deposit.

If you pester a client about your draft and you don't hear back after a certain period of time, send an invoice. If they don't respond to the invoice, it's time to take it to the next level. Dealing with a non-paying client is a hassle, but there are plenty of resources out there that will help you. Check out this article for more information.


Anne Wayman said...

Excellent - one way to handle the time sensitive situation is to get paid in advance... for a blog, say get paid for two week's worth before you write, etc. It's not your problem if they don't put it up.

Anne Wayman

Jennifer Williamson said...

That's great advice, Anne. I think that would have helped in the case of my blog project.