An Alternative Way to Deal with Clients That Don’t Pay

Like many other freelancers I know, I’ve encountered times when clients try to stiff me money they owe me for work that I’ve already completed. It can be difficult to get this money back. Since I started freelance writing in 2010, I’ve had probably six or seven clients try not to pay me for work they still used on their websites. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen a whole lot.

As a result, I have a working relationship with two attorneys. (I think this is how you know if you’re really working with a true professional. We’ve been doing this long enough to need an attorney!) I work off my debt to them with writing services they pay for me to work on anyway.

I’ve been in talks with them about a website for runners. While I won’t mention the name of the website, they say they’ll pay $35 for a guide about a runner’s product with a top 10 guide. Think running shoes and protein bars.

In December and January, I completed 7 guides for them. Although it’s a lot lower than my normal writing rate, running products are a bit of a passion of mine and the editor was really nice (I’m noticing this as a trend with the ones that don’t pay, by the way). 5 of them were completed by the invoice deadline and 2 a day or so after I sent the first invoice, which they paid the same day.

In the beginning of February, strange things started happening. Without an email notification, this site was assigning me three of these buying guides a week. At around 2,500 words, this was difficult to manage with my other clients. I am to make $200 each day as my “daily rate,” but these $35 guides were taking a lot of time. Plus, someone above the editor emailed me twice wanting changes to articles nearly a month old and still published on their site, which they had already paid me for. One of them, the request wasn’t even really possible. It was about memory foam running shoes, which there aren’t enough running-specific models to make a top ten list of.

He threatened not to pay me for that guide if I didn’t make revisions. I said I would and did. I removed the ones that didn’t comply and reordered it, per his suggestion. I did comment to him that he already had paid me for it.

I severed the relationship because it wasn’t really worth my time. I sent an invoice, which the client canceled. They said that I needed to send it on my invoice day.

I knew something was up. I had a feeling they weren’t going to pay me for the two articles that they didn’t have revision requests for and that had been published on their website for about a month. I resent the invoice on the date and copied my lawyer. The client didn’t pay the invoice but didn’t cancel it either.

Today, I sent out invoices for my other clients and saw this unpaid invoice sitting in Paypal for the $70 for the running website’s buyers guides. I reflexively hit the “Send a Reminder” button. I called my attorney and another freelance friend who works on websites.

I should clarify that I would send a $70 invoice to collections. I think it makes it a better environment for freelancers everywhere when we hold clients accountable and don’t let them steal for us.

However, I was a little sick of dealing with this particular client.

My freelance friend had another suggestion, which I ran by the attorney. For those new freelancers out there who don’t know a lot about copyright law, we, as freelance writers, retain the copyright for the pieces that we write until our clients pay us for the rights to the piece. Technically, this client was borrowing my pieces without my permission, since he didn’t pay for them.

So, I took the articles back by deleting them permanently off the site and canceling the invoice. I checked with my legal counsel and technically it’s within my means. The running website never paid for the articles and I still owned them. I don’t want them to steal and benefit from them without my permission. I also don’t want to waste weeks after weeks re-sending this invoice, going through legal processes, and having to write more to pay off the attorney.

It’s possible that the client won’t notice any of it and I’m okay with that. He proved to be a terrible client. (NOTE: If you’re a freelance writer and want to make sure you don’t enter into a bad agreement with this client, you can tell me the prospective running site and I’ll forward you their information so you don’t get conned like me).

If the client does notice, I still have the original copies of it. I can put it back up after payment or I can continue with legal action. I have copies of the agreements and the original content/publishing dates. Fortunately, it’s very, very rare to end up with this type of client.