Categories: Editors, Freelancing

by Rebecca Faith

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Categories: Editors, Freelancing

by Rebecca Faith

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Freelancers and independent contractors always run the risk of not getting paid. We give up the guarantee of a biweekly company paycheck for the flexibility to be our own boss and take the work we care about the most. But that doesn’t mean that getting paid for completed work is optional; indeed, it cannot mean that, or we are no longer a legitimate business.

What should I do when a client comes up with some excuse for not paying me after the work is done? How should I as a Christian freelancer respond when a Christian client plays the “grace and forgiveness” card instead of paying up? What can I do ahead of time to eliminate nonpayment?

  1. Make sure you are following best business practices. Share your Terms and Conditions (T&C) document with every client before taking on their project and have them initial a line on the Work Order (WO) that confirms they have read the Terms and Conditions. The T&C should state clearly your expected payment schedule and the WO should specify the scope of work, due dates and deadlines, and how much down payment is required before work is scheduled. You can see my T&C here and a sample WO here.
  2. Communicate the payment schedule before starting the work. This includes requiring a down payment before putting a client on your schedule.
  3. For individuals, never return the completed project without asking for final payment. This can be risky for the client, so I take random screenshots of the tracked changes and comments in several places throughout the manuscript to send to them as proof that I have edited their manuscript. Once I receive their payment, I send them the file. Once a client establishes a record of timely payment and I get to know them over time, I usually dispense with this extra step. But for any client I’ve never worked with and don’t know, I take steps to cover myself.

Even by covering your bases before beginning a project, you may have a client who refuses to pay their final payment or who keeps putting you off with one sad story or another. If you haven’t yet returned their final manuscript to them, don’t. Their completed work along with their signature on the WO is your leverage to get paid. Don’t bow to their pressure. Send them as much proof as possible that you’ve done the work short of sending them the completed work. Remind them of your payment policies as described in the T&C and the details of the WO. Hold out until they pay you.

How should we respond when our supposedly Christian client pulls the grace card and tries to guilt us into forgiving the debt they owe for the work we’ve done for them? I don’t know about you, but this tends to mess with my head. Aren’t we supposed to follow Christ by being gracious and forgiving our debtors? What about that parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:21–35)?

In my opinion, there is more than the issue of grace and forgiveness going on here. The Bible also speaks specifically to the issue of withholding wages that are due (Leviticus 19:13; Jeremiah 22:13; James 5:4, among others). It’s one thing to be gracious when an unforeseen circumstance causes a delay in payment and quite another thing to put up with habitual delinquency. Furthermore, it is neither ungracious nor unforgiving to insist that they pay what is owed and to expect it in a reasonable time frame (whatever is stated in your contract or WO agreement).

So, what should you do if your client hasn’t paid?

  • If you can go up the ladder of your immediate contact and speak with accounting directly, start there and try to get a firm date for all back payment. (One of my clients “forgets” to submit my invoices, but it is resolved if I go straight to accounting.)
  • Respond gently, if necessary, to the “grace and forgiveness” issue and remind your client of whatever you agreed to before beginning the work. In my opinion, grace and debt forgiveness should be extended by you, solely based on your assessment of a situation and prompted by the Holy Spirit. You shouldn’t allow yourself to be strongarmed into forgiving the money owed on a legitimate contract.
  • For clients who regularly send you work and get behind in paying you, evaluate whether you should stop working on your current project until they get caught up with your compensation. Write a letter/email to your direct contact stating that you will complete the present job when you are paid all that is owed. Another option is to finish your present job but refuse to accept another until they are current and you have something in writing about expeditious compensation.
  • Nothing is too hard for God.

You are a business, not a charity. It is not unbiblical to expect and insist on getting paid for the work you have done for a client under a written agreement. Careful business practices can go a long way toward limiting problems getting paid. Extending a gracious attitude in unforeseen client circumstances and offering discounts or even deciding to comp the invoice should be your choice under prompting of the Holy Spirit.

Don’t let the fear of losing a client keep you from pursuing actions to get paid what you are owed. No business can operate that way for very long.

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