A messy business

Some jobs turn ugly.

In an ideal world, freelance writing is a straightforward process.

Something like this:

a) Client + defined requirements < writer’s experience and abilities.
b) Client + writer’s abilities + time = satisfied client + promptly paid writer (+ recommendations).

However, as every freelancer knows, a client’s ideas about what they want can be informed, or constrained, by their own experience and expectations.

Sometimes, the best part about being in a creative industry is the creative part itself. You can change perceptions and preconceptions, introduce new concepts and everyone goes away enriched for the experience (not just financially for the writer).

That can happen, but other equations are possible:

a) Client + defined requirements < writer’s experience and abilities.
c) (Client + writer’s abilities + time) – payment = a ‘crap meets fan’ scenario.

Recently, like buses, two of the latter types have come along. In each case, prices were agreed at the outset and work commenced. Refinements of instructions followed and feedback was given as my work progressed. And then…nothing. Not a word, not a peep; not even the sound of a wallet closing.

So what’s a writer to do? Well, this is your chance to have your say.

Others, so far, have suggested:

1. Name and shame the culprits.
2. Small claims court. No messing about. But also, as I understand it, not necessarily enforceable.
3. Contact the representative body that the business belongs to, or wants to belong to, and advise them that their member / would-be member is a shyster.
4. Write a stern blog.
5. Write to them advising that non-payment means you (i.e. I) retain the copyright on any work done, and unpaid use of that work constitutes theft.

Have you had an experience like this?

How did you respond?

What was the outcome?


  1. Chloe says:

    That does indeed sounds messy! I'm glad I've never had to deal with it. I would go for number 5 first (presuming of course I'd made several attempts at more friendly/cordial contact!). Being called a theif would shock most people. I would maybe subtly threaten number 1 at the same time!

  2. Unfortunately, it happens more often than we'd like. I offer a consultancy for clients that want to use my images to spruce up their venues or to hire me to produce specific images for them. Two projects extracted the urine by receiving the advice etc and then buying the images elsewhere, then incorporating my ideas.

    I changed my practises by making people pay upfront for a 2 hour consultation. If I'm asked to work on a big job, at least 50% is taken up front to cover time, production of piecs etc.

    As for the scrotum that's just stiffed you, I'd contact him, outline the facts, explain Brtitish law to him and give him 14 days to pay and warn him that a copy of a letter detailing his dishonourable conduct will be made available to everyone that he has provided contact details for with regards to this job.

  3. Derek says:

    So here's what happened, in detail.

    The first client, it turned out, had been called away on business. They contacted me as soon as they were able, so they said, apologised profusely and soon the dollars scampered across the internet to my bank account.

    The second client was, and is, a different kettle of fish. As this one is based in the UK, after several emails, I rang my client in the evening at home. He was surprised to hear from me, said he'd had a health issue and that he'd email me later. That didn't happen, so I chased him by email and advised him of my displeasure and option. He emailed back and agreed to pay me for the completed work and wanted us to continue with the remaining pieces, with a revised deadline. Days later, still no payment and no further contact. The amount due (even including the incomplete work) is below the minimum for a Small Claims Court. So I've emailed him a draft of my letter to the organisation he wants to join. The letter will go out Monday.

    What have we learned?
    1. For a new client, unless they're willing to pay in advance, it's best to agree payment per piece – at least until trust has been established on both sides.
    2. Irrespective of the reasons for non-payment, your responsibility is to your business and your intellectual property.
    3. Respond promptly to warning signs, if there are any.
    4. Be mindful about naming and shaming, but take such steps as necessary to prevent people benefiting from copyright theft.
    5. Do what you need to do swiftly and move on.

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