World’s Longest Invoice: Dealing With Clients Who Don’t Pay Up
Have you ever been stiffed by a client? Many freelancers have—and it sucks. More often than not, the cost to take the client to court is frequently much more expensive than the unpaid invoice. So what’s a freelancer to do?
One thing they can do is join forces in a new civic action campaign created and sponsored by the Freelancers Union.
On April 26, the Union launched a web-based tool called The World’s Longest Invoice, where freelancers can come together and share their horror stories. You can add your unpaid invoices to the list at worldslongestinvoice.com.
Some of the unpaid invoices already listed include:
- $200 for violin performance on Busta Rhymes 2008 album, “Back on My B.S.”, submitted by Andrew.
- $7,000 for published children’s book illustration, submitted by Linda.
- $1,300 for marketing strategy, brand development, event planning, and copy writing, submitted by Allison B.
- $1,500 for environmental graphic design concepts for Rascal Flatt’s Tour, submitted by Adam J.
- $2,700 for WordPress development. Client cancelled the job two days before deadline and refused to pay for it because they didn’t use it, submitted by Sarah.
- $2,800 for iPhone application development, submitted by Charles G.
- $15,000 for 8 videos, filmed and edited, 5 minutes in length each, submitted by Ross F.
There are invoices listed for everything from pet sitting to web-related services, and everything in between.
“Right now, freelancers have to sue, or walk away,” said [the Union’s Jaclyn] Kessel. “They don’t have the same Department of Labor Protections that traditional employees enjoy — that’s why we sponsored first of its kind legislation in New York State giving freelancers equal protection from deadbeat companies.” —VentureBeat
So what is the site for…besides a public place to complain? The Freelancers Union will be delivering the invoice—which currently totals over $13.5 million—to lawmakers in Albany, New York on May 22. The Union is pushing a law, called the Freelancer Payment Protection Act, to protect independent workers from deadbeat clients in hopes that it will be a model for the rest of the country. The World’s Longest Invoice is helping bring awareness to the plight of thousands upon thousands of frustrated freelancers.
Sara Horowitz, director of The Freelancers Union, told The Washington Post that 77% of respondents to an email survey of the Union’s members said they had been stiffed at some point in their freelance careers.
“Over the years, it’s always one of the top three problems our members have reported,” Horowitz said. “Lawmakers need to see the real-life impact that deadbeat clients are having on independent workers and entrepreneurs.” —The Washington Post
It’s highly unlikely that anyone who posts their complaints on worldslongestinvoice.com will be paid. Heck, most of them probably can’t even be verified. But the number is staggering.
There are warning signs from a client that should raise some red flags. Signs that a client may not follow the project through to completion (and payment) usually starts with a lack of communication—they stop emailing and calling you back in a timely manner. Eventually, they stop communicating all together. This is when freelancers start to panic—and for good reason! Even if a contract is agreed upon and signed, going to court to enforce it can be expensive for a freelancer.
One of my event planner friends is currently going through this very situation with one of her clients. My friend and her business partner are planning a wedding for an out-of-state bride, and the price tag for their work is $8,000. While the bride paid the $2,000 deposit, she hasn’t followed through on the rest of her payments—and the wedding is in just six weeks away.
Because their client is located 16 states away, the business owners can’t just go knock on her door. They have to resort to phone calls and emails, which they say never get answered. I suggested, given the short time period before the event, that they send their client a certified letter in the mail, which allows the sender proof of mailing and proof of delivery. It’s just too easy for someone to say, “Oh, well, I never got any emails from you!” But if you send them something in the mail that requires their signature, it’s impossible to ignore.
I hope it works out for my friend in the end. Dealing with individuals and dealing with companies are very different beasts. I have been on both ends of the spectrum—working for a company that struggles to pay their bills on time, and being a freelancer who has to hound their client and keep my fingers crossed that they’ll pay up.
Hopefully The Freelancers Union have success in the legislature with their Freelancer Protection Payment Act. We’ll keep you updated on the progress.
Do you have a client who refused to pay? Add it to the list! You can also use the hashtag #GetPaidNotPlayed on Twitter.