Advice - General / Getting your money
When a freelance gets paid is something else to sort out in initial negotiation over a job. Many companies have a particular date each month on which they send out payments, and freelances should be paid on the first such date after delivery of the work, or (depending on what was agreed with the client) after they receive the freelance's of your invoice.
Unless the client you work for operates a system of "self-billing" (see below), invoice promptly for work done. Without an invoice, a client's accounting department may not even know that payment is due, let alone pay you. On your side, efficient invoicing makes record-keeping easier.
Invoice early and invoice often
Invoice for each piece of work separately. If the client is late paying, you are likely entitled to at least £40 compensation on each invoice. Freelances should state on invoices when they expect to be paid (within 30 days, unless otherwise and fairly agreed) and be prepared to remind the client as soon as payment seems to be late. If you want to make it clear that late payment will incur interest and compensation, the UK government has suggested this form of words on invoices:
We understand and will exercise our statutory right to interest and compensation for debt recovery costs under the late payment legislation if we are not paid according to agreed credit terms.
This is not, however, compulsory. You are entitled to interest and compensation simply by virtue of issuing an invoice and it not being paid on time.
See Late payment for advice on what to do if the client ignores this.
Some organisations, or departments within them, allocate order numbers to jobs and will only pay on invoices that quote them. So if necessary make sure you get an order or purchase number and quote it.
Many organisations will ask you for your bank details so that payment can be made straight into your account through the BACS system. It's quicker than a cheque. You should be notified when the money is coming in.
If a job is spread over a long period (this is common in the book trade, for example) try to arrange a system of regular invoicing, either at fixed intervals, such as every month, or at different stages of production, such as a third upfront on agreement, a third half-way through, and a third on completion.
Many publications operate a "self-billing" system, in which they pay without needing an invoice. The disadvantage of this system is that it makes it much easier for the client to set the rate for the job if you have not made a clear agreement in advance. If you are paid in this way, be sure to keep a clear record of every piece of work done and the agreed rate, including what rights you licensed to the client. Check that you have in fact been paid for each piece of work - and that none has fallen out of the system.
Some companies that operate self-billing helpfully send freelances itemised accounts, showing what has been paid for each contribution. Freelance contributors should check these against their own records and, if necessary, make sure any mistakes are rectified. Otherwise, you'll need to check against your bank statements.
Some freelances find it helpful to send a statement to a client at the end of the month indicating what they are owed and for what. A statement is a list of invoices still due, giving for each:
- the date of the invoice;
- the invoice number, if used;
- a brief description of the work - the slugline of an article for example; and
- the amount of the invoice;
and at the bottom the total of the amounts due and/or overdue on the date of the statement.
The freelance can then use the statement as a basis for sorting out any under-payment. This practice is especially useful where there are several payments due for different items.
Payment on publication - a bad practice
Freelances should generally secure payment within a month of delivery of the work. If the amount due is not known then- for example if there are expenses to deal with - payment would be due within a month of the client receiving your invoice.
It may, sometimes, be reasonable for someone starting out in journalism or in a new field to agree to do one article on the basis that it will be used and paid for if it is suitable. Some well-known writers may choose to write first and hawk the result around, specifying "if you are interested in using this, please contact me within seven days to discuss terms". Some photographers will often work this way.
In other cases, working without a commission is daft - particularly where there are long lead times before publication (for example in books and some monthly magazines) or where the date of publication is left uncertain.
In 2018 some freelances launched a campaign against payment on publication. As they point out, a commission is a contract and when you have delivered work that meets the specification the client owes you the agreed amount.
An invoice is your formal announcement to your client that they owe you money. It must include at least these things...
You have a contract, and you fulfil your side of it when you deliver the work. The NUJ recommends that any work commissioned and delivered on time and to specification should be paid for in full, whatever happens to it after that.
Text © Mike Holderness & previous contributors; Moral rights asserted. The collection (database right) © National Union of Journalists. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org please. You may find the glossary helpful.
The National Union of Journalists must not, can not and would not wish to dictate rates or terms of engagement to members or to editors. The information presented here is for guidance and as an aid to equitable negotiation only.
Suggestions apply to contracts governed by UK law only. In any event, nothing here should be construed as legal advice.