September 19, 2007
How to Collect From a Deadbeat Company By Ben Paid | printable version
Freelancing was one of the most rewarding challenges I've faced in my career. I loved working for myself, in the comfort of my own home, where I had the advantage of selecting my own work, clients, schedule and pay rates.
I'm back working for someone else now but I will always remember my freelance career with fond memories - save one.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest and most hair-raising challenges a freelancer faces is collecting from a deadbeat company.
I was freelancing for two (owned by the same company) magazines based in the United Kingdom. I had written two stories for them, sent the stories (on time), went though the typical review process, submitted my invoices and marked my calendar to remind me when the company would wire transfer my money.
Well, the due date came and went. This actually surprised me. Up until that time, I had been freelancing for them for months and had never had an issue getting paid.
So, I sent a polite reminder to my editor and that's when the excuses began and I boarded a 33-day hell ride. Over the course of those 33 days, I had my electricity turned off, had demeaned myself to borrow hundreds of dollars from family and came 24 hours away from losing my home.
I learned some valuable lessons from that experience that I hope may assist avoiding the same mistakes that I made so you, my fellow writers, may never experience the same pain, suffering and humiliation.
August 10 of this year is when the excuses began. Over the course of that time, I heard some real whoppers from "we lost the invoice," to "we need you to resubmit your mailing address."
So, when trying to collect from a deadbeat editor, publisher or company, here are some tips that might help you keep your house and sanity.
If you have not been paid on the agreed upon time, immediately contact the head bean counter. My mistake was I trusted my editors to solve the problem. Over 33 days, they were the ones who fed me the excuses from their accounting department and, each time the editors sent me an e-mail, they always ended with, "You know of course, we have no control over when you get paid." Well, live and learn. If you want water, then go directly to the tap.
Document, document and, if you think you've documented enough, document more. I saved every single e-mail exchanged. Also, make sure you get in writing that they: 1. received your story on time; 2. they received your invoice and; 3. they submitted the invoice to accounting. That way, if you have to go legal through a third party, you'll have in writing that you held up your end of the bargain.
If you haven't been paid on the agreed upon time, set a time table as to how long you're willing to wait - then act. I should never have let my situation go so far as to wait 33 days for a wire transfer that takes five minutes to complete. My suggestion would be to tell your editor that you request payment in X amount of time and if they don't meet that time frame, that's when you start raising hell with the person who pushes the button that can get you your money. Go straight to the source no matter what your editor tells you.
How did I finally get paid? The last excuse I received was on a Monday. I was told my payment was "in the system," and the wire would be sent Wednesday, to be received into my checking account by Friday of that week. By that time, my electricity had been shut off. We were living on electricity generated from a gas powered generator, my children were bathing in cold water and dressing in the dark, and we were borrowing money from my family to get our electricity restored. I was two days away from foreclosure. That's when I snapped. Just in case you're wondering, I was making hourly runs to our local library to check e-mails. I couldn't telephone because we have VOIP, so, no electricity, no computer - no computer, no phone.
I wrote an e-mail back that same Monday and told my editor that I didn't believe a single word that came out of their accounting department and, if I did not receive iron clad confirmation that the wire was sent on that Wednesday, as promised, then my next e-mail would be to their company president.
I e-mailed again on Wednesday as promised asking for confirmation and guess what? Yep, you guessed it, another excuse. This one was along the lines of, "the accounting department has gone through Žorganizational changes' and your wire should be sent next week."
Well, that did it and that evening I went to the company's website where they were kind enough to list the e-mail addresses of their president, chairman of the board and entire board of directors.
I wrote all of them, explained the situation and included every single e-mailed lie that came from their accounting department. I also told the pres and his boys that if the money they owed me was not in my checking account within 24 hours, they left me no choice but to forward every single lying e-mail to every one of their advertisers - I even included a list of who I was going to contact, including names, snail mail addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses.
My last line to them read, "The most dangerous man alive is the one who has nothing to lose."
The money was in my account the next morning.
So please remember this story so you and yours will never suffer what my family suffered. As of this writing, my electricity is restored, I'm happily working full time for a wonderful company and my home is secure. Just please always remember, if someone owes you, don't accept excuses, document and, if necessary, go directly to the top.
Ben Paid is, of course, a fictitious name.