The Business

“My Client Hasn’t Paid Me”: A Lousy Excuse for Not Paying Freelancers

This excuse works for all of a week, maximum.

Smartphone on a paper folder on a desk, displaying a credit card details form for invoice payment

This article was contributed by freelance producer Sinnamon Unni.

I freelance produce and write, and have worked with my fair share of companies, consisting of both good paymasters and poor ones. The irritation I have with bad paymasters isn’t only because payment comes in late and my idea of good paymasters does not necessarily mean that they are absolutely punctual in their payment.

I’d like to say that the “client hasn’t paid me” reasoning works for all of a week, maximum. After that it’s really a matter of communication between the freelancer and the production company.

This is also under the condition that you tell the freelancer, even if you’re going to be one day late, that the payment has been delayed. Many production companies have this avoidant technique where if the freelancer doesn’t ask, they are buying time. Well, you’re burning a bridge too.

That being said, you also need to update the freelancer on a tentative date that their money will come in. Every day the payment is delayed, there is opportunity cost. If the agreed payment term is 30 days, the freelancer is probably billing you for that 30-day wait as well. Anything after that would mean that the value of the payment dips a little.

Keeping the freelancer in the loop, even with a shoddy excuse like “the client hasn’t paid me”, will not be taken as badly. This doesn’t mean that you can do this for several weeks on end. I think “weeks” in the local industry is an hopeful guesstimate. I’ve been in and heard of fellow freelancers in payment droughts that have lasted for months, more often than weeks.

This, with no hint of when they will be paid, no updates from the side of the production house. Can you honestly tell me that that won’t have any backlash?

Worse still, I’ve encountered numerous incidents where I’ve messaged, called, emailed a production house but to no avail. When I finally get them at an unsuspecting moment, the answer is the same:

THE CLIENT HASN’T PAID ME.

Well, could you not have told me that the first time I sent a polite text? So you see, there is a difference. Of course, the duration that freelancer chooses to incur this opportunity cost is up to them and them only. You cannot blame a freelancer for becoming irate when no updates are given.

And how long they choose to wait, is not up to the production companies. I feel some serious victim complex going on here. The money they are waiting for is theirs, not yours. They aren’t waiting for money that is yours. Generally, you agree on a rate, the money, taken from the budget, is allocated to them, for a service they provided, within 30 days or whatever payment term agreed.

Having talked about late payment being okay with so many disclaimers is probably a good indication of the tight-rope production companies are balancing on. So I would suggest production companies re-look at whether they should be and are capable of running a production house in the first place, instead of the argument that since agencies aren’t paying you, you don’t pay the people you hired. This is wrong on both the part of the agency and the production company.

Freelancers have the right to choose whether they behave super understandingly with regards to the delay or lash out, and while some basic courtesy should be practised, it doesn’t mean they have to be cool with the reasons given by the company.

This industry runs on freelancers. The quality of work depends on their job pride. Maybe if you want to protect production companies on late payment, you shouldn’t begin by dissing how the freelancers behave.

Tan Siew Ann
Fuelled by a long-standing interest in media, Siew Ann ventured into digital marketing while in law school and has not looked back since. Being inspired by the struggles that she and others have faced while freelancing in Singapore, Siew Ann started lancerX to help freelancers turn their craft into sustainable and meaningful full-time businesses.

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