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Since the day I started freelancing, my payment policy has been half upfront and half at the completion of the project. I did that because that’s how I prefer to pay for things I’ve commissioned for myself. I hate to give someone a buttload of money before the work has been done because I have no idea if they will die, get arrested for selling meth, or just move to Shanghai while I’m waiting for the work to get done.

(This sounds like I hire really flaky people. I don’t think that’s true. I just think stuff happens…especially when I’m involved.)

But here’s the thing: I pay my bills. I would never try to contract someone for a $1200 job, pay them $600, and then not have the other $600 when the job was done. I would be so embarrassed that I didn’t have the money and was inconveniencing someone else. I would probably die from the embarassment so I’d rather just have the money. I’m sure everyone has the best of intentions but good intentions and a $1 won’t even buy you a decent cupcake in some places. And I NEED my cupcakes, people.

Let me give you an example here.

I had a recent client who wasn’t very web savvy and contracted me to write some webcopy for her new website. She paid me half upfront. I wrote the copy. She asked me to put it directly into WordPress because she wasn’t very familiar with the interface. So I did. She loved it, we were done, and I invoiced her for the rest of the payment.

And then she didn’t pay me.

Which I thought was weird because she raved about it. I sent her a little reminder nudge by email a week later. No answer. Then I sent her another one at 10 days reminding her that she now had a late fee on top of the remaining balance. Still no answer.

Now that pissed me off because I’d been talking to her for weeks up until this point and I knew for a fact her BlackBerry was glued to her hand. She saw those emails. She just chose to ignore them. Honestly, the amount was nominal. I could have lived without it and I was already onto another bigger project. But again, blatantly ignoring me makes me feel like you think you can do whatever you want to me. And that’s just not the case, my friend.

So I logged into her WordPress account and deleted all the copy I’d written for her. My contract says it’s mine until you pay me for it so I was repossessing it. I knew she didn’t really know how to restore the previous versions in WordPress. I also knew she didn’t know how to google for the cached version of the page, copy the copy, and paste it back into the site.

Later that day, she emailed me asking if I knew what was wrong with her website. I emailed her back that it was probably sad she didn’t pay me. It would cheer up after the invoice with the added late fee was paid.

I got an email from PayPal saying she’d paid me a few minutes later. But I took my sweet time restoring the site, just for poops and giggles.

I don’t want to do stuff like this.

I don’t have the time for this stuff. I can be downright dastardly if I have to be but it takes a lot of energy from me so I’d rather not call your website host and explain that you are violating my copyright by using content you haven’t paid for. (This works by the way. I got my payment 30 minutes after that client’s site was taken down for copyright infringement.) I would rather not come knocking on your office door and accompany you to the bank while you get my money. I would rather not sue you and then garnish your bank account. This is not good for anybody involved.

Personally, I have so many things on my plate right now that I sometimes don’t have time to breathe. (And yes, I’ve acknowledged that this is my fault. I’m working on it, ok?) So I have to schedule nearly every moment of my day. No where on the schedule does it say “Go explain to this grown woman that you have to pay your bills.”

And no, I have no intention of moving back my video game session so I can call you again and ask for money you should have already paid me.

So early this year, I went to upfront payments only. I had a few clients (including this particular one) who were still going to get a half and half payment because those were the terms when we started discussing the project. I also have a couple of clients who are agencies or publications, so our payment schedule is a little different, something I’m willing to do for the steady work they throw me. But everyone else has to pay to even talk to me.

Do I make exceptions? Rarely but yes. But I really like the way this has been working out and I think it was the right move for me. Now I can focus on growing my business and I can leave the repo business to the experts.

What about you? What are your payment terms? And what do you do when someone doesn’t respect them?

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Princess Jones

Princess Jones is the mad scientist behind Diary of a Mad Freelancer. For more talk about freelancing, writing, and selling yourself for a living, follow her on Twitter.

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