Over the past few decades, professional writing has shifted to favor freelancers over staff or salaried positions (or at least, utilize them more). They’re generally cheaper and because they’re so widespread, they have a harder time organizing and demanding consistent wages, leading some to severely underprice themselves. They don’t require office space, technology, or any benefits, making them ideal for companies that need content but don’t value those who provide it. It’s also easier for companies to take advantage of freelancers by refusing to pay them in full, on time, or at all because executives know that the average person doesn’t want to track down 12 different people over the course of three months and then take them to court, resulting in hundreds or even thousands of freelancers losing thousands of dollars when they just give up.
It’s unacceptable that companies can and do treat their freelancers this way. Evidently, while owners, CEOs, directors, and managers just cannot go without their salary, it’s perfectly acceptable to make those who live project by project to. And people will come up with the lamest excuses, saying that a partner filed bankruptcy or they didn’t receive the invoice they said they had or accounts saying that money cannot be issued until next quarter or that the billing woman is on vacation again.
This attitude is representative of how little respect administrators have for their employees. They’ll complain endlessly about being forced to pay invoices and for benefits, demanding that everyone feel sympathy for them, while their employees literally cannot afford to eat, pay rent, or go to the doctor. They legitimately think that profits are more important than people – which is why they won’t pay freelancers, why they object to a livable minimum wage, and why they were so against the Affordable Care Act.
For the past 20 years, I’ve striven to become a paid writer, going to school to learn the craft, taking seminars, paying out of pocket for conferences, accepting jobs that “pay in experience” (which, alas, is not a viable means of purchasing things or paying bills), getting swindled by those who wanted to “see what I could do,” and even going to court. It is disheartening to realize that the world wants my skills but doesn’t value them enough to pay me. It’s terrifying to know that if I quit my full-time job, I’m going to have to spend at least half of my time tracking down payments – without ever knowing when or if I’ll be paid. And it’s isolating to know that, as a whole, society isn’t going to care about my situation. They’ll just shrug and say, “Anyone can write” and send flowers of condolence to the companies forced to work with me. It’s an unwinnable and unenviable situation.
Fortunately, I do know other freelancers and freelance groups, all of whom support each other and their quests to be paid. We talk among each other, letting everyone know about the groups and individuals that won’t pay and how our efforts to be paid pan out. I’ve also recently read this great blog post by freelancer Julie Schwietert Collazo which, while doing nothing to assuage my anxiety over being paid, at least points me in the right direction to how to follow up with payments. If freelance is something you’re into, I recommend reading it. Otherwise, all I can say is good luck. We all need it.