24 September 2015
Money and Freelancing
If you’re just starting out as a freelance writer, money is something you’ll have to consider. As a young, emerging writer, it’s important you know the ins and outs of money and freelancing: how much you should be paid, how to invoice, how many follow-up emails you should send. It can seem scary, but it’s not so bad!
Money doesn’t necessarily come frequently for freelancers. Jobs and payment can be irregular and the work can be frustrating. However, it can also be incredibly rewarding. What’s most important is that you are recognised and valued for your work. Regardless of what you write, whether it’s paid or not, what publication it’s going to appear in—you, and your work, need to be valued. Not all publications are able to offer you money for your writing. Sometimes, student run publications or start-ups just don’t have the funds yet to pay their contributors. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write for them, but you do need to ensure that you are recognised for your work and the time and effort you have put into constructing your piece is valued. You deserve to gain something from your experience as a writer; this could be payment, but it could also be education, experience or something great for your portfolio.
We’ve compiled a bunch of tips and tricks to help you navigate the world of money and freelancing. Share your advice with us by tweeting us at @express__media.
1. Setting up your ABN:
First, you’ll need an ABN. An Australian Business Number is a business identification number that means you can get paid for your work. The application process is free, and doesn’t take too long, but sometimes the wording can be a little confusing. FYI: as a freelance writer, you are a ‘sole trader’ in the ‘Information Media and Telecommunications’ sector. Take your time going through the application and pick the options that best suit your line of work.
2. Negotiating payments and pitching:
First step in getting paid for your writing? Pitching your piece! For a thorough and in-depth guide on first time pitching, read our Pitch Perfect Guide in the Writers’ Toolkit series.
Often, you already know how much a publication pays for a piece of writing. These rates can often be found in the ‘Contribute’ tab on websites, on the inner pages of print magazines and journals or on an organisations Facebook call-outs for writers (For example, Voiceworks pay $100 for short stories, nonfiction and poetry).
However, sometimes these rates are not accessible to the public, or they fluctuate depending on what you’re writing, how long it is, what your writing experience is etc. In these instances, you have to inquire about payment.
Asking about pay rates usually comes at the end of your pitch email. It’s not as scary as it seems! I like to just add ‘Please let me know if you’re interested in this story and, if so, what rate you’re offering’ before I sign off on a pitch. It is important that you do this in your first (pitch) email. There is nothing worse than forgetting to ask about pay rates, getting a pitch accepted and then finding out afterwards that the publication has no intention of paying you. It’s disappointing, it’s frustrating, and it totally sucks.
In these situations, you’ve got to trust your gut feeling. Weigh up the pros and cons. Is the amount of time you’ll spend working on the piece worth it if you’re not receiving remuneration? Will the time and effort you use on the piece mean you will suffer financially? Is what the publication can add to your resume or portfolio more important than getting paid? These are decisions only you can make.
Invoicing is not as scary as it seems. Invoicing is actually your friend! After your piece is published, you need to send an invoice to your editor or a representative from the publication. It’s the first (and pretty much the only) formal step in getting paid for your work.
Invoicing is where your ABN comes in handy. You’ll need that number and your bank account details. Below is just one example of what to put on an invoice. You can find a gazillion other templates and examples here and by conducting a quick google search.
4. Chasing up payments:
So, your piece has been published and it’s been doing great up on the publications website. You’ve shown it to all your family and friends, and you’re super proud of your work. But after a few months, that pay check still hasn’t arrived.
Sometimes, your invoice has just generally gotten lost in an email inbox, or was incorrectly passed on to the finance department. But sometimes publications can be sneaky—they might actively ignore your emails and phone calls, and expect that you’ll eventually forget or give up.
Here’s the thing: If you’ve been promised payment for your work, you deserve to be paid. Do not give up on chasing those payments. The less backlash a publication receives for not paying a writer, the more likely they are to do the same thing again to other young writers. It’s a vicious and exploitative cycle. It’s not fair, it’s not okay and I’m pretty sure it’s not legal.
Don’t be afraid to send reminder emails or follow-up phone calls. If you can get into contact with someone from the organisation, ask them to give you an exact or approximate date of payment. Without exhibiting stalker-like behaviour, continue to pester them until they pay you. Do not give up. Your defiance sets an example for other young and emerging writers: you cannot be pushed around or intimidated out of payment.
Be mindful that some publications (especially print) do take time to process invoices and payments. Some won’t pay until the journal hits the shelves, other have to wait until the end of the following month before they can begin to process payments. Inquire about this with your editor and they will let you know of how long this process usually takes. Try not to send a barrage of emails if you’ve only been waiting for two weeks. Typically, the red flag only comes if you’re being ignored, or if you’re waiting a prolonged period of time.
But have no fear! Most publications are awesome, efficient and super professional. This step is rarely necessary, but it’s important you know how to work your way around the situation if and when it happens to you.
5. Keeping track of your earnings:
When the cash starts ~rolling in~, you’re going to want to keep track of it.
I like to keep a spreadsheet of all financial details: how much I’ve been paid, where that money is coming from, when the invoice was sent, when the payment was received etc. It’s also a great place to keep track of money that you’re still waiting on, so you know how long it’s been since you’ve sent an invoice, or a place to keep approximate dates of when you should be paid. It takes just a few short minutes each time you send an invoice or receive a payment to fill out, and it’ll make your life so much easier in the long run (plus it’s a great resource when tax time comes around!)
It’s also a good idea to create a separate bank account for your freelance earnings. This way, keeping track of your money is super easy, and anything you need to spend on your writing career can come out of that account. Keeping everything in the one place makes things so much easier in the long run.