World’s Longest Invoice

I’ve been a frequent freelancer since high school (so about a decade, I’m starting to feel old). For many designers and developers this is their only form of work. It’s a stressful endeavor and there are lots of pitfalls to be had. One of the worst is not getting paid. For some reason or another you’ll come across a client who doesn’t want to pay for the services you’ve provided. Perhaps they aren’t completely satisfied with your work or they don’t think it’s worth what you billed them. I’ve had clients who just disappear or change management midway through a project. It’s always good practice to get a contract before starting work (unfortunately many of us learn this the hard way) but even with a contract it’s hard to make an unwilling client pay.

Enter The World’s Longest Client List. Basically it’s a call to all freelancers who have ever been burned on a job. They encourage you to add up everything you’ve ever been cheated out of by non-paying clients and add it to their list. While it’s not going to get you those lost wages, the movement is getting a fair bit of media. It’s drawing attention to a serious problem and hopefully that will help going forward.

Freelancing is a tough gig with no real stability or job security. If you’re a client, do the right thing and pay your bills. You wouldn’t stiff your plumber, why would you do that to your designer? If you’re a designer, do all that you can to protect yourself. Get a simple contract signed by both parties BEFORE work starts. I like to have them pay a deposit (usually 30–50% is good) upfront. That way even if they disappear or never pay the final invoice, I’m not entirely screwed. You can also try refusing to hand over the final files or project until they’ve paid in full. If you have the contract you’ll be able to take them to court if necessary. Sometimes just the threat of getting a lawyer involved will be enough to make them pay up.

Good luck to all of you freelancers out there and if you have been screwed, be sure to add your lost wages to The World’s Longest Client List.