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If you’re a freelance writer, you’re also a small business owner. And that means you’ll deal with cash-flow issues. You not only have to be a journalist, but also director of receivables.Almost every article writer has horror stories about being paid months after he handed in his story or project. In the most extreme cases, the poor scribe never got paid at all, caught up in a bankruptcy or scam.You are thus warned. But there are some smart steps that can be taken before any payment problems crop up. It’s the same concept as prevention when disease is considered.And some skillful politics via e-mail or phone can move along a tardy check if you get surprised despite all your due diligence.

Scout out your employer
If you’re the good reporter you claim you are, you’ll not only scout out your employer’s trends in assigning projects, but also its payment policies. Ask others who have worked for the employer – that’s often how you get their work anyway, through references or connections.A good rule of thumb is an employer paying 30 days after they receive your invoice or an internal request for payment is made. Be wary of any employer who pays more than 60 days after receipt of the project. That’s an indication of their own cash-flow issues or inability to pay promptly. You should be paid in real time.  I recently left an employer that paid very modestly – and only quarterly. That’s not real-time pay. They’re holding onto their money at your expense.

Arrange for direct deposit into your checking account or PayPal
We’ve all heard “the check is in the mail” explanation of a tardy payment. Well, snail-mail does not work that inefficiently. Ninety-eight percent of the time, if a check hasn’t arrived within four days after an employer said it has been sent, it hasn’t been mailed. If possible, request that your check be direct-deposited into your account. Most legit employers prefer that system to save on labor, paper and postage. That means funds will be available quicker and the slow mail cannot be used as an excuse. If the employer uses PayPal or another intermediate system for payment, that’s just as good.

Re-confirm when you hand in project when payment is expected
Any good employer will not take offense if you ask when payment can be expected when you hand in your work. At the same time, you double-check if the employer makes the payment request or whether you need to send an invoice, and to whom.If the editor himself is not handling payment requests, find out what individual in the company processes payments. Obtain their contact information, including their availability to respond to phone calls or e-mails.
If payment is late, don’t delay your inquiries
Should you arrange direct deposit or a PayPal-type system, monitor the account on the day the payment is supposed to be made. If no pay shows up that day or two days beyond, contact the payment person to report the lack of deposit. Give four days for a check in the mail, but no more. Be diplomatic. Sugar works far better than vinegar. In some cases, there was an oversight. An individual may not have been working the day the day the deposit should have been made or the check was cut. Sometimes there’s a processing foul-up. It’s happened to me. If it’s a legitimate, financially-healthy company, they won’t take offense with business-like requests for payment and will take corrective action.

Take firm action in serious delinquencies
If repeated requests don’t yield action and payment becomes weeks or months late, do not hand in additional work if you’ve got a regular, ongoing relationship with the employer. You’re only putting yourself more at risk. If they’re depending on you, withholding your work can prompt action. And if that strategy still doesn’t work, you won’t want to continue to work for this employer.Still try to practice diplomacy until the last possible second. Attempt to reach a higher-up executive. If you are owed a lot of money and it is seriously delinquent, contact an attorney to determine your options. Don’t let the issue fester. I’ve continued handing in work for one employer for months without being paid, with promises of checks continually being made. The company eventually went bankrupt, and I never collected some $2,000 owed. The employer then re-incorporated under another name, and was never liable for the debts he incurred. Such are the loopholes and unfairness in bankruptcy laws. You don’t want to be on that kind of hook.