“A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket,” Scrooge shouts at his clerk, Bob Cratchit, in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Was Cratchit stealing from Scrooge? Blackmailing him? Asking for a sky-high pay raise?
No. The put-upon clerk wanted a one-day paid holiday. It was Cratchit’s due, as a faithful employee. Fair pay for diligent work.
Who doesn’t sympathize with Cratchit? And if you’re a copywriter who’s dealt with a slow- or non-paying client, you see professional parallels. While most clients pay on time, it only takes one Scrooge to make life miserable.
Scrooge-like behavior takes various forms: Your client has an absurdly slow billing cycle. Or he changes your project’s direction—after you deliver copy—and wants you to revise and rewrite heavily before he pays you. Or he decides he doesn’t need your copy. So he’s not going to pay at all.
However the stinginess is couched, it displays a profound disrespect for your work and its worth. But in the end, your job isn’t to analyze Scrooges. It’s to make sure you’re not victimized by them. Here’s how.
5 steps that assure copy payment
- Draft a project description. Before you start work, create a brief that describes the project. Pick your client’s brain to get the information you need. Ask about the product, features and benefits, USP, competition, targeted customers, conversion goals, the project’s scope, page- and word-count estimates and copy tone and voice. Nail down deliverable and revision deadlines. Get background materials, including product and company collateral, white papers, PDFs and appropriate website URLs. Draft a memo-style document—this can serve as a template for future assignment sheets—and write up a detailed project description. Email it to your client. This assignment sheet—also known as a creative brief or project memo—goes a long way in preventing misunderstanding and non-payment.
- Encourage feedback. Ask your client to read the assignment sheet to be sure it describes the project he envisions. Tell him you welcome cuts, revisions or additions to the document. Make it clear that now is the time—before you start researching, interviewing and writing—to discuss strategic vision, concepts and other project details.
- Get client buy-in. Ask for your client’s written approval of your assignment sheet. It needn’t be a formal contract—email or email thread works fine. Something like: Hi, Jim. I wonder if you’ve had a chance to look over my assignment sheet to be sure it describes the project as you envision it. I look forward to getting started after I get your okay. Don’t start work on the copy until your client signs off on the assignment sheet.
- Reiterate project parameters in your invoice. I always make sure my invoice mentions project expectations: Please remit $XXXX immediately for Your Super Project as described in Your Super Project Assignment Sheet. Pricing includes two rounds of rewrites provided edits are returned to me within two weeks of copy delivery and do not veer directionally from the Assignment Sheet. This brief statement provides crucial protection.
- Invoice immediately. I invoice for 50% of my fee right away. If it’s a new client, I let her know I will start work as soon as I receive the deposit. For dependable, regular clients I generally start work right after invoicing for the deposit.
Wishing you happy holidays—and a New Year filled with clients as generous as the redeemed Ebenezer Scrooge!