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Navigating Payment Terms When You’re a New Freelance Copywriter

It may come down to how badly you want the job


Freelance copywriter payment terms

Hi Susan,

I’m a new copywriter trying to land my first client. I just got off the phone with someone considering using my copywriting services.

Laura has only been in her Marketing Director position for about a month. She says her company has put marketing on the back burner for quite a while and now they want to start ramping that up.

I had a question… she said their payment terms are net 60. That seems like a long time to wait to get paid. What are your thoughts?

I’m assuming I would be a 1099 independent contractor if I get hired… is it okay to ask to be paid quicker or just be quiet and let it evolve on its own?

Thanks for considering my question.

Carol

Hi Carol,

Congratulations on potentially getting your first client. That’s exciting!

Regarding the payment terms, those are likely out of Laura’s control. Here’s how things usually work:

  • Small Business – If your client is a small business or one-man band, you’re likely working with the owner. The owner controls when he pays you and probably will agree to your payment terms. That’s a good thing, but the downside is, he (or she) is likely paying out of his own pocket, so he’s going to watch every penny.
  • Medium to Big Business – If your client is an established company and has a marketing director, she has no control over the payment terms. On the plus side, she’s working out of a budget and isn’t going to ponder endlessly over every penny. In fact, she’ll likely want to be sure she uses up the whole budget. Otherwise, she may be given less money to work with the following year.

In your case, the marketing director probably has even less clout because she’s new in her job. She’s not likely to go to bat for you to get paid sooner when she’s only just learning the ropes herself.

And, I might add, you have no clout either. You’re just starting out as a copywriter. You have a limited portfolio and limited experience. You are likely going up against other copywriters with more writing experience.

Perhaps when you get some experience under your belt or become known for a certain specialty that differentiates you from competitors and makes you less of a commodity, then you can negotiate better terms. But know that when you do, you are taking a risk that the client may not want or be able to work with you.

I have a New York City hospital I write for. The hospital pays at 90 days, and there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s how they treat every vendor. The marketing director I work with feels terrible explaining to vendors that she has no control over the payment terms. So she never quibbles about price. She signs off on whatever quote I provide and knows I’m not giving her “my best price” because I’m essentially granting her the option to buy now and pay later.

If I were you, I would just accept the payment terms and focus on landing the client so you get some samples for your portfolio and some experience. This client has potential to become an ongoing account. It’s not easy to get accounts vs. one-offs, especially when you’re new. And this client is a perfect fit for you!

Having said that, I can’t tell you what to do. If money is your priority, you can tell the marketing person that you’re not flexible on your terms, but I bet that will cause friction and drive her to choose someone else.

Also, realize that payment terms aren’t the only negotiable item. Pay rate, scope of work and delivery timetable are other variables you want to consider. If those items are as you wish, especially pay rate, then you might want to shelve the argument about payment terms.

My personal strategy when dealing with new clients is to make it super-easy for them to hire me. I like to get the ball rolling so I can show them how talented and conscientious I am. I don’t want them to even consider hiring any other copywriter. So I make the experience as frictionless as possible — no long legalese contracts, no hassles about payment terms, no complaints about deadlines, etc. Let’s just get to work!

Finally, yes to your question. You’ll be an independent contractor. If the client pays you more than $600 in a year, they should send you a 1099 at the end of the year. It’s the law, but one that is not strongly enforced, so many companies don’t bother. Be sure to track your earnings yourself. Even if they don’t send you a 1099, you are still responsible for paying taxes on your earnings, of course.

Susan Greene

Marketing Copywriter

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