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How Freelancers Can Avoid Not Getting Paid

Experts reveal how the self-employed can ensure they get their just dues

By Janelle Harris - May 16, 2011

This morning, I didn't have enough money to ride the train. My checking account is overdrawn, so my debit card had about as much value as the sheet of plastic it's crafted out of, and the one credit card I keep on hand for these types of emergencies is pitifully over limit. I was stuck.

The irony of it all? I'm a freelance writer who's owed, in total, about $13,000 for copywriting, editorial, even editing a novel. There seems to be a widespread misconception that the 'free' in 'freelancer' is meant to be taken literally, making the accumulation of overdue payments an unfortunate rite of passage for consultants and other media entrepreneurs.

"We know from surveys of our members [conducted in 2010] that over 77 percent have been stiffed at one point, and it's happened to about 40 percent of them within the past year alone," claims Sara Horowitz, founder and executive director of Freelancers Union, a collective that supports the contracting community. "We've heard and seen almost everything: horror stories about small claims court or people losing tens of thousands of dollars. About a dozen of our members were all stiffed by one company, which then required them to agree to do further work as part of an agreement to pay their back wages."

To avoid being one in that dismal number, freelancers have to be strategic. We've got to put the following into regular practice, so we won't find ourselves in the position of fighting for our own money. Grrr.

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