The 6 clients who pay their freelancers late (30.11.16)

30.11.16  The 6 clients who pay their freelancers late  |  In this month's The Stable Door column, Tiffany Markman talks about the six clients who pay you late.

A business without cash flow can’t pay its bills. It can’t acquire stock, update, upgrade or even settle monthly salary commitments. In precisely the same way, albeit on a smaller scale, a freelancer who’s encountering late payment can’t go to Woolies to fill up a trolley. Can’t put petrol in the car. Can’t operate.

And yet, clients routinely pay their freelancers late.

This enrages me because there’s an implication that freelancers can wait; that our comparatively meager invoices are less important and less urgent. And what do I do when I’m enraged? I write a bitchy post, skewering the subject.

There’s a good chance you’ll recognise, in my sketches below, one or six of the clients who pay you late. Let me know if I’ve missed one. And enjoy:

1. The dimwit

She doesn’t know to process an EFT, so she waits for ‘month-end’ and relies on the ‘Finance person’. If pushed to pay she’ll go to the bank and process a cash deposit, on which you’ll have to pay a percentage in bank fees. FYI, this is also the client who sends you needy Whatsapps – with emojis – to chase up on the progress of the work (always after hours or over weekends).

2. The deceiver

This guy lies. It’s done. Or about to be done. Or it’ll be done first thing. You want to (need to) believe him, but it’s hard to tell whether he’s a bad person or just a creep. FYI, this is also the client who asked you to plagiarise (‘Just massage it a bit and make it your own.’) a competitor’s brochure.

3. The distracted

She’s constantly ‘swamped’, ‘overloaded’, ‘hectic’ and ‘overwhelmed’ (all euphemisms for ‘a poor time manager’) and, while she may have the best intentions of paying you on time, she’s simply unable to get to it. Until you’ve reminded her five times and fielded two or three sincere apologies.

4. The dodger

He declines to answer your emails, avoids your calls, and only pays when you get creative, nasty or litigious. For me, creativity involves paying a homeless person (with a bad cough) to wait in the client’s reception for the day, or recruiting my actor husband to use his scary voice and play my accountant.

5. The douchebag

This guy pays late because you aren’t a priority. In the grand scheme of his big and important life, you don’t matter. FYI, this is also the client who makes you sign a non-disclosure agreement before he briefs you, demands multiple in-person meetings, checks in to see how the work is going mid-stream, and is absolutely hardegat about the meeting of deadlines. 

6. The decadent

She’s too busy travelling the globe and test-driving the new BMW i8 to trouble herself with trifles like making payments to small suppliers. She is a richer version of the douchebag and a stingier version of the distracted. FYI, this is also the client who made a joke during your first meeting about ‘freelancers working for free’ (ha ha), asked you for a ‘recession discount’ on your quote, and likes to have all of her creative meetings at Tasha’s Melrose Arch.

What to do?

Well, I’ve learned the hard way that the little guy usually loses. And we freelancers are always the little guys. So despite having contracts requesting 50% upfront and the balance in delivery of the job, or on sign-off, or after 30 days, there’s not much we can do in the event of late payment. Except wait, complemented by your choice of one or a mix of the following:

  1. Remind
  2. Nag
  3. Bribe
  4. Guilt-trip
  5. Beg
  6. Cry
  7. Escalate
  8. Threaten
  9. Penalise
  10. Fire


Tiffany Markman ( is an opinionated copywriter, editor, columnist and writing trainer who’s worked for over 200 clients in SA and worldwide. She hates misplaced apostrophes and dangling modifiers but loves pizza and pina coladas. Reach her on or follow @tiffanymarkman.