Some months ago, I raved and ranted about being paid for services here in Holy Land Central (HLC). Linked to a personal issue, the saga was FINALLY resolved earlier in the week.
The gist: Before moving back to this fountain of generosity and forthcomingness, my good friend & ex-colleague Jeff who writes for the German press was kind enough to set me up with some writing work ahead of my arrival for one of the country’s two, English language newspapers. Assigned work immediately, my only niggling concern was payment – this newspaper, which shall remain nameless but is the more established of the two in the country (okay, you know which one I’m talking about) has a rampant reputation of not paying writers.
Unfortunately, the reputation proved absolutely valid. Among the run-around techniques I encountered: Call back later, Sorry wrong number, She doesn’t work in accounts payable anymore, We didn’t receive the fax, We need the original-not a fax, Can you re-fax all of the paperwork? Call me in an hour, I’ll call you in an hour, He/she’s out to lunch, What invoice?
And although I’m prone to drama, this is no exaggeration. Dozens of phone calls, and fax upon fax culminated in my finally drawing the line 2 months after payment was overdue.
I’m coming to get my check this afternoon, I announced to Mr. Accounting who replied: First, call Ms. Accounting (the same one who is rumored to have been instructed not to answer her phone or return calls and lives up to the rumor)
Sorry, did that already. I’m not playing anymore. Either there’s a check or I start legal proceedings, I tell Mr. Accounting. Threats don’t work on me, he replies. And I don’t work for free and this isn’t a threat. It’s a promise, I counter.
So he says there’ll be a check at 2 p.m., I shlep to the offices deep within the city’s auto mechanic warehouse district of side streets and leaking engine oil and upon arrival:
Mr. and Ms. Accounting are out to lunch, says the receptionist.
Look, I tell her, affecting my thickest, New York accent even though I’m from Ohio but it makes me feel tough I’m not leaving here without a check in my hand so if it means sitting here all night, I will. I’m not doing the “out to lunch” thing, okay? You find them. We had an appointment.
And guess who popped out of the Accounting Department a minute later waving my check?
So here’s the message to all of my writing, creative, freelance and other associated brethren who know THE RUN AROUND:
1. If it stinks, it stinks. If you think you’re being led in circles, you probably are. Don’t make excuses for the other party at your own expense “They’re probably just busy” “Maybe I’m over-reacting”, etc. Call them on it. Bring it to the surface and say exactly what you see. They won’t admit it but you’ll feel better for articulating the problem.
2. Heed the rumors. Yes, false rumors can destroy and hurt people – remember the year at Hogwart’s when everybody turned against Harry Potter? But hey, we don’t live in a wizarding world where owls retrieve our paychecks for us so when it comes to money, if two or three people say they’ve heard Company X doesn’t pay, turn around and walk. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re the special one who will be granted asylum
3. Unless you have a trust fund or don’t need the money – and I know such a cash-fat journalist who continues to write for this publication despite 8 months of non-payment – STOP working for a questionable business immediately. It doesn’t matter if you’re mid-stream a graphics project, article or whatever. It’s about valuing yourself and your time
4. Check out legal options and if you are willing to pursue them, flex it. If you have no intention of going to court but threaten legal action, it will only weaken your stance in eventually recovering cash when you don’t make good on the promise.
5. Once the saga ends, DON’T jump back into the fire. So what if the editor of another section wants you to write a cover spread? The accounting people are still the same accounting people and the overall company culture applies to the ENTIRE company. You don’t need the headache.
And with that: Happy Creative Endeavors and May We All Get Paid Without Hassle on Time. Amen.