The working life of a freelancer can be a precarious one. 

Clients demanding more for less, ever tighter deadlines, and delays in getting paid are all issues that many have to deal with on a regular basis. But what if your client isn’t some big, faceless organisation, but another freelancer just like you? 

Should you be able to expect a better standard of treatment from people who, after all, know what it’s like to be on the other end of that employer-freelancer deal? 

Nic Dunn, CEO and Founder of Charle Agency, has been freelancing as a web designer since the age of 17 and launched his own London-based agency last year. He now regularly hires other freelancers several times a month that specialise in skills such as photography, web development, brand identity and website design. 

Understanding Each Other 

He says that being on the other side of the experience has ‘10,000%’ shaped how he treats other freelancers he hires. 

“I’ve been known to prompt my freelancers for invoices so I can pay them, I wouldn’t ever want to work with a company if I had any doubt of receiving payment, this stands for the way my agency works with freelancers.”

Dealing fairly with other freelancers is more than just an ethical choice says Nic, it also makes good business sense. 

“I am dependent on our freelancers as much as they are dependent on me,” he said. “I believe the team-based approach to working collaboratively on projects is the way forward, I believe in always working together.”

Freelance Chains 

Being given the runaround is, sadly, an ever-present danger for a freelancer. As a one-person operation, they can lack the bargaining power and legal expertise to demand what they’re due. If a formal contract of agreement isn’t in place, it can depend on the goodwill of the person doing the hiring to fulfil their side of the bargain. 

“There are people who abuse freelancers definitely,” says London-based videographer and camera operator Edan Cohen. 

“I know a few very talented friends of mine who’ve taken on jobs and never seen payment – I do think this is a rare case though.”

Edan frequently outsources work via his company Landed and says freelancers all working as part of a chain in his industry is not uncommon. 

“Working as a freelancer for a production company, who’s been hired by another company, that’s been hired by another company can bring some issues.” 

One of the problems in these freelance chains is that, essentially, if the lead freelancer doesn’t get paid – nobody else does either. 

Late payment is something most freelancers will be familiar with. A survey by business management company Bonsai, which analysed three years of freelance invoicing data, found that nearly a third (29%) of freelancer invoices were paid late. 

“I’ve seen this to both extremes,” he said. “I’ve had clients pay me several months later after the jobs complete, with excuses like ‘The invoice was lost’, or ‘the accounts manager is on holiday’. 

“And then I’ve worked with great people who pay me within a week, or even on the day. 

“Typically, there’s a 30-day payment window that the client pays, so if I’ve hired additional freelancers, generally I would pay them when the client pays. 

“This is to protect cash flow. In most cases though, I pay freelancers on the day as my personal thinking is that they’ve done their job, now it’s on to me.”

Rachael Dines, Director of Shake it Up Creative, worked as a freelancer after being made redundant in 2009 and hired other freelancers regularly before starting her limited company. 

She said: “I’ve got a fairly good business head and I knew that it wouldn’t do me any favours financially to pay everyone immediately when the invoices arrived.  

“I paid on time, just as I wanted to be paid by my clients on time, but I rarely paid early. In fact, my self-derived policy was to aim to have been paid by my client before I paid the freelancer and I did make the freelancers aware of this. 

“Now, with my limited company, I’m more understanding of rates and availability because I’ve been in that freelance position.”

Negative Experiences 

It’s not just the freelancer being hired that must be wary of a bad experience, but also the one doing the hiring. 

Freelance digital PR specialist Hana Bednarova ran into problems with a freelancer she’d employed for a campaign that didn’t turn out as well as she’d expected. 

 She said: “The freelancer started worrying they won’t get paid as they did not hit requested targets or didn’t deliver results we agreed on. 

“I kept reassuring them that this won’t be the case but the freelancer kept changing the payment terms almost every day, requesting payments within less than a week and backdating the invoices so payment would have to be made within almost the next 48 hours. It was a bit stressful, but it all got sorted.”

Formalising the Agreement 

She recommends getting to know a freelancer before you start working with them and ensuring there are clear lines of communication. 

“If you can get to know them, whether that’s over a cup of tea or coffee or a phone call, do it. I even found it very handy sharing a calendar, so myself and freelancers I worked with knew when we are in meetings or working on other clients’ accounts so we are not requesting things or chasing when the other person is busy.”

Rachael recommends putting subcontractor agreements in place so you both know where you stand. 

She said: “I was kindly sent an agreement template from a contact following a networking event I attended, and I simply adapted this for my own use.  

“That person checked it over for me too and whilst it wasn’t a flawless legal document, I knew that I could present it in court if I needed to and demonstrate I was a professional, prepared, freelancer.  It made things clear for both parties, such as the contractor wasn’t entitled to sick or holiday pay from me and that I would manage all projects and they would not have direct communications with my client.  

“That way, there was no awkward conversations needed.”