When a client will not pay an agreed-upon fee, debt collecting is an unfortunate reality for freelancing photographers. Fortunately, there are several options to exercise when agreements are broken, and not all have to involve going to court.
An unfortunate reality of any kind of freelancing is that a few clients will not pay on time, if at all. This can be curtailed by getting all agreements in writing in advance, and at least a 50 percent deposit on a project. In addition, giving up images or prints before payment is received is not a good way to collect the money. By giving the images or prints only after payment is received, you can save a lot of time when it comes to debt collections from clients who really cannot afford to or simply do not wish to pay their bill. However, there may be some cases where you have to take more drastic action to get money you are owed, especially if it is from the past.
Debt Collection Agencies
When it becomes evident that your client will not pay up after you send your own debt collections letters and make phone calls, you may need to hire an agency to do this for you. If your client is an individual, failure to pay you the debt as agreed can land a negative entry on their credit reports, especially if you have some evidence in writing that you are owed the money. E-mails may also work. Debt collections agencies work on a percentage basis and may be able to get you some or all of the money at a fairly low cost to you. When choosing a bill collector, it is important to make sure they are in good standing with the Better Business Bureau. Using unscrupulous bill collectors will not help your business reputation, and hiring a debt collections agency at all should be done as a last resort after months of trying to get your client to pay up.
Small Claims Court
Small claims court is an option you may choose if you wish to quickly get your money and can easily prove the client broke a deal. Each community has a courthouse where small claims papers may be filed, and the fee is usually less than $50. If your client refuses to come to court, you automatically win your lawsuit. The judge can order the client's wages or assets be garnished to pay your bill and any debt collections costs, especially if you have a contract. If the client does come to court, you and he or she will try to work out the situation with the judge. Unpaid lawsuits also affect a client's personal and/or business credit, and is also a matter of public record. Most people do not want to be successfully sued, and may be willing to pay the bill before the court date to avoid the embarrassment of being sued over an unpaid media services invoice.