The Freelance Journalist Starter Kit, Part 2: Getting Paid

This is Part 2 in a series. Find Part 1 here.
Confession: Before I started freelancing, I was terrified to even try. People would offer me opportunities, but as soon as they asked for my rate, I froze; I had no idea what a rate was and was scared to say the wrong thing. So, I (stupidly) turned those opportunities down.
When I finally dove into freelancing, I had a steep-as-hell learning curve—but this time, I had a mentor: a longtime small business owner. He demystified the process and all the uncomfortable accounting stuff: invoices, keeping track of payments, taxes, and (gulp) making sure you get paid on time. After learning how to handle those things, I wasn’t scared to take the leap—or set my rates—anymore.
Sometimes rates feel like the scariest part, but don’t let it be! After all, if you’ve made it to talking about rates, it’s a good thing. It means the client is interested in what you have to offer, so keep going!

Table of Contents

Ready, Set, Negotiate

In freelancing, you have a lot of say in how much you get paid for an assignment. Always make sure you’re negotiating for a fair wage for yourself. 

Upon acceptance of a pitch, your editor will ask you for your rate. How do you determine this? I often look at a combination of things while determining my rate: my level of experience at the current moment, past rates, my own finances, the scope of work and reporting required, and the amount of time it’s likely to take. I also do my research and compare other rates.

Slideshow: Invoice 101

Get Your Accounting System in Order

This aspect of freelancing is the least glamorous, but the most necessary. You have to think about it before you get in too deep—and definitely before the next tax season. Make sure you have your invoice template ready to go and a way to track those invoices because you are your own accounting department.

Now, when I say that, it doesn’t mean you need to rush out and learn double-entry bookkeeping right away. Of course, it’s good to know, but you can also make your own system. I simplified and made an Invoice Tracker to keep track of everything.

And now, I’m passing on that template to you. Use it however you need.

Don't Assume You'll Get Paid On-Time

Fair warning: A lot of publications don’t pay on time. Even the most prestigious ones. Sometimes waiting for payments feels like this…

Sometimes, you have to bug your client to send payment…a lot. Always follow up; you did the work and they need to pay you. Don’t hesitate to speak up to get your money.

I highly recommended being professional, while applying pressure, too. It has happened to me countless times—my invoice has slipped through the cracks in editorial and accounting departments; they only checked on it after I emailed them. Which is why you should always follow up sooner than later.

To further illustrate this point: a little game.