Payment for freelancers.

It needs to evolve. It really, really does.

Snippet from an illustration for Ernst & Young

It was my sister’s; I’d organised the repair in her absence, and I told the garage she’d settle the bill when she was back from her holiday. But of course, the garage, quite correctly, reminded me it couldn’t release the car without payment. So I paid.

Then it hit me. In that moment, as I settled the bill, I wondered why is it that I am expected to release ready-to-use artwork and then wait weeks or months for payment, often long after the work’s actually been deployed by the client?

I was staggered to grasp in that moment that in almost 30 years of working as a full time freelance illustrator, the payment system hasn’t evolved. Every time I ask for a deposit, I’m looked at askance. Historically, too, suggesting it to an agent has them running scared — fearing that if their agency charges a deposit and the next one doesn’t, the client will simply go to that next one instead. There’s been the occasional downpayment, but in hundreds and hundreds of jobs, I can probably count those on my fingers.

It takes boldness to bring about change and I’ve felt like a lone voice for years, but I was overwhelmed that day by how different my financial machinations could look if work was paid for on delivery of artwork.

There’s hope. One client recently offered what they called their ‘new-style’ contract, nervous I wouldn’t like it — but it offered a third on signing the contract, a third on delivery of artwork, and the final third when the work was published. Now THAT sounded…evolved. Still not perfect, but thoughtful. And I couldn’t sign quick enough.

I’ve three decades of managing a business with a traditionally difficult and unpredictable cashflow; I’m good at it. But I’d rather not have had to get good at managing a wildly fluctuating income, based not on a variable stream of work but on the unknowable due date of the payment for that work. I spend a lot of business hours managing money, and always have — hours that could be spent doing other things. And seriously; in all that time, despite the increases in speed at which work can be generated and sent, the immediacy of modern bank transfers, the myriad options for quick online payments, technological marvels and invoice management, the system for ‘talent-makes-work > bills client > client uses work > sits on payment’ hasn’t changed.

And it really, really needs to.

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Sarah J Coleman

Artist + illustrator of over 800 books and owner of the same amount of pens. Enough to write you a picture AND paint you a story. inkymole.com / inkstagram.ink