Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Warning for New Freelancers on Making Fast Cash

I'm "one of those people" who gives Twitter a whirl before I move from my pillow, just after the alarm clock starts singing my playlist of the morning. Normally I wouldn't blog about one singular tweet. But this one caught my eye and deserved more than a 140-character response, because I think those of you who are new to freelancing really need to understand this:


Let me repeat that in case you didn't get it the first time:


Basically, the person on Twitter proclaimed that she would show you how to make money within two weeks. The tweet contained a link to her book on Amazon, bearing the same words.

Intrigued -- because quite frankly, if this woman had discovered this "secret," maybe she had also discovered the cure for cancer -- I flipped to the "preview" section to scan her introduction. She discussed how she'd show you how to set up your business and move right into making fast cash.

Now maybe there is a new market out there that will pay people quickly, and I just haven't discovered it. Or maybe my circle of clients are the type that stick to the 30-day payment turnaround time. So I offer this caveat before I dive in. Full disclosure. I may not fully know of all of the clients out there, those of whom will pay you within 14 days.

That said .... For the uninitiated, let me explain how this works:

First you have to find someone to pay you to write an article for them.

Next, you have to do the research. And then write the article. If you're a crack journalist who has experience turning copy within 2 hours on deadline from assignment to press, that's doable. Actually, it's very easy. But let's face it -- most people do not have daily newspaper or daily wire service experience.

OK. So suppose you are like I was when I first started and you DO have that experience. That's the best-case scenario, right?

You show this editor your advanced reporting and writing techniques, and you flip a story in an astounding 24 hours (for the sake of argument, that would be what it would take to do it quickly, for a major magazine article, and that's pushing it).

You turn in the article .... and your invoice ..... but then it doesn't stop there.

The editor has to go through your copy, which in magazine parlance may not be that very day. They ask you questions about anything that needs clarification. Then they go to production.

Now. This is where the tricky part comes in.

Unless you have done due diligence by RESEARCHING the publication's payment cycle on, you have no clue as to WHEN you will be paid. is a treasure trove of information for a publication's payment cycle. Every person that I contact for work has already been thoroughly vetted via this website. I have used this site now for 15 years as a freelancer, and this is how it works: It contains an enormous database of practically every publication in the United States and Canada. Those publications list entries about their writers' guidelines, their payment scale AND their payment SCHEDULE.

Although payment amount is important, the thing that will sink or float your freelance business is the rate at which they will turn your invoice.

I refuse to work for anyone who will not pay me in 30 days or less. I have only made one exception to that rule, and that's because I know the editor personally, and her company was just bought out by a larger conglomerate that changed their pay schedule. Based on my long history with her as a writer, I give that publication a pass. But as for new clients, I will not work for them if they say anything like, "Payment on publication."

Let that sink in for a minute.

"Payment on publication."

Suppose you write a story in November. You turn it in within 24 hours and think, "Oh goody. Look how fast I churned that copy. I can make thousands of dollars this year if I keep up this level of productivity!"

Well yes, you will make a lot of money.

The problem is ... when will the money hit your mailbox?


See, as much as this author on Twitter would like to assert that she can teach you to make money in 14 days, what she's NOT saying is that it takes two to tango. You're out there on the dance floor, making killer moves. But your partner is standing on the sidelines wolfing down shots of Bourbon and chatting up that girl with-legs-up-to-here.

And besides the publication's payment schedule, there are other variables.

There have been literally dozens of times when a frenzied editor has either lost my invoice or has been so busy that she has completely forgotten about sending it over to accounting.

There have also been times when accounting will say, "Oh. We lost it because it came in two days before Christmas, and we were at the company party that day."

And there was one time when a publication that normally paid me on time suddenly said, "We changed our policy, and now we're only paying on publication," I said, "When are you going to publish it?" The editor said, "Oh, I don't know. Maybe in six or nine months."


You are RUNNING A BUSINESS. You have to pay your bills, put food on your child's table and clothes on your child's back, and someone says, "We'll pay you when we get around to it?"


(Can you tell I feel strongly about this?)

Anyone -- ANYONE -- who tells you that they can teach you to get paid in 14 days probably also has a wonderful bridge for sale in Brooklyn, super cheap.

There's one other thing I need to say about this, and then I'm off to make my own money:

When I started freelancing in 2001, I already had 12 years of newsroom and AP wire service experience and newspaper editing experience under my belt. I already had interviewed crooked politicians, wise-ass cops, angry housewives at PTA meetings, bank robbers and murderers and even a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.

I already had a resume replete with proof that I was able to do the job.

And it has been 15 years since then that I have been working for magazines ranging from jobs for engineers and information technology professionals, to military magazines, to entrepreneurial magazines, to real estate magazines.

Do you understand?

If someone like me still has to hound editors for payment within the U.S.-business-accepted policy of 30 days, a new freelancer cannot expect to push for payment within 14 days.

Maybe it can be done. Maybe I'm too nice. Maybe I've been asking for my honestly hard-earned wage in the wrong way. And if I'm wrong, please feel free to correct me and impart your wisdom as to how to cajole people into quick and easy payment.

But if you go on Twitter and someone says, "I can show you how to make fast cash as a freelance writer!" and you're new to freelancing, please consider my warning.

It is unrealistic.

I guess anything is possible, and again, I may need to re-evaluate my payment policies, but I truly believe it is unrealistic.

You can take that to the bank.