Getting Paid: The Struggle of Freelancers
By Nyssa Johnston
Stylist: Nyssa Johnston | Photographer: Brie Conomos | Model: Tom O’Connor
Work experience and unpaid internships are for those seeking to improve their skill set and build upon their minimal experience or portfolio. Most young Australians undertake unpaid work while studying to improve job prospects when they graduate. Given the emphasis from education providers on work integrated learning, it is no surprise that employees have been using this as a justification to recruit tertiary participants for unpaid work.
For tertiary students, this kind of program may be beneficial as they develop new skills, knowledge, career prospects, and networks they may not be able to obtain elsewhere. However, it has come to the attention of many young freelancers that while they may have the clientele and experience, it does not prevent employers and successful brands from exploiting them. Additionally, it is common for employers to convince young freelancers they are being compensated for their work with the exposure their employer could provide. Companies are using free content for their social media and portfolio in exchange for greater knowledge, free product, and experience for the freelancer.
Despite having collaborated with established Australian and international brands for years, young freelance creatives like Brienna Conomos, Sophie Marsh, and Bridget Manning are still having their speciality skillsets exploited by labels. Ms Manning, a Brisbane-based makeup artist says, “I have done a lot of collaborations – maybe 50 – which were unpaid. I have definitely done my fair share, but more in my earlier days when I didn’t realise I was being taken advantage of”.
Many believe that freelance work is simple, flexible, and provides one with freedom, but this is not always the case. “It may look glamourous, fun, and easy but there are a lot of meltdowns, self-esteem issues, and late fees on phone bills,” Ms Marsh says.
Ms Marsh, a Brisbane-based freelance model, explains that even though it was previously agreed upon, there have been numerous times she has not received payment. “This happens very often. I’ve had to borrow money from friends or if things are really dire, my parents, to make rent sometimes. I pretty much live week-to-week for this exact reason.”
The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman published a report in March of 2017 which states that one in two respondents reported over 40 percent of their invoices were paid late last financial year. This level of unprofessionalism, from Australian companies especially, should not be occurring as frequently as it is.
Ms Marsh represents just one of many freelancers forced to obtain additional means of employment to support themselves financially. It is becoming increasingly important for young creatives to speak up and shed light on this issue as they are being left out of pocket. Being refused payment has resulted in young creatives paying for the privilege to work and having to compensate for all the aspects that allow creative work to occur. Expenses include their time, travel costs, and expensive speciality equipment which varies in price depending on the profession.
If the creative industries are not careful, the damages of unpaid work will drive young talent out of the field. Although some freelancers are not able to call the issue out publicly, this young generation needs to speak up in other ways.
Tips on how to avoid not being paid for services
For many industries it is not justifiable to forget to pay someone for their services, or to undercut them hugely. This is what you can do to avoid just that:
Do your research on clients and avoid red flags.
Be diligent and do you research before approaching a brand for work. Scope out their audience and their general ballpark profitability, and do not be afraid to walk away from underpaid jobs.
“I used to think that booking a bad job is better than not booking anything – this couldn’t be further from the truth. You’ve got to back yourself if you’re going to make this industry work for you – a couple of pairs of bikinis or a cute dress won’t pay your rent,” Ms Marsh says.
Know your worth and negotiate terms and conditions.
Take initiative and tell the client your payment expectations. If they do not respond then you probably would not want to work for them – really, they are doing you a favour! It is okay to negotiate and discuss payment options because really, it is up to your discretion.
If you are confused about standard payment time for your invoice, a report published in March 2017 by the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman found that 96 percent of businesses have 30 days or less as their required standard payment time. Stick to this if you are unsure.
Get a deposit.
Freelancers should be asking for at least a 50 percent deposit for large jobs, and an upfront payment for small jobs. Clear communication around payment is paramount, and if a client seems suspicious about paying up during an early stage in the process, it will help raise important red flags.