Kickstarter Lesson #158: Why I Prioritize Paying Freelancers

28 July 2015 | 42 Comments

Yesterday I was running late for my weekly pick-up soccer game. I was dashing around my condo grabbing cleats, water, shorts, etc. Right before I was poised to leave, I checked my e-mail one last time and saw an invoice from a freelancer who has been helping on one of our upcoming products.

I paused, checked the clock. Can it wait? I thought. Can I play soccer, then pay the invoice later tonight?

My answer: What does it say about the value I place on this freelancer if I don’t make this a priority?

So I sat down, paid the invoice via PayPal, and then left for soccer. It took about 2 minutes, max.

Before I talk more about what this means, I want to be clear that this is my philosophy, and I’m not forcing it on you or judging you for doing things differently. I’m just going to share some thoughts here, start a conversation, and we’ll see where it takes us.

***

6 years ago, I wrote a short story that got accepted by an online literary magazine. They paid $50 for the story, which was awesome, as I had never been paid anything to write before. The magazine agreed to pay me within 60 days of publishing the story (their standard terms), and while I didn’t really think about what that meant, I agreed to them.

The story was published, and 57 days passed without a word from the editor. This was a seminal moment for me as a future game publisher, because I felt something I had never felt before: Against all rationale, I felt like I was never going to get paid, and for some reason–despite the fact that $50 was a drop in the bucket–it mattered.

I wrote to the magazine to check in, and they said I would be paid within the terms of the agreement. They paid me on the 60th day. I kind of wish I had waited for the 60th day to pass before saying anything, because I suspect they actually had no plans to pay me or the other authors–it’s a situation where the author doesn’t want to offend the publisher, and more than likely they’ll just forget they’re owed anything. It’s not like I had a calendar alert set for the 60th day: “Make sure the magazine pays you today!”

I learned something that day about how a freelancer might feel when a publisher doesn’t prioritize their payment. It was a hopeless, sinking feeling. I don’t want to ever make a freelancer feel that way.

***

Could I have waited a few hours to pay the invoice? Absolutely. In fact, based on the terms of most invoices, I could have waited 29 days if I wanted to.

But I want to show our freelancers that they don’t ever have to wonder for a second if we’re going to pay them or not. I want them to understand how much I value what they’ve spent the last few weeks or months working on. I want to show them that they are just as high of a priority as a backer or a customer.

Because without my graphic designer, artists, sculptors, fulfillment companies, lawyers–anyone to whom I outsource important tasks and talent–without them, there is no Stonemaier Games. There’s just a dude with a pile of sketches and two cats.

***

I can’t always pay invoices right away, usually because I’m sleeping when I receive them. Or, back when I was preparing for the Euphoria Kickstarter campaign, I simply ran out of money and needed to wait to pay until after we received the backer funds. Or, more recently, I didn’t see that an invoice was included in a zip file with some other illustrations.

But here’s the thing: When you set a precedent for paying immediately after receiving an invoice, freelancers can work with you when things go wrong. On the recent example, the freelancer didn’t think I was trying to skip out on the bill because I had always paid so promptly. It was obvious to her that I had overlooked it, and her e-mail exuded understanding, not anger.

These are the perks of paying immediately, though they’re not my primary motivator. I really just want to show freelancers that I care about them. They are a priority, and I value their work, even if it sometimes means being a few minutes late for soccer.

***

If you’re an entrepreneur, what’s your philosophy on paying freelancers? If you’re a freelancer, what do you think?

42 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #158: Why I Prioritize Paying Freelancers

  1. As someone who has been a freelance writer of words and editor of words for a long, long time, we appreciate people like yourself, and are far more likely to bend over backwards to help you.

    Basically?

    Thank You.

  2. I agree Jamey :)

    Freelancers are there to make sure a small designer like me, can get something done without having to sell my house. They mean everything to me, which is also why I blog about them, have a specific site for them, and in general share them with everyone. The whole paying them, is a contract thing that should never be in doubt.

    The funny thing is all those 30-60-X days payments. In today’s world where you get no significant interest rate at all from the banks, why would anyone ever wait with paying their freelancers?

    Have a great time at GenCon Jamey :)

    1. Emil:

      I think you’re right about those 30-60 day payment terms, though I can think of a few instances whey companies uphold them:

      1. Some companies might pay everyone (regardless of when they completed the work) at the same time each month. The 15th of the month might be “Freelancer Payday,” just for the accountant to consolidate that task onto a single day.

      2. Some companies have big swings of cash from week to week, so they may not actually have the money to pay the freelancer at the exact moment they receive the bill.

      I’m not defending those practices, but I also don’t want to judge them.

  3. Great post and sentiment, Jamey. I think my experience as freelance web designer has helped shape my opinion on this. Being put off doesn’t feel good, and having to try to reach out over and over again to collect payment makes you feel like you are begging for the money when you’ve really already earned your payment through actual work.

    Money comes in sporadically enough as a freelancer, so anything you can do to make them feel more comfortable working with you is a bonus. You should pay everyone, obviously, but the closer you get to actually paying the person who did the work for you (read: no A/R or Billing department involved) the more your timeliness will be appreciated by the freelancer.
    Ryan

  4. I definitely prioritize paying freelancers, usually within a day. However, I don’t let technology enslave me with push notifications. I wouldn’t have even known the invoice came until after soccer. Which is every Wednesday for me! :)

  5. I think that’s a mark of good character. When it might not be possible to pay a freelancer immediately (e.g. you’re waiting on a check later that week), I think they would understand delays when you’ve honored your word.

  6. You know this is very interesting; we had a debacle at TROBO a few weeks ago. Something is reallllly strange with our email system, and it has wreaked some havoc with a variety of communications between us and customer (yikes!) and vendors (double-yikes!). I have a freelancer, who I also consider to be friend. She’s an actress who did a lovely performance for a short film I made a couple years ago. About 3 months ago we hired her for some VO work. I came back to her a couple months later to do VO work, and she told me that we hadn’t paid her.
    O. M. G. I was floored and initially angry that we had dropped the ball on this. I could feel we had lost some of her trust. It turned out my partner had not gotten my approval for her invoice, which I had sent via email. I apologized profusely, and we paid her immediately for the old invoice and promptly for the new VO work. I don’t think we have a great solution in place for checks and balances against invoices, which is another way you can screw up a relationship. If your infrastructure or processes are bad, you can look unprofessional or uncaring, even when you don’t mean to. Either way though, the damage gets done, and you have rebuild that trust.

    1. Thanks for sharing this, Trobo. I’ve had that happen too (with e-mail in general, not invoices): You send out a request for approval or response, and then you forget about the topic when you don’t hear back. It’s interesting to me that e-mail platforms have tried to add ways to prevent this, but you always have to opt into them, but I ask so many questions of so many people by e-mail every day, I can’t remember to use those tools for all of them (much less any of them, really).

  7. As a freelancer, I appreciate consistency in payments. Quick turn around payments on invoices is always appreciated but I also understand accounting practices for payroll. What matters most to me is the consistency of payment at an agreed upon schedule. Like others have said though, I do tend to respond favorably and am willing to be more flexible for publishers that pay invoices quickly.

  8. Having seen how some companies treat their contractor invoices (also government agencies), leaving it to the last possible day is a standard practice with the main reason given “the longer the money stays in our account, the more interest we get on it”. Now while this is perfectly understandable from a business perspective, I do wonder how much more you’d gain by having contented freelancers in mind of your company rather than the monetary extra from stringing them out.

    1. I read a book about being a professional freelance translator many years ago, and apparently some translators had been forced to take it up with their congressman before they could get paid. It’s actually frustrating as a tax-payer, because that means decent translators are charging the government more or refusing to work with the government at all. It’s certainly not something I’d put up with twice as a freelancer.

  9. class. pure class. love the posts and the content makes me want to continue to do what I can to support your efforts because you want to do things /right/

    way to be, Jamey.

  10. I have no idea how promptly we pay our freelancers. While I’m talking to them a lot about what needs to be done there’s someone else who handles payment. When there’s a problem I can speak to them and it’s almost always resolved within hours. It’s great that we deal with problems quickly and there aren’t many but I’m inspired to find out what our SOP is and if there’s room for improvement.

  11. Jamey, I concur completely. As a small business owner, I rely heavily on my artisans to produce the pieces in a timely manner…by extension, they should expect payment in a timely manner, as well. It’s a matter of trust…with over 20 years now in the Air Force, the men and women under my charge don’t just follow orders…it’s a matter of trust developed over time. It’s the same in the business world. My Backers trust that I will deliver on my promise to fulfill orders; I trust that my artists will render the pieces; and they, in-turn, trust that I have the good business sense to pay the bills.

    Cheers,
    Joe

  12. This often comes down to your personality. When you receive a deadline do you want to meet it or beat it. I know that when I give a freelancer a dead line and they bring me the product early it makes me feel as if they are excited and want to work on this project with me. Also as someone who is being paid when the contract says you will be paid in 30 days and you are paid immediately or even quickly it makes me feel appreciated and the next time I work with you I will want to beat your deadline with my best work. In my opinion it is these small things that make us feel as if we are truly part of the project and not just cogs in the machine.

  13. Jamey, speaking of freelancers, do you have any 3D modeling freelancers that you would highly recommend to someone? I noticed you were printing your miniatures on Shapeways for your Scythe game.

    We love our freelancers here at RAINN Studios and are continually impressed by the amount of talent that is out there. If I ever feel like I can do something myself, a quick search will surely reveal my lack of competence in the area. = )

    1. Seth: I only work with the Scythe sculptors through the artist, so I don’t know them. The only sculptor I know who is currently accepting work is Chad Hoverter (Mice & Mystics). He works by hand, and he’s great.

  14. I used to work for an employer who always waited until the last day (day 60) to pay people, and her logic? “It’s what all the big companies do”
    That logic is based on the ‘bigger’ companies holding onto the money for as long as possible for book balancing, interest and all manner of financial reasons, but we were paying freelancers a few hundred pounds here and there, and us holding the money made no difference to our books, but she was determined so that’s how it was. I hated the practise.
    With the freelancers we’re working with on our board game we pay them as soon as the invoice comes in. In fact we’ve had to ask for the invoice a few times once the work was done! Some of the payments will need to wait until after Kickstarter but we’ve made it very clear to the people involved and made sure everyone was happy with that arrangement before starting any work.

    1. Gino: “It’s what all the big companies do”. That’s unfortunate logic! :)

      That’s great that you actively pursue paying your freelancers. I’ve had to do that a few times with mine as well.

  15. Probably. I was in the car (not driving!) and on my phone so maybe that is it. Basically I commented that I paid one of my freelance illustrators the day I left for Gen Con. I could have easily not paid until I returned, after all, I was quite busy preparing for the departure. But ultimately I decided that prompt payment was important. I’m sure he would have understood, but waiting that long for payment sucks. Plus, as you mention, always making prompt payments affords one some courtesies should any issues ever arise.

    I like his work and he always has a quick turnaround for me, so I try to always have a quick turnaround for him. We’ve built a nice working relationship over the year I’ve been working with him and I know that if I ask for this character or that character that he’ll give me exactly what I want. If anything needs to be changed, because of the relationship we have, he doesn’t gripe or nickle and dime me for the alterations. In return, I send payment as soon as possible, even if that means pausing for a moment between hauling luggage out to the car.

  16. I couldn’t agree more. I have done some freelance work and it is a nice pat on the back when your invoice is paid within 24 hours of sending it. As previous posters have said, I would be more than willing to work with someone who normally pays very quickly if something unforeseen comes up. It’s people like you that make freelance work so rewarding.

    Thanks for the article and a great reminder Jamey!

    Raymond

  17. […] When I request work, I compensate. People in the game community are incredibly generous with their time and talent. Look at any thread on BoardGameGeek and you’ll find tons of people answering questions that the publisher could answer instead (hey, sometimes we sleep!) That’s awesome, but that’s also very different than when I actively seek help with something, like the aforementioned proofreading and translating. When I ask someone to spend a significant amount of time doing something important and helpful, I feel it’s my duty to compensate them, usually through an enhancement to their Kickstarter pledge. Also, whenever an invoice is involved (e.g., from a freelancer), I pay promptly. […]

  18. When I’ve hired a freelancer – I’ve always paid asap (ideally within minutes). It’s a win-win that builds trust (important if it is going to be an on-going relationship) and a good reputation.
    Some of the best ideas in my creative projects haven’t been mine – but freelancers who’ve gone the extra mile because I’ve treated them with respect- and build up trust between us.

  19. […] Or perhaps you’re a little bit like Stonemaier Games: You’ve used Kickstarter, but you’ve also become a company outside of crowdfunding. You have orders with distributors, retailers, international partners, manufacturers, etc. Or perhaps you’re a different type of entrepreneur. Freelancers have to deal with this all the time, unfortunately. That’s why I prioritize paying them. […]

  20. Hi Jamey, You said “I can’t always pay invoices right away, usually because I’m sleeping when I receive them. Or, back when I was preparing for the Euphoria Kickstarter campaign, I simply ran out of money and needed to wait to pay until after we received the backer funds.”

    I have problem. I found a really great artist. They are only staring out in illustration but he is great and has a career freelancing in web design. They want $100 per card and if I don’t pay on the due date I receive a penalty of 10% per month. I think the daily rate in their country is $33 per day if working for a graphic design company. It’s the penalty of 10% per month that I can get my head around. Although out of good-will you try to pay invoices immediately, in your contracts do you have a standard business clause of 90 days to pay?

    1. Anthony: I think they’re probably just protecting themselves from not being paid (it’s all too often that freelancers do work they don’t get paid for, unfortunately). 90 days is a really, really long time not to pay someone for work they’ve completed–I’ve never heard of that as a standard. In my contracts with artists, I commit to paying upon completion. If an artist were concerned about that (and if they weren’t comfortable being paid up front, which I do for some artists until they trust me), I would probably build a window into the contract that imposes a penalty onto myself. It might say something like, “If client doesn’t pay within 1 week of a batch’s completion, the cost for that and all future batches increases by 10%.”

      I understand that you’re in a different circumstance if you’re concerned about not being able to pay. In that case, I would suggest only completing the art you can afford before your Kickstarter campaign. Then continue during and after the campaign as you build funds.

  21. I’ve seen 90 days many times as a freelancer (programming) in the UK and EU. I’ve also see it on Dragons Den UK, business to business have maximum payment terms of 90 days. But I’d never had anyone pay me later than about 40 days. I myself want to pay right away on the day it’s due. The art is more than I was expecting. I was looking at $50 a card, especially from Artists in developing countries. Maybe the prices have gone up in the last few years. I have a friend whom I can borrow money from, he said in 2 months time I can. So that could pay for the cost being double my expectations. I was thinking what if my friend has an emergency and he needs to spend that money, like the plumbing in his house broke. I was also thinking what if I get hit by a bus and I’m in a coma for 2 years. When I wake up I will have a $50,000 bill. I’m a computer programmer, I automatically consider all possibilities happening, A-Z. After writing that I realize, there is less than 1% chance of that happening, and if I want to be an entrepreneur I have to take risks, even bigger than that.

    I think your other suggestion would work for me. Commission only the amount of cards/art I have the money for right now. When they are done then commission the next part for the exact money I have available for art at that moment. A new contract each time, instead of one big long one. And if my friend spends his money, then just wait to commission the rest after Kickstarter. Thank you. I appreciate it.

  22. I’ve done a bit of freelancing (rules translations for a German game company) and I always invoice on “Net 30” terms. I want them to have time to look over my work and ask any questions they may have. I don’t mind a bit if they take the time I gave them.

    Without a day job, I might feel rather differently about it.

  23. I generally agree with your priority, unless you are the referee, or the guy with all the team jerseys. Then, don’t be late for soccer. Also, invite the freelancer to play if they are local.

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