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I am an advertising Freelance Copywriter. I asked for all the content so I could quote on writing copy for a website. The client said they're satisfied with my hourly rates and that I should just keep track of my hours.

After the first round of amendments, he called and said they've chosen to not use my copy and that they'll write their own. They said for that reason, they won't be paying me.

I did not sign a written contract with these guys so I understand that it's not likely that I'll be able to have them pay me, but what can I do to collect some form of pay, and what can I do in the future to ensure that I get paid?

  • Is there any written proof, or was it all word of mouth? – tim.baker Nov 28 '13 at 15:11
  • Also where abouts in the world are you? – tim.baker Nov 28 '13 at 15:11
  • Only email correspondence that includes instruction. His words: The rate is fine - please go ahead. Naturally this is subject to successful completion of the items requested. I stay in South Africa. – Warren van Rooyen Nov 28 '13 at 15:38
  • Email is a written agreement. However, I'd suspect unless you discussed a cancellation fee in the emails, you are out of luck. You could try sending him an invoice and explain the time you put in. Couldn't hurt. – Scott Nov 28 '13 at 18:27
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    I edited this post so that, instead of a plea for general advice, we're asking a definitive question with a clear goal (i.e How can I make sure I get paid). The best questions that will help promote Freelancing SE are clear and contain words/phrasing that others may be searching for on Google. – jmort253 Nov 30 '13 at 18:50
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First off, have you tried contacting them about it? Most likely, they will ignore you, even if you had email communication. Yes, it is a written agreement, to a point, but unless you have a contract, it's very unlikely you'll get your money back.

When trying to collect money, make sure that you have all your ducks in a row, so to speak:

  • A signed, well-drawn out contract
  • A well-defined Scope of Work
  • Communication that shows they are interested
  • An invoice for work that has been agreed upon and is completed

You can sometimes get away with less, but if you are talking about 16,000 in ANY currency, it's very important to get everything covered before you do the work. Remember, you're spending lots of time, and they currently can just walk away!

Does your email mention anything about what happens if they don't like the design? Are they allowed to walk away after all your work? Did you give him a bill for the time you have spent on it? Try sending him the bill, and see what happens. Most likely, you won't get the money, but it shows you have tried.

Certain jurisdictions give different rules on taking someone to small claims court. In BC, it requires that you are seeking $10,000 or less from the person you are charging. If you decide to go this route, make sure you have your concrete, bullet-proof proof that the client had intended to use you, and agreed to the terms you set out. If you don't have an invoice to prove it though, this will likely get thrown out.

I believe this is just going to go on the record as a "lesson learned" type deal, but hopefully you are better covered and protected in the future.

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    If possible I would also try to determine if they used your copy anyway and just didn't pay you. This could help a lot in supporting your case. – PhysicalEd Dec 4 '13 at 16:22
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    FYI, verbal contracts are legally binding in most jurisdictions. It'll be a battle describing the terms of that contract to a judge, but it's still a binding and enforceable contract. – Thomas Dec 4 '13 at 23:00
  • @Thomas I agree, and it is here; the issue is with proof. Unless they admit it to the judge, it's doubtful anything will be done in a positive manner – Canadian Luke Dec 4 '13 at 23:25

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