One of the best feelings as a new B2B copywriter is getting your first client to say yes.
You do the happy dance, and wait for the contract to come in. You contact your accountability partner, significant other, close friends, mother, adult kids, etc. And then you do another happy dance.
Okay, maybe that was just me, but it was a high like no other. My initial jitters were gone, and I hadn’t started thinking about writing yet.
My point of contact told me the legal team would send the contract within 48 hours. At 5:00 p.m. that day, I received an email with the contract and several attachments that needed to be filled out and returned. I began reading the paperwork on my computer when it hit me.
This was a legal document. I’d better print it out and study it carefully.
The worst feeling as a new B2B copywriter is realizing terms you thought were settled — really weren’t. In this case, the payment terms in the contract weren’t correct. The dollar amount was right, but the time frame for payment was not. There was no upfront money… and the payment terms were 90 days after the approval of my invoice.
I slumped into my chair, letting all my happy dance energy ooze out of me. I had to wait until the next morning to contact anyone about the discrepancies. When I talked with a representative in their accounting department, I was informed it was a standard vendor contract and there was nothing she could do about it. She said payment usually was made sooner than the 90 days, and that everything would be fine.
I had just made the biggest financial mistake I could make as a B2B copywriter. It was a mistake no one had ever warned me about. And I never realized I had power over the situation.
I asked Heather Lloyd-Martin, President of SuccessWorks, for her insight. She told me she’s run into situations where a company wouldn’t agree to her terms, so she passed on working with them. Heather believes not insisting on getting paid on your terms is the #1 financial mistake new (and not so new) freelance copywriters make.
The Source of the Problem
B2B companies, especially large ones, rely on standard operating procedures. Often the person you’re talking with has very limited authority over financial decisions.
Corporations have lawyers, accountants, and “a usual way” of doing things. The standard vendor contract I received was probably the same contract and policies they used with their office supply company, their janitorial service, and other regular vendors.
Payment terms of net 60 or 90 are very typical for corporate vendors. But you are not a typical vendor. You’re a professional copywriter, there to help them make money. Not the paper towel vendor for the bathrooms.
If a company doesn’t use freelancers or consultants of your level, they may not understand the necessity of adjusting their standard terms. As a professional, you must take control of the situation.
Establishing Payment Terms
Heather believes freelancers need to set clear boundaries at the beginning of the discussions on fees, payment terms, and expectations.
She recommends freelancers have their own contracts they can give to their clients that outline fees, expectations, time frames, and deliverables.
By having your own contract, you set yourself up as a professional. The client knows what you expect of them, and what they expect to receive in return.
If you’re nervous about what type of contract and paperwork to have for your client AWAI has a great resource, Essential Templates for your Copywriting Business.
Getting What You Want
Heather insists, regardless of what you’re told initially, you can and should tell the client what you need in order to get started on the project.
Freelance copywriters often require 50% of their fees up front and the remaining balance when the copy is delivered. You should decide your payment schedule and let the client know what it is during your project discussions.
Nine times out of ten, regardless of what the company originally said about payment, they will agree to your terms. You might need to work with the company’s accounts payable or legal, and it may take a little more time, but it can be worked out.
By making sure you have everything in writing, you are protecting yourself and your business.
When to Walk Away
Can you walk away? Of course you can! And when a company doesn’t want to work with you on your terms, walking away can be a smart decision.
Heather Lloyd-Martin has had well-known large corporations refuse to work within her terms and she passed on the project.
There are plenty of B2B companies willing to pay you as a professional. Talking about payment terms up front and putting them in writing is the best way to avoid surprises later. If the client refuses to agree to your terms, know it’s perfectly fine to just walk away — there will be another client around the corner.