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Freelance Isn't Free Act Passes in NYC (freelancersunion.org)
279 points by Mz on Nov 23, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 176 comments

My first freelance job was for a prestigious organization. They refused to pay, because (in their words) "no one will listen to you if you file anything anyways" and they had denied that I did the work.

I told them that they had 24 hours to pay me and acknowledge my work, or I'd put porn on their landing page. 24.5 hours later I got paid.

After I had a similar issue, I decided to offer all clients a 10% discount for paying upfront, monthly. It has the added advantage of no notice period: if they are fed up with our work they can just stop paying and we stop doing any more work.

The amount of stress that has gone from my life was totally worth the 10% discount.

After doing freelance for a while you learn to insist on an advance. The 10% discount is a great way to incentivize the process though.

Additionally, rush rates are critical. The first time I gave up a weekend with the kids for something a client "had to have by Monday" and then we monitored to see it wasn't even looked at for 3 weeks was the last. If something has to be done outside of your normal scheduling, charge a rush rate of double. When there is a cost higher than asking, it's shocking how much stuff isn't really needed by Monday.

Rush rates and their cousin, spectrum quotes. Good, better, and best tiers, with accompanying price and delivery time differences. This always helps me get a better read on the client. If they constantly choose the cheap and fast option, I know they are not going to be as profitable as other clients, so I know where to put my sales efforts in the future.

Can you tell me how spectrum quotes work?

All I found was "Inspirational Quotes about Spectrum" or some consulting companies with "spectrum" in their name.

Oh, that's just what I call them. Pretty sure there's another term because the principle is used all over the place, not just in freelancing.

When the client asks for a quote, just try adding in one extra option from your usual. They want a WordPress site? Do some research on their business and offer, for example, one quote for a WordPress site, along with another quote for standard WordPress plus a custom mobile product library for their sales team to reference when pitching products.

The client then has a choice between two really nice alternatives. You thought through their needs and they'll notice that, too.

I've found that even if the client doesn't go for the extras, they'll usually say, "let's definitely talk about this when we work on our sales budget next month. I want the team to tell me what they want." Then at that time, when they give you some bullet points for desired features and ask questions about what's possible, you reply with e.g. three options, including one that is the base price you quoted originally and covers a reasonable amount of features but is just good, plus another price point that's better because it adds another really nice-to-have feature, and then the "best" price point, where every single one of their bullet points is covered and the thing is just really slick. For example, maybe it lets them edit the product prices and save them to different lists for each sales pitch.

The point here is that you are getting a sense for what is important to the client. If you don't have many clients, the bullet points you got from that sales team are gold because you now know much more about their needs and can pitch more while working on the project.

And finally, watch for scope changes and bill for them. There are guys with yachts that were paid for by scope changes, and in fact their businesses count on those changes in order to keep the client relationship in top shape. A scope change is easy money because the client is pitching you rather than the other way around.

Absolutely, I didn't learn this a few times because I expected the product I was freelancing on to be sold to multiple other clients meaning continued project work for me. But after a month and a half and using up some savings $$$ to pay the rent, I realized that just sticking to coding isn't enough and you have to really develop a sense of who will rip you off and who won't and insist on advanced payments or getting paid at the end of the day.

I remember reading about someone who would bill daily. If there were problems with $$ they just wouldn't work the next few days.

I've also found a good technique is to ask for the largest amount you can, upfront. Because if they agree to it, and do it, it signals several things to me, at once:

1. they have money; 2. they have enough money that this amount won't break them; 3. they have the ability, approval & mechanism for sending me money. 4. they also believe in me and truly value me and want me and (most likely) have no plan to get free work out of me without paying on the backend.

In general, the would-be clients who balk at that are either shady, or, have such small/unstable budgets that it's not the best use of my time to help them. Of course, is chance they just don't trust me. The problem is that I trust me, and I have only so many work hours in my life, and only one life to live, and I can't know for sure whether I'll ever get paid, or, how much, until and unless they truly do it. Proof is in the pudding.

If I had a nickel for every would-be client who wanted the world for $800 -- or balked at that because "all they have is X" where X is ludricrously small, well, I'd have a lot of nickels. Heck that's literally all you'll get from them. Assuming they don't stiff you totally.

The clients that do pay, and well, and upfront -- those are gold. Such gold I'd argue it's best to keep them secret. Very close to the vest. (If one is smart anyway.)

Raise your asking rate by 10%

Or maybe 11.111%, so you're back to where you started.

Maybe he meant 10 percentage points?

A reputable lawyer I hired offers the same deal. If you paid up front, specifically in cash, 10% off precisely for the reasons you state.

It seems like no amount of prestige or status or good standing makes an organization (or perhaps, just the individuals) immune from such behavior.

A friend of mine, a freelance journalist, was never paid by the New York Times. Pretty much the last organization I would have expected to engage in such behavior.

As someone who knows a number of ppl that work/worked freelance at the Times, I find this hard to believe. Any extra details?

Same here. If you're implying that they ran his piece but never paid for it, I'm inclined to not believe this. The Times is very ethical organization. That said, as a freelance writer myself, I know that large companies can have ponderous invoicing systems, and it can take months for your first payment to make its way to you; after you're in their system, things run more smoothly.

> The Times is very ethical organization.

Wikileaks tells us otherwise.

No. Wikileaks show that reporters communicate by email.

It showed that reporters, as professional courtesy to sources and subjects, give a heads up when stories are running.

This is not new, and applied to Trump and past GOP presidential campaigns.

Oh, professional courtesy, that's what we call it now. A heads up is one thing, running the details of the narrative and making sure the two line up is another. It's the journalists job to determine what stories need to be told, not the campaign directors.

What - exactly - did the DNC leaks show in this regard? All I ever found anyone say is "oh they're in cahoots" without ever being able to point me to something specific.

'Bias' even 'gross editorial bias' is a different thing that point-blank fraud.

I mean - we've come to expect media outlets to 'take sides'.

But non payment for services rendered is definitely criminal, and even though I don't like a lot of what the NYT does ... I would still assume they'd be the kind of org to actually pay people for their work. That's not a kind of ethical line we'd expect them to cross.

Undisclosed collaboration and planning with primary subjects of your journalism is point-blank fraud. It might not be criminal, but it's beyond dishonest and therefore very unethical.

Wasn't it the Washington Post that was trying to run Bernie into the ground?

It was something of a pain to get the URL with googles AMP, but I found this, which showed journalists crossing boundaries and getting too friendly with DNC insiders:


That seems to describe an NYT journalist emailing members of the Hillary team and talking about their candidate in positive terms.

Maybe I don't expect enough of journalists, but I'm not really seeing the scandal there. Buttering up a source by talking positively about their candidate seems... sensible?

Fair enough. If this is limited to that kind of flattery (and I haven't read enough to verify either way) then we can write that off as good ol-fashioned "working a source" and not particularly worrisome.

(I can't reply to untog since it is too deep in the thread but this in reply to their comment)

When you are professedly a journalist, you are to report the facts unbiased, not get friendly and in bed with campaign insiders, running your pieces by them to get their opinion. There are many more heinous emails than the ones linked by parent, specifically some that are exchanges making sure the narrative that was going to be published "sounded good" to the Hillary camp.

That's not journalism. It's propaganda.

My own observation: the fact that we have to get apologetic about this behavior further proves the point.

Just click on the post you want to reply to's time next time...

I find it interesting that none of the responses to your question link to direct primary sources. They're all third-hand accounts of how "they're in cahoots."

Get off your perch, man.

What is interesting is that you chose to make a false criticism of the post, and not investigate the myriad links supporting his assertion.

Whether it's pedantically true is open for discussion, but it's certainly supported with more than hearsay as you suggest.

In the first [1] link, the article calls out a fact based comparison of a title change with links to the source:

First, The New York Times changed the article’s headline, from: “Bernie Sanders Scored Victories for Years Via Legislative Side Doors,” to: Via Legislative Side Doors, Bernie Sanders Won Modest Victories.” The article also added two paragraphs criticizing Sanders, portraying him as unrealistic, a commonly-used Clinton campaign argument—especially as Sanders continues to be much more progressive than Clinton on a number of important issues.

Also in [1]:

In the latest WikiLeaks release of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s emails, several Times journalists are implicated in abandoning any semblance of objectivity to fulfill the agenda of the Clinton campaign. In July 2015, correspondent Mark Leibovich emailed the Clinton campaign a transcript of an interview he conducted with Clinton for them to proofread and edit as they saw fit.

Which includes links to the actual emails, as well as a discussion of how the NYT is owned by Slim who donates a lot to the Clinton Foundation:

The New York Times’ majority shareholder, billionaire Carlos Slim, has donated between one and five million dollars to the Clinton Foundation. The Times’ staff, especially on politics, may not be directly influenced by their wealthy owners, but the hiring practices and editorial board’s decisions reflect the desire to maintain, preserve, and perpetuate the status quo—not issue challenges to this establishment.

In the next article [2] Mr. Starkweather provides sources showing that the NYT modified their coverage of HRC based on the request of the campaign:

The New York Times political correspondent made the omissions at the request of Hillary Clinton’s campaign lawyer, Marc E. Elias, and DNC officials. The emails, published by Wikileaks, also appear to show that Confessore made other edits to the article at the request of former DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Shultz.

The provided information directly links to source material, esp. wrt Wikileaks, and your accusation is baseless.

[1] http://observer.com/2016/10/wikileaks-new-york-times-propped... [2] https://medium.com/@Starkweather/new-york-times-edited-berni...

Who watches the wikileaks?

Since Wikileaks is publishing other people's private information—as opposed to "news" or "journalism"—the only thing to "watch" is if what they are publishing has been altered or not (or was made up out of whole cloth).

To the best of my knowledge, there are no known instance of Wikileaks publishing fraudulent or altered information.

Outright lies isn't the only danger, though.

What they hold back, what they publish and when they publish it can potentially be abused - for instance to present or enhance one narrative, and obscure another.

And Wikileaks itself could be used as a tool by other actors ( e.g. for political gain) via strategic leaks or somesuch…

While Wikileaks may not alter any of the information they are given, it is plausible that their sources have the ability to alter documents before sending to Wikileaks.

The only newsworthy item I have seen was this: http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN12Y2WY

Of course nothing has come of this speculation, so it may end up being nothing.

My last $.02, given the sensitive nature of some of the information that Wikileaks releases, there is probably no avenue for corroborating the materials other than, maybe, how the source received said materials.

It would be suicide for them to do that.

Not ruling it out, but if they get caught one time it calls into question everything they've ever released.

It's common for papers to refuse work if it doesn't meet specifications for having enough facts to back up statements, having clear political biases, etc.

Hello. I'm part of the secretive cabal of leftists that push the mainstream liberal agenda. I downvoted you because it is our mission to silence conservative-friendly voices wherever we see them.

We pay particular attention in forums such as this one, where bringing politics into random discussions is encouraged and welcomed.

Parent comment has been updated, but it's too late to edit mine, turning my mildly amusing mockery into an unhinged-sounding non sequitur. Well, this is what happens when you take the low road...

I've got a good idea, lets put a left/right spin on every post, for no reason at all, and only when it has nothing to do with the discussion.

And when we are inevitably voted down, lets pretend it is a big conspiracy.

To make it even more obvious, we can left align the left/liberal posts, and right align the right/conservative news. Add a fun twist. In the middle, on the bottom of the screen there's you, Space Invaders style. You have to shoot your way through left- and right-aligned posts, until you get killed by the left or the right.

Please someone make this.

The hard part would be classifying the posts, the rest would be trivial. What would be a good approach?

Please don't fan the flames when someone unnecessarily injects partisan politics.

Please don't inject partisan politics unnecessarily.

Edit: parent comment was updated to remove partisanship. Thanks!

I know of an organization that refuses to pay any of their contractors. It is currently facing several lawsuits.

You'd think word would get around, but they've been doing it for years.

They grind every single contractor for every cent and come out far ahead. Very combative way to live.

<You'd think word would get around, but they've been doing it for years.> If you aren't naming the organization yourself, why would you be surprised word hasn't gotten around.

You're right. Thanks for making me consider that.

Unfortunately, as I am not supposed to know, there could be both legal and social impacts to people I care about if I divulged such information.

There are other people in much better positions to do something about it.

Your question forced me to understand this.

Does some sort of repository for bad clients & companies exist? Could it? This isn't exactly what Yelp and BBB is for.

I bought a bunch of domains a while ago, to build something like this, and split-test the names, but haven't put any effort into it yet. Is there legit interest? It would have to be strictly third party generated content, otherwise it could be taken down due to various legal reasons... I think I would need to hire an attorney anyway.

I'll probably let all the domains expire, except for "shit.business", that one is gold.

Sorry, my messages may be delayed due to work and my noprocrast setting (20 minutes every 3 hours).

Have you researched what currently exists? On a cursory search nothing came up for me. Must consider legal challenges and lack of demand as possible causes.

The bad actors in the system will fight anything that would negatively impact them. Would need more aggregate support from good actors in total to make it viable.


What about some kind of info protocol so there's no single head to chop off. Maybe it piggybacks the bitcoin blockchain for verification, and uses ipfs.

Lack of community though... is hard to combat. It's also a chicken-egg problem. Build it and they will come? :)

I am skeptical of your claims, and your deflection technique doesn't add credibility.

Give a hint of the company then

I also know of such an organization. David Fahrenthold did some good reporting on it in the last several months. The bad press doesn't seem to have done it any harm.

Until those lawsuits go through, anyway...

They'll likely be settled and come with a non disparagement clause.

Any tips for dealing with these types? They can usually be quite persuasive and pushy - stress-inducing.

My first programming gig was reverse engineering a file format for my dad's school (he was a chemistry teacher doubling up as school admin). The person previously in charge of that position had installed a time bomb that he kept pushing back as long as he still had the job. Total office politics. Luckily the file format was in plain text and all I had to do was interpret some odd fields asking around. I was never paid (it was a favor), but it felt so good to know that this other person knew it was me who did it.

Did they take the guy to court? Or did they give up once they disarmed him?

a time bomb in plain text? hmm

The file format that the app used was in plain text. I never saw the software in action, and I have no idea how the time bomb was implemented, but there was a way to enter a code and reactivate it.

A client I did some work a while ago for didn't so much refuse to pay but just didn't pay. Excuses, ignoring emails/calls etc. After about 7 months of this going on, I told them that they had 5 days to pay otherwise the only copy of the site I'd built for them was going to be deleted and I'd just accept the loss.

The website wasn't actually live at this point but obviously they wanted it live because they paid up fairly promptly.

Funny, but at the same time, that could also get you sued (or potentially even prosecuted), and nobody would have much sympathy for you.

I'd have loads of sympathy for the OP. As would thousands of others.

How many people in a jury do you think would share your feelings?

Depends on which "prestigious organization" it was and how convincingly the defense lawyer could frame it as a David vs Goliath situation, rather than straight-up blackmail.

When you do business, understand money makes everyone into a sociopath. So you are dealing with a sociopath. A sociopath that has the law on his or her side. Remember this well. Don't trust sociopaths, and don't trust anyone that you do business with to hold up their end of the deal if they can get away with it. Start with this and you'll limit your exposure. They will still screw you now and then, but you limit the amount of damage they can do to you.

Seeing how people rarely view businesses as the "good guy", it is likely that many people would.

I don't know. Corporations have been able to paint individuals as leeches trying to take advantage of businesses pretty successfully with their frivolous lawsuits are ruining America narrative. For example, the McDonald's coffee case involved an elderly woman with 3rd degree burns inflicted on her genitalia. I can't think of a more sympathetic victim, yet her case is the poster child for supposed frivolous lawsuits hurting businesses.

Even if the coffee were at the boiling temperature, how could it have caused 3rd degree burns?

"3rd degree" just means full thickness burns. She was an older woman, thus had thinner skin; the spill was onto clothing; the spill was into a seat where she had limited mobility.

But ignoring all of that: hot water is dangerous and can cause full thickness burns in seconds.


At 60 C you'd have full thickness burns in 5 seconds.

Thanks for the explanation. I had some misconceptions about this stuff, clearly.

Spill an entire cup of boiling water in your lap while sitting in the passengers seat of a car while wearing cotton sweatpants and find out.

Don't actually do this, you'll likely end up with serious disfiguring injuries such as:

>Liebeck was taken to the hospital, where it was determined that she had suffered third-degree burns on six percent of her skin and lesser burns over sixteen percent.[11] She remained in the hospital for eight days while she underwent skin grafting. During this period, Liebeck lost 20 pounds (9 kg, nearly 20% of her body weight), reducing her to 83 pounds (38 kg). After the hospital stay, Liebeck needed care for 3 weeks, provided by her daughter.[12] Liebeck suffered permanent disfigurement after the incident and was partially disabled for two years.[13][14]

Basically very hot water is dangerous and it's much easier to get a serious injury from it than you'd think.

This has graphic photos of the victim's wounds (they are quite unpleasant): https://www.quora.com/How-did-McDonalds-lose-the-hot-coffee-...

As someone who used to process accident claims for a large insurance company, I will suggest that if you spill hot water in your lap in a public place, you are probably not going to whip the clothing off right then and there to protect yourself from the burns. She is also elderly and elderly people have slower reflexes and can be more vulnerable to all kinds of health issues.

If you haven't seen the documentary Hot Coffee, I highly recommend it. Very interesting look at that case.

a "jury of their peers" would likely include a fair # of self-employed folks who've been shafted on payments, so... I'd say a lot.

That's not how they select peers.

yeah porn is bad... instead have a php file that simply has unlink('public_html'); when called. That'd show them... The only way to sometimes ensure payment is make sure that the product isn't delivered until paid.. -- or just use a staging server and be like this could be yours if the money hits my bank account.

I was worried about that, but I just couldn't resist. Besides, they were the type of organization that wouldn't have wanted that to get out.

Even more troubling if you think that, since "he didn't perform the work", then he could only have gotten to the server by nefarious means. Hence, hacking charges...

I was thinking they'd have to prove that, and it makes it look that more likely that I actually did work for them (because I had access).

Access isn't necessarily the same as authorization. After all, any hacker who successfully penetrates a system technically has access to it at that point. Their argument would be that you exceeded your authorization by deleting files or a website, defacing it with porn or a "Widgets Inc. Doesn't Pay Its Bills" notice, scrubbing a Git repo, or whatever other poison pill you implemented to force payment.

And they'd likely win with that argument under the CFAA. Even if they just handed you login credentials, they did so in the context of you fulfilling a specific task. From a technical perspective, those credentials might give you root access that lets you do anything. From a legal perspective, that's not the same as giving you authorization to do anything. For the CFAA, this would likely constitute "exceed[ing] authorized access." Not to mention that taking down a site (or just defacing it) is, on its face, clearly against a client's interests.

In any case, you're using the threat of damage to force payment. Even if the client owes you a valid debt, those threats can likely be considered extortion. The sort of jerks who will gleefully screw over a freelancer because, as they so kindly informed you, "no one will listen to you" are often the sort who have no problems with screwing you another way.

I always thought about putting some sort of backdoor like where a get request triggers deletion of all files or something -- in case of non-payment.. Then I'd charge like a $500 fee to clone everything back from my github repo to their server lol... Haven't ever done anything like that--but thought about doing it.

You could do that.

Or if you do work as a freelance contractor, you can pay a business lawyer 4 to 6 hours of their time to draft up a services agreement that you will use as a template for every client going forward.

Client doesn't pay me (after some nudges that they should)? Well according to the services agreement there was no IP transfer, because I wasn't paid. They continue to use the IP? Well the contract they signed says I can sue the hell out of them (and win) as recourse. Client wants something changed after delivery and payment? I'm not obligated to do squat, as the service agreement says that since they signed off on the delivery receipt, they supposedly were fine with it. The services agreement makes sure I get paid, the client doesn't try to put me over a barrel, and makes sure I'm making good by my client. That's what you have them.

Seriously. Always have a contract.

Obligatory: Fuck You, Pay Me


I have just started working as a freelancer / contractor. It's a pretty nice deal working for a client whom I used to work for when I was in a consultancy.

Anyway, while I'm sure you-are-not-a-lawyer, if you have any advice regarding what to put in a contract I'd be keen to hear it.

The bit I'm most concerned about is the fact that it's a pretty legacy codebase, and there are almost certainly vulnerabilities I'm not aware of. At the moment I have a loosely worded (and accepted) email where I basically say "you put everything into production once you've tested it, as it's a legacy system without decent test coverage". However, I'm paranoid I'll make a mistake / it'll get hacked and then I'll get sued. Admittedly I live in a different country from the client & I am doing things through an LLC so perhaps its safe enough.

Still, if you have any advice/pointers from the trenches, I'd be keen to hear it. I honestly don't care too much about loosing a months salary, so much as loosing the shirt off my back!

Agreed with 'have a contract' and I see your point.

But I would never ever hire a contractor on such terms.


No company in their right mind would put their IP at risk due to some fuzzy contractual language - and it's always fuzzy, subject to interpretation.

The contract could conceivably be 'interpreted' as 'all the companies IP' and all it takes is an angry contractor who is pissed and thinks he can make zillions $ to make your life hell.

Personally - I've only had good experiences, but I take a different approach. I just withold milestone delivery until I get paid, until I sense the credibility of the institution.

There have been a few comments such as 'I will take down your site if you don't pay' etc. - this is a reflection of the power that the contractor has, and it implies something more than legal leverage, really.

Also - the moment I whiffed there was going to be a 'non payment scenario' - I'm out.

If you're getting paid often enough, at least your losses are limited.

So let me see if I have this straight, your agreement assigns the IP rights from the get-go, but you don't actually deliver the IP until each milestone is paid? Seems so simple that it seems to good to be true.

Essentially yes. Any smart employer will make sure that 'whatever you do belongs to us' from a contractual perspective. That's going to be important to them, and it's common. I wouldn't even suggest otherwise.

But usually I send in an invoice as the first milestone is done (usually there is enough conversation/back-forth for them to know the milestone effectively done - or like a web-demo or something), and softly hint that I'll send in the deliverable (i.e. code and assets) when it's paid.

There's no way a company can take you to task for code what you have written, wherein you have not been paid. Even if they did - it would be a long, expensive process and would be a huge distraction from whatever it is they are trying to do. The pragmatic reality of 'you get the milestone for payment' trumps any kind of legal contextually - if they want to move forward they need to pay, it speaks right to the operational reality of their bottom line.

But lucky enough, I've never had a problem.

Without a contract, said companys IP is at risk because of an even fuzzier agreement that is not clearly documented.

If a company is worried that the terms of an actual stated, signed contract are too fuzzy, they should be far more worried about not having one.

Signing a contract usually means additional delay (one cannot sign a contract electronically, or am I wrong here?) and a client might choose another freelancer.

> one cannot sign a contract electronically

This obviously varies by jurisdiction, but if you're US based you can absolutely sign electronically (there's an entire Act that enables it). The easiest way is to use services like Echosign or Docusign which most people are pretty familiar with these days.

Or HelloSign :)

I wouldn't want to work for a client who chooses freelancers by how easily they can be exploited. Having a perfectly reasonable contract is no reason for an ethically run business to not work with you.

While there can be legitimate reasons to not move forward based on some contract terms, either way if there is a deal breaker that probably isn't a great fit anyway.

I sent those types on to try other contractors. Not worth it for me to repeat my own [unpaid] history.

People can sign contracts electronically.

Why not? I e-signed mortgage paperwork.

Emotionally gratifying, but poison pills or deleting a site/repo is just a fast way to a lawsuit or a complaint with the local district attorney if they're feeling vindictive. It wouldn't take much to argue that such actions fall under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act or various state equivalents, for instance.

You're always better off having your attorney send a letter threatening legal action for nonpayment and breach of contract rather than trying to force them through those sorts of methods. The client might be willing to screw over a solo freelancer because there's limited risk to them; worst case, they pay up after all and you go away. But if their other suppliers hear about such actions, there's always the possibility that those suppliers might change their payment terms in response to the perceived risk of bad behavior on the part of the client. Those changes could cause a lot of problems with cashflow operations, and most companies will go out of their way to avoid that sort of reputation loss.

I agree with your overall point, however...

"You're always better off having your attorney send a letter..."

If you think most freelancers have an attorney to send letters on their behalf, you have only seen a very small, very privileged minority of freelancers. Many don't even have health insurance, let alone an attorney to help with non-paying clients.

Please watch this: Fuck You, Pay Me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVkLVRt6c1U

The $1250 I spent once to have a business attorney draft up a template for my services agreement is the best $1250 I ever spent in the past 7 years. That $1250 makes me money, because I never have to harass clients to get paid, because they know I have legal recourse if they don't.

Since then I've maybe paid him $1000 to deal with things clients wanted to redline in my service agreement.

That $2250 total (which is a legitimate business expense) is a pittance compared to what I would lose for a single unpaid invoice.

Meanwhile, I always hear from freelancers that don't get paid, but claim lawyers are "too expensive". You know what's really expensive? Getting $0 for the last N days you worked instead of $X. $X is a hell of a lot more money, and unless you have a contract in place, you expose yourself to that possibility every time you engage with a client.

I've already seen that video. What does it have to do with the fact that many, many freelancers don't have $1250 to spend?

Good for you. It's great that $2250 is a pittance compared to a single invoice you send. You sound like you're easily in the top 10% of the US in terms of your income. That's commendable. You were probably in fine shape without this law, but by any ethical measure the law still needs to protect those who can't afford to have lawyers send letters to their clients. Starting from the base assumption that everyone in a fluid economy has four figures to put down on legal when they first start freelancing in a new field just isn't a reasonable assumption... especially when the 41% of US adults have less than $500 in personal savings and millennials are also crushed by student debt.

> What does ["Fuck You, Pay Me" talk] have to do with the fact that many, many freelancers don't have $1250 to spend?

Then they are not in a position to conduct freelancing and they risk starving and/or getting homeless.

A freelancer usually cannot assume stable 40 hours per week for four weeks per month. He/she has to have a money buffer that allows to live for weeks without additional income. $1250 is not an expense too big to be covered by this buffer.

As you may or may not be aware, decreasing rates of labor participation in the US have pushed many who cannot secure full-time work to seek freelancing gigs in order to avoid starving and/or homelessness.

Saying "they are not in a position to conduct freelancing" doesn't make the problem go away. If it did, US construction, fruit picking, home cleaning and other manual labor industries could be reorganized with a single utterance.

Apparently you talk about a thing different from what everybody else in this thread call a "freelancer".

If you read the article, you'll see there are 55 million Americans freelancing. Surely you don't think all of those people are highly paid designers or engineers like those visiting Rackspace in the video! Yes, a few fit that demographic, but it's a small group.

On the whole, freelancers are more likely to be drivers or home cleaners than tech workers.

Would not it be cheaper to find a sample agreement on the Internet? While it might have some faults it is still a legal document that might be used to scare the client.

First, you're not looking to scare a client, you're looking to clearly define the terms of the engagement. If you were hiring your client, dollars to donuts they would be giving you a contract of their terms to sign.

Second, a business attorney is not doing a custom one-off for you. When you call around, you should be asking if they often work with freelance technology consultants -- that's who you want to hire, someone who is familiar with what your needs are, and what's reasonable to ask of a client. They have a baseline template that they've developed that will serve as the framework for what will be modified for your specific needs. They've likely had cases where the business relationship between the consultant and a client went south, so based on that experience (and well known cases, etc.) they're going to ensure that you -- and your client, as contracts are a two-way street -- are sufficiently protected if things were to go awry.

Here's how it worked for me on my initial (free) consultation with the attorney I ended up choosing. I showed up for the appointment. He asked about minutiae of the work I do (since a lot of his clients are freelance contractors that work in tech). He asked if there was anything that was important to me. He then gave me the template (that he developed) that he starts with as a baseline when creating a service agreement. He went over why some terms were there, and why they were worded as such. We talked about what we would add to meet my needs, we talked about what I'd like to modify (too constraining for clients, unnecessary terms, etc.). We shot the breeze for a few minutes, and that was it.

Three days later I get a draft in my inbox. We had a quick phone call, made a few tweaks because I felt a few things would never apply to my company, and that was that. The result is a straightforward six-page document that a sixth grader could understand -- something that my clients really appreciate, because their legal dept. looks it over and finds it completely reasonable.

Thank you for a detailed explanation, it is very useful.

A template is a good way to cut down on how much time your attorney spends drafting your services agreement but it in no way substitutes for legal review. "Scaring the client" is not the game. Securing a higher class of client is the game. Having a defensible contract that you know forward and back, along with an attorney to consult if the client breaches it, is the goal.

I don't disagree. But a demand letter is fairly simple: it lays out a short, non-emotional overview of the situation, notes the specific resolution demanded, and specifies the alternative should they not take action. You can write a demand letter yourself, and there are literally countless examples for payment disputes available with a quick search.

You can write the letter yourself, and have an attorney review it and send it out from their office. Even a long letter won't take more than an hour's worth of work for the attorney (probably a lot less than that, to be honest), and a local solo practitioner is more than capable of handling it for very little money and without a retainer agreement.

Most of the time, just receiving a demand letter over something as simple as payment for services rendered is going to be enough to get them to pay you. And if there's a particular person at the company withholding payment (i.e., maybe it's some mid-level executive who was told to handle a project), a demand letter will wind up being sent straight to their legal department, counsel, or someone else such matters are assigned to. The letter, in effect, can often serve to bypass the logjam.

ask friends / family, often you are connected to a lawyer closer than you thought.

If you still don't have a free/cheap resource then start CCing your lawyer on emails. Eg. 'I am writing to provide notice that you are now 60 days overdue on invoice X (attached). As you have refused to pay the invoice under the terms of our contract (attached). I am copying my lawyer on this email to bring this matter to their attention.

Edit: and also make sure your contract spells out what happens for nonpayment.

Not really. Every piece of shrinkwrap software comes with a timer that kills itself when it isn't registered in time.

In some cases, it'll even uninstall itself or its core 'premium' components. In others, it'll simply stop displaying information and ask for payment.

Obviously, you couldn't do such a thing if you're a web designer... but if you're a developer, writing a plugin for their CMS or the such, then including a security file in your codebase is a-okay.

And if they call it "work for hire" and attempt to sue you, remind everyone that if you aren't paid then you aren't hired... as per your contract.

It's different when the customer knows about the timer and agrees to it somewhere in the EULA. It's when you hide that security file, or go back in and do something, that you're stepping into a whole new pile of shit.

A lot of PHP software (forum software like vBulletin, CMS's, etc.) have phone-home or license verification mechanisms. That's usually fine, unless you whip up something nasty that does something beyond just disabling the software in question.

Maybe you could just add a clause to the contract stating that late payment may result in the software being remotely deactivated.

"Client not paid?

Add opacity to the body tag and increase it every day until their site completely fades away"


Hahaha, awesome.

For certain kinds of clients (some small businesses), one trick I saw on HN was to simply create their website on an account you own, and the keys were handed over when payment was made.

Did you also charge them to clean up the homepage?

I didn't, but it was only after some serious internal debate.

So, I take it you delivered on the porn?

Most certainly :-)

Just to clarify, were they half an hour over the 24 hours incidentally - or did you follow the protocol you outlined and they reacted in the next half hour?

Ahaha i lost it at 24.5 imagining how they scrambled to the bank when they actually did saw porn on their landing page

Cool story. I do hope you didn't go all nuclear on them in that 0.5 hours, and you left only a kitten photo there.

Name them!

Having been in NYC nearly my whole life and the entire time seen a culture of contractors getting fucked over on payment, especially in entertainment/media/fashion/advertising, this is a great, GREAT day.

Animation studios here are among the worst. Most people I know had to fight for months to get paid and many did years of work without ever getting paid. YEARS. Like they did it for the love or something.

A few years back, a whole studio was contracted for a project and mid-way to completion the client came to them and said "I spoke to God and He told me not to do this project" and walked away from it and never paid for anything. The studio didn't even have any kind of protection against this sort of thing.

You can't imagine how bad an environment this is for getting paid for creative work. Indefinite illegal internships, lowball salaries and "for the exposure" jobs abound. Folks are so desperate to come and work here that they put up with it -- I just don't know how they afford it.

FYI you can fill out a 2-3 page worksheet to file a breach of contract lawsuit in LA county.

It's not limited by small claims caps and is an inexpensive first step compared to hiring an attorney to send a scare letter.

Didn't end up needing to file the one I wrote up last year but it was liberating to know that there was a half-step measure.

Before doing it I called 12 attorneys in Los Angeles and everyone respectfully told me a $20k unpaid bill is not worth their time, but the last one told me about filing on my own.

Good to see, even if it doesn't impact me. I like the idea of penalties for non-payment.

I've never had a problem collecting $5,000, but people will regularly avoid paying small amounts ($500) because (I assume) they know you won't put as much effort into collecting.

I think this is part of my pathological customers thesis: you won't simply have more headaches at $500 than $5k because the customers are more evil about $500 invoices. You'll have more problems because _people who get into $500 consulting relationships are disproportionately flakes_. You get less flaky behavior from your $5k clients because people who buy $5k services are disproportionately not flakes; the $5k sticker price is kryptonite to flakes.

Bargain-seeking consulting consumers have irrational expectations for what $500 buys them. The $500 is likely coming out of a personal pocket or a pocket which they treat as personal, not out of a Budget which gets handled like an honest-to-God business. They are disproportionately likely to have overcommitted that $500 -- it's perhaps not their last $500, but your invoice is sitting with a number of other invoices and it may not be possible to settle them all simultaneously.

Many of my consulting friends move up-market and find that up-market consists of businesses run by disproportionately mentally healthy people who disproportionately have money in the bank and disproportionately conduct themselves with professional mien like paying invoices in a fashion that suggests their company has paid an invoice before.

Interesting perspective. Thanks for sharing.

If you are collecting 5k at a time, you are doing it wrong. Your client should not be holding more than 1,000 of your money at a time.

$1000 is what a well paid software consultant makes in about a day. I can't think of a single person that does daily payments for consulting, and I feel like this would be a huge red flag if they asked for it.

That's a very small portion of the market.

You aren't charging enough.

I am not talking about me, we are talking about freelancers in general. That's a huge market filled significantly with the lower end.

Serious consultancies routinely have 6-7 figure receivables from individual clients. Why should indie consultants handicap themselves?

We are a "serious consultancy." The only clients we have large figure receivables with are long-term clients our owner has a personal relationship with. All other clients (over 90% of them) are billed immediately and all bills are due in 30 days.

At the end of the day it's a matter of how much risk you can afford. I would never hold it against a freelancer if they wanted to get paid right away.

What do you mean by "billed immediately?"

$5,000 is maybe a week of work. I'm generally not billing more than once a week.

It depends on the terms of payment. For example, for some of our projects we collect 50% of payment upfront and 50% upon project completion. The client is "billed immediately" at those times.

We also have "open-ended" projects where the client can use our services on an ad-hoc (as opposed to per project) basis. For those, we bill the client once a month, on the last day of the month.

In high-dollar consulting, up-front payment is a super weird term. Friends and acquaintances ask me for sanity checks on bids and pricing and deal structure all the time. If I ever see "pay me up front", I red-flag.

If you're dealing with a client where you feel you really need a safety deposit, that's a sign from the universe that they shouldn't be your client.

Do what you need to when you're just getting started, I get it. But try to move away from the kind of work where you get paid half up front, as soon as you can.

Our particular industry is full of small and medium size enterprises, and collecting a (negotiable) percentage of the total project price upfront has worked very well for us, and saved our ass more than once. If you work exclusively with Fortune 500 or equivalent then it's not necessary (and would probably be a red flag, as you say) but for everyone else it's pretty common practice.

Of course, if what you're trying to say is that the only "serious consulting" is "high-dollar consulting" where you serve such clients, then I don't know what to tell you. But that's neither here nor there.

For the record, our projects range from $25k to $150k.

You got half up front for a $150k SOW?

If the client wanted to pay cash, yeah. Most clients are very understanding, because our offering includes purchasing licenses for certain enterprise software and tooling, and the upfront payment from the client covers those costs.

That said, for projects that size we also offer a lease option (basically a 60-month term) and a lot of clients prefer that since it becomes an operational expense at that point (and therefore easier to swallow) rather than a capital expense. In those situations, we work with a leasing company who pays us 100% of the price upfront, and the client makes their monthly payments to the leasing company.

> In high-dollar consulting, up-front payment is a super weird term. Friends and acquaintances ask me for sanity checks on bids and pricing and deal structure all the time. If I ever see "pay me up front", I red-flag.

That, and I don't see how a "project cost" makes sense anymore. The project will cost what it'll cost. If there is a budget, I'll start billing into one. Also, as a freelance, you can't work in high-dollar and be the only guy working on that project. You are just part of an organization.

> If you're dealing with a client where you feel you really need a safety deposit, that's a sign from the universe that they shouldn't be your client.

I'm not sure I agree on this. I've seen very good people change on stressful situation. I'd prefer that I have my terms secured. If you are working with big clients I guess you can make use of factoring?

> Do what you need to when you're just getting started, I get it. But try to move away from the kind of work where you get paid half up front, as soon as you can.

I can't stress this enough. I live in a third-world and moving from oDesk to high-dollars meant that I moved from working 5-6 days a week to having the ability of not working for the next 5-8 years (just a few months of work).

I disagree. Most of my clients pay each milestone upfront (they pay for the first milestone before work begins).

Gigster has also built a pretty sizable business with this payment model.

Your experience is different from mine, but I've definitely done mid-high six figure single contract deals where my team worked for a month and a half, fully delivered, and then sent off an invoice and "hoped" --- though "hope" didn't really play into it, because in srs bzns, when people get an invoice for a project for which they signed a SOW with a price tag on it, they pay.

I have no doubt there is a class of client for which this isn't true, but: don't work with those clients. Good rule of thumb: if the median HN reader has heard of a company, that company cannot afford to stiff consultants.

In many cases it's less a concern of the client not paying (I've literally never had a client do that once I broke out of the <$100/hr market) so much as that an upfront payment is a much stronger signal of commitment to the project. In my experience, clients who haven't yet paid anything are less invested in the process and more likely to delay communication/deliverables.

It's also a consequence of occasionally doing work with startups who, while they have every intention of paying, don't always have rigorous financial controls in place and sometimes end up running into cashflow problems.

I'd flip your analysis on its head: if there's a consultant you're not comfortable with paying upfront, you probably don't want to hire them.

If I'm doing one month work for Thomas, I'll bill him at the end of the month and assume paid.

If I'm doing one week work for Capita21 in Mexico (really picked it at random); I'll ask for "full" up-front payment and divide the project into different milestones.

Let me ask you a question: Was that client a local client? Was it in the USA?

> For example, for some of our projects we collect 50% of payment upfront and 50% upon project completion. The client is "billed immediately" at those times.

That's pretty standard. But that means you don't have any $10k projects?

I'm not following how you never have $5k receivables unless your consultancy exclusively does small projects.

I think it's great they finally got some protection. Why wasn't it there before and what was the oppositions point of view on this?

My guess is most people thought the current small claims process would be the tool people would use. Maybe it worked when it was a small portion of the workforce, but now as more people do freelancing, it makes sense to have a dedicated state for them to seek redress.

This law sounds good, but what kind of unintended consequences might result?

I wonder if instead of stiffing their contractors, customers will instead be the ones getting stiffed by unscrupulous contractors. I.e., contractors over-billing: "If you don't pay the amount I'm demanding, I'll report you." Companies might indeed pay the bill rather than risk a fine, but at the same time, they might become much more reluctant to hire contractors at all.

I worry that this kind of well-intentioned law will in fact reduce opportunities for free-lance people, in favor of consulting agencies.

Well, this is mainly intended to enforce contracts NOT disputes for uncontracted services so how would you be in this mode.

It will force less boilerplate contracts.

An indication also that self-employment is growing everywhere.In a few decades it might even be the new normal.

In tech, I think it will be a lot sooner than in few decades. I think things will change at such a rapid pace that we can't even accurately predict what will be the new normal in a few decades, particularly in tech. Also, we must also consider the possibility, and implications, of strong AI in a few decades.

I'm embarrassed to say that it took me 8 years to realize that staying at any one particular employer for "a long time", e.g. 4+ years, is increasingly an unrealistic life goal.

Almost a decade of freelancing with customer all over the world with little more than an email exchange most of the time and I have had next to zero issue with getting stiffed. Requiring written contracts will likely force businesses to use services Freelancer.com which will just mean that instead of one on one relationships you'll be forced to compete against a pool of competition racing you to the bottom and won't get paid directly.

The site itself isn't too clear about the specific benefits of the legislation[1], but the most recent committee report on the legislation is much more enlightening (the tl;dr being that it introduces powerful remedies for freelancers who are denied their just desserts - I don't understand the emphasis on the contract stuff, but IANAL):

> Any action alleging a violation of section 20-929, unlawful payment practices, would have to be brought within six years after the acts alleged to violate the proposed chapter. A plaintiff who prevails on this cause of action would be awarded double damages, injunctive relief and other such remedies as appropriate. All awards of damages would also include attorney’s fees and costs.

> Any action alleging a violation of section 20-930, retaliation, would have to be brought within six years after the acts alleged to violate the proposed chapter. A plaintiff who prevails on this cause of action would be awarded damages equal to the full value of the contract. All awards of damages would also include attorney’s fees and costs.

> Section 20-934 of the chapter would provide for a civil action for a pattern or practice of violations. Where reasonable cause exists to believe that a hiring party has engaged in a pattern or practice of violations, the Corporation Counsel may commence legal action on behalf of the City in a court of competent jurisdiction. Such an action would be commenced by filing a complaint setting forth the facts relating to the alleged pattern or practice of violations and requesting relief, which could include injunctive relief, civil penalties and any other appropriate relief. The filing of a pattern or practice complaint by the City would not prohibit any complaint or civil action by a freelance worker. Upon a finding that a hiring party has engaged in a pattern or practice of violations, the trier of fact could impose a civil penalty of up to $25,000.

> Section 20-935 would provide additional details about how the proposed chapter would apply and how it would interact with other laws. Subdivision a would provide that, except as otherwise provided by law, any provision of a contract that purports to waive the rights granted by this chapter is void as against public policy. Subdivision b would provide that the provisions of this chapter would supplement and not diminish or replace any other basis of liability or other requirement established by statute or common law. Subdivision c would provide that failure to comply with the provisions of this chapter would not void or impair a contract between a hiring party and freelance worker. Finally, subdivision d would provide that nothing in this chapter shall be construed as providing a determination about the legal classification of any individual as an employee or independent contractor.

[1] http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=25...

[2] (warning: DOC file) http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/View.ashx?M=F&ID=4746382&GUI...

You can also view it on Councilmatic: https://nyc.councilmatic.org/legislation/int-1017-2015/

Shows the same info as Legistar including all 33 sponsors and every legislative action taken over the last year.

> Passing with 51 votes, the Freelance Isn’t Free Act requires written contracts for freelance gigs, allows freelancers to file complaints against non and late-paying clients with the Department of Labor Standards, and institutes penalties against clients found guilty of nonpayment in small claims court.

Requiring written contracts seems like a handout to lawyers. Alternatively, it seems like a clever way to enable folks with only a verbal contract to refuse to pay, since a verbal contract is now illegal.

Contracts are already enforceable at law, so how does this actually improve things?

Compared to an industry like construction, or the professions, freelancers have poor protections because they get treated like corporate relationships instead of casual employees.

Sounds like this gives the NYC labor standards folks to accept complaints and sanction bad employers. I'm imagine that requiring verbal contracts would be something that you could complain about.

Written agreements don't necessarily mean that you need lawyers involved and are always a good idea unless you're getting paid on demand. When I was in a corporate gig as a second level manager, I could sign off of statements of work under $50k with a contract framework. I'm sure an entity like freelancers union will create a base agreement for these sorts of things, if they haven't already.

You really need to watch this (very famous) talk by Mike Monteiro, called "Fuck You, Pay Me": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVkLVRt6c1U

Especially the section where his attorney starts talking (at about 7:20).

Having written contracts works in the favor of the freelancer, who now have a much stronger leg to stand on when they insist on written contracts from clients. When contracts are nebulous, the one who ends up getting screwed is usually the freelancer, because they're the ones who need to get paid.

"since a verbal contract is now illegal" You'd have to check the actual passage, I doubt a verbal contract ist illegal.

If written contracts are the norm then it makes it harder for people to simply lie and turn it into a he said/she said scenario.

You can get freelancing contracts without hiring a lawyer. The freelancers union (the site linked here) has one such example.

I'm Australian, the law may be different over in the US.

Usually you want a contract to specify IP rights. You own the work you author, whether you're paid for it or not, unless you specifically transfer ownership of the IP in the contract. If you're a programmer, you may assign the IP rights of the project code to the client, but only issue a non-exclusive worldwide licence to your utility code. Similarly, if you're a photographer, you still own the actual photograph, but may specify to a client how it's legally able to be reproduced. Plenty examples abound, depending on your line of work.

Mostly, I find written contracts are WAY clearer about who gets what and when, and shows the client is at least willing to "trust but verify". I wouldn't do business without them.

The law is different in the US.

If you "work for hire" (see 17 U.S.C. § 101) an exception is made to the general rule that the person who actually creates a work is the legally recognized author of that work.

Isn't this solving the problem of short-sighted freelancers, rather than non-payment?

I see posts here that reinforce my expectation: Have a contract, and it can be enforced by law. What does this bill enable a citizen to do, that they couldn't legally do on their own before?

It doesn't actually allow them to do anything they couldn't legally do before, but it makes the penalties a lot stiffer to discourage large companies from breaking the law.

The problem before was that even if you had a contract, the company would basically say "we have a lot more to spend on lawyers than you, good luck".

Now they have changed that calculation with this law, where if the big company loses it's a huge cost to them. So now their calculation is that it is cheaper to pay their bill than to fight you in court.

I don't know if it is good legislation. But it is groundbreaking legislation and important due to the rise of the Gig Economy. It introduces the idea that Gig Workers deserve legal protection, just like regular employees.

How do we get this for California? Is the Freelance job litigated on where the Freelancer is physically located, or where the client is located?

It's where the tort giving rise to the suit happened, a question which is complicated and lawyer-worthy if this ever comes up. Most MSAs will have both parties stipulate to the jurisdiction of a particular county's courts; generally, the party supplying the MSA picks their local court system because it's cheaper to access, known to them, and has the home-field advantage.

Wtf is this nonsense? You want to run an independent business but you don't want the hassle of billing, just pass a law so that you dont have too!

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