One of our regular All4Women contributors is a successful freelancer, who was brave enough to go out on her own last year, and hasn’t looked back. Her pet hate though, is when she works really hard, delivers on time… and then doesn’t get paid.

Here’s why trying to get free content from freelancers is killing entrepreneurship in South Africa

Every new client relationship starts off as sunshine and roses. You meet, you brainstorm, you’re excited, you execute and you get paid right… until you don’t.

Tamryn Sher has been a PR freelancer for the past 15 months and she’s started noticing a growing trend in clients refusing to pay for services rendered

You can have a contract in place, great! You deliver results and show reports, yasss! And the clients can still refuse to pay you.

Yip, this is a reality for so many freelancers in South Africa today. Clients can choose not to pay and usually with no valid reason at all. If you’re lucky, you’ll be given a vague excuse like ‘I wasn’t happy with the work’. With no feedback as to what they weren’t happy with or an opportunity to rectify the problem.

I can tell you, from first-hand experience, there is nothing more soul-destroying than having a client you’ve poured your heart and soul into, hold your salary ransom.

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What’s your back-up plan when you don’t get a salary you’re relying on?

You’ve done the work, you’ve budgeted on being paid and now you need to make a plan because you’re not actually getting a salary anymore. All because your unethical client has chosen not to pay you. Why do they do this, well, because they can.

It’s also funny how the work is done, but the unhappiness with the work is only discussed once your invoice has been sitting in their inbox and you’ve been following up for two weeks

There’s a growing rise of entrepreneurs in South Africa, for a host of reasons

Freelancers need to keep innovating in order to thrive. You know what they say, if you want stability, get a 08h00 – 17h00 right. However there should be measures in place to grow entrepreneurs, protect them and hold companies accountable. Maybe that will be my new business venture?

In May, 2017, New York became the first US city to enact a law giving freelancers the right to a written contract, timely and full payment and protection from retaliation.

The ‘Freelancers aren’t free law’ established penalties for violations against these rights, including damages, and legal fees enforced by authorities. This is a great model for how to address precarious work and slow payment for the rising number of self-employed workers in the U.K. who made up 15,1% of the workforce in 2017.

Being an entrepreneur is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, emotionally, mentally and financially

We have a toxic culture in South Africa where businesses feel that it’s okay to pay freelancers late/not at all and where freelancers are not sure how to fight for their money.

Personally, I’ve had lawyers involved before when clients don’t pay, and that seems to be the only way to get paid what you’re owed, currently. That route is always expensive, emotionally draining and stressful. I wouldn’t wish non-payment from a client, for work delivered, on anyone. It’s totally unacceptable.

I think that the misconception in terms of results comes in because clients don’t actually understand what PR is, and for some reason they expect you to turn their business around in three months and it’s not realistic. We, as PR professionals need to make a concerted effort to manage clients’ expectations because their current reality is completely warped.

Here are some tips I wish that some of my ex-clients knew:

Marketing 101

If you have a failing business, and you hire a marketing manager for R5k a month to do PR and social media, that type of budget is not going to turn your business around. It’s not going to take you from a failing business to a booming business. No amount of marketing is going to save your business if the right fundamentals are not in place.

There are no guarantees

There are no guarantees that PR coverage will translate into sales. With advertising, you can buy a R100 000 billboard, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get R300 000 worth of sales in exchange.

It’s the same with PR, your R5 000 retainer, may get you an article placed in a magazine, worth R15 000 but it doesn’t mean that will translate into sales. Remember that there are other factors at play. The economy, crime, the time of year. People are not spending the way they used too.

Take an active role in your company

You cannot expect a marketer to care more about your business than you do. If you do not reply to emails, answer questions or bring anything to the party, what do you expect the marketer to market? I’m so tired of companies blaming the freelancer when they don’t even understand their business themselves.

I’m hoping that by starting these uncomfortable conversations it gets us all thinking, the more we talk about industry related pitfalls, the easier these discussions become to have and the more solutions we can find together.

If you’re a corporate reading this, please pay your freelancers and if you’re not happy with the work delivered, give them an opportunity to rectify the issue.