What the World’s Longest Invoice Won’t Teach You

There is so much wrong with The World’s Longest Invoice, it is difficult to find a starting point. (If you haven’t seen it yet, the invoice is a place where freelancers are posting money “held hostage by deadbeat clients.”) As of today, it has an untold number of entries totaling almost 14 million dollars.

Let’s just get down to it. First of all, freelancers are publicly shaming clients on this website. (Although names aren’t specifically being entered for clients, freelancers are finding a way to post client names right in the Services Rendered area. Some are adding website URLs and some are adding client names.) The Freelancers Union, the creators of this website, have a history of encouraging the public shaming of clients.

Clients and designers are collaborators and partners. Unfortunately, websites such as this create an us vs. them mentality. Describing clients as deadbeat and slimy as snake oil salesmen is doing harm to our entire industry. Although there might be individuals who do hire freelancers without any inclination to pay for their services, I’d guess that a number of these unpaid invoices come from fundamental miscommunications within the project. Nobody is going to get paid because they posted to this site. And, an exercise such as this does nothing to educate clients or freelancers.

Many of the individuals here appear to be working without reasonable contracts or failsafes. For example, there is a Chuck owed $80,000 in web design & copywriting. How does one rack up 80K in billing? Were there no iterative payments? No major milestones? Another gentleman, Patrick L., is out $2,000 because “client refused to pay once the idea of a contract was floated.” How is is that Patrick put in 2K in work on a project before letting a client know a contract was part of kick-off?

This site could have, at the very least, been a resource to help freelancers beyond the obvious venting session. Unfortunately, there isn’t even a section about how to make sure one does not loose out on revenue in the future.

Everyone wants to get paid for their work. Here are a few tips we have learned along the way.

  1. Never work without a contract. (And, invest in a lawyer to create a proper contract for you.)
  2. Your contract should explicitly state payment at milestones throughout a project (the first being a non-refundable retainer for a portion of the total project). Most clients who are willing to put down a retainer and sign a contract are going to go into the entire project in good faith.
  3. Do good work.
  4. Maintain good, clear communication with a client throughout the process. Make sure you are answering questions and are being clear about expectations. Document such communication.

Even with all of these failsafes in place, any professional will inevitably come across a situation where they do not get paid for work rendered. And, this can be extremely frustrating. This is the time to take a good look at your contract and consider making a phone call to your lawyer. However, if things go awry, remember that you are a professional. Do not go around badmouthing your client. Do not post to The World’s Longest Invoice. (And, for goodness sake, do not complain about them on Twitter. Ever.) These actions only serve to hurt you and your reputation.