无论客户是不是故意的，霍洛维兹都认同你的观点——它给个人生活造成的伤害是“无法接受的”。为此，自由职业者联盟起草了《自由职业者报酬保护法案》（the Freelancer Payment Protection Act），目前正努力通过纽约州立法。这样一来，自由职业者就能享受许多与正式员工相同的解决方法，包括向州立劳务部投诉的权利。
美国现有4,200万名自由职业者，而且人数还在不断增加。霍洛维兹希望其他州今后也会采取类似的措施。但是，在你聘用律师或收款中介机构之前，霍洛维兹【她曾写过一本非常有用的书，名为《自由职业者圣经》（The Freelancer's Bible）】还给出了下面六条建议。
Dear Annie: After losing my job in 2011, when my department was eliminated in a restructuring, I decided to go out on my own and do web design and SEO consulting on a freelance basis. It's been great, except for one big problem. Over and over, I do the work, the client is happy with it, everything's cool, but I end up waiting and waiting to get paid -- and, in a couple of cases, have not been paid at all despite repeated, polite reminders.
I've been lucky enough to get most of these gigs through my network of friends, and friends of friends, so I don't want things to get nasty. (For example, I really don't want to take anybody to court.) But I have bills and expenses like everyone else, so the suspense over when, or whether, I'll get paid is making me crazy. Is this a common problem for freelancers, or am I doing something wrong? Do you have any suggestions? — Broke in Boston
Dear B.B.: I'm sorry to report that your dilemma is not at all unusual. One recent study of self-employed people in New York state, for instance, found that 316,000 of them (about 35%) were paid late at least once during the preceding year, and some 214,000 (14%) did work for one or more clients who never paid them at all. Total lost wages in the Empire State alone, over a 12-month span: More than $3 billion.
"Delays in payment usually aren't deliberate on the client's part," notes Sara Horowitz, who founded and runs Freelancers Union, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit association that offers health insurance and other resources to the self-employed. "It's just that your invoices get lumped in with all the other accounts payable -- and, especially since the recession, more companies are pushing those out beyond 30 days to 60, or even 90."
Intentional or not, she agrees with you that the damage to individuals' livelihoods is "not acceptable." In response, the Freelancers Union drafted a bill called the Freelancer Payment Protection Act, now wending its way through the New York State legislature, that would give the self-employed many of the same remedies for non-payment that regular employees now have, including the right to file grievances with the state department of labor.
With the U.S. freelance population now at 42 million and growing, Horowitz expects that other states will eventually adopt similar measures. In the meantime, though, and before you hire a lawyer or a collection agency, Horowitz -- who, incidentally, wrote a terrifically useful book calledThe Freelancer's Bible — has six suggestions.
1. Include payment terms in a written contract up front
If you're getting most of your assignments from friends, maybe you aren't formalizing contracts in writing, but you should. (Freelancers Union's web site has a free customizable contract you can use.) "Negotiate a time limit. If their policy is 90 days and yours is 30, maybe you can agree on 60," says Horowitz. "The contract can also specify a late fee, usually a percentage of the total amount."
2. Get a portion paid before the project is finished
To help even out your cash flow, and since you're committing your time and effort in advance, Horowitz recommends charging some "earnest money" when the contract is signed, or payable at an agreed upon point in the project -- say, when the work is half complete. Not only are partial payments often more digestible for clients, but they give you an early warning that you may be wasting your time on a deadbeat: If you don't see a check at the halfway mark (if that was the deal), are you sure you want to finish the job?