Having Trouble Getting Paid? Here’s Some Inspiration and Help

Having Trouble Getting Paid? Here’s Some Inspiration and Help


It’s a struggle that every creative professional deals with all too often, especially early in your career: chasing invoices, non-responsive clients, unauthorized usage of assets, the list goes on. Here I’ve compiled some of my favorite links and videos that will help you light a fire to get paid for your work – and if nothing else, will inspire you to re-write those contracts so you never get yanked around again!

1. Harlan Ellison: Pay The Writer

This might be one of the single most famous rants ever given by a freelancer on the subject of payment. Harlan Ellison, for those who don’t know, was one of the most prolific sci-fi writers in history up until his death in 2013. Even though the rant is slightly abrasive (heh, slightly) the points absolutely ring true: if someone is profiting from your creative work, you need to get paid, even if you’ve completed the work a long time ago. You’re just one person going up against massive corporations and they definitely have the money. It’s your job not to leave it on the table.

Robert Bloch, the author of Psycho, described Ellison as “the only living organism I know whose natural habitat is hot water”.

So, yes, a little abrasive and might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but his points absolutely ring true and are 100% valid.

2. Mike Monteiro: Fuck You, Pay Me

“We ended up not using the work”
“Really not what we wanted after all”
“We got somebody internal to do it instead”


Another freelance classic, Mike Monteiro’s hilarious yet sobering “Fuck You, Pay Me” spiel has been elevated to gospel status for the self-employed. Opening with the question “who here works in creative services?” …Everyone raises their hand. Immediately followed by “who has ever had trouble getting paid by a client?” And immediately…everyone raises their hand again.

Mike offers up some salient tips for avoiding the inevitable problems with payment that plague early-career (and some mid and late career, as well) freelancers. Yet, at the same time, Mike makes it very clear that despite the profanity in the title, he absolutely loves his clients. How do you find that balance between getting paid and not becoming that annoying guy who’s always looking for money?

Mike walks you through a couple hypotheticals and even invites his company’s lawyer on stage to discuss contract law and protecting yourself. A bit of a more in-depth look than Harlan Ellison’s rant with actual helpful advice – well worth the watch (or listen!)

3. Jessica Hische’s Email Generator

Negotiating incoming project terms over email is difficult for even the well-seasoned professional. I’ve created this handy tool to help you say “no” to free and low-budget work and to help ask for more favorable contract terms before the start of a project. I tried to make it as comprehensive and flexible as possible, but every creative industry is a bit different so feel free to adapt my words to best suit your personal situation.

-Jessica Hische

Jessica’s Hische is a world-renowned graphic designer who has consistently shared her business approach and design process over her entire career. One of my favorite pieces is not a design or typeface she’s created, but her email generator – a sort of ad-libs webpage that helps you get through those mentally exhausting and emotionally troubling emails with ease. I don’t know about you but getting an email that puts me on the back foot in the morning can ruin my entire day.

While the email generator is geared towards graphic designers, it’s easily modified to fit photographer’s needs with a few small tweaks to language.

4. The AIA / ASMP “Commissioning Architectural Photography” Worksheet

While ten years old at this point, this thing is truly a work of art. The “Commissioning Architectural Photography” worksheet explains clearly and simply what it takes for an architect and photographer to work together to create great images and walk away happily. While designed to be read and understood by architects, it does an amazing job of outlining a functional and fair relationship between architect and photographer.

The document touches on everything from setting expectations for budget, timeline, and retouching to licensing, payment, and publication. I have found this to be an invaluable tool not only for myself but also for sharing with clients and potential clients when I need to explain something and I lack the words to do it eloquently enough in a language that they understand. It’s a lot easier to point to this instead of trying to fumble over why the photographer retains copyright of images or why a magazine needs to pay to feature my images. I guarantee after a thorough read of this you will walk away with a better understanding of your client/photographer relationship and learn a few things about working as an architectural photographer.

About Mike Kelley
Mike Kelley is an architecture and interiors photographer who has photographed projects all over the world. He is a self proclaimed airplane food enthusiast and the founder of the Architectural Photography Almanac.
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