11/27/2007 04:06 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

It's Freelance Labor, Not Free Labor

I have spent the better part of the week chasing down checks from people I've done freelance work for. It's not because I'm late on rent or am dodging my loan shark. Like anyone else -- a plumber, a hairstylist, or even a financial planner -- I like to be compensated for the service I provided. One would never tell an electrician who just fixed their lighting that they can't find their checkbook and he'll have to wait to be paid until the following month. What is it then, about artistic and creative jobs that make people think they can stiff you?

I'm actually gainfully employed. I have a nine-to-five job with a large company complete with health insurance and a 401K. I like doing outside projects because they keep my skills sharp. In this case, I taught a class and took photos of an event for two outside companies -- both of which are very well established. I like teaching and I love photography. Do I really want to make full-time careers out of them? Not really. But I enjoy the way each gig activates different parts of my brain, and the people I meet along the way.

Over the past week I've heard every excuse in the book as to why my cheddar has not arrived: Their CFO left, the temp they hired couldn't alphabetize or they can't find my W-9. It wasn't until I had to FedEx a letter reminding one company they were in breach of contract that the president of the organization actually phoned me and assured me I would have a check by the end of the week. We'll see how it goes.

There's a lesson in all this. Just because you're a hired gun doesn't mean you have to put up with not being paid on time. Businesses have 30 days to pay you. After that, feel free to commence the shake down. I have freelancer friends who put up with late payments for fear of looking like a noodge. I say, noodge away. People will have far more respect for a person who's on top of their affairs than one who agrees to be a doormat.

And if they never hire you again, it's no loss. If they don't respect you enough to pay you on time, then they never really respected your work.