The Value of Being Paid in Advance

Two years ago I basically stopped shooting editorial assignment photography. One reason I discontinued this kind of work was the way I was compensated. I was always paid after the job was done and the images were delivered. Many times, payment was late by several months; in some cases, I never received it at all.

I don’t have this problem as a wedding photographer. We’re either smart, lucky or both. Service providers for weddings, including photographers, DJs and florists, generally receive at least partial payment in advance. We are paid for making the sale and then — down the road — we are paid again for doing the job.

Our business accepts a 50 percent, non-refundable retainer along with a signed contract to accept any commission for wedding photography. The balance is due a month before the couple’s wedding. Only after working in the business of wedding photography did I really understand the value of getting paid in advance.

Here are just a few of the reasons:

1. We are able to generate income immediately, not after the fact.

2. We are able to forecast (quite accurately) what we will earn for the upcoming wedding season. Our receivables are a key indicator of the health of our business.

3. We can analyze our earnings and, based on our costs, adjust them in real time to improve our bottom line.

4. We can schedule our year (including vacations) well in advance.

5. It’s the way attorneys are paid:)

And it sure beats the alternative: Calling an assignment editor in search of a lost pay check.

Shouldn’t everyone be looking to the possibility of payment in advance? I don’t know whether this is feasible in other forms of assignment photography. But there’s always a first time.

In this era of financial losses for magazines and newspapers, it’s certainly something to think about. The accounting departments of media companies don’t necessarily prioritize paying freelance assignment photographers, especially if they have other, more pressing bills to pay. Read A Photo Editor’s comments on magazines behaving badly for more.

So why let yourself get stuck with the bill in the first place? Do you think it’s realistic to ask assignment editors for payment in advance of any completed and delivered work? Let me know your thoughts.

[tags]photography advice[/tags]

4 Responses to “The Value of Being Paid in Advance”

  1. I have found when you have a contract in place and mark up all invoices by 10% and give a discount for 10% for payment before 30 or 45 days you get paid on time.

    I believe it isn't the industry of editorial--it is rather the contract that helps on getting paid on time.

  2. As a graduate leaving university with a Photojournalism degree, I have been used in the industry at the beginning for my images, and not been paid. This is a pure problem among freelancers or students today in the UK and Ireland.

    The NUJ are currently fighting editors for more rights in these areas because each year thousands of photographers and journalists are underpayed, not payed or treated badly.

  3. Stanley: Please, please, please write your next piece on getting a contract 'in place.' Would be an incredibly valuable tool for editorial photographers looking to help insure their livelihood.

  4. Great post! This is one of the key moments where negotiation skills come in - I'd read lot of books about negotiating in general, for example, but never really identified a time when I realized I was actually being put to the test. Trying to get paid in advance is just that - and you need to present a compelling case why it's better for the client to remunerate you in full. I recommend explaining that advance payment means you never have to chase OTHER clients for payment, so when you're doing work for THIS client, you will be 100% focused on the work you are doing for them.

    Also, before you manage to negotiate up-front payment every time, which takes a bit of practise, aim for 50% in advance and 50% half way through, according to a set list of deliverables...but include an option that the work 'continues' only after the second payment has been received. In other words, if you only get paid half, you only do HALF the work.

    The key aim is to show genuine goodwill to your customers whilst being able to provide better service by not having to chase up other people over payment.

    That way, everybody wins!

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