I tried for 2 years to get S$300 back from company I freelanced for, failed miserably
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In 2017, I tried my hand at freelancing full-time.
It was quite the experience, with lessons sometimes being the only thing you earned from a hard month’s work.
There were a lot of companies I freelanced for during that one year period, to varying degrees of success.
I shall focus on only one for this article.
I took up a copywriting job with this company back in 2017.
I finished my copywriting assignment around September 2017, and sent the invoice, for S$300, on October 2, 2017.
The first reply was your generic invoice received message.
Alls well that ends well, right?
Clunky rhetorical questions aside, no — no, it did not end well.
My first follow-up email to the Sales and Finance Director, Randrew (name has been changed to protect his identity, but not like changed by a lot, cos I’m quite petty), was on December 18, 2017.
Which was almost two months after the invoice was handed in.
Why did it take me so long to follow up on the invoice? Simply put, a hectic schedule.
Chasing freelance opportunities while dealing with the ever-prescient fear of having no stable paycheque.
Here’s what I wrote.
I was just wondering what the status is on the payment for the xxxxx copywriting job.
I remembered taking an inordinate amount of time crafting this email.
Was I being too pushy? Irritating? Should I be more formal? Less formal? Is Randrew the dumbest fake name of all time?
I decided to eventually go with the aforementioned chic-casual message.
The response was swift and, to my idiot-self back then, really encouraging.
We are waiting for the client to clear the payment so that I can send the payment to you.
Have already send a chaser on this.
That’s how they get you.
The illusion that there is an unseen force currently holding your money back.
That they are the good guys trying to pay you, but unfortunately, that malevolent intangible creature is the one that has got a hold of your money.
So you trust them, and believe that they are somehow doing the best, on your behalf, to vanquish that unseen obstacle blocking your payday.
They’re the good guys, and how can you doubt the good guys, right?
Frustration seeps in
My next few emails toed the same “please don’t find me irritating, but also, I can only sell so many organs before they stop buying from me” line.
To my question on if there was an estimated time to get my payment, this was his reply.
We are waiting for payment from both of the clients.
Once they have cleared, I can arrange for payment to you
By then it was already approaching the end of January, 2018, and my already sparse savings were depleting at an alarming rate.
So, on February 7, 2018, I sent this much firmer email.
I understand that the clients might not have paid you yet.
But it’s been about about half a year since the first copy, and about 2 months since the 2nd one. I would really appreciate an estimate on when you can make payment by.
Randrew replied within an hour — a good sign, dumbass version of me thought to myself.
Hi Donitic and Kereb (Both names changed to protect their identity)
Can you chase the customer for payment for the balance for XXXX. The website has been live for quite a while.
This time, he cc-ed his two best debt-chasers.
That’s it, I told my starving family — this is definitely when I get my pay.
I didn’t get my pay
From February to May, I sent a few more emails enquiring about the money.
This was my email in May.
Have there been any updates regarding either XXXX or XXXY, in regards to their and, for some reason, my payment?
That was met with absolutely nothing.
Yup, Randrew apparently didn’t even bother cooking up another half-hearted attempt at sincerity this time.
Perhaps he did send another email; perhaps Gmail, upon noticing the high level of bullsh*t in it, sorted it into his trash.
But I couldn’t live on hypothetical payments, and finally went back to a nine-to-five, guaranteed paycheque work environment.
Now, to be very clear, Randrew, and his company’s failure to pay, probably played a minuscule part in my abject failure at freelancing.
But that shouldn’t matter at all. Their duty wasn’t to ensure my freelancing foray was a success. It was to pay me for services accrued.
There is more to the story, but it basically follows an algorithm of sorts: get promised something, get hopes up, and get disappointed.
So to cut this silly story short, no — I never got my money.
I went down the route where I tried to appeal to the person, instead of appealing to structures put into place to deter these behaviours.
It was ultimately the wrong route to take.
So there is no happy ending, but I want to take a quick moment to flesh out what I, or you, if you find yourself in a freelance kerfuffle, could have done.
What you could have done
There are two very obvious solutions that I could have undertaken.
2. Go settle it in small claims court
Yes, do this. Always do this.
You can follow the instructions here. It is simple enough, if a bit tedious to get all the necessary documents.
Why didn’t I go down this route from the very beginning?
Simply put, I definitely should have.
I didn’t do that due to a mixture of apprehension at the red-tape method, and a blind belief that these fellow human beings would get me the money quicker than the aforementioned red-tape.
Which is something that we might instinctively assume; bureaucracy is often too tedious to go through.
But that might not always be the case.
A State Courts spokesperson told me that it usually takes around three months.
“The majority of cases dealt with by the Small Claims Tribunals (SCT) are concluded within three months from the time a claim is filed.”
Which is not the fastest thing imaginable, but would undisputedly be better than never getting your money every time.
According to the same spokesperson, over 11,000 claims were made at SCT in 2018.
However, there are of course some parameters — namely, you have to file the claim within one year of the invoice.
This condition has effectively ruled out that path for me.
On hindsight, it was a supremely silly decision to place my faith in a person called Randrew (not real name, but still) instead of actual legal bodies.
But the thing about hindsight is that it almost never exists when you actually need it.
Now, to be clear, this wasn’t meant to be a diatribe against freelancing in favour of more traditional work. In fact, the ability to customise your schedule is an immensely liberating experience.
Even if it seems a tad tedious, and you feel that appealing to the person is infinitely easier, and cuts the governmental middle man out, resist that urge.
If a company is genuine about wanting to pay you back, they will probably understand you getting a little bit antsy about your delayed pay.
Here’s the detailed process you need to take to file a claim, courtesy of the State Courts:
To make an SCT claim, the claimant will file the claim online via the State Courts’ Community Justice and Tribunals System (CJTS). A date and time for the claimant and respondent to attend a consultation at the SCT will be given.
Before the consultation session, the parties have the option to use the e-Negotiation feature of the CJTS to attempt to settle their dispute amicably, online without going to the SCT.
If they reach a settlement, they can apply to have the agreed terms recorded as a consent order and the claimant can withdraw the claim.
These applications are made via the CJTS. If no settlement is reached, the parties will have to attend the consultation at the SCT where mediation will be facilitated for the parties to resolve the matter.
Alternatively, if both parties agree, they can choose to undergo e-Mediation on the CJTS. The e-Mediation is conducted online at an appointed date and time suitable to the parties and the mediator.
This brings convenience to the parties as they need not make a trip to the SCT for the consultation. If the parties are unable settle their dispute during the consultation or e-Mediation, the matter may proceed for a hearing before a Referee who will make a decision on the case.
If the claim is within the SCT’s jurisdiction, besides a money order, the SCT can also issue a work order which requires one party to rectify a defect in goods or make good any deficiency in the performance of services. If the claimant is unable to prove the claim, the case will be dismissed.
Image collated from WikiHow