Pay me. Up front. At least half. Then I start work.

“There are two individuals who I will do work for without payments in advance. That’s because if they don’t pay, it means flying pigs are crashing into the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Otherwise, I just can’t afford to bear the financial risk.” Karin Horwatt Cather.


A warm back and forth flow of information and good will was traversing the email highway between me and my ambitious new client, right up to the second when I mentioned my usual business practice of waiting for a deposit before I began work as a writer/editor.

And then …..KA-BLAM. An abrupt email starting with the words, “Sorry. I never do that” landed with a thump in my email in basket, followed up with a curt sentence about paying by the word.

I’d already spent half a day pouring over his website, scrutinizing his Facebook page (no profile), LinkedIn page (no profile), and combing through his local geography (he’s a real estate agent) as prep for my estimate (which included crafting the aforementioned non-existent profiles). Inevitably this also means I’d started to research the job, without pay.

I do that. It’s a balancing act. I like to give an estimate that shows I’m paying close attention to the client’s business needs, and that *does* mean some up front research. Gratis. Some would say it’s the cost of doing business and I’d agree.

Up to a point.

We’d already agreed on a per word estimate. But my common business practice of asking for a deposit before I begin work, and his flat refusal to comply, caused the chasm and bad odour now hanging between us.

Stung, I shot over to the Editors Association of Earth (EAE) on Facebook looking for support and input. EAE is an eclectic (and closed) group of experienced editors who really know their stuff. They guide, share info, help one another and occasionally write poetry into the comments section for fun.

Was I off base? I wanted to know.

Should I just go ahead with the quote anyway?

Or politely wave goodbye?

A majority supported me, and went even further. Some said “walk away.” Full disclosure here: others didn’t agree, but with the caveat that they had corporate clients and a relationship of high trust already in place.

Here’s just a sample of what I got:

“I won’t begin editing for new individual clients (i.e. not publishers, NGOPs, unis, the like) without cleared funds, usually 50 per cent of the (estimated) fee.” Janet Macmillan

“I always ask for a deposit from new clients. If they’re not willing to give you a down payment, how can you know they’ll pay you at all?” Susan Wenger.

In the past I’ve tried – with mixed success – to explain to clients that I can’t subsidize them by working for nothing to start. Some understand right away, others never do.

Laura Scott,, had an experience that shows how deep this kind of incomprehension can run. “Years ago I had a prospective web development client say about the up-front deposit, ‘What is that supposed to be? Some kind of bonus?’ That was the last conversation we had.”

“Working without a deposit is effectively floating a loan to the client.” Laura explains. “Your resources are committed but the client’s are not. If you can afford to do that, and the risk of not being paid, that’s your call. I view it as non-viable.”

Other editors lovingly poured soothing balm on my mildly wounded business pride (after all I have to admit I think I’m pretty good at business writing and editing – so how could he not want me?).

“In my experience (30-plus years), what happens is you take the job because you’re feeling desperate, you do the work, feeling resentful, and wait for ages to be paid. Meanwhile, a better contract appears but you can’t take it because you’re busy with the first client. I soon learned not to take on those jobs. Clients can smell desperation. They can also sense when they’re dealing with a professional. Self-respect is the main thing.” Kathe Lieber,

“I ALWAYS get a deposit (or FULL payment for projects <$500.00) before I do a single minute of work, period. Your client must adhere to YOUR requirements, it is YOUR business. This person sounds like a slippery slope. There are other clients out there. You have to MAKE people respect you and your business.” Pamela Hilliard Owens,

And as more than one editor pointed out, the act of letting an uncomprehending client go can free up time to go find a better fit.

I’ll give the last word on this to Editor Nancy Stender

“…Needing the work doesn’t mean you have to open yourself up to this treatment. Sometimes cutting someone loose, someone who may not be worth all the extra grief, is worth it–you can use the time to self-promote, network, go after other clients, work on marketing, etc.”





About Jane Carthew Davidson

As a former senior public relations specialist with a large publicly traded multi-national chemical company, Jane Carthew Davidson produced the company’s award winning annual report for several years. Later, she was media relations specialist for Ontario’s Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), where she wrote speeches for the executive team, trained spokespersons across the province, and developed talking points and strategies designed to clarify the role played by property assessment within the municipal taxation system. Jane is a former business reporter for the Globe and Mail Report on Business, and the Toronto Star’s Business Today. Her articles have appeared in the Toronto Star, the Medical Post, the Anglican Journal, the Financial Post and most recently, the Globe and Mail’s special supplements on subjects as wide ranging as organic farming and new investment regulations. On several occasions, Jane’s media savvy and quick research skills enabled her to win broad media attention and investment queries from Canada, the Unites States and Europe, for a unique medical device start-up venture. Following Peterborough’s Flood of the Century in 2004, Jane handled media relations for the City of Peterborough, developing and implementing the communications plan for the city’s media outreach to afflicted citizens, concerned insurance companies, city staff and other government stakeholders.
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