On Friday nights, while most people are pub-crawling we entrepreneurs are usually still working on something. Last week, a mate of mine who runs a photography business was making a presentation to some fellow SME owners, I went to support him.
Among us there were people doing software development, copywriting, arts dealer and marketing… a very interesting topic popped up after the presentation:
A lot of us smaller SME or freelancer have no avenue for recourse should our customer delay or even refuse to pay us after work has been rendered.
Lack of Union
There is no union in Singapore to protect freelancers. On many occasions, freelancers are forced to accept work at very low rates to make an entry into certain industry, and often the idea of portfolio building is dangled as baits for them to do cheap and sometimes even free jobs.
I was shocked to hear people in the entertainment and music industry had to fill up tables with minimum spending at certain venues using their own network before they are being offered the show.
The copywriter in the room shared how she was once denied her payment because the customer did not use her copy. It was a proper job rendered yet not compensated. And the biggest frustration is the sum involved was not big enough to launch legal action on the defaulter.
Big Fish eat Small Fish
One of the most interesting stories came from the art dealer who got blatantly bullied by one of her very wealthy and influential customer. The customer borrowed ten of her art pieces for an exhibition and agreed to purchase three upon completion of the show. It is customary in the industry to perform such deal on good faith but little did she know, the customer had no plan on paying, much less any intention to return any of the ten art pieces.
And I lamented about how I once took two years to get my payment for services I performed for one company in the offshore oil and gas industry. It was a Pte Ltd company and there was little or nothing I could do despite my legal action, there wasn’t money in their bank and nothing law could do to the director. After spending all those legal fees, the only effective solution in the end, was me, acting like a debt collector knocking on their door every other week, collecting by drips and dribbles.
Can We Do Something?
We went on to talk about how some bigger companies took so long to pay their invoices, the personnel in charge of the projects already left, and then they took even longer to pay due to their own verification problems.
Even our government who is touted to be one of the most efficient in the world can sometimes still succumb to bureaucracy, very often paralysing us SME instead of helping.
Do you have similar experiences? Have you any tips or ideas to share? How can we small businesses and freelancers protect ourselves? Leave a comment or contribute an article, we would like to hear from you.