A while ago I wrote this blog about the responsibility of drama colleges to pay freelancers on time
Today a director friend of mine posted a semi-regular tweet that I see from colleagues bemoaning the timeframe that it takes for freelancers to get paid. I mean I obviously replied with a link to the previous blog, but then it struck me. . . I am now a freelancer again after 12 years of receiving a monthly salary, and in truth, I felt a bit nauseous just thinking about it.
The last time I was freelance I had no dependents, it was just my wife and I, nicely set up in our flat. Now though we have 2 young children and a mortgage to service so the pressure is really on to budget under our new circumstances. Due to the way The MTA closed I don’t have the luxury of a large redundancy payout to relieve that stress for a few months, and given that our life savings frustratingly disappeared with college too we also don’t have the luxury of savings to cushion the blow.
Now I should quickly add that we’re really lucky as my wife works so we don’t live with the imminent threat of losing our home or anything like that (I mean know your privilege right?), but as anybody with children will know, they seem to haemorrhage money at a great speed of knots, so I need to get myself out working sooner rather than later, and the only trade I know is that of a theatre musician/composer. . .an entirely freelance profession.
Now personally I love the hustle of trying to find a new contract every few months, and indeed it’s one of the things I missed whilst running the college, but I’ve always resented and loathed having to chase up invoices. Now after 14 years of being responsible for paying hundreds of people I think that I’m going to struggle with it even more because I know that it’s entirely avoidable.
Here’s the thing . . . our entire industry is built on the foundation of freelancers, so why the hell hasn’t our industry worked out how to treat them properly? Step forward all the people shouting that it was easy for me, I ran a teeny tiny college – of course, I could pay people quickly, and to a degree that’s right, but it’s also because from the outset I understood our industry and put people first.
Drama colleges have it easy – the money all comes in at the beginning of the academic year or term, and then they’re simply sitting on the money. They’re not like producers waiting for people to buy tickets and relying on those ticket sales to pay people their salaries. Their income is set and solid. So why can’t they distribute it quicker? It’s really quite simple. . . that’s not how they’ve ever done it. Payroll gets done at X time of the month, every month, so that’s when everybody will get paid and god forbid they deviate from what used to be done. However, we’re missing a vital development, aren’t we? The rise and speed of internet banking. It really doesn’t take long to set up payments, and those cumbersome institutions claiming that I don’t understand the numbers that they’re dealing with I would say one thing. . . I was doing it all on my own, you have a person or a department purely dealing with finance, and if you still think that it’s impossible knock yourselves out and hire an extra pair of hands.
You can’t claim to be worried about your employees’ mental health when your employees don’t know when they’re going to get paid. It is terrifying knowing that you have outgoing commitments that you can’t meet, all because you gave in your paperwork one day past the self-imposed deadline that triggers the “payroll” Understand your workforce and you’ll have a workforce that will go above and beyond for you every time. What you’ll receive back will more than compensates for the 5 mins it will take you to sort out that freelancer’s pay.
Why do we have to live in a “‘puter says no” world? If you’re hiring freelancers understand their world. Understand that they’ll send you an invoice with a set date on which you need to pay. They’ve set that date because they probably need the money by then. Not everybody lives in a world with money to spare, and not everybody has the bank of mum and dad to fall back on (and why the hell should they draw from that anyway if they’ve done the job?) and not everyone has a partner who can fund the gap between invoice and payment.
As an industry, we scream about inclusivity, and we love paying lip service to socio-economic diversity, yet god forbid we use the advancement of internet banking to overhaul our systems and our thinking when it comes to payment.
I suspect that these systems were originally devised by people that have never known financial hardship – sounds a bit like the recent fiscal event, doesn’t it? Well, take it from somebody that’s from a council estate in Swansea. . .paying people just a day late can cause horrific stress, it’s like the pebble in the water analogy – the ripples spread far and wide, but the difference here is that nobody is forcing you to throw the pebble, you’ve just decided that you can’t change the status quo. . . but somebody in your organisation could.
So if you’re hiring freelancers – pop the pebble back in your pocket, pick up your computer mouse or your phone. . . and click. I absolutely promise you that you’ll have people queuing up to work for you, it’s called mutual respect. Try it.