This is a guest contribution from Blogger Legal LLC.
In our experience, bloggers tend not to be very familiar with their rights when they enter into a contract with a company.
It’s understandable; companies will throw five-page contracts full of legal jargon at you, when all you want to know is “how much will I get paid?” As a result, you might just glance through the agreement and sign it without understanding it completely.
Unfortunately, this practice tends to leave bloggers feeling helpless when they’ve completed their part of the bargain, wondering if there’s anything you can do to get the company to live up to their end of the bargain.
You also may have hesitations about making waves because you are nervous about burning any bridges for future sponsorships.
Here are some steps you can take to try and enforce the agreement and finally get paid.
1. Review the Contract
To know what obligations the company you’re dealing with has, you’ll first have to dig into the contract itself to know whether the company actually has violated one of its obligations.
First, it’s important to understand what your legal rights are when it comes to your contracts. Because a contract is designed to represent the agreement between you and the company, it entitles either side agreeing to the contract to sue in a court of law for the court to enforce the contract against the other side. However, you can only enforce the terms expressly written in or implied by the contract.
The important part of the contract to look at here is the part regarding the obligation of the company you are seeking to have enforced. More often than not, this will be the company’s obligation to pay you upon your performance of your obligations under the contract. Some companies will have vague time frames as to when you will receive payment – if you’re working through an advertising agency middleman, the contract with the advertising agency may say that you won’t receive payment for your work until the advertising company receives payment from the company that hired them for a particular campaign. In that case, you have already agreed to accept any delay in the contract itself and there is not much you can do to force a payment out of the advertising agency.
On the other hand, if the contract provides for a specific time frame in which the company is supposed to make payment to you, then you can go after them if the time period has passed and they still have not paid you.
Similarly, if the contract says nothing about when the company is obligated to provide payment, then the company’s obligation to pay arises when you finish your obligations under the contract. In that case, you can move on to:
2. Provide a Gentle Reminder
Rather than threatening to sue out of the gate, it is probably good business sense to contact your contact at the company and just let them know that you are aware of your rights and that you expect them to come through on their end of the bargain. The best way to do this is with a simple letter that conveys the following:
- The specific section or paragraph of the contract which obligates the company to make their payment by a specific time
- Your assertion that you have completed all your obligations under the contract
- A statement that you may pursue legal action if the company does not make the payment
The purpose of this letter should be to establish that you are aware of your rights and that you want to enforce your rights.
Remember that you are not just talking to the company you are writing to; you are also demonstrating to the judge (if you are forced to file a lawsuit) that you have been reasonable and that you have been civil in your attempts to collect payment. It only reflects positively on you that you have been civil during the entire process and that you made attempts to collect without going directly to court. Not only that, but this gives the company an opportunity to point out if you’ve made a mistake and their payment is not yet due without burning any bridges.
If the company doesn’t respond to your gentle reminder(s), then it’s time to…
3. Get Tough
If your gentle attempts to get the company to make their payment to you aren’t working, then it’s time to show them that you mean business and that you’re actually willing to go to court to force them to pay.
Depending on the terms of the contract, they may also be required to pay your attorney’s fees for suing them to enforce the contract if you win. As a result, going to court can be expensive for companies, and they’re going to want to avoid it if they’re in the wrong and are going to lose anyways.
If it reaches this point, you will probably want to send a payment demand letter which clearly and explicitly states that this is the company’s “final warning” and provide a deadline by which you require that they make payment or you will file your lawsuit.
If the company does not respond by the deadline you’ve set, it may be time to consult a lawyer and enlist their help in collecting on the contracts.
4. Be Prepared
The next time you agree to a contract, make sure to understand the relevant terms and that you agree to them.
If you don’t think the contract does enough to protect you, it may be worth asking whether you’re permitted to make changes to the contract – not every company will accept modified contracts, so ask before making the changes.
If you’re allowed to make changes, you may want to include a term providing for attorney’s fees to the victor in a lawsuit (assuming that term wasn’t already included in the contract) and maybe a penalty clause increasing the amount that is owed periodically if the company continues to fail to pay.
You may also find that the company wants to engage in a sponsored relationship with you, but there is no set contract. The most important thing is to make sure you have an agreement that lays out the terms clearly. Providing your own contract benefits you in many ways, the most important being you have the ability to tailor the agreement to your preferences.
Many smaller companies don’t have attorneys on retainer to write up agreements for them so it may benefit you further to offer to provide a fair and balanced contract (maybe just a bit in your favor, but not enough to cause the company to push back).
Have you had issues with companies not paying you for your work, or taking longer than normal to pay? What worked for you?
Blogger Legal, LLC is a contract template resource for bloggers in all niches who are looking to create contracts, terms and conditions, or demand payments.