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World's Longest Invoice Shows Just How Hard It Is For Freelancers To Get Paid

New site goes to online war against deadbeat clients.

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The worst part of freelance work is, notoriously, convincing clients to pay you.

One new method: The creation of the "World's Longest Invoice," an online counter, launched yesterday morning to allow freelancers to add the amount they've been stiffed by clients to a running national total.

The site collected information from freelancers owed a collective $7,000,000 in one day — some claiming to be cheated out of more than $100,000.

World's Longest Invoice is the creation of the Freelancers Union, an organization that says its goal is to gain protection for independent workers and "to expose the deadbeat epidemic."

"Freelancers have long struggled alone with clients who won't pay. What the World's Longest Invoice shows, though, is that they are not alone," Sara Horowitz, founder and executive director of Freelancers Union, said in a statement. "The more people who recognize this is an issue -- and the more freelancers recognize they have power in solidarity -- the better. The nation's 42 million independent workers form a powerful community together."

A World's Longest Invoice contributor, web application developer Alex Burnett told BuzzFeed about the time he was stiffed the most.

"My big loss was when I was hired to write the software that manages all the shipping docks [of a major cable provider].  It manages how they organize receiving trucks and then bill tenants. I was paid for the first part of the project but after we launched the product they didn't pay the rest of my balance.  I met with the CEO, who looked me dead in the eye, leaned back in his chair and said, "Don't worry, I've got deep pockets, we'll get you paid".  I will never for get that bold faced lie. He stiffed me just over $13 K."

"That month I was $23 short on my rent.  I had to ask my land lord for an extension like some kind of deadbeat.  Except I wasn't a deadbeat, I had worked my ass off.  My work was good.  The loading manager down at the docks praised my software in the review," says Burnett. "As far as I know they're still using my software today. I have never been paid."

After posting on World's Longest Invoice, independent web designer Amara Poolswasdi wrote a blog post about why she added her $7,150 in lost payments to the site:

"I remember having to call and email some of these deadbeat clients when I was incredibly ill with bronchitis and laryngitis. I needed money to go see the doctor. I could barely get out of bed. In between the four deadbeat clients I think I wrangled together about $50, barely enough to fill a tank of gas to head over to the clinic. Despicable. This isn’t tolerated anywhere else."

According to the Freelancers Union, 77% of freelancers last year were stiffed out of an average $4,600 each. They also lack some of the legal protections that cover full-time and part-time employees.

Freelancer Susan Speer, who once spent more than a year and hired three attorneys to go after a client in debt to her, said she doesn't know what the impact of the site will be, but says it certainly struck a nerve with her.

"Putting my name and that dollar amount - $5,500 - to the World's Longest Invoice was cathartic. I had to let go of the debt - cosmically speaking - a long time ago, because continuing to go after a guy who refused to respond was eating at me. To come back to it today was a good thing," she said.

In May, Horowitz will appear before New York State legislators to try to get a bill passed that would give freelancers in New York the same protection afforded full-time employees. And she'll be bringing the stats from World's Longest Invoice along.

"Lawmakers need to see the real-life impact deadbeat clients have on independent workers and entrepreneurs. On May 22, I'll join with dozens of freelancers to deliver the World's Longest Invoice to Albany and show state legislators that the Freelancer Payment Protection Act is a national model for tomorrow's economy."

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