Recently, Young Money editor Iona Bain wrote for the Financial Times about her experience of late payments as a freelancer, and singled out a particular platform that caused her grief last year – Yuno Juno. In the piece, Iona wrote:
After completing a piece of broadcast work for a financial institution, its agency eventually activated my payment on a platform called YunoJuno. Some freelancers use it to apply for jobs and like it a lot. But for freelancers like me who were forced to use it once to get paid, it was maddening. Almost two months later, I was scanning copies of my birth certificate and ancient payslips to verify my identity and working out how to fill in a time sheet for a job that lasted 15 minutes.
After the article, Young Money received a very thoughtful response from Shib, the founder of YunoJuno, promising to reflect on the article and explaining the very interesting genesis of the platform. So we have asked Shib to offer his perspective, both as a right of reply and as a valuable view on the complex world of freelance payments.
I appreciate the opportunity to respond to Iona’s recent article in the FT. Firstly, I don’t contest any issues Iona faced – if a process is “maddening”, and we are in control of that process, then obviously that’s something that we need to address.
Freelancer payment is something that is very important to us at YunoJuno. It was the first big frustration for freelancers we wanted to tackle when we started the business. We, like most startups, have pretty humble beginnings. We started as a few people who lived and breathed freelancing – either as freelancers or people in the operational cogs of how freelancers worked within an organisation. If you’re interested, you can see the more pictorial version of our story here.
Since our founding in 2012, we have been gobsmacked by our adoption within the creative and tech sector. It was one of those right-time,right-place scenarios. And to date, we have processed over a quarter of a billion pounds in freelancer payments. We pride ourselves on delivering our 14-day payment promise to the thousands of payments we process to freelancers each week.
But as you know, sometimes things don’t always go to plan. Broadly speaking, our process is that the moment a freelancer’s time is signed off by the client, and the freelancer invoices us, we pay on 14 days of that invoice. Sometimes however, the gap between a freelancer doing work and a client signing off a timesheet or doing some other internal process to approve a freelancer’s time varies.
We try our best to nudge the client when this happens through both automated messaging as well as YunoJuno account managers stepping in to help move the process along. We do this because we have never believed it fair that a freelancer, who is brought into an organisation to perform (more often than not) critical tasks and projects have to wait to get paid 30, 60 or even 90 days after the job is done. Permanent members of staff working on the same project get paid in a timely fashion, so why should a freelancer have to be penalised for being an independent professional?
We have never believed it fair that a freelancer, who is brought into an organisation to perform (more often than not) critical tasks and projects have to wait to get paid 30, 60 or even 90 days after the job is done
As a result, in our first year we set up a partnership with HSBC so that we could pay all freelancers on a YunoJuno booking within 14 days of an invoice being sent. We would be the ones to invoice the client and give them standards payment terms to pay us. But we wanted to disconnect the two to ensure freelancers were paid. We pay for the privilege of that process but we felt it important and consistent with our mandate for starting the business. The other mandate we had was that we should make our money off a successful booking and that be charged to the client. So it’s absolutely free to be on YunoJuno as a freelancer.
The other reason why we set up this more formal payment process came out of necessity due to our rapid growth since launch. That first year, we promised the freelancer industry that YunoJuno would change the narrative in regards to freelance payments. The original process saw us invoicing the client immediately after the work was done and then passing it straight on to the freelancer. But the problem you and your readers are all too aware of is that some clients don’t always pay on time.
So we got to a moment in that first year where we had a considerable amount of money that was due for payment to freelancers and we hadn’t yet been paid by our clients. I’m sure you can guess what happened. To cut a long story short, my co-founder Hugo and I decided that the most important thing for our little startup was to keep our promise to the freelancers who were working through the platform. So we both emptied our personal savings accounts to pay these freelancers and hoped to God that our clients paid soon. I’m not recommending in this as a good startup strategy by the way – and neither would my wife! – but we were young(er) and pretty headstrong about what we wanted to do.
I’m sharing this anecdote to hopefully get across how important this issue of freelancer payment is to me. So when I read your article it resonated with me because a process that makes the freelance life more stressful or complicated is not what we set out to achieve.
I appreciate that clients at times need their own internal processes to be fulfilled so we spend a portion of our product roadmap planning around how best to accommodate the myriad of requests that come in from organisations to integrate YunoJuno into their business. Sometimes it doesn’t always have a neat solution as you are intimately aware of. This isn’t an excuse as I know we could have done better in communicating certain things but we remain committed to furthering freelancing as the future of work and ironing out the issues we can control to make it a more seamless vocational choice we believe it should be.
If you want to know more about our vision for YunoJuno, you can read more here at Medium.
Other resources to help you boss your payments
Since my article appeared in the FT, I have been contacted by various people with recommendations on how to speed up freelance payments. Some of the suggestions were incredibly helpful, others not so much. But I have sifted through the various tip-offs and compiled a list of organisations and tools that might come in handy if you’re a freelancer fed up of chasing what you’re owed. It is by no means exhaustive but hopefully will provide a useful jumping off point.
The National Union of Journalists is a must-join organisation if you are a full-time or freelance journalist, and I’m informed they can be particularly kickass if clients start pulling a fast one. One of my contacts said:
A freelancer I know told me that whenever his clients started to muck him about with payments, he would refer it to the NUJ’s legal team who would relish the opportunity to send a threatening letter – which would invariably be followed by a grovelling apology from the client and immediate payment. This was all covered by the membership fee (about £20 a month).
Unfortunately, NUJ membership is not tax deductible if you are freelance and looking to claim it as an expense. But it is still well worth the monthly fee for this ‘bad cop’ routine alone.
If you aren’t a journalist, another option to consider is IPSE. You can either opt for a more basic membership of this organisation, which grants you access to legal helplines and useful contracts so you can lay down the law effectively, or a more substantial membership that will actually compensate you if an agency ends up breaking their contract.
Freelancers may baulk at paying to secure their rights but IPSE offer plenty of bang for your buck, from regular magazines covering all-things freelance (featuring the Ask Iona column!) to rewards normally reserved for full-time employees through Perkbox. I’ve used several discount cards from IPSE’s partnership with Perkbox as a member on everything from Argos gadgets to my weekly Tesco shop.
Freesy has also caught my eye as a middle-man agency pledging to be different from all those other middle-man agencies that can cost freelancers an absolute bomb. Backed by the jobs platform Reed, Freesy will charge the end client a flat rate of 5 per cent to try and ensure you can get the maximum rate from clients. It’s a recruiter-free zone (thank god) and you get in touch with companies directly to negotiate your pay. But best of all, Freesy says it will pay all freelancers every 14 days, come what may, rather than waiting on clients to cough up the cash. Freesy is still in beta testing mode and not due to launch until March – but so far, it looks promising.
GoCardless calls itself the “first global network for recurring payments”. In other words, it’s a system that you can use to get repeat clients to pay you by direct debit. Sounds obvious, but GoCardless cuts out much of the faff involved with processing repeat payments and can be incorporated into mainstream accounting apps used by lots of freelancers, such as Xero or Quickbooks. You set up an account directly on the dashboard, ask your customers/clients to fill in their information and bingo: you’ve secured their “mandate” to start pulling payments on time. The only catch is that it costs 1% plus 20p per transaction, up to a maximum of £4, and an additional fee of 0.1% applies to amounts over £2000. For international payments, its 2% plus 20p, with currency conversion included. But you may decide this is a small price to pay for less hassle and more peace of mind – it’s up to you.