We need to do more to uplift freelance artists

Headshot of Lauren Kruz
Lauren Kruz, co-founder and director, Radical Womxn.

Starting with a more equitable pay structure.

In the past year, inflation, labor shortages, supply chain bottlenecks and a volatile housing market have crippled workers, led employees to find new jobs and forced businesses to close their doors.

During this period of economic instability, businesses have had one thing in common: chasing late payments. Studies show that 25% of small businesses have had to wait between 20 to 30 days past a payment due date to receive funds. What’s more, 55% believe delayed payments are “deliberate.”

This issue is particularly burdensome on freelancers and contractors. When a company faces a late payment, it often has a cushion to protect itself from going under. But a self-employed individual might be unable to pay their bills. This is even more difficult for self-employed people of color, who already face prevalent socioeconomic disadvantages. 

Late payments cannot continue to be the status quo. Companies have a responsibility to reevaluate their payment practices and determine new ways to treat their contractors fairly. They must ensure that funds are available within a reasonable time frame before hiring contractors.

In my home state of California, freelancers and contractors are the norm. Particularly in the arts and entertainment industry, many are self-employed, dependent on finding the next gig to pay their rent and stay afloat. 

But work opportunities are disappearing. During the pandemic, California saw the loss of over 175,000 jobs in the creative sector, leaving entrepreneurs with fewer opportunities to support themselves. Nationally, the creative industry lost an estimated 2.7 million jobs and more than $150 billion in sales.

More than ever, companies that hire freelance artists, actors and models need to help make freelancing a sustainable career. 

Historically, freelancers have waited months to receive a paycheck after completing a job due to the traditional payment structures at many corporations. This was exacerbated during the pandemic, leaving many freelancers financially insecure and wondering whether they would need to pivot to a different career. It also created entrance barriers for others who cannot afford to wait to get paid.

My company aims to uplift systematically excluded minority creators by prioritizing equitable production practices and providing access to resources creatives need to succeed. When trying to address this issue, we sought alternative ways of paying our contractors, starting by digitizing our payments ecosystem.  

Through fast and efficient invoicing and payment processes, B2B payment solutions like Melio make it easy to pay freelancers in one or two days instead of the one or two month industry average. The platform has allowed us to open more doors and opportunities for creators — especially disadvantaged ones — to tell their stories and get their foot in the door.

There are a multitude of tools available to help uplift and support creators. Even if a company is not ready to move away from traditional payment methods, it can at least be transparent with contractors about when they can expect to get paid.

While many companies (including my own) suffered financial setbacks during the pandemic, that should not get in the way of treating freelancers fairly. Together, we can make the creative sector more equitable and sustainable for contractors. 

Lauren Kruz is co-founder and director at Radical Womxn.

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