Freelancers! How to avoid losing all your earnings…
Hello dear readers, are you still there? It’s been so long since I’ve posted a blog, but I finally have a moment to myself so it’s time to explain my absence.… Over a month ago, one of my oldest, most regular clients went bust and cancelled a confirmed trip to L.A to shoot leaving me [...]
Hello dear readers, are you still there? It’s been so long since I’ve posted a blog, but I finally have a moment to myself so it’s time to explain my absence.…
Over a month ago, one of my oldest, most regular clients went bust and cancelled a confirmed trip to L.A to shoot leaving me very short financially, both in the short and the long term. Then, a few days later, in fact the day before my 40th birthday, I received a short email from the owner of my agency, Balcony Jump, stating that he’d decided to cease trading with immediate effect. It seemed his bank would no longer extend credit to his company due to it’s long-standing debts.
In total panic, I called my booker, who was in a state of shock herself and knew little about the possible outcome of the company’s closure. What became clear over the coming days, was that it would be highly unlikely that I would see much of the £10,000 still owed to me by the agency. A liquidator was appointed, and I was told that the owner of my agency would not be personally liable to liquidate his own assets (a London home, a country pile, an expensive car) in order to pay his hard-working artists because he’d been shrewd enough to make himself a Ltd company.
I don’t mind admitting to you that I was in such a state of shock and despair over this turn of events that I fell apart for a week or so. I even cancelled my 40th birthday celebrations because I just couldn’t face anyone. It is every freelancers worst fear, to have your livelihood destroyed, your income effectively stolen by an unscrupulous agent and in some cases, by clients. I have basically worked my ass off for the last 3 months for free.
And what makes this even harder to swallow is that I’d only joined the agency 8 months prior to it’s closure, so 90% of the money I lost was from my existing client base. In fact, in 8 months, the agency booked me just 7 new jobs, everything else I worked on was my own client base. So much for my agent’s claims that he would double my income within a year.
I’ve since found out (and boy, there’s nothing like a bit of hindsight to make you feel sick) that the owner of my agency used to have an office in New York, which also went bust. Funnily enough he omitted to mention this when he offered me representation. But, as they had been trading for 17 years, with a good reputation in the industry, I felt I could trust him with my livelihood. How wrong I was. My agent lied to my face, telling me that he was still awaiting payment for my work, when in fact much of it had been paid as long ago as January. Quite how he manages to sleep at night is a mystery.
I have discovered with great pain, that there is NOTHING in place to protect freelancers from losing all their money in circumstances like this. By law, I’m not even able to re-invoice my clients for the work I did for them, because the liquidators have a legal claim on all work that the agency invoiced. So, MY money is out of my reach, even though the agency only has a contractual right to 20% of it. And the government lets this happen to hard-working people, offering them no recourse. It’s despicable. Furthermore, 9 times out of ten, the owners of agencies that go bust wait a few months and then set up under another name, ready to con other people out of their earnings.
As a result of these huge financial setbacks, I had to give notice on my lovely flat in Hackney where the majority of my work and all of my friends are and move to the other side of London to a much cheaper flat, in order to give myself some financial breathing space. This experience has been one of the worst of my life so far, shaking my confidence and my ability to provide for myself and my loved ones. It has led me to question the point of spending years building a career and a reputation, when it can all be compromised so easily. Thankfully I have some savings to live on, because I’ll have no income for the next couple of months.
And I’m not alone. All the stylists, make up artists, hairstylists and photographers are owed sums varying in extremes. All those lives affected by one man’s inability to manage his company finances.
I am writing this post as a warning to all make up artists out there, in fact to all freelancers. Think VERY carefully before you seek representation, do your research as thoroughly as possible, check Company House for financial reports, try to speak to other artists repped by the agency to see if they feel their finances are being handled well. Call your clients from time to time to check whether they have actually paid or not. Most importantly, ask whether the agency has a separate holding account for their artists money, in fact ask to see proof of this. Then at least you can feel safe in the knowledge that your hard-earned cash is not being spent on your agent’s expensive taste in holidays/cars/fine dining.
On a more positive note, I heard today that BECTU, the union for artists and workers in the film/TV industry has agreed that it will soon extend it’s Union cover to workers in the fashion industry. Membership will cost £90 a year, and that will also give you access to discounted Public Liability insurance and kit insurance. I don’t yet know what other benefits Union membership will provide as it’s still in discussion, but this is a big step in the right direction for freelancers in fashion. Check the BECTU website for more news.
Hopefully this will explain why my little blog has suffered from such a lack of attention. I aim to get back into the swing of things soon, but in honesty, most of my time and attention for the foreseeable future will be on finding new clients and settling into my new home. Please bear with me!
Best wishes, Aly