real talk tuesday: fight for your right to… payment

Happy Tuesday!

Two posts in two weeks, guys! Progress!

I’ve been seeing an article floating around Facebook for the last several months that really stood out to me.

I first saw the article on one of those random Facebook food pages (that never seem to post about any actual food..?) and eventually saw that it popped up on Newsweek as well. Long story short, a teenaged girl babysat for an earlier agreed upon rate of $16/hr, and afterwards when she hadn’t received payment, inquired about when she would be able to pick up said fee. Mom conveniently forgot about the monetary agreement, and decided that her babysitter’s day of “fun and ice cream” was a sufficient payment for wrangling someone else’s children for the length of your typical work day.

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(Side note: if you don’t watch Schitt’s Creek, I am saddened to say your life is not as full as it could be.)

The girl fought back and eventually got her money after legit having to casually mention that legal fees and court dates would be a much higher cost & inconvenience than the $128 she wanted for the job. πŸ’ͺ

Naturally, as a 29-year-old who used to babysit for $30-40 TOTAL, I saw the $128 and thought, “why the hell would you go to school and find a career when you can make $130 per day as someone’s regular babysitter?” (Though I think they are calling themselves nannies now, despite going home at night and having weekends off.) No, you won’t be rich, but upwards of $30k to be a stand-in parent? Not too shabby. Also, where do kids get off demanding so much money for a service that used to cost parents like, $35? I highly doubt teenaged babysitters are too affected by the cost of living. But hey. That’s neither here nor there. And my personal feelings of being screwed out of what could have been a very early start on a retirement fund are beside the point.

Regardless of what is or isn’t outrageous to charge for babysitting, mom here agreed to it. So if she had an issue with the amount, that should have been aired well before babysitter showed up for her eight-hour gig. They discussed it all through text, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s as good as a contract. Not sure it would hold up in court, but hey, a written agreement is a written agreement, is it not?

The reason this stood out to me was because I recently dealt with this issue myself. I do photography on and off throughout the year when weather and scheduling allows, and around Thanksgiving, I offer mini sessions for people to get their holiday photos all squared away with a half-session for about 65% off of what I charge for a full.

This particular weekend in I had five minis scheduled a little over an hour away. One of the moms had reached out and asked if she could pay half at the session, and half after the session. She didn’t know me and I didn’t know her, and so of course this is reasonable and understandable, and I can always withhold photo delivery until I receive full payment, so there’s really no risk to me. If she only ever paid $45, at least my gas would be covered.

All the mini sessions went great, hers came and went as well, and she didn’t fork over the “time of service” $45 like we had agreed upon, but I’m not super comfortable with begging or bringing up payment at sessions, and like I said, I didn’t have to send her anything until she paid for the product, so I just shrugged it off and moved onto the next family.

The photos were completed by mid-week, and she mentioned wanting to check to make sure her PayPal account was still active, followed by her interest in working with me again in the future. The PayPal thing had me a wee bit skeptical because, not in a judgmental way at all, but we talked a lot in our 25 minutes and I very much got the impression that the reason she hadn’t done photos with her kids in ten years was because of the price tag that tends to come with photo sessions. Based solely on my profiling I also assumed the talk of future sessions was just a bit of buttering up.

Ten days later, I get another message.

December 19: “Hi Samantha! I don’t know what’s going on with my PayPal account, so could you let me know your address?”

Eeeuuukay. Broken PayPal that isn’t remediable by simply updating your bank information? πŸ€” Is that even a thing? So now we wait for a check in the mail, as I tell her that New Years cards are also a thing people do (she mentioned wishing she had been able to do Christmas cards but, alas, it was six days away.)

Three weeks later on January 9th, I do something I hate to do: mention money that people owe me. Seriously. I’m the best person to borrow money from. It’s basically a gift, because I’ll never ask for it back. I’ll want it, but I won’t ask you for it because it feels rude.

January 9: “Hi [Person]! Just wanted to check in and let you know that if you sent a check, it never arrived here 😧”

AKA “Hey, I know you didn’t send a check. Please pay me, sheesh.” To which she responds E L E V E N D A Y S later

“OMG.. I just read your message!! So sorry, Samantha..I was wondering why I did not hear from you but got busy… kids birthdays were in the last two weeks. Let me put a stop on that check, resolve the PayPal issue and get you paid ASAP!! I am so very sorry, Samantha!!”

Girl, this is FB message and whether you like it or not, it shows me once you have opened my messages. You did NOT not see it until that day. Feeling slightly less chatty now that yet another human being has decided photography is not a service/product they feel you need to pay for, thus further invalidating my already low for the market prices, all I sent back, eight days later on January 28th was “that would be great, thank you.”

Another several weeks go by, I finally grow some balls and do something I never thought I’d ever do. I straight up ask for money. Hence why that article stood out to me. I was so proud of the teen girl for sticking to her guns and basically demanding what was rightfully hers based on the aforementioned agreement. Because it seemed like something so far out of my 29-year-old comfort zone, that I was really impressed with this young girl who just went for it. Not to mention, at this point I had basically forgotten about the actual money and was frustrated more on principle than anything.

So, since I had decided I was never going to see the money (nor her) again I didn’t feel as uncomfortable reaching out, because even if she didn’t pay me, I just wanted to get my point across: you can’t walk into a store and take something and not pay for it. This is the understood price at the time of the event, and if it was too much, then you didn’t have to hire me. Also, it’s literally $90 we are talking about. That’s less than half my normal rate, and said rate is also cheap by today’s photographer’s standards because I actually feel bad charging more because not only does it feel arrogant assigning a price tag to my own work, but I also know how some people see photographers.

They want the package, but they don’t want to pay for the photographer’s time. They see the hour or so spent pushing a button. Not the travel time, the entire week (or more, depending) of going through the 400+ photos, picking the best handful, color-correcting and editing every single blemish off of your faces so you look the best you possibly can so that you can enjoy the photos and feel good instead of just picking apart what is wrong with you.

February 19: “Hi [Person]! I hate to keep bothering you, but it has been about three months and I still have not received payment for the November photo session. I accepted all other payments at the time of the sessions and was lax with yours because you specifically asked to pay half at the session and half after the photos were done, and yet I did not even receive the half at the session. It may not seem like much, but these are my paychecks, and missing one does make a difference. I really don’t like to send out messages like these as it makes me very uncomfortable to have to “ask” for money but I do also feel I’ve been very understanding and lenient the last few months. Thank you, Samantha”

I know she saw it, and after a full day went by she responded. I’m not going to lie, I took a little while to read it because I not only felt bad for asking for payment of someone who possibly couldn’t afford it (not my problem, I know, but still) but I also felt like I could have come off as rude, and even though I am rude, I don’t like to come off that way. So I was a smidge hesitant to hear the response, lol.

Thankfully she was pretty understanding, as I think she should have been considering she didn’t pay for three months.

“Samantha.. please do not apologize and I am so very sorry to have put you in this position. You were wonderful and did an amazing job with our photos. I have been struggling to make ends meet.. beside having the issue with the check and PayPal.. but that is not your problem and I have certainly had every intention to pay you for your great work.. I will be able to pay you early next week. I promise. Please accept my apologies. This is absolutely not the way I ever intended.”

On one hand, I’m glad she finally agreed to pay with actual intent to do it but on the other, throwing in the struggling to make ends meet made me feel bad, since I had sort of suspected that anyway. I was tempted to just let the money slide, but at the same time, I was torn, because while part of me felt sympathetic, the other part of me thinks it’s wrong to essentially knowingly “steal” a service from someone, if that makes sense.

Ultimately, I just thanked her for her understanding, and I have since, finally, received the payment and sent her her photos that didn’t have a giant watermark plastered all over it.

While it was frustrating and annoying and uncomfortable, I have to say, I’m glad that I finally encountered this situation, because I always thought I would roll over and play dead if someone owed me money. So I’m relieved that I didn’t… but I have to admit, if it weren’t for modern technology I probably would have. I can’t see myself having that conversation in person or over the phone. Not as a millennial, that’s for sure… ha. πŸ˜‚

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