7 Top creatives share their tips for getting paid on time

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As a freelance creative, it’s essential to get paid on time.

Clients holding back on you can create those terrible thoughts of going back into full time employment.

Fortunately, there are ways to keep the cash flowing.

I’ve developed my own strategies, but I thought it would be good to hear from a selection of creatives how they get on as well. I asked a group of them how they ensure they get paid on time and the following is the most useful strategies that will help you.

Sidenote: Once you finish, read how 4 freelancers built recurring revenue models that changed their business. You'll love it.

Get paid up front

Long time designer and agency owner, Marksteen Adamson said:

“Scope out your project. Show the clients all the stages, including costs, and mention to them at the start that you will be charging 60% upfront and the rest on completion of the initial concept stage.”

This is something I completely agree with.

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I’ve found that getting an upfront investment always sets the project off on the right foot.

Designer Thad Cox also agreed and said:

“I find that a watertight contract and a 50% deposit helps. I use a client questionnaire as a filter to flush them out and won’t agree to anything unless a deposit is secured and a contract is signed. All good clients have no problem doing this, only the dodgy ones.”

Get a contract and a signature

It sounds simple to get a contract signed, but i’m surprised how many creatives don’t do it. So always make sure you get everything scoped out in detail at the start.

I often find clients really appreciate this as it brings complete clarity to a project that they may not fully understand.

Get clear on timescale

You also have to be honest about the time you have allocated to be able to complete the project.

Creative Jason Craig said:

“If I am already booked up and can’t devote the time a project deserves, I will tell the client before I ever take a dime. They appreciate that honesty, some of them even wait until I can do the job. I send out these agreements knowing that it might not work for them and that is just how it goes. You can actually win them all if you don’t mind losing a few here and there.”

Get clients that are used to paying for creative work

Illustrator Andy J. Miller said:

“I know this is a really common problem, but for the most part I work with people who are used to paying for illustration on a regular basis and have good systems in place to make this happen systematically.”

Alex Mathers agreed and said:

“The best way to avoid being paid late is to work with good, respectful and professional clients. This comes from being a pro yourself, and finding a lot of client work, so that you can say yes to the better clients.”

Get relational

You know as well as I do that being in the creative field involves building strong relationships, but it can be easy to get busy and forget to keep them going.

I’ve found that the better the relationships, the better the client is at paying.

Brent Galloway said:

“Thankfully I’ve built a pretty good relationship with all of my clients, so I haven’t had any issues. I always have some sort of contract in place, and depending on the size of the project I’d require a deposit.”

Experienced Designer Chris Do added:

“Most clients we have pay in a timely fashion. They’re large corporations for the most part and don’t avoid payment because they’re having cash flow problems. In fact, some clients pay us 100 percent up front or for future work yet to be determined. In 22 years only 2 clients have refused payment. One was angry, the other was a crook. Both of which I had a bad gut feeling about, but ignored it. Lesson learned.”

So there you go. Plenty of ideas to make sure you get paid on time.

Let us know in the comments how you’ve experienced client payments.

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About Chris Green

Chris Green runs a small digital marketing agency Calloway Green. He also created This Design Life, a site that inspires and motivates designers and creatives worldwide.

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Comments

  1. Excited to get this out to the Freelance community. I’m happy to answer any questions as well.

  2. When I first started my business I had a lot of problems waiting to complete projects to the client’s satisfaction, then the possible delay once they had my invoice. I switched to deposit/final balance which has helped a lot – for larger projects I’m considering breaking payments into 3 stages – deposit, presentation of the first working demo, and a final completion payment.

    Also, I found that with web based work referring to the final payment in all discussions as “the live payment”, and not uploading final sites until it’s paid has helped a lot too.

    • Definitely agree with holding on to the files until the final amount has been paid. Otherwise they get the benefit of your work without the commitment.

  3. Love this! Dealing with money is always tricky and too often good designers get ripped off by bad clients. Thanks for sharing Chris!

  4. lots of great points. It’s funny how excited and enthusiastic a client can seem until it’s time to put down a deposit then suddenly seem so important is just nothing more than an idea they had. This is the best way to make sure your client is not just using you for validation of their idea and are really serious about their project.

  5. Great advice, Chris and I know it works 100%!
    I haven’t lost any money or time chasing a client who owes me, as long as I work the way you described.
    Contract, deposit, deliver only after getting paid.
    This way we weed out those who didn’t intend to pay and would only waste our time.

    Although it’s as simple as that, many freelancers continue to give away their work for free and then wish the client won’t rip them off.

    Creatives around the globe complain about being unappreciated when it’s entirely their fault.
    By not behaving professionally, they educate their clients to be
    disrespectful.

    As I say, if we feel underpaid or exploited, it is 90% our fault and not the client’s.
    Fortunately, it’s up to us to change it!

    • Great point about it being our own fault. From my experience, if we accept responsibility for our own actions we get a lot further than just blaming our clients.

  6. I have a good relationship with my clients. They USED to be good about paying me, but now they’ve gotten too comfortable and relaxed about paying me in a timely manner. ARGH! So now I will have to start requesting they make their final payments before handing over the hi-res files in the future. I hate that!