You have to take extra care when handling and settling payment for a project, especially as a freelance graphic designer. If you don’t, then the time and effort you invested might be for nothing. After all, you rely on such projects to pay the bills, so don’t take payment matters for granted.
You should keep up to date on the different payment options available to you. Based on my experience most clients, especially international ones, use PayPal for their transactions, so a PayPal account is basically a must. Furthermore, PayPal usually process funds instantly so you can receive payment and start working with a client as soon as possible.
When I first started out, I made the mistake of trusting my clients too much. That’s not to say it’s always a bad thing. In fact, most clients are absolutely fantastic to work with and timely with their payments. However, there were a handful of bad eggs who exploited my services and ghosted me without making any form of payment.
I definitely learned my lesson the hard way after wasting my time and effort on such clients. From then on, I took steps to ensure that payments are handled with as few risks as possible. Don’t repeat my mistakes. Here are some things you should do to protect yourself and ensure that you are paid fairly and on time.
WAYS TO REDUCE PAYMENT RISKS
HAVE A DEPOSIT
Always get an upfront deposit before starting a project. A client may leave you with a good first impression — but it’s never a good idea to trust someone that quickly, especially on the internet. Prepayment lets you know if the client is committed and not trying to waste your time.
On the other hand, the client likely doesn’t trust you either, even though you may have a portfolio that is highly credible. As such, consider coming up with a deposit that’s comfortable for both parties. Something between 20% to 50% of the final payment is quite standard, so don’t be afraid to ask.
If the client is reluctant to make a deposit, see it as a red flag and think twice before taking up the project. Also, be aware of clients who want you to give them a few concepts before they make any payment. It’s called spec work and considered bad practice by many graphic designers. Avoid such clients as you will most likely never hear from them again after they get their hands on your concepts. To reiterate — always collect a deposit, no matter how big or small the project.
DIVIDE PAYMENT INTO MILESTONES
Besides collecting a deposit, consider breaking up a project into milestones and setting up payments for each. For example, you can collect a 20% deposit, 30% after the client approves the concept, and the rest before the release of production-ready files. Doing so ensures you at least received some form of payment in case the client decides to bail out on you. And trust me, it does happen from time to time.
PREPARE A CONTRACT
More importantly, have a contract in place before starting a project. By having the payment terms in black and white, both parties have full understanding on how and when you get paid. Without a legally binding contract, a client can request your services and back out on payment, often with no repercussions.
Unfortunately, it can be hard to enforce a contract as a freelance graphic designer, especially when dealing with international clients. Oftentimes, it’s not worth your time, money or patience to try to disprove nonpayment claims. However, that doesn’t mean a contract isn’t necessary. Having a legal document acts as a deterrent to clients looking to exploit your services. Furthermore, you can use such documents as evidence to dispute chargebacks.
SET UP INVOICING
Don’t underestimate the importance of invoicing. Since you are working online, invoices make it easy for you to get paid by keeping track of the work done and costs incurred. A good invoice is detailed and well-thought out, allowing the client to see that their money is put to good use. If you aren’t familiar with invoicing, you can take advantage of online services such as Harvest and Hiveage.
Although you have taken the necessary steps to ensure that you get paid for a project, there will be times when you have to remind the client — sometimes aggressively — that payment hasn’t been made.
When chasing payments, the best approach is to be polite but firm, and consistently follow up. Clients are busy people, and sometimes they might simply forget to send the payment over. At the same time, try not to spam and wait three to five days before sending a reminder.
If they don’t reply after a week or two, then it’s probably a lost cause. From there, you have to evaluate your options and decide whether you want to seek legal counsel or just let it slide. Sadly, the latter is often the more logical path to take.
When it comes to payment matters, you should always establish expectations with the client early and reinforce them when they are tested. Even if you are just starting out, don’t be afraid to insist on payment when it’s due. Graphic design may be your passion, but passion doesn’t pay the bills.
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