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How to Make Sure You Get Paid for Your Design Work

Sadly, freelancer designers are often cheated out of their rightful pay. Deadbeat clients and others put no value on the hard work of freelancers.

It's not unusual to go to a freelancing forum or social media site and find a freelance designer complaining about how their client didn't pay them for the last bit of work they did.

With careful planning, you can (mostly) avoid scammers and other deadbeats who don't pay freelancers. In this post, I'll provide some tips to help you make sure that you get paid for your freelance design work.

If you liked this post, you may also like What You Should Say to Your Client When Their Payment Is Delinquent.

Before You Accept a Client

Much of the work for making sure you get paid happens before you even start your project. Here are some important steps to take:

  • Research the client. Check out their website. Does it look professional, or like it was just thrown together? Does it appear that there is more than one person in the organization? What about the client's contact with you? If the client appears to be a single individual, are they on LinkedIn?
  • Check the Better Business Bureau. If you are in the U.S. or Canada, you can check to see if there are any complaints against the company. If they don't treat customers right, chances are they won't treat you right either. Don't take an unnecessary chance.
  • Google the company name. You'd be surprised at what you can find out when you type a company's name into a search engine. Look for bad reviews and even freelancers who complain about working for the company. You may also find customer complaints this way.
  • Ask a friend. If you know someone who has already worked or freelanced for the company, be sure to ask how the company treated them. If they treated someone else badly, what makes you think that they'll treat you any better?

If you keep finding red flags when you take the above steps, just don't work for that client. It's better to wait for a real job with a reputable organization than to be taken in by a company that scams freelancers.

The Right Terms

Negotiating the right terms is another important safeguard for getting paid. Make sure your terms include the following:

  • Partial payment up front. One way to weed out deadbeats is to require a partial payment before you begin work. 1/3 to 1/2 of the total project amount is standard. If the company balks about the initial payment, chances are they'll also give you problems when it comes time to make the final payment.
  • Realistic deadline. Be sure that your due date is realistic. Missed deadlines are a common excuse that companies give for not paying freelancers. Don't give your client any legitimate reason for not paying you. If you do have to sue for payment, you want to have the odds stacked in your favor.
  • Reasonable rate. Don't accept jobs below market rate. If you are new, you may be tempted to take a low paying job to get experience, but it is usually better to work pro bono for a charity than to work for low pay. Low paying clients tend to be more demanding and harder to collect from. You might also consider setting up a worldpay payment gateway so you can just take payments on the fly in a secure environment

Be sure to get your agreed-upon terms in writing.

Other Work Situations to Beware Of

There are other situations where freelancers don't get paid.

  • Contests. Unless the contest is extremely reputable and comes with a great deal of prestige, it's usually not a good idea to enter a contest. If you must enter, make sure that simply by entering you are not giving your intellectual property away. Read the fine print on your entry form.
  • Profit sharing. Occasionally, you may hear from a “client” who promises to pay you a portion of his or her profits. While this may sound good on the surface, how will you verify how much profit the client has made? Most “clients” who approach you with this offer will make little to nothing.
  • Spec work. Producing a finished product for a “client” before payment terms are reached is an extremely risky way to work. Spec work puts the designer at an extreme disadvantage and should be avoided.

A Last Resort

A last resort to collecting from a deadbeat client is to sue for payment. In this situation, you will probably need to a legal professional. It may help if you have a written contract.

Your Turn

Proper planning can greatly increase your odds of getting paid for your work.

How do you make sure that you get paid?

I'm the editor-in-chief of I'm a designer and developer by day, and a writer and musician when the feeling strikes. I enjoy vintage advertisements and puzzles with an absurd amount of pieces. Follow me on Twitter.

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