This blog is about Graphic Design, Vector Art, and Cartoon Illustration

How to get paid by a client who won't pay you

I've been doing freelance Graphic Design since I was 19, and the vast majority of my clients pay me quickly. My invoices state that payment is due upon receipt of invoice, but that isn't really necessary most of the time. I work fast, deliver on deadline, and many times well ahead of it, and my clients show their appreciation by paying very fast. It seems like I can barely blink before there is a check in my mailbox or a deposit in Paypal.

However, there are exceptions. And these clients are the ones who don't pay from the invoice. They may express their satisfaction with the work, but for whatever reason, they don't pay in a timely manner. This took me by surprise when I first started doing graphic design, and there is a process for (hopefully) getting paid. I now have a client who received their artwork in February, but have made no progress on paying me, even though we are well into April.

For me, it's hard to imagine that a client would delay payment. These are not people who are dissatisfied, but I can't really say what they are thinking. Maybe they have limited capital and their circumstances require them to stretch out the time frame that they pay their debts. Like people who throw their candy wrappers out of the windows of cars, I really don't know what they are thinking, but here is what you need to do:

• Send a statement. A statement just brings forward the amount from the invoice. Many times that's all you need to do. They may have just missed your invoice. Hard to imagine that they would get the artwork and then just wander off, not thinking about paying for it, but possible. Give the benefit of the doubt.

• Send the statement again. If you have heard nothing, about a week later, send it again. At that point you will hopefully get some type of response, such as "the person in charge has been on vacation". Continue to be courteous. If you even imply that the client is failing to meet their responsibilities, you will have a confrontation, and there is a good chance that you will not ever get paid.

• Send the statement again. It costs nothing to send an email, so just click "send again". Don't add anything else, such as "am wondering when I will get paid?" which is insulting. And be sure to send it to all of the email addresses associated with the client. My client has four, so I sent it to all of them.

No respectable business will fail to pay you, so be careful with what you say. Chances are very good that they are already concerned about their reputation. If they are trying to keep a good reputation, they will do everything to meet their obligations and pay their debts. But sometimes, you get nothing. In the tax world, that's known as a "write-off". Hopefully it won't come to that. Send the statement again.

Update - one week later - Still no response, resent the email and called. It's tempting to write "hey, dude, what's up?" but that would be a mistake and could cause a confrontation. It's my reputation that's on the line here, if I behave like a jerk, it's my fault. I really don't expect to get paid for this, but I just want to see what they will do.

Update - sorry, this post should have been called "how to waste a lot of time trying to get paid". Bottom line, be sure to get a deposit up front. I waived that for this new client, and it was a mistake on my part. If you are reluctant to ask for a deposit, consider that not only will you have potentially done a lot of work for free, you will spend a lot of time trying to get paid. If a client can't or won't pay the remaining deposit, at least you got 50%. If a client can't or won't pay a deposit, smile and walk away. No hard feelings.

Update a year later. Wow - I just got the check today in the mail. I guess nothing that I suggested made any difference. I guess not getting angry and writing something negative about the client, which is how a professional should behave anyway, was the best thing. How about that? Good things come to those who wait.