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How to Get Paid On Time as a Freelance Web Designer

Chris Misterek

I’d like to tell you an all to common story about an average web designer and their client. Our first scene begins with the initial conversation. And ACTION!

Client: “I’ve got a really short timeline. Can you get this done quickly?”

Web Designer: “Well, it won’t be easy. I’ll have to push some other things aside and have a few weeks of really late nights BUT I think I can do it.”

Scene 2:

Web Designer: (looking sleep-deprived and disheveled) “Ok, it took everything I had but it’s finally done. Send the payment as soon as you can.”

Client: …

Sound familiar? Unfortunately, it happens way too often in the freelance world.

I think it’s funny how as freelancers we’re expected to have the utmost integrity when predicting timelines and end dates BUT clients have free reign to randomly throw out due dates that they don’t actually need.

More on that later…

Fortunately, I’ve gone through this enough times to develop a system to prevent this from happening as often as it does.

1. Never Do Work Without a Contract

This seems so obvious BUT I’m often surprised at the number of people that do freelance work without one.

There is no excuse out there to do any kind of work without a contract. “It’s just a small job though.” Doesn’t matter get a contract. “But, I know them really well.” Doesn’t matter put it in writing.

Even if you’re working on a freelance platform like Upwork have the client sign an additional contract.

Without a contract, there is literally nothing you can do to collect money.

2. No Pay No Worky

Ok, now that you have a contract make sure you set it up so that if you don’t get paid at certain intervals you don’t do the work and you move on.

Nothing motivates a client to pay like getting the work they’ve invested in.

I always always always do half of the full contract up front, 35% within 1 month and the final 15% at launch.

But, it should only take 3 weeks, you might say. Doesn’t matter put the month milestone in there.

I stopped doing deliverable-based milestones years ago. What do I mean by “deliverable-based milestones?” Those are milestones where you hand something over to the client and THEN they pay you.

I’ve found more often than not that I can finish a deliverable faster than a client can get back to me. So, oftentimes I’ll have a project finished and ready to go, BUT I’m left waiting on the client to give me the go-ahead.

Because of that, many years ago I put a clause in my contract that required 35% of the entire cost of the project 1 month in.

If you’re waiting on revisions and a client has to pay you all of a sudden they become extra motivated to get back to you with the final changes.

If a month roles around and they haven’t paid you. Stop working on it and wait until they deliver.

Oh and if it isn’t clear, make sure you set up the work so that the client doesn’t have free access to what you’ve made. You need to own the product until they pay.

3. Be Straight Forward Up Front

This is the type of thing you want to have a conversation about at the very beginning of a project. Before anyone says, “Yes,” to getting started.

That way if this happens it’s not a surprise to anyone.

Most of the time I’ve found that clients just need reminding about payment schedules. You have to remember they aren’t thinking about your finances like YOU are.

And, they shouldn’t.

You can’t assume that you’re the center of your client’s world. They have families, stress and money issues just like a lot of other people.

So, a gentle nudge can be a helpful reminder to them. Which brings me to my next point….

4. Don’t Be A Jerk About It

A sure-fire way of someone being hesitant to pay you on time is to be an ass.

You’ve been burnt in the past though right? And you’re jaded? You gotta forgive and move on.

If freelancing is so stressful that it makes you become an awful person to other people it’s time to move on and do something else.

I’ve only had to bust out the “pay me now or you don’t get what I’ve worked on” move ONCE in 5 years of freelancing.

I believe most people are genuinely good people and want to do what’s right and what they’ve agreed to upfront.

So, start with the assumption that your client just got busy and forgot to pay you and be nice about asking for payment.

5. Have a Good Client Filter Process

A lot of heartaches can be avoided by saying, “NO!” to the wrong client.

I think a lot of times as freelancers we get worried about our next project and say yes too quickly.

You need to have a system in place that filters out clients who will most likely be nightmares.

I have everyone go through a pretty in-depth questionnaire before we talk. If they don’t take the time to fill it out then I know they probably would have been a nightmare.

Also, anyone that really haggles you on prices is probably going to be a nightmare. This is almost like a big blinking warning sign over their heads that says, “DON’T WORK FOR ME!”

I’ve also had gut feelings about working on certain things that have almost always turned out correctly. It’s hard to explain but something just doesn’t feel right about the project.

Use those intuitions to filter the projects you accept.

There are plenty of ways to sniff out nightmare clients and I’ve talked about it a ton here.

You have the ability to say, “NO!” And you should use it. Remember, turning down the wrong projects is saying, “YES!” to the right projects.

They’ll come. You just have to be patient some times.

Wrapping Up

At the end of the day, it’s sometimes impossible to avoid the reluctant payment. People are people and they’re hard to predict.

But, if you put these safeguards in place YOU can rest more easily knowing you’ve done your due diligence to avoid this scenario.

How about you? Have you had any nightmare stories with clients not paying you? I’d love to hear them.

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