Design work payment

Hello everyone,

I’m about to work on a music video (lyric + animation) for a rapper.
This is not my first time working on a music video, I’ve actually done 5 music videos before.
on all those 5 videos, I asked for a full upfront payment and the clients did not mind.

If this new client doesn’t feel comfortable paying all upfront, I will ask for 50% upfront and 50% when the project is done.

My question is, how do i guarantee the client will pay me the other half after i send him the video?


Send him half the video.
(JK, sort of)
I don’t know how long your video is, but with some jobs we’ll work in thirds.
1/3 just to start the project
1/3 after the initial storyboard/possibly some rough cut
1/3 on delivery (or sometimes net 30 if the client has good credit.)

1 Like

Thanks for the reply.
It’s about 3:50
Never thought of that, sending the client a short clip!
I wonder if that would be disrespectful though…

Well, you might need to approach it carefully, but there’s nothing disrespectful about wanting to be paid. If you have doubts about that payment arriving, do what’s necessary to ensure it happens, then do your absolute best to deliver the best video you can.

With almost any business relationship, there needs to be a leap of faith and some trust. Sometimes you get burned by people, but it’s important to assume the best while being careful — just in case.

1 Like

You send him the final video after he makes the final payment. This is a standard practice.

1 Like

This is where recognizing that freelancing is a business would come in helpful.
When can you afford to extend a client credit?
How do you obtain the chops as a business to be able to run a credit check?
How do you negotiate a contract that describes payment schedule and deliverables. I’m at least assuming a contract is in use here.

I would say 90-95% of our clients get their stuff before they make a last payment.
But business models differ based on clientele and market.

1 Like

If you were to separate the concept of design from the concept of production, you wouldn’t need to send a clip. Instead you would send something like a storyboard.

Did storyboards go out of style? I’m not in the film industry, so I wouldn’t know.

1 Like

Getting stiffed by clients is part of any business. Here’s what you can do:

  1. use paper invoices. You want everything in writing because that’s the only thing that matters to a court.
  2. If payment is late, send a second invoice.
  3. If they still don’t pay, call and talk to them.
  4. Still not, contact them and give them one final chance to pay. Mention lawyers but don’t threaten suing.
  5. Still not, send last “FINAL NOTICE: if payment is not received within [14] days legal action will commence.”

If they haven’t paid and you can’t afford the lawyer, then you are pretty much done at this point. Usually however, people get off their butts if you just stay on them. Be friendly but let them understand that you have no say over legal action: that it automatically commences after “whatever” late period.

1 Like

I don’t think so. One can have a consistent process to protect against being stiffed.

So if you have trusted clients, of course it’s safe to send them the final deliverables before they pay the final bill.

But my process for new clients is to require a 40% deposit before I start the work, and final payment before they receive the final work. It only took one slow-paying client to encourage me to do this.

I just canceled a project yesterday because a new client ignored my requests for her to confirm the agreement.

You’re right, it needs to be in writing for court. But I don’t agree that it needs to be paper. I use Paypal’s invoicing system. It includes reminders, and provides an email “paper trail.” And the invoices can be customized.


The most important part of my contract is the delivery/payment schedule. I’ve massaged its configuration over time so that it can be adjustable, but still does everything possible to keep the project visible, moving, and mutually beneficial. I deliver something > they pay something. They know I’m doing what I promised on schedule, and I know they aren’t just bleeding my time and effort with no intention of paying. “Delivery Milestones” can be drafts, iterations, revisions, or finished components of a job, and there are often only 2 or 3, but depending on the scope of the project, there has been cases of as many as 12 to 15. Each one has a corresponding “Pay Gate” that must be cleared before the subsequent milestones will be transacted.

It sounds complex, but it’s really not. The clients actually end up appreciating the visibility of progress, and usually seem to feel positive about paying incrementally for what they receive incrementally. There’s an underlying equity in it that feels like healthy business on both sides. The really important thing is that they know up-front what to expect, when to expect it, and how much it will cost. Fulfillment is actually much more difficult on my end than theirs.


Depending on the amount owed, small claims court can be the next step. An attorney isn’t really needed there. No matter what, though, heading to court is a stress-producing hassle with no guarantee of a reasonable outcome.

There are also collection agencies that can be used in some instances.

The real goal, though, is to use whatever precautions it takes to avoid resorting to either of these last-ditch measures. For what it’s worth, I haven’t been stiffed on a job in, probably 25 years. Then again, I do background research on all new clients (it’s not hard), require deposits from most new clients and turn down jobs that strike me as iffy.

One thing to keep in mind is that successful companies that have been in business for awhile, didn’t usually achieve their success and longevity by cheating their vendors and contractors. And a quick web search will usually identify those that have. For a wannabe rap musician without references and a solid credit history, well, that just might be one I’d turn down in a heartbeat. At the very least, I’d require a deposit and payment in full before delivering the final product.

1 Like

I get 20-30% deposit from new clients, but my regulars are invoiced monthly (or at the end of the project).

Full payment upfront doesn’t seem right for someone who has only done 5 videos in their career, but a percentage would be expected.

If your new client is not interested in paying a deposit, you walk away. Asking for a deposits is a great way to screen for clients. You don’t want to find out after you have spent time and your own money on a job that they aren’t interested in paying.

1 Like

This makes a LOT of sense to me. It’s a win-win.

I guess too you could take into consideration how much of a hit you could take in your profit and loss statement where a 3 minute video isn’t going to make you go hungry if not paid.

IOW, if you’re in this business to eat, better have far more irons in the fire at any one time.

1 Like

That makes sense too!

Movies studios put timecodes and watermarks on their working copies to discourage wrongful use.

1 Like

Never thought of that as well !

Thank you.

I disagree that it’s not right to ask for a full payment upfront. It depends on the project, how much the payment is and if the client was sent by an old client of mine. There’s no right or wrong if the client doesn’t mind.

When I have a decent portfolio other than having 5 videos, it’s not a lot but it does show the quality of the designer and what to expect. “It’s not the quantity, but the quality that matters.”

with that being said I would not mind a client who doesn’t feel comfortable paying in full upfront, but it is worth a try and it has been working out. This new client I was wondering if he would not want to pay in full, did actually pay in full.

So thanks for your personal advice :stuck_out_tongue:

If you work volume, you are going to get stiffed sometimes. At our company we have several processes for payment options and requirements depending on who the client is, history… There are credit terms, prepayment, downpayment, net 30 net 60, and more.

The thing is, the person asking this question is a new artist who doesn’t really have many options.

As far as the paper comment: yeah, you can always print out documents, but there should always be a signed contract of some sort. It’s just a whole lot easier to prove that there was an agreement to buy if you need to if you have an indisputable document. That saves money because it minimizes court costs.

1 Like

The only way to keep clients is to keep them happy. How far one is willing to bend is their own choice.

Our company is a little more expensive, but we are also customer service based - we care, and we show it. Still, we get stiffed maybe 1 out of 100 jobs. Most of the time it’s only a few hundred dollars here or there - and you are absolutely right, established companies don’t generally try any shenanigans. Usually it is a small client who is just getting started in something and a bill for $500 is a serious investment. That seems to be the sort of client the person asking the question has - not a problem client, but a person starting out.

Small claims court is an option, but after time spent, fees, and paperwork, often you can spend that $500 just making a case. So one has to make a value decision.

Collection agencies generally take about 25-50% of the fee. So that really only keeps one from taking a loss on the job but doesn’t cover compensation.

©2019 Graphic Design Forum | Contact | Legal | Twitter | Facebook