Getting paid for your freelance work

Being a freelance designer has tons of benefits. You get to be your own boss, work your own hours, choose what projects you work on, and be in control. But to support this lifestyle, you need a steady income and that means you need to get paid for your work.

Getting paid from clients shouldn’t be hard. You do the work, you get paid. Simple right? Sadly, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, people don’t want to pay you for work, or decide to skip out on the bill after you’ve finished.

There are a few things you can do to make sure you get paid. Adopting these tactics to every client you work with can help ensure you get paid while coming across more professional.

Not Working For Exposure

The first step to getting paid is not doing work for free. For some reason, businesses have created this myth that when a designer is starting out, they should do their work pro bono.

“You’ll get experience” and “We’ll pay you in exposure” is a load of crap. All this means is that they don’t think you are good enough to pay, but secretly think you are good enough to make something for them. You would never work at a grocery store or a construction job for free, so why is graphic design and other creative careers so special?

Sure, when you are starting out, you won’t get paid as much as someone with 20+ years experience under their belt, but you should still get paid. Working for exposure only establishes a reputation that you work for free and creates the assumption your work isn’t good enough to pay for. You may get exposure, but is it the type of exposure you want?

Using Contracts

A legally binding contract enforces that your clients pay you. While it may seem daunting to create a contract, once you have a few template or sample contracts created, it’s not terribly difficult.

An effective contract for a freelancer should include:

  • Clear expectations of what work you will be doing
  • Your rates or how much the project will cost
  • Deadline for when the work will be completed
  • When you’ll be paid
  • How you’ll be paid
  • What to do if they breach the contract or refuse to pay
  • Compensation for adjustments
  • If you work is copyrighted

Pricing Your Work

Part of that contract is how much you’ll get paid, but how do you determine your worth? Clients want to know a bottom line, so you have to do the math of how much you’ll charge them. Do you work off of an hourly rate? This may work when you start out, but over time you’ll get better and quicker, thus taking less time for equal or better quality work.

So how do you determine a cost not based on an hourly rate? Take into account your competitors, the complexity of the project, cover any costs of the work, how long it should take you, how much money you need to make and crunch some numbers. Prices can fluctuate from project to project, but make sure you are getting paid what you are worth and are competitive with other similar freelancers.

Getting Paid Before You Work

You aren’t a restaurant, and practically every other business get paid before they do the work. You pay for groceries before you eat them, you buy a movie ticket before watching the movie, and you pay a construction worker before they remodel your bathroom. Your graphic design work is no different. Before you start a single sketch or write a line of code, you need to have money in your hands.

Now, some clients may be skeptical of paying for work before ever seeing it. Before you buckle to their demands and start working with an empty bank account, make a compromise. Get a deposit that could go towards the final bill, or get paid half up front and half upon delivery of the product. This makes your clients invest in you and they become more likely to finish paying for your work.

Invoices and Receipts

Being seen as a professional and not just “some guy” goes hand in hand with getting paid. When it comes time to bill, a professional invoice both reminds and encourages your clients to pay you. After you receive payment, send them a receipt. Again, you are seen as a professional and this simple step makes your client’s lives a little easier.

Also, invoices and receipts create a paper trail in case of difficult situations. A client may claim they already paid you, or was unsure of the costs, or a dozen other things, but having a clear paper trail helps clear these issues up. Plus, keeping records of everything is helpful when you need to do some bookkeeping.

Bring Home the Money

To be successful at freelancing, you have to be confident when it comes to money and payment. Don’t be afraid to be firm and demanding if a client tries to stiff you on the bill. If you have done the work, you deserve the payment, even if they end up not using your work. It can be frustrating when a client doesn’t pay, but remember to remain a professional. That doesn’t mean be a pushover, but don’t go and ruin your reputation.

Do you have any advice about getting paid? Got a story about getting paid from a difficult client? Share it with us in the comments below.

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