When you're creating art as a business the "starving artist" philosophy doesn't work. Business is business, and regardless if it's your full-time career or a side-hustle, it's important to create a system of compensation that is professional and fair to both you and your client.
There are tons of perspectives and ideas on how to run the finances of a business, but I'd like to share three tips I feel are important in regards to getting paid for your hard work. They seem pretty obvious but even in my many years as a freelance designer (12 years!) I'm still learning and taking heed to these very basic tips.
1. Always start projects with a contract.
It doesn't matter who it is (family, close friends, and the like) if there is an anticipated cash transaction then there needs to be a contract. Don't worry about offending anyone, help your potential client understand that it's not personal, it's business. (I talk a little about valuing yourself and your work here.) There are great books out there (like the Graphic Artist's Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines for graphic designers), industry websites and blogs that offer guidance and tips, and even sample contracts. You can do research or consult with a lawyer. It's a pain in the beginning (well, it's not really that hard) but so worth it because once it's in place it's done.
2. Start a project with a percentage of the full amount paid upfront. (The go-to is usually 50%).
This practice does not guarantee you won't get burned, but it usually provides a sense of commitment and investment on both parties. If the client resists this requirement then this gives you an opportunity to decide if this is the right collaboration for you. It also allows you to be compensated in some way for any work done even if a project is at a standstill or is cancelled.
3. Have a plan in place if things do go awry.
Things happen. Mis-communication, the client's payroll gets messed up on their end, or the project falls through — anything can happen that can impact the schedule and/or you getting paid. But according to your contract you still must get paid. It's hard to anticipate what could go wrong but think about your options if you can't reach the client or the client suddenly cannot afford the balance. You can determine how rigid or flexible you want to be as long as you get paid. Payment plans, contacting the accounting department (if it's a big client), or getting your lawyer involved might be part of your action plan. Hopefully, it doesn't get to that point but it's important to be prepared.
This just speaks to the surface of being compensated for your business. I'm curious, though, what "get paid" tip would you offer based on your experiences? Do you have a story where you had to learn a lesson the hard way? Please share.
No matter what, even if you are taken advantaged of or mistreated, you never have to be rude, disrespectful, or unprofessional. Always handle any situation with integrity, you have to hold up your end of the bargain. Approach "invoice challenges" with firm grace and professionalism. Always stand up for yourself and your rights.
Cheers to artistic and creative wealth and abundance!