How to make sure your clients always pay you

Why freelancer Nicole Martinez says no to test drives, plus how to play hardball when it comes to getting paid.

Over the last few weeks, we've looked at four classic nightmare clients: the one who doesn't pay; the poor communicator; the ungrateful client and the 'design savant'.

In the latest post in our mini-series on clients from hell, New York-based designer and illustrator Nicole Martinez talks money. Here the artist, who's designed for brands including Boston Beer Company, Harvard Business School and MIT, offers her top tips on what to do when your client becomes reluctant to pay…

How should you deal with clients who ask you to start working on projects for free?

Oh, the dreaded free sample. This ain't the grocery store, people! If your portfolio showcases the type of work they're interested in, then you shouldn't have to provide them with anything before they hire you.

It's not a 'test drive', as one client once phrased it for me. It's more like walking into a car dealership and asking to take the car home without a deposit. The chances of thievery are very high.

What if a client tries to lowball you?

We all wish we were Don Draper and could tell a hellish client to go stick their thumb up their arse. But we're not. As freelancers, we need clients – even the terrible ones. Itemised contracts or statements of work help a lot here.

If a client is playing hardball about a price, tell them that X hours of work are Y dollars, so if they'd like to pay less, you can remove a feature or a round of revision to lessen the hours it will take to complete the project. When they realise that if they pay less, they get less, they may change their mind.

What if a client starts offering excuses, or refuses to cough up?

It depends on the amount you're owed. If they're a terrible client, I sometimes think it's worth the couple of hundred bucks to never have to deal with them again. Getting paid half upfront is a great way to avoid this issue. Also, never, ever send editable files before you've received your final payment.

Words: Bryce Bladon
Illustration: Nicole Martinez

The full version of this article first appeared in Computer Arts issue 233, a special issue with a photochromatic cover revealing the UK's top 30 studios, plus how to craft the perfect folio and make more money as a student...