“How do I get paid on time (and when do I sue)?”
A guide to extracting cash from even the trickiest of clients
Getting paid on time is obviously extremely important, so ‘get it in writing’.
“Don’t start work without a purchase order and signed-off agreement on what is the brief, what are the agreed deliverables and delivery timescales, as well as the final budget,” says on-IDLE’s Marc Peter. “Have terms and conditions in place before the project commences.”
Most clients follow their own rules, some businesses have a monthly payment cycle – so you get paid around a month after that, but some businesses can take around 90 days to pay up.
“If you’re particularly unlucky, you may sub-contract for a design agency that won’t pay you until they’ve received payment,” says THBOOM!’s Alec East. “If your payment is going to be linked to completion of a project or specific milestones, factor this into your rates, too.”
The golden rule at Piranha Bar is that if there’s any degree of doubt with a client, ask for 50 per cent up front. “This may sound obvious, but it’s very important to invoice as soon as the work is signed off,” adds creative director Gavin Kelly. “You can’t get paid without sending in your invoice!”
Nation has a firm procedure for ensuring payment: “Make sure you have a contract,” stresses MD Odin Church. “If an invoice is a week late the client gets a reminder. I expect to hear back within the same day. If not, I’ll email everyday until we’re paid. Usually this resolves the issue.”
If not, Church charges interest for late payments on a daily basis, and if the invoice has not been paid within 60 days of the due date, will send a letter from the solicitor or from the UK Government’s Money Claim, the small claims online service (moneyclaim.gov.uk). “If it’s really bad, we’ll employ a debt recovery agency,” he says.
Eric Karjaluoto, Creative Director at smashLAB, gets a sign-off on the job and charges 30 per cent before doing anything. “You charge another 30 per cent at a key milestone,” he says. “You then charge the remainder on completion. Suing should be a last resort. It’s difficult, expensive, and most likely won’t leave you any further ahead. Keep on top of your accounts receivable, so you don’t find yourself needing to consider such means.”
Stills taken from animation work by Piranha Bar
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Clients are more demanding than even the most infuriating university lecturers. However, Gareth Howat at Hat-trick Design suggests the following rules: “Try to work for people at the top. Don’t work for people in the middle,” he says. “Try to work for people you respect and like. Be clear about what you will and won’t do at the beginning of the project, so there are no surprises later on.”
“Ultimately, as a freelancer or employee, your job is to provide a service and the client is always right,” says THBOOM!’s Alec East. “Even when they’re wrong.”
Sennep aims to do at least one personal project a year as part of ongoing R&D. “What we learn and the attention we get from these projects has proven to be well worth the effort,” says Matt Rice. “An example of this is our interactive Dandelion that is currently ‘touring the world’ with The V&A.”
When working to a commercial brief, Gavin Kelly of Piranha Bar, suggests it’s useful to remind yourself that it’s design, not art. “Design is where we take a set of given requirements and devise an elegant solution that incorporates those in the most engaging way possible,” he says. “Art is a personal splurge of exploration and subjective indulgence; brilliant fun, but kind of hard to get paid for. I think it’s important to enjoy the challenge of design – it’s a great discipline, and really rewarding when you get it right. Therefore, I think when most clients want to change something, it’s because the solution is not optimal. Don’t see these as changes – they are further evolutions or iterations of your solution.”
On the other hand, Gavin admits that sometimes you may be frustrated by a nebulous brief – he describes it as “that shape-shifting amorphous sprite that appears and reforms without warning as the project progresses”.
Promo for MTV for Hitman by THBOOM!
“In this instance, communication is the real key,” he offers. “If a client doesn’t know what they really want, listen to them and place yourself in their shoes holding the finished product. Formulate the brief yourself and get it signed off. Engage with them, meet them half way – don’t expect plain sailing if you passively sit back and expect to work to explicit instructions. When working with a studio, try and get as much information about a brief as possible and share how long you think it will take – and be honest.”