Q: This is more about the business side of freelancing. How do you handle billing your clients? Do you require them to pay anything upfront? Do you require payment within a certain timeframe? What if they don’t pay you?
A: Much of what you are asking depends on the client. Most of my clients are companies with separate finance departments, so the responsibility of when my fee is paid lies with a different person than the art director I actually work with on the job. Some clients pay within a week or two (rare), some within a month (most) some take longer (a few).
The point is each client’s paymasters have a process and it takes however long it takes. I don’t require payment in a certain amount of time. My invoices say “Net 30” on them, meaning I’d like payment within 30 days, but that probably has zero effect on the usual timeframe of payment for a given client. The important thing is to find out what to expect so if there IS a problem you know it because what you were told to expect is not happening. Believe me, all art directors know intimately how his or her company’s finance department works and the specifics of how and when their freelancers get paid… he or she is the person that hears from them if there is a problem. So, I ask what to expect in that regard.
I only ask to get some kind of payment up front if it’s a client I have never worked for and I do not know of them or their reputation for payment. That sort of dovetails into your last question “what if you don’t get paid?”.
If I am approached by a new client and one of the following applies:
- They are an independent/small business entity
- They are a publication/company I’ve never heard of or are very new
- They have no experience working with a freelance illustrator
- They set off my “Spidey-sense”
I may require a 50% non-refundable up front payment. This is to protect myself in case they end up not following through on the project or on the payment, so I know I am not wasting my time working on something I won’t get paid for. More importantly, it establishes their legitimacy as a client. If they complain about the advance, refuse to pay it, argue about it, or promise to pay it but keep delaying the payment, I back out of the job with no time wasted on my end except a phone call or some emails. I just avoided what would have been a very frustrating and costly experience.
Of course, nothing guarantees you will get paid until you actually get the check, but in most cases if they look, sound and smell like a legitimate client, they are a legitimate client. Occasionally you do get burned. I wrote a post about dealing with deadbeat clients a while back. You can read that here.
Thanks to Grant Jonen for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!
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