When should you bill your design clients?

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Designing great-looking logos or websites (or whatever your passion is) can be one of the most exhilarating experiences for designers like us. But after a while, you start to realize it’s not just about doing something you love. You’d also like to get paid for the work you do.

But when should you bill your design clients? There are all sorts of theories floating around the web from designers who claim to know the answer. I’ll be honest, I don’t know if there is just one right answer.

But there are a few good options. We’ll explore them today. Then, share your tips with us by leaving a comment. Tell us when you bill your clients and why.

Billing before you start the project

The first viable option is to bill your design client before you even get started on the project. Some designers would argue this is the best option because you incur no risk of getting paid. Contrarily, it might be hard to convince your client to take all the risk, trusting that you will complete the project as promised.

That means there are two real options for billing before you start the project. Partial payment and full payment.

Partially
Asking for a partial payment before you start on the project is a widely accepted way of doing things in the design community.

It creates a commitment from both parties: the designer feels obligated to complete the work for which he has been paid in advance and the client feels obligated to finish out the project so as to not have wasted his down payment.

In Full
Another option is to request payment for the entire project before beginning the work. While it’s hard to convince a client to incur all the costs prior to completion, this method can come in handy if you need to by any new stock footage or photography, or need to hire any photographers, typographers, printers, etc.

Billing during the project

If billing before the project doesn’t sound like a great option for your design business, maybe you’d like to consider billing during the project. I would suggest one of two options (but would also love to hear your suggestions) when billing during the project: billing at time-based intervals and billing at project-based intervals.

Time-based intervals
This option involves the designer working on the project and billing every few days or weeks. I personally bill every two weeks for work completed during that time. It keeps both parties on task and encourages work to move forward because, if two weeks go by and nothing gets done, no one gets paid.

Project-based intervals
The other option is to bill clients at predetermined intervals during the design process. I’ve also tried this method and it worked nicely because the quicker I got any given portion of the project done, the more quickly I got paid for my work.

For example, if you’re working on a web site, perhaps you bill after working out a site plan, then after drafting up wireframes, then after a preliminary design, and so on.

You get the idea.

Billing after the project is completed

Lastly, you can send your client a bill after the project is completed. Converse to the option of demanding full payment upfront, this option places all the risk on you, the designer. If, for any reason, your client decides he doesn’t want to pay for your services, there’s nothing obligating him to (except that, of course, you should make it clear in your contract when payment is due).

When do you bill your design clients?

So when do you bill your clients? Before, during, or after your project is completed? What works best for you and why? Share your tips, ideas, opinions and questions by leaving a comment on this post.

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is a web designer, entrepreneur, and the founder of this blog. @prestondlee

Comments

  1. I generally bill at the end of each month if I have an open tab with someone, or when the work is done for smaller projects.

    If its an ongoing project that takes many weeks, I bill multiple times throughout the work process, usually when the customer tells me based on a budget agreement since some customers can’t pay all at once or in a large lump sum, I try to stretch the payments out for them based on deliverables over a period of time.

    If you aren’t comfortable working without payment, you could always do half up front, then the other half when done, but its a matter of personal preference and what works for you.

  2. I’ve always been a fan of the partial down payment approach. This gets your client invested in the project and less likely to back out at some point. Some larger companies will never let this fly though, they have bad habbits sometimes of paying their bills on their own schedules. If you are going to wait to take payment until the end of projects, I recommend putting something in the contract about when payment is due and penalties that could be added if payment is not made on time. This could help prevent companies from waiting until 90 days or ever more to get you your payment. Great article.

  3. Always when the customer is happy. Always works!

  4. Saffron S. says:

    I do all three. Clients have to put down a deposit before work begins, then – if the project is large enough – there are milestone payments during the project that must be paid before work continues, and then on Final Payment the project launches.

    It took me about 10 years to get to the point where I was ballsy enough to do the above, and I lost a LOT of money from deadbeat clients over the years because of it. The way I do things now means both my clients and I are protected throughout the process, and has the added bonus of adding value to the work I do in the clients’ eyes. :)

  5. It depends on the project. For most projects I take a deposit, then bill in portions at milestones within the project. For ongoing maintenance with existing clients I bill monthly or bi-monthly (depending on the volume of work they need).

  6. Having been in business for 14 years and trying various strategies, I now give my clients a choice (and they all like choices) for whether they want to be invoiced for 100% upon signing the agreement — or paying 50% upon signing and being invoiced the remaining 50% when the job is done. Surprisingly, many choose the first option of being invoiced (due in 30 days) for the whole job. I use these strategies for new clients.

    For my ongoing current clients who I know pay promptly, I invoice when the job is done — or if they prefer — I invoice at whatever interval they choose.

  7. I bill 1/2 up front for large projects. For maintenance work, I bill on the last day of the month, due Net 15.

  8. These are some good ideas. I personally Bill clients after sending them a watermarked low-res image of the NEAR final product.

  9. I think it really depends on the client and what they’re budget constraints are. Most clients can’t afford full payment up front, so I take a down payment to start the project (usually 1/3 of estimated costs). This way there is that commitment from the client. I have clients who then pay me monthly installments or 2 more payments (mid and completion phase of the project). I only designed one project on faith that they would pay me once completed and got burned. Won’t happen again. Check out my work at http://designbywendy.com

  10. While we’re not strictly a design service, it always seemed reasonable to me to charge a 50% deposit to get started and 50% upon completion of the job.
    Every client seems to agree that this is reasonable, and for our part, the deposit at least covers materials and labor should things go South.

  11. I tend to want a deposit and the balance due on completion, or they don’t get the goods. I have more experience with art projects, where there was always a genuine risk that they wouldn’t like the finished article and I usually gave the option to not pay the remainder and not take the product. Nobody ever took me up on this so I dropped it, and really by then they have approved drafts and should be happy with what they get.

  12. I tend to bill my clients 50% before the project starts.. and the balance is due 7 days after final sign off of the project..
    So far it’s been working well.. :)

  13. Guylaine says:

    Great wrap-up of options. Thanks for sharing. I enjoy all those advices as they keep fresh as we often take a few for granted.

    I think the key here is that both parties are in agreement. For new clients then you get to figure out if they are serious or not. I’ve also come to the conclusion of different payment method depending on the project which is usually differ in prices.

  14. You need the commitment from both parties and need to be taken seriously, with family, new clients, or friends, you must be careful. Most think they never have to pay you or pay you what your worth.
    If it’s returning clients with a good track record bill em monthly, no deposit.
    Friends and family NEED BE MADE CLEAR OF THE RULES, first thing you do is hit em with a solid contract, and bill from 35% -50% upon acceptance of a project or they will fuck you.
    New clients as well, especially if your their first professional designer. They don’t know how it works and my think of it as a restaurant, if I don’t eat the food I don’t have to pay. If they don’t use your work they still have to pay for it or if they go belly up before the get off their feet, designers still get paid!
    Good rule for designers
    First time client
    50% down
    35% check point
    15% completion

    Or play with it 35/15/50 15/35/50
    50/15/35 35/50/15
    15/50/35 50/35/15

  15. Ok, I am a client that ran into a sticky situation with a designer recently. I talked with the designer (we had worked together before) about what I wanted for a new logo. We spoke back and forth for 3 weeks through email so it was all documented. I was very specific about what I was going for. The verbal agreement was a set price for unlimited revisions of one concept. Well three weeks in and a couple concepts later I felt we weren’t even close. I was very unhappy with how things were going and didn’t see us getting anywhere. He even admitted he doesn’t understand what I’m shooting for. I decided I needed to go with another designer who could understand and execute our vision in a timely manner.

    We have since discussed back and forth whether payment is owed since I never got a product. What are your thoughts?

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