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The life of a freelancer can be an amazing thing; it puts you firmly at the helm, steering your way through projects with complete autonomy. As your own boss, you get the final say in regards to structure, project selection and pricing, offering you complete control over your work. Happy days all around.

Or is it?

While freelancing can offer you these benefits, it’s also important that we tackle the age old issue that has been plaguing the industry like a lingering stink. Clients refusing to pay.

Up to this very day – this is a major issue. The fact of the matter is, there are people out there who believe that what artists and designers do isn’t worth paying for. It’s worth them using to enhance the quality of their products or marketing, but not worthy enough to pay for.

Yeah, I don’t get it either.

I’m going to run through a typical sequence of events, highlighting the action at each step before breaking it all down and identifying at which points things may get a little challenging.

Let’s build up the typical scenario;

Client approaches freelancer for art.

Artists sends rates & client agrees to pay.

Artist (some) receives deposit and gets started on the project – sends first draft.

Client gives the go ahead to continue/make revisions

Artist finishes off the piece and sends it to the client.

Client is repeatedly asked for payment but ignores invoices and all forms of contact.

*in some cases, client uses the piece and lambasts it over their platforms*


Now, I’m going to be real here. I have freelanced in the past and made my fair share of rookie errors; it’s all a learning process and it’s important that you guys don’t beat yourself up over poor business decisions. I’ve completed projects that I’ve not been paid for, I’ve created designs only to have my name removed – it’s all too familiar to me. However, instead of letting your mistakes break you – let them shape you.

Unpack everything. Look at the situation and ask yourself how things could have been executed differently. The scenario I’ve presented isn’t necessarily the most common sequence of events, but in cases where clients are refusing to pay – this tends to be the most typical format. Let’s break down each step of the process and identify loopholes and ways to minimise issues at each checkpoint.

Following these steps will allow you to identify the time wasters before you’ve wasted too much of it.

Client approaches freelancer for art.

Ok, so this is the easy part. Nothing to see here.

Artists sends rates & client agrees to pay.

Explain the process of events to the client so they’re in the loop about what to expect at each stage. At this point, a contract also needs to be presented. Tailor it to the client and give them a deadline to send you a deposit.

Ensure that the client is happy with the terms outlined and have them send you confirmation of this by way of e-mail. This way you have solid evidence that a contract has been signed and they have also agreed to the terms outlined on the document – this is to safeguard the process for the both of you.

Deposit. Get your deposit banked. Before you lift a single muscle, before you open any software or prepare a single tool – get your deposit first, homie.

I can’t stress that enough. Some clients may say Don’t worry, I’ll pay you in a bit – I haven’t been paid yet. Soon as I’m paid – I’ll send you your money. If this is the case, tell them that’s fine; but you won’t be starting any work until they do.

If they then respond with “but I have a deadline, I need to have it by…” then just reiterate the terms of the contract; that you will not begin until you they have met their side of the deal.

If approached in this way, the flakes will reveal themselves at this early stage.


Artist (some) receives deposit and gets started on the project – sends first draft.

You’ve received the deposit – great! This is where you get the ball rolling…

Now, this stage could be where the client may decide they no longer want to continue with the project at this point, or decides they’re not feeling it for whatever reason. If that’s the case, you may decide to just close the door on the project and use the deposit as compensation for your time thus far – or – your contract may stipulate that full payment has to be made regardless (it’s completely up to you…*sings* ‘autonomy’).

Before all this is decided, before any drafts are sent – it is important that the images presented at this stage are watermarked and not fit for use. I’ve witnessed many freelancers (myself included) skip a beat at this stage – sending high res images at the draft stage and in some cases, these are being sent after not receiving a deposit.

Watermarks should cover at least 20% of the image – presented in a way that serves as a protective layer that doesn’t obstruct viewing of the piece. For example:

The file should also be reduced in resolution and size – again, not to obstruct viewing, but to safeguard the material.


Client gives the go ahead to continue/make revisions

So the client will give a thumbs up or down, highlighting what needs to be amended or developed based on the draft you have sent. Any additional drafts that are sent should be delivered in the same format as the stage above this.


Artist finishes off the piece and sends it to the client.

Don’t send jack until you receive the final 50%.

Send a proof of the final image (reduced res & watermarked) and have the client confirm they are happy with the final piece. Once you have received that confirmation – the final 50% should be requested. Give a due date and invoice them for the remaining payment.

This stage can either be short and blessed, or drawn out and stressful – it really is the luck of the draw, but if you follow the steps, you’ll know you’re prepared for the outcome. If you experience any resistance from the client, just refer them to the contract and the process you outlined at the start. Let them know you can’t release any final copies until they cough up.

I’ve heard of instances where clients have said “I can’t see the image properly to decide whether I like it or not – take off the watermark so I can see it.

They can see it, just as much as you can – unless you have the watermarks at 100% opacity (in which case you can use tools like ‘Overlay’ to blend the watermark in to the image).

In addition to this, the previous drafts you have sent them (that were most likely watermarked in the same way – which they had no trouble viewing) should give a clear idea of what the final piece will look like.


Client is repeatedly asked for payment but ignores invoices and all forms of contact.

If you have missed out any of the above steps (i.e watermarking or safeguarding images) you may have found yourself in a situation where the client has stolen the artwork and is currently parading it all over the net as though they’ve paid for it. This is and always will be totally unacceptable. Contact them with an invoice (email) and request to have the images removed, following the procedures outlined on whichever platform it is placed on. Report the stolen post for copyright infringement.

If they are placing the stolen artwork on their personal websites – based on my research findings – it is possible to have the material removed by contacting the website hosts directly. I’ve actually heard of instances where websites have been shut down completely for featuring stolen artwork.

Here are some helpful links with some tips on what action to take if your art is stolen:

Artwork Archive

Felt Magnet

Digital Arts Online

Design Shack

There are unions and creative platforms in place to protect visual artists and provide advice on tackling these kinds of issues. My own personal opinion is that it’s worth investing in the backing of an artists union to ensure that you have a solid base to turn to should proceedings go awry. They’ll know what to do, and can advise you on any next steps to take. If the case ends up big enough to go to court – you will have their support on board should you need it.

Artists Union (££)

Association of Illustrators (££ – £££)

Anti Copying in Design (£££ – ££££)


If you find yourself in a situation where you perhaps didn’t make the smartest choice, or didn’t detect a loophole throughout the process – this is perfectly okay. These things happen and with any luck, such events should serve up some lessons that you’ll remember for projects to come.

If your work is stolen, regardless of how big or small the individual or company – don’t stand for it. No one has the right to help themselves to your hard work. As long as you can prove the original art work is yours – you have many options available to you. Hopefully this post has helped in some way and will have you operating at fool proof capacity.

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