August 19, 2008 in Design Process, Misc

Web Design: Getting Paid

moneyI know of a few designers whom have been ripped off by some client whom has received a service and have simply refused to pay. I want to share my method of payment for Web design services I undertake, its simple, requires few steps and never fails, well not yet anyway.

As a web designer the projects that I undertake are service based and therefore commonly priced per hour or for a set project fee.

Hourly rate payment

If I am undertaking the service on a hourly rate I estimate the amount of time each required task will take and add up the total number of hours, then multiply this by your hourly rate and ha presto, you have the full project price and timespan.

Set fee payment

If I am undertaking the service as a set project fee I estimate the amount of time each task will take and again work out the total project pricing and timespan.

Both these methods of project management give me 2 crucial measurements to base the payments on, a total project fee, and an end date.

50% deposit

Whichever payment type you use your outcome is an accepted proposal with the client for an amount and timespan. I always like 50% of the agreed fee upfront to guarantee my time and this helps build a level of trust with the client, your meeting half way with them and if they will not pay at this point you can simply state “sorry, were not a good fit”. The large deposit will ensure that you get rid of time wasters and criminal types.

50% on project end date

I describe the “project end date” as the date I have said the projects tasks will all be completed by. On the end date the 50% balance is to be paid. The main emphasis for this stage is that the website is a finished product with all tasks undertaken but still sits on my test server. Upon this final payment I go live with the website.

Client cancellations

If the client wants to cancel the project at any stage you can simply add up the time that the completed tasks have taken you and multiply this by your hourly rate and either refund the amount or charge the extra.

Go forth, Be bold

I used to be scared of charging half upfront as I believed it would scare off potential clients, it may have scared off a few, but the rest paid on time and in full, since I installed this system I have had no problems getting paid. If you are going to use this system it is very important to spell out each payment step to the client upfront before proceeding with the project.

About Anthony

Anthony Brewitt is Design Bit, has been for years - he's an experienced WordPress Designer, and Muggle-born Marketing Philosopher. Let’s talk about your website; your marketing, blog design, and that cool new mobile web thingy. Contact Anthony

46 Responses to Web Design: Getting Paid

  1. Nice. As a developer who has been ripped off in the past, your post makes interesting reading. I typically charge for a site in 3 1/3 payments (ie, 1/3 deposit, 1/3 on a set milestone, and the remaining 1/3 on project completion) – This process however works best on larger time consuming builds and isnt so good for very short jobs in which case, i just go for the 1/3 deposit and the remainder on completion.

    I think I might give your 50:50 method a go when taking on my next client, and see how they take to it. Either way, a sizable deposit is a must nowadays, for similar reasons you pointed out – to get rid of timewasters and build a relationship of trust, and also to have some form of security should things go belly up.

    I no longer take on ANY work without some deposit, as it just isn’t worth risking dedicating large amounts of time, and putting other projects aside just for someone to tell you 2 months later they no longer want the site you’ve been toiling away on for whatever reason.
    I’ll let you know the progress of the next client on 50:50.

  2. @Vince, Great stuff, I hope it works out for you and wish you the best of luck.

  3. yes, web designing its not the easy per the client requirement only we have to design the site and we have to fulfill the requirement of the clients.

  4. Having not been paid has only happened to me once by a bastard of a client. Ive learned my lesson and will be following a similar policy in my next endeavours.

  5. These are great tips and happen to be the same way we’ve been getting paid for years. On larger projects we’ll sometimes take payments in thirds. The important thing is to withhold launch until final payment. It’s the only incentive they have to pay you. And the larger the client, the longer they will take to pay.

    One other tip… if they offer you equity in lieu of payment, don’t go for it. We’ve never accepted it, and every single one of the companies who has offered it has since folded.

  6. very nice article. I will use it for my future freelance work.

  7. After four and a bit years in business we’ve managed to find a good balance; Firstly fully qualify leads, this is as much an interview for potential clients to find out about you as it is for you to find out about them. Then we write a full proposal outlining the project with Ts & Cs attached, they then sign that and send us a cheque for 25%. We have only ever had one client who didn’t want to pay (they ended up paying 90% towards our development time anyway). Legally a signed proposal covers you 99% of the time, plus a 75% payment on completion is a lot more satisfying!

    Needless to say I think it’s good discussion topic and what works for one might not work for another!

  8. Yeah…Is sad to see that after you make a great work for a client, you make all the sacrifices to satisfy him, at the end he refuses to pay…It happened to me too…

    Keep up the great work!
    Ovi Dogar

  9. This can be the worst nightmare anyone could have. But trust me this really happens, even I had initially fallen pray to such but lucky enough not to have such a client in the recent past.

  10. It’s also happened to me and I’m sorry it seems to be so common. I now set the whole thing out in a proposal and asking for the 50% deposit really does work.

  11. We have had some similar problems in the past. For smaller projects we charge 50% up front and 50% before the site goes live, with some larger clients $15,000+ we use a 30%, 40% 30% being the start middle and end, its seems to work really well and also gets clients responding to your questions quicker. Not putting the wesite live until final payment has been recieved is the key as the client usually wants their website online as soon as its finished, so inturn will pay relativley quickly!

  12. An excellent article, I’m in the same situation, being a freelance developer and I’ve come to more-or-less the same conclusions from trial and error.

    I usually ask for a slightly lower deposit, around a third, although the principle is the same.

    And I agree fully with HostPipe – fully working out leads, and putting together a formal contract, spelling out all the terms etc. is an excellent way to show your professionalism and it gives both you and the client a basis for communication during the project.

  13. Great article. I’ve had lots of problems with this in the past. I think I was a bit naive and assumed that people would pay.

    My biggest problem would be that clients would expect to have huge numbers of visitors in the first week of their site being live, which obviously doesn’t happen, and then when they got next to nothing blamed me and refused to pay.

    I think your 50% deposit is a sound and fair way forward for both parties but I’m still not sure how to deal with that initial client disappointment on visitor numbers. If you tell them the real situation up front they’ll find someone else who lies and tells them what they want to hear.

  14. We usually ask for 50% upfront if it’s a new client that we haven’t worked with before.

    If we have worked with them before, it’s usually 25%.

    Never had this situation before – touch wood.

  15. Your articles is very good. Thank you for your sharing.

    I would like share my website development experience.

  16. Very good article.

    I enjoyed a lot while i was reading this.

    Really its useful to everyone.

  17. True. We have had several such issues in the past. But now we have payemnt system similar to yours and it helps avoid payment problems later as both the parties are seriously committed if a sizeable advance is paid.
    Thanks for sharing.

  18. This is a very good article. Good advice for new designers starting up in business and those looking to review their practices. Thanks.

  19. Great job!!!! This is really a nice post on web design/development.

  20. This has happened to me until I too made changes to my pay protocols. Well said!

  21. Ben

    It’s interesting that you’re not writing this post to help consumers and stop them from getting ripped off. So far, I’ve been taken twice by folks I’m still surprised turned out to be flakes.

    How about writing a post on how to keep a project on time, how to collect from a designer that throws you off schedule from major launches and how to motivate so-called elite designers that could care less about your project but take your money up front.

    I’m upside down for $1,300 so far… no theme, no launch of our new site, and no free theme to offer our clients- and yes, we check references. blah

  22. I note Ben’s comment about designers not delivering and this is very saddening. I too adopt the 50% up front & 50% on completion of project payment method, and its the only time I things go smoothly as far as payment goes.

    As far as flaky designers go, it seems that almost anyone can now claim to be a web designer but only use open source CMS systems such as WordPress, Joomla and Social Network Creations sites such as Ning or WebJam without really having any in depth knowledge of good design practice and programming both front & back end.

    I would use a designer who has lots of experience, I myself have over 10 years under my belt and believe me the job has changed dramatically in those 10 years, but Im glad I have been through it because my offering is now far more comprehensive.

    Perhaps use a network such as LinkedIn to check credentials of potential freelance designers – or go for a design agency who will charge you more per hour but have legal obligations to produce the goods

  23. As a web designer I have felt the wrath at both ends, a person not delivering a service for me and also clients not paying as agreed, both are tricky situations; I only want to help both parties avoid this stress.

    @ Ben / Phil, I’m planning on posting about how to hire a website maker shortly, as I have worked for a large design agency, as a freelancer and am a hiring party for services – I believe I have a well balanced perspective.

  24. We have used a range of techniques to ensure the client pays and everyone feels satisfied at the end of the project. We tailor the method based on the size of the project and anticipated time-scale. Most of the methods are described by others above.

    We find we have greater issues with client variations. Most clients are happy to pay, but there are a small minority who have not really decided what they want at the start of the project(even if they thought they had) and start to change the goalposts when they see the possibilities.

    The best advice is keep communicating with the client throughout and all matters can be resolved amicably.

  25. I’ve noticed that a lot of design professionals are much better at designing than they are at the rest of the boring business stuff – like making sure they get paid.

    We’ve built a system for automatically following up on invoices. ( if you’re interested)

    We have a number of free-lance web design professionals using our free version. They simply enter the invoice details once and then go back to doing what they enjoy. The system takes care of the rest.



  26. Dividing payments is only possible if you are doing projects of decent size.
    For small web designers it can either be 100% upfront or 100% after the work is done. As a security, you can only show snapshots of completed work so the customer doesn’t runs away with it.

  27. Good post. I’ve found that days schedule on invoices are next to useless. I try to engender a trust relationship with the client so I deliver as much as possible when I say I can – then there’s no reason for them to pay late. Or so my (slightly optimistic) logic goes…


  28. As a web development company we generally take 50% upfront, then 25% when they like the design and then the final 25% when all the work is completed before we make the site live.

  29. We use 1/3 payment. Also having control of the of the domain name helps a lot. The last 1/3 is paid when the sit goes live .

  30. I to have been ripped off in the past a couple of times which is very annoying, of course not getting paid is bad but more money can be made. The worst part for me is loosing all the time spent on the project this can’t be clawed back.

    We take 30% deposits upfront and also get the client to sign an agreement which will stand up in court if needed. This seems to work and make things a little more professional.

  31. It is great to take money upfront, I find it is easier to take 25% upfront and get the client to make stage payments then they are happier and so are you

  32. We prefer to take 25% upfront and then to get stage payments as the work is done. That helps to keep everybody happy.

  33. I’m very picky about who I work with. I guess I’m lucky enough to be in a position to turn away work. 90% of my work is with repeat clients. If I do work for a new client I do a credit check on the company first and always get them to sign a contract.

    Saying that, I did get stung once, it turned out they were big time scammers, not only did I do web development for them, I paid for their print as well, so it was my time and money. I took them to court, won the case and when bey lifts went to recover the debt they’d done a runner! It was a limited company and they closed it down, so even though I had their home addresses they were not personally legally responsible.

    I later found they had also scammed 2 or 3 other graphic design companies.

  34. Good post. I’ve found that days schedule on invoices are next to useless.

  35. The only times I’ve ever been ripped off is when I didn’t get a 50% deposit up front.

    Still, we’ll do small jobs- minor tasks, usually- for established clients without a deposit up front. I’m talking stuff that’s under $1,000 USD.

  36. Hi…
    Nice Blog, I understand web designing its not the easy per the client requirement only we have to design the site and we have to fulfill the requirement of the clients.the larger the client, the longer they will take to pay.

  37. B.H.

    Hi There,

    Very useful information. I do some web design but I wanted a dynamic website with a database (which is beyond my expertise) for my company, so I asked a friend to give me a hand.

    I paid him half up front, as agreed and he said it would maybe take a couple months. This was nearly 18 months ago, and during that span, he said many times “we should be able to get it live within a couple weeks”, but it never would be.

    He was generally very slow to respond to my e-mails and even when he proposed a meeting time and I agreed, he wouldn’t confirm that he’d show up or anything.

    I have put many aspects of my business on hold as I wanted my site automated (it’s a property rental site).

    Just wondering if anyone can offer me some advice on how to tactfully get my money back as I feel I deserve it. I told him I’d abort the project after a certain date and that date had passed (despite him telling me we’d finish by that date for sure).

    I have no product to show for my cash. I’d rather take it to someone else because even when this guy has the green light, the project barely moves forward.

    Thank you.


  38. Nice posting. Good insight into the most effective ways to avoid being ripped off.

  39. I just recently discovered your Blog and appreciate you sharing your Web Design with the world. This site also has some site search knowledge.

  40. We have never yet had a problem with a client paying us and we have been in business since 1998.

    We charge 20% deposit, as you rightly say, if the client does not want to pay the deposit they are usually a time waster.

    We are also very good at spotting difficult customers and add a difficult customer rate in an attempt to make them go elsewhere, if they pay that price then it covers all the extra hours spent with that customers.

    We do not not give an end date, as most of our clients are so busy running their business, giving us the right info to go onto the website can get delayed. But they know the site does not go live until payment is received.

  41. Before you start any work brief up a spec for the client to read, such as the process, design stages and development.


    website design = £600
    template = £500
    pages = £200

    once he / she agrees, create a design either through a graphic package and put it on a test site which you have full control. once we have agreed on the design he will then pay you on completion on that part of the spec.

    never de-value yourself, always make up a contract and stick to it.

  42. Hi, I just wanted to say you have a wonderful site and this was a very informative article. I saved your site and have it in my reader now…looking forward to future content.

  43. Dave W

    I am having a similar issue at the moment where the client has only part paid me (its amazing that this post was written in 2008 and it is not 2010 and this is still a great article) and so started doing some research into my problem and where I stand legally (am in the UK) as I have the copyright of the site in my name and also am hosting the site for them (also not paid for).

    Does anyone know or could anyone advise me where I stand legally with withdrawing the site and cancelling the hosting package totally after part payment? Or because I have been part paid do they now own the site? Could I just close down the hosting?

    I have only just started freelancing and have quickly learned a few rules like, never host and design, always get contracts in place (which I stupidly did not do with this client since they have hired me previously and they used to pay as soon as the invoice was issued.) and now I am definataly going to adopting your policy of the 50% up front. But as for my predicament at the moment could anyone advise, esspecially if you have been in a similar situation.

    Could I be open for legal action by closing the site down?

    Can I supply them with only part of the site on a disc to cover the part payment work?

    by closing down the hosting (inc emails) if they loose business can they come back at me for the lose of business?

    I have searched all over the net and there does not seem to be a great place for advice like this.

    Hoping someone can help or advise


  44. Thanks,

    I found this article very useful I have been ripped off once and as a starting out web geek it was pretty annoying.

    I’ll definitely bare these in mind for my next project 🙂

  45. I reckon building a webpage with 950 or 960 px web page width. This way it shows up well with a 1024 px width screen. I appreciate a lot of desktops and macs come with wider screens, but you also have to factor while in the fact that net books and smart phones now have smaller screens. Fashion is about style, not width and you can easily add a theme or background within the margins within the main online site that can make the blog seem to be particularly cool.

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