It’s tough running a creative business. Any web designer, writer, or even photographer will tell you, chasing clients for payment is like running down the street barefoot on a hot day screaming at the ice-cream truck to stop because you REALLY need a soft serve with sprinkles. But replace soft-serve with money. That thing that pays bills.
It’s sad that we’re in a business world where services are seen as ‘optional’ when it comes to payment. We dodge spec work, discounting, and in-kind or contra deals every day, like some sort of bizarre Whack A Mole.
Tell me, do you ask your physiotherapist to unkink your neck and tell them you’ll pay them only if it works? Um, no.
Do you ask the funeral director to cremate your loved one and you’ll pay them only if you like the funeral service and the cookies at the wake…?
But actually, that kind of logic is pretty much commonplace in the creative world.
So to avoid this, a lot of creatives start asking for payment upfront. Sometimes your client’s reaction is like you’ve just asked for their first-born child. And suddenly, your client’s running out of the meeting like…
And I’ll admit it, as a writer, who does ask often for payment upfront, I’m often hesitant to pay for services upfront.
I went to have my nails done recently. I usually go to a trusted nail salon a 30-minute drive away, but to save time, I wanted a nail salon closer to my home. So, as I usually do, I did some Facebook stalking of local salons.
I decided on one that was in a nearby shopping centre. When I arrived, I could see two nail technicians with clients, and another male nail technician in the corner on his phone, texting, oblivious to my existence.
After about two minutes, another nail technician emerged from the back room and greeted me. I told her the services I wanted. She told me the price, $50, which was $5 more than what I usually pay but I agreed.
“OK, you have to pay first,” she said.
“I don’t usually have to pay first,” I replied. “Why do I have to pay first here?”
“This is my shop and everyone has to pay first.”
I thought to myself, But why? What if I’m unhappy with the service?
“That’s OK,” I said, “but I’m not willing to pay first, but thanks for your time.”
I left and went to the other nail salon at the opposite end of the centre. This salon charged $40 for the same service, and I could pay after they had finished.
So why was I so adverse to paying first for a service?
I’d had the same service by other nail salons (where I’d always pay afterwards). But this was a new one. They also charged $5 more than my regular nail place. And they also didn’t give a good first impression.
They were charging more than others and they weren’t offering anything in the way of customer service to support their $50 fee, and their request for payment up front.
Basically they didn’t communicate any value that made me feel OK about forking over my money up front. And they were asking for more money than I usually pay without offering a point of difference.
Now I find myself in the same situation when I’m asking clients to pay for my services up front.
As a freelance copywriter and social strategist, I have clients on retainer, or my rates are 50% upfront, 50% upon completion. I’ve also had to take clients to court for not paying. (And I still haven’t received payment, so that requires more money to take it to the next level to demand payment.)
So, what can creative businesses do to get payment upfront? And so clients are willing to pay?
1. Educate your clients
Brush up on the stats of your industry. For my social media clients, I speak to them on their terms.
I tell them that Facebook and Google control 56% of the mobile ad market, so that’s where your ideal clients most likely are.
I tell them that Instagram has 10x more engagement than any other channel. If they’re not on there, they’re missing out.
I tell them, you can get anyone “to just do Instagram because we have to be on Instagram” or any other social channel, this is not what you want for your business.
By educating clients, it tells them that you’re the best in your industry, and you become a trusted ally in their business because you know your stuff.
This makes you stand out from the rest. No one likes to be ordinary, or work with someone who is ordinary. Be extra… in a good way.
2. Speak to your clients in a language they understand.
That language is money.
I recently had a client who wanted me to document their event on their Instagram account. I told her my fee and she asked me to discount it by 40%. (First rule for any newbies out there: don’t discount your rates or you’ll be discounting with the same client forever!)
So I emailed her back and spoke to her on her terms. I told her this was about business and seeing a return on investment.
I told her my role was to help her business extend its reach and create brand awareness, and to bring you in more quality leads.
I told her that this is part of a wider marketing strategy, and what I will do will help them be discovered by more ideal clients that, with further careful planning, be ready to buy from her.
And guess what? She agreed to my original rate because I spoke to her about business.
I communicated the value of what I was offering by speaking to her on her terms. Her terms where building a business and reaching more ideal clients.
And I delivered the results she was after. And she was thrilled. So much so, she hired me again.
3. The big ask
If your clients are still hesitant about paying upfront for a particular project, make sure you have testimonials or social proof that outlines how other clients have found working with you and the results you deliver.
It’s best to focus on results and make the reason you’re asking for payment upfront is because of the results you’ll deliver. Be confident in your abilities.
Make sure you also manage your client’s expectations and have a contract in place. You don’t want any bad blood. (And don’t be afraid to get on the phone to talk through anything and send a follow-up email!)
By communicating value, setting yourself apart and positioning yourself as a trusted friend in business with your client, you’re able to comfortably ask for payment upfront.
And clients won’t bat an eyelid. And that’s what we call want ﹘ clients that see your value that are easy (and amazing) to work with.
Because you’re so worthy.
And I hope the nail salon I visited that quoted me $50 for a service rebrands itself to be like this…
Because I’d pay the $50 upfront for THAT kind of service. Wouldn’t you agree?
What’s the no.1 challenge you have about payment as a creative? Let me know in the comments.
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Want to know the 7 ways to grab your audience’s attention without the fancy tricks (or holy water)? Check out my free guide here. And while we’re talking about detours to other pages, you can check me out on Instagram too.