How to handle payment disputes for graphic design work


If you work in graphic design, it's likely that you are committed to putting every single ounce of your creativity into every project that finds its way across your desk. When the client decides that your payment can wait until they are ready to pay it or they simply choose not to pay you at all, however, this can make you question why you're in the business to begin with. So, how do you deal with these sorts of disputes in as professional a manner as possible?

  • Refer back to your contract with the client. This should give you some sort of reference as to the original price that was agreed upon, the payment structure and any clauses in the document that tackle the issues of late or non-payments.
  • Speak with the client about the matter. Try to schedule a face-to-face meeting, but over the phone can work, too. Explain to them your side of the dispute and allow the client to explain theirs. Hopefully this allows you to come to some sort of agreement.
  • Explain your plans to the client. This should not be made as a threat, but is rather an explanation of what the client can expect should the problem not be resolved. Begin by sending a few 'payment due' notices, followed by a late notice.
  • Retain your graphic design work until the matter is resolved. You should never agree to hand over any work until you have been paid what you are owed. Until money changes hands, you are still the rightful owner of the work and are allowed to do this.

Unfortunately, payment disputes are a reality in the graphic design industry; it might be a few years before you encounter them or it might occur on your very first project. Just remember that you need to deal with any and all disputes in as professional a manner as possible, as this actually plays a role in whether you are offered future work or whether it is withheld. Avoid, for example, writing all over online forums, as this could come back to bite you.