How to get content and get paid on time as a web designer
There's a handful of common questions I get from fellow and aspiring web designers.
How does your 2 week process work? What happens if a client is late getting you payment or content? Then what? How does that work with the 2 week process?
When I set up my process I did give a bit of thought to how I'd ensure I got paid on time and thought through what would happen if a clients content wasn't ready for their design date.
I'm currently holding down a perfect record for on time payments, and a near perfect record for getting client content.
I've also never had a project run over because of edits (even though I give unlimited revisions)!
Here's how I set things up, how my studio runs and my tips for you to ensure you never have to deal with late payments and content.
Getting paid on time as a web designer
1. Place payments at times clients are motivated to move forward
The factor that I'd attribute to being the most helpful to ensuring I'm always getting paid on time comes down to how I set up my payment requirements.
I take 50% of a project cost as a non-refundable deposit. I only have a handful of design dates every year, and in order to lock one down, a non-refundable deposit must be made.
Clients are eager to make their payment because they want to lock down their date before another potential client takes it. This desire to get on my design calendar ensures that they make their payment quickly after inquiring.
I have my studio's second payment due when a clients site is completed, just before we launch the site. Of course, clients are excited to get their new site live, so again they're quick to pay the remainder of their project fee because the only thing standing between them and their fab new website being launched is their payment.
What not to do: Don't let anyone book your precious time without making a payment first! They could seem like the most serious inquiry in the world and then flake, leaving you with a hole in your calendar where, depending on when they flake, you may not be able to book someone else into that spot and you're out the money you could have made that week/month. Only allow for clients to book you by making a deposit payment!
2. Only give access to final product after all payments have been made
I create client websites on my Squarespace account and only give them admin access to the site once they've finished their payment. Brand designers, photographers and other creatives do this similarly, only providing the final files without watermarks once the last payment has been made. I'd encourage you to do the same.
3. Finish projects with a call or video call
Now I don't want to make it sound like clients are horrible people who don't like to pay us, it's not that at all, it's generally just life getting in the way. I had a couple close calls with almost late payments, and neither were because my clients just didn't feel like paying me.
I had tested out a new payment processing system which led one client to an error page, and another who's credit card had denied the transaction because of past card fraud.
When we got on the lesson + launch calls to launch their sites they hadn't paid yet but they quickly explained the issues, I fixed the link for one, and the other called up her bank while I was tweaking a few things on the site.
These things happen and it's not the client trying to avoid paying, it's just one of the many things on their to do list and if they hit an error along the way of trying to pay, figuring it out or shooting me an email to explain gets buried in a list of tasks after kids, work and life.
Thankfully, I complete all of my client projects with a 1.5 hour Squarespace lesson and launch call, so if a payment hasn't been made by then, I just carve 3 minutes out of our call time to let them pay and it's SO much faster to handle any issues over a video call than by email.
If it makes sense for your process, complete your project with a call or video call and if there's any payment issues, your guaranteed to get it sorted on the call in a matter of minutes.
Getting content on time as a web designer
1. Make the content due date known from the very first moment of client contact
Not to sound like a buzzkill, but I get to my clients responsibilities right off the bat when first chatting with them.
As in, they inquire through my site, book a consult call and on the consult call I go through the exact 2 week process step by step with them, including the deadlines they'll need to meet.
I start off the process spiel (I literally could say it in my sleep now I've said it so many times) by saying something like;
"Your site will be fully built, designed, functionality added and launched in just 2 weeks. This is pretty unusual in the web design world, but I'm able to manage it both because I only take on one client at a time and because all of the site content is due before your 2 week design period begins."
I explain that the majority of the clients work in preparing content actually happens before their design date, and encourage them to pick a date far enough out that they'll have time to prepare their site content.
I explain everything that they'll need to do to prepare for the design date (write copy, compile a batch of images, complete 2 questionnaires and make a Pinterest inspiration board) and give them an estimate of how long it would take for them to prepare that, but encourage them to adjust that timeline depending on how busy their work/life schedule is between now and when they want their design date.
I then reiterate that the only way to complete a site in that timeframe is to have the content prepared before we even go to start.
Now, you might not have a 2 week process, but that doesn't mean you can't be firm on your content deadlines.
Tell clients when the content is due, and make it clear that their project will not begin until after their content is ALL ready.
They want their website launched on time as much as you do, but a lot of people have never been involved in building a site so they have no idea how long it'll take to prepare content. Give them your expert advice on how long you'd expect it to take them to prepare site content based on your experience so they're well-informed and can plan accordingly.
2. Set firm deadlines both for yourself and your client
It's a 2 way street, if you expect your client to complete work on time, it's mandatory you as the service provider are doing the same.
Some designers may shy away from making a firm schedule of due dates during a project for fear of missing them, but the more clear and set in stone your process, dates and deadlines are, the less likely a project will drag on.
I saw another experienced designer who completes a couple projects per month, she had a calendar of the month with exact dates for each step of the process. The next month she went on to a new set of projects.
She sent the calendar to new clients to show them exactly when their homework was due and when they could expect to see draft work, request revisions, obtain final files, etc. The designer always met her deadlines, and if a client was late with something (eg. requesting edits) the one month period would not be extended.
A month, 2 weeks, or some sort of similar, clear time-bound project period is key to ensuring all deadlines are met and projects are completed on time.
3. Communicate what happens if content isn't ready
In my Welcome document I have an FAQ area, including what happens if content isn't ready on time.
If you want a peek at the Welcome doc I send clients, you can download a copy below.
4. Ensure there's a financial repercussion for not being ready for the design date
If a client lets you know the day you're supposed to start, or even a week or two in advance that they won't be ready, it's unlikely you'll be able to book in someone else and have them prepare their content on almost no notice, so it's likely you'll be out of work for that design date.
Because of this, there should be some sort of financial repercussion for not being ready.
I always think of it like hotels, they save a room for us and because we booked it on specific dates and was saved for us, no one else was able to book it. Therefore, we're on the hook to pay for the hotel, regardless if we choose to show up or not. Same goes for design dates.
5. Put the late client at the end of the queue
Sometimes clients will ask to have the time extended for just a week or two to finish getting their content together. This however means you'll be double booking this client with another and it's unfair to your other client to take your time and attention away from a client who was prepared for one that wasn't.
Therefore, don't go messing around with your whole design calendar, and juggling around dates of other clients. If a client is late, let them know you next available date and put them at the end of the queue.
6. collect content via Google drive so you can keep tabs on how much they've done
If you have them email you content, one, your inbox will become a nightmare, and two, you won't have any idea how far they are with preparing content.
If you have them write out their copy in a Google doc and leave photos in a Google drive you'll be able to see how they're coming along with it.
7. If they're looking behind schedule, send a reminder email
Now that you have a policy for what happens if a client isn't ready for their date (there's some sort of financial repercussion and they get put at the back of the design date line) and you've already communicated before what happens if they're not ready and you're seeing they're not looking near ready in their Google Drive folder, send a reminder at least 1 week before the design date.
Let them know in the reminder again what happens if content isn't ready, and encourage them to upload content to the Google Drive if they've just been leaving it hanging out on their desktop.
Be sure to send this email at least a week out as if they've prepared nothing up until that point, they should be able to whip together content in a week, if the fire is lit under them to get going.
I've actually noticed that the majority of my clients even if they've booked a couple months out, will only complete their content in the last couple weeks.
People make things a priority when things come down to the wire, so set your policies, communicate them often and then stick to them. You should be good to go!