Progress Payments – Get Paid for Creative Work

I wanted to just share a thought with those of you who are doing creative work for hire. Make sure you are getting progress payments along the way. The last time we hit an economic rough patch (back in 2001) I remember getting stiffed by a client who went bankrupt. This client of course had paid their bills consistently for 2 years... but then the doors closed and I was out nearly $5,000.

Let's just say... lesson learned.

The basic tenet is progressive billing. Make sure you are invoicing the client throughout the life of a project. This way you’ve gotten at least 50% (but hopefully more) of the money in before the project leaves your hands. Once the project leaves your shop, it's pretty hard to get paid (you've lost your leverage).

Here are some practical tips to help you avoid getting the short end of the stick.

  • Use Milestones – Payments are most effective when tied to milestones. Sign the agreement, deliver the script, start the shoot, etc.
  • Don't Confuse the Accountants – Try to avoid payments of identical dollar amounts as it can lead to confusion with accounts payable. It's almost a guarantee that some will get kicked out or ignored.
  • Try 55%/45% for Deposit + Shoot or
  • 40%/35%/25% Deposit + Production + Post or
  • 35%/30%/20%/15% for a Long-term project
  • Stand Your Ground – Be prepared to withhold or watermark deliverables if client falls behind on payments (just be sure to put it in contract and warn them first).

I hope this gives you some practical knowledge you can use. I'll be speaking about the business of video and photography at the American Society of Media Photographers Strictly Business (
SB3) Conference. Three locations LA, Philadelphia, and Chicago.