“I‘m still waiting for the client to pay me…”

It happens even to the best of us: the client will take work, disappear, and never pay. In that case, no contract can help you, especially if you’re working for a foreign client. That’s why you always need to have some kind of leverage to protect yourself. Here are some ways to deal with the situation.

Limit access to assets
Never give away working files until you’re fully paid for a graphic or a photo. Export a PNG for feedback and send the vector or PSD only after you get paid in full. When you’re collaborating and sharing work files, hide them from the client if you sense risk. Also, consider including a watermark across all the images.

Air dirty laundry in public
If someone uses your unpaid work, spread the word until they pay you. Go to their social profiles and sites where they post ads and share your experience. Warn other people that the client is flaky and has a habit of not paying. They’ll usually offer to pay you so you stop damaging their reputation.

Control the environment
If you’re building the website, it’s a good idea to offer the client to set up hosting for them. If you want extra security, you can offer to do it for free. This way you control the log-in information and domain name which the client can’t get until you get paid.

Present work from a safe distance
When presenting the website for feedback, keep it on your own server and share a link. A client can see how everything works, but can’t access the backend code and database. Making dynamic sites is safer because the client can’t inspect the server-side source code and steal it.

Request takedown
Put copyright information inside code (you can hide a txt file with copyright inside a inconspicuous image, like a favicon). This way, if all else fails and a client starts using your work in production work without paying you, all you need to do is contact the hosting provider, request for the website to be taken down due to copyright infringement, and point them to the proof.

Hire a collection agency
If you don’t have the time or resources to collect the payment, you can sell debt to a collection agency for a fraction of the total due amount and let them collect the payment. This way, you’ll at least get some money out of a bad deal and won’t have to time lose time and productivity on lawsuits.

Next to read — How to make airtight contracts