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Service and Payment
Kerri McMullen, Photographer
Pittsburgh | PA | | Posted: 10:19 AM on 12.06.07
->> As I just graduated college and picking up more freelance, I am finding out that freelance photography and how to do business differs in everyone.

Where is the best resources on how to do business?

I really do not like the fact that I provide a service, hand over the CD(s) and then my client has 30 days to pay me.

How do you all do your business? Is the way that I have been doing it the norm? It stinks! Because all of my clients that I have had wait till the last minute.

But I do not wait till the last minute to edit and mail them their CD. So why should I have to wait?
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Mike Brice, Photographer
Toledo | OH | USA | Posted: 10:44 AM on 12.06.07
->> Life's not fair, is it?

That is just a fact with dealing with big companies. They pay net 15, 30, 45 or even 90 days out.

You said an invoice, the process it and accounting cuts and mails a check according to the company's policies.

You can request or demand net 7 days, or even pre-pay, but you are unlikely to get it. When I worked for a Fortune 100 company and hired photographers - it was easy to process an invoice - requesting a check for pre-payment was like moving a mountain. So if a photographer demanded to be paid before the shoot, I just moved on to the next photographer on the list.

If there are a lot of expenses for the shoot, it would not be out of line to ask for partial pre-payment. However, I did a shoot where I traveled - so I had airfare, car, hotel, meals, etc.. and it was easier for me to charge it and bill out the expenses. Not easier for me - but a lot easier for my client - and that means she still calls on a regular basis for work. Now I was paid for the travel, but fronting that make in expenses can be hard if you are just starting out.

I know shoot full-time and have left the PR world. For the most part, my clients pay net 30 days. I have just got used to it, and budget accordingly.
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Dominick Reuter, Student/Intern, Photographer
Boston | MA | USA | Posted: 10:50 AM on 12.06.07
->> If you don't like waiting 30 days, don't give them 30 days to pay. There aren't any real rules to speak of except for the ones you agree upon with your client. When you submit an invoice for work, let them know they have 2 weeks or something to pay without being charged additional fees. If they balk at the terms, negotiate with them.

It seems like most bureaucratic clients always need a lot of time to send the paperwork through, but there are things you have the power to do if you just ask for it. Who knows, you could even have them hand you a check after shooting the job.

For more great advice on the business side of things, read Rick Rickman's old SS columns from years ago. He recommends the Editorial Photographer website at as a fantastic spot to learn about business practices.

I'm still a student, so this advice may be incomplete or naive, but it's a business model I hope to have control of before I have to start paying rent with pictures.

- DR
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Jeff Kowalsky, Photographer
West Bloomfield | MI | United States | Posted: 11:05 AM on 12.06.07
->> If you are looking for information on the business of photography I would recommend fellow SS member John Harrington's book, Best Business Practices for Photographers.

His blog is also helpful.
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Dave Pawlak, Photographer
Soquel | Ca | USA | Posted: 11:19 AM on 12.06.07
->> From my experience with freelance the method is to get an assignment, turn over edited (or unedited if the client wants) images, then invoice them or wait upon terms agreed upon in the contract. Typically, yes you could wait 30 days.

I recommend a couple of things to make life easier should payment never surface. First, I bought a book called Best Business Practices for Photographers by John Harrington. Harrington's book contains a lot of good foundational information, Do's and Do Not's, and other information to help guide you in developing practices. Second, start with a contract and agreement before work is ever done. Keep all correspondance and log telephone calls. Should your client fail to pay you for work done, the honus in court is on you to prove your case.

I hope this helps and if you have further questions, feel free to contact me off the boards.

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Christopher Szagola, Photographer
Richboro | PA | United States | Posted: 11:26 AM on 12.06.07
->> When I worked for Conde Nest, it was 4-8 weeks after service before payment was received. It is the way business is done. I am just used to it.
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Mark Peters, Photographer
Highland | IL | USA | Posted: 11:49 AM on 12.06.07
->> Make sure you factor in a 30 day lag for payment into your cost of doing business or otherwise account for the cost of funds.

One way of doing this is to offer a discount for more prompt payment. i.e. if you feel a job is worth $500, you can price it at $525 with a 5% discount if paid within 10 days. If the incentives are significant enough, firms will analyze the relative benefit of taking advantage of them.

You can also partially offset the negative effect of having payment delayed to you by similarly delaying payment for your other costs of doing business. Use a credit card for all of your incidental expenses related to the shoot for example. This will help align your cash flows.

It is not unusual, nor unreasonable to expect these companies to take that long to pay. Your invoice is but one of thousands they likely see each week.

As to why they wait till the last minute to pay, that's easy. That is prudent cash management. You never pay a bill until you have to. It's up to you - not them - to protect your interests.
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Kerri McMullen, Photographer
Pittsburgh | PA | | Posted: 12:20 PM on 12.06.07
->> Thank you everyone for your responses.

I think it should be a courtesy: the client gets your work and you get paid right away end of transaction. But that would be a perfect world, in which we do not live.
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Mark Peters, Photographer
Highland | IL | USA | Posted: 1:46 PM on 12.06.07
->> Kerri -

While this won't solve your 30 day issue, you may get money in your account faster if you offer clients the ability to pay you via ACH - which is the method most larger corporations use to pay the vast majority of their bills anyway. This is the same method they use to pay employees via direct deposit. (I'm not talking about a wire transfer. Big difference - they will charge you quite a bit (my bank charges $10) to accept a wire, but ACH's are generally free.)

You would need to get with your bank and make sure you have proper routing instructions to include on your invoice.

In accounts payable runs they will generally issue checks and make ACH's effective on the same date. So if your invoice is due on 12/15, you could have money in your account 12/15 with an ACH, or a check in the mail on 12/15. You will accelerate you own cash flow 3-7 days by accepting electronic payments - from certain clients.
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Jon Gardiner, Photographer
Durham | NC | USA | Posted: 1:53 PM on 12.06.07
->> Kerri,

PF Bentley had a wonderful approach, too.


check it.
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Randy Tobias, Photographer
Wichita | KS | USA | Posted: 2:19 PM on 12.06.07
->> Kerri,

I would recommend getting comfortable with the 30-day routine, and you very likely will often have to wait even longer at times. I've been fulltime freelance for a little over 2 years and freelanced a lot over the 18 or so years I was a staff shooter. In that time, I think I've had exactly one client offer to pay onsite at the end of the shoot. 30 days net is just the standard, but some ad agencies actually don't pay until their client pays them. Just yesterday I received payment for a job shot in August. In my experience, most clients are trustworthy and pay within the normal timeframe. It also often depends on where your invoice falls in their payment cycle. Most corporations send all checks out at the same time. So if you just missed the cycle, it might take 30 days to be paid. Other times it might just take a few days. Just serve the clients well and payment will come in due time.

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Kerri McMullen, Photographer
Pittsburgh | PA | | Posted: 10:20 PM on 12.09.07
->> I am not sure who ever thought that this way of doing business is the correct way to do it, however things really need to change. I understand that I am just starting out and am not used to this, but why should I get used to it? I deliver a service, as well as stating in my my contract that I deliver the CD(s) within two weeks, yet meanwhile getting it out to my client within the next couple of days, and THEY wait to pay me? That is a screwed up system. I provide a service, thus they should provide compensation for such service. End of story.

So I am going to make some changes in the way I do my business, take a look at the recommended books and advice given above and find a way that works out for everyone.

Thank you again for all of the advice fellow shooters.
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Jeff Stanton, Photographer
Tucson | Az | USA | Posted: 10:47 PM on 12.09.07
->> Indeed, it does seem strange that you should have to wait to be paid. After all, everyone walks into various outlets across the country and you typically have to pay for your goods before heading out the door.

But the reality is, businesses all over the world work this way. Ford, Honda, HP, Sony, and us. Companies and schools don't keep a petty cash kitty sitting on a secretary's desk so they can pay you when you get pissed off and demand to be paid pronto!

There are some types of events you can do that. For example, I used to shoot a wedding or two a few years back. When somebody hired me, I asked for a retainer fee at the time they hired me. Then, I explained to the couple (or whoever was paying) that the day of the wedding, when I showed up at the event, they pay me in cash before that first image is made. I would make that VERY CLEAR to them. I never had a problem.

And you can do that with other events, especially when you're dealing in the non-corporate world.

But as a lot of people have mentioned, if you're going to do corporate work or shoot for a university like I do a lot, this is the kind of business model you will have to get used to and learn how to deal with.
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Clark Brooks, Photo Editor, Photographer
Urbana | IL | USA | Posted: 11:37 PM on 12.09.07
->> Kerri,

I agree with you when you say why should we as creatives wait longer for payment when employees for the company are paid for the work twice as fast. You are being penalized for not being an employee but providing a service they weren't willing to hire a regular staff person to perform.

Most companies have corporate charge cards with high enough credit lines to accommodate any assignment that you'll complete for them. And contrary to popular belief accounting system have contingencies for paying expenses outside the regular corporate payment cycle.

Assuming you are set up to accept credit cards you should offer b2b clients two choices. Ask how they would like to pay and if the say they want you to bill them, add 25% to the quote you had planned to give them. If they accept the bid, good for you. If they say it is more than they wanted to spend now you can offer a discount of 25% if they pay by credit card or company check at the time of delivery.

If the party asks why it cost 25% more for billing, you can explain it covers the additional labor cost in accounting, collections and interest for the privilege of using your money for 30 or whatever days after the finished product has been delivered. Put it to them this way, you don't go to the grocery store pick up the items you need and pay for it 30 days later. You can't do that if you go to the dentist.

Now you may or may not get a lot of corporate work this way, but if you prescribe to some of Southwest Airline founder Herb Kelleher's business philosophy this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Bad customers, non-cash basis clients in this case, cost you more money at this stage of you business. Been there, done that, got a t-shirt. You either have to charge accordingly or better yet, avoid those clients who can't pay you on your terms or for the time being look at doing work for those who can pay on a cash basis until you built a reasonable cash reserve to be able to wait two weeks, 30 days, or 60 days for payment for a certain number of assignments each month.

Just my 2 cents...
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Chuck Steenburgh, Photographer
Lexington | VA | USA | Posted: 10:28 AM on 12.10.07
->> Clark, nice idea from Kelleher, but not very realistic for a freelancer just starting out. There are always times you need to learn how to say "no" to certain clients, but I don't think this is one of them. NET 30 is pretty standard for almost any organization. If you reverse the scenario, maybe after she's built a solid clientele Kerry can start turning down clients who won't pay on a cash basis.

Kerry, one of the suggestions you're likely to hear is to offer some sort of discount for early payment...something like 3-5% is typical, not a lot but enough to prompt some to pay faster. OTOH, I've heard of more than one company whose policy is to take the discount and still pay later - figuring the biller won't bother with the 3-5% difference even if the early payment deadline is missed.

As you've pointed's the world we live in. Those with the gold make the rules. :)


PS How long after you use electricity, water, natural you pay for it? ;-)
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Richard Orr, Photographer
Longmeadow | MA | USA | Posted: 10:52 AM on 12.10.07
->> I have some bad news. And some good news. About 1/3 of the clients I have just shifted to a 45 day payment cycle. Of course, this increases their cash flow, and decreases mine. Since they have always paid in the past, I simply did not change my policy--and started charging the interest for payments beyond 30 days.

The good news is that about half of my clients have shifted to payment cards--which are debit cards that I can run. Generally, I mail out the invoices and the SIDs confirm the receipt and acceptance...and I run the cards. So that is great. For the percent and a half that I have to pay to run the cards, I get paid in 15 days or less.

What I do to deal with the cyclical nature of the business is to put aside a percentage of every check to cover the "lean" months. I've also got a Business Line of Credit that I use to deal with bumps in the cash flow. if things get tight, write a check on the line, then make paying that off a priority.

So far so good.
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Eric S. Swist, Photographer
Dubai | UAE | Middle East | Posted: 12:48 PM on 12.10.07
->> In my experience it is best to request at least 30% in advance before the job start.

Estimate Terms: "Estimate is valid for 14 days from the date of issue. Fees and expenses quoted are for the original job description and layouts only, and for the usage specified. Actual amounts are subject to a normal trade variance of 10%. A purchase order or signed estimate and 30% of the estimate total is due upon booking. Job cancellation within 72 hours = 40% of fees, plus all incurred expenses; 48 hours = 65% of fees, plus all incurred expenses; 24 hours = 80% of fees, plus all incurred expenses. All rights not specifically granted in writing, including copyright, remain the exclusive property of Eric S. Swist."

Invoice Terms: "Invoice is payable upon receipt. A late charge of 30% per month will apply after 14 days. License usage rights are transferred upon full payment of this invoice. Failure to make payments voids any license granted and constitutes copyright infringement. All rights not specifically granted in writing, including copyright, remain the exclusive property of Eric S. Swist."

I've never had any problems using these terms; however, if a clients requests changes to the terms, be sure to adjust your pricing accordingly.
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Kerri McMullen, Photographer
Pittsburgh | PA | | Posted: 12:02 AM on 12.11.07
->> I just heard of someone handing over a CD that was password protected and then after receiving payment the photographer would provide the client the password.

I say to this: BRILLIANT!
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David Perkins, Photographer
Macon | GA | USA | Posted: 11:43 AM on 04.07.08
->> As a photographer just starting out, trying to change the way the system works is probably not in your best interest. If clients find you too difficult to work with because you do not fit into their business plan, then they will just move on to the next photographer that does. Unfortunately for you, there are a lot more photographers out there that will deal with the issue of Net 30 and they will be happy to take work from you.

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Martin McNeil, Photographer
East Kilbride | South Lanarkshi | United Kingdom | Posted: 12:08 PM on 04.07.08
->> To any freelancer doing paid work for the first time, the critical thing is to establish terms in advance of the job. No-one should criticise you for asking the what, how and when you will be paid.

For clients that don't normally deal with photographers, draw up your own T's & C's and provide them in advance of the job. Establish in your mind which terms you might want to be flexible on and which ones are non-negotiable.

Also, as photographers, we have an ace up our sleeves if it comes to severely late or non-payment of our invoices.


If payment runs past your terms and it looks like you *might* have a deadbeat client, remind them that they're breaching your copyright since they haven't paid for the licence to use your shots.

This is a far more effective stick to wield in lieu of passing the debt on to a collections agency - especially for photography savvy clients that should know better.
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Chuck Liddy, Photographer
Durham | NC | USA | Posted: 12:53 PM on 04.07.08
->> kerri, OT here, can't find your member page. where is it?
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Bob Ford, Photographer
Lehighton | Pa | USA | Posted: 1:00 PM on 04.07.08
->> Chuck, when the icons look like Kerri's it means they are no longer a member.
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Chuck Liddy, Photographer
Durham | NC | USA | Posted: 1:33 PM on 04.07.08
->> thanks bob. I just now noticed how old the thread was....where is the "idiot" button when you need it?
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Thread Title: Service and Payment
Thread Started By: Kerri McMullen
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