Problems Getting Paid? How to Never Get Stiffed Again

by Carolyn Edlund

Have you run into challenges trying to get paid for your art? Use these strategies to head those problems off now.


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From time to time, I hear from artists who are distressed that they have not been able to get paid for work they have sold. Situations vary, but there are ways to organize and communicate that result in fewer payment problems and better business relationships.

Be up front with pricing

If your customer doesn’t understand their costs, they may end up balking when it comes time to pay the bill. Price art on your website if you intend to do e-commerce. State your fees to give a workshop, teach a class, or complete an art commission. This is only fair to both you and your clients. Nobody likes surprises that stem from misunderstandings.

Know your terms

Depending on your situation, you might choose to get paid in advance. Get a deposit with the balance to follow, offer Net 30 or make another arrangement. Never agree to something you are not comfortable with. Not quite sure that person is going to pay? Get a credit card at the time they receive the goods. Then, process it immediately to confirm the transaction. Sometimes arrangements are made for later payment, such as when art is consigned and the gallery pays everyone on a monthly basis. Or, you might be wholesaling, and offer extended payment terms (such as a Net 30 basis) once you have established a good working relationship.

When wholesaling, I always required that the client’s credit card be charged at the time of shipment on the opening order. Subsequently, I granted Net 30 on repeat orders if the customer provided a credit sheet. Each situation is unique, but you are in control of what you agree to do. There is nothing wrong with requiring some “skin in the game” from your customer to make sure they follow through with payment.

Put it in writing

If you have an agreement (consignment, teaching, commission, creating a purchase order, etc.) and you don’t have a written contract which is signed by both parties, then shame on you. Verbal agreements are worth the paper they’re written on. A contract is a legal instrument, and thus enforceable. It assures both parties have read and agreed upon what is being purchased, when payment is due, and all terms. Make sure that the contract doesn’t work against you as the artist. That means you should actually read and understand everything before you sign.

Unsure or unhappy with a contract? Point out clauses you don’t agree with, and have them changed. Or, offer your own contract. I do this all the time, and it’s not difficult to get other people to sign them. Just be fair and use clear straightforward language. Go over everything with the other party, and make sure there are no questions. Then, honor your contract and expect that they will also.

You might even have a consignment agreement to offer a gallery or store that wants to consign your art. Take it with you to have in hand when you meet. Here’s an excellent example offered by Harriete Estel Berman.

Have an invoice ready

People have a right to receive an invoice for a piece of art, or services rendered. This acts as a receipt, and specifies what you sold them, or what services were rendered. Have an invoice ready when you deliver, or at another convenient time, or you might not get paid right away. You may be surprised to find that the client is willing to pay on the spot when all the paperwork is in order.

Don’t let late payments ride

An artist once nervously asked whether she should call a consignment gallery that had not sent her check on time. The answer: H*ll yes! They have an obligation to pay you on time, every time. After all, you delivered the goods and took all the risk. Sometimes there is a reason for slow payment, such as illness or an emergency situation. But often the customer just forgets – or they don’t really care that the payment is late.

If your customer tends to pay late, fix it now. Contact them as soon as payment is overdue, or take your work out of their gallery. And keep in mind that the squeaky wheel is the one who gets paid. Make it clear from the very beginning that you require timely payment of your invoice, or monthly check, etc. or that you will take action, and then do it. Otherwise, they learn that they can get away with late payment. Then they will continue to do it. You can bank on that.

Not long ago, I had a contract for an event that required pre-payment on a certain date. I provided plenty of notice, with clear information on how to make the transaction. The client didn’t follow through, and it came right up to “game time” with no money having changed hands. I drove to their office, sat down and calmly explained that unless I received proof of a bank transfer by 5 p.m. that evening, it would be a real shame, but their event was not going to happen. The look in the client’s eyes told me that the transaction would take place, and it did. That might seem a bit like a Mafia tactic, but truthfully, they knew that I was in the right, and they agreed with me. The event went off without a hitch, and we continue to have an excellent business relationship.

When you require payment of any kind upfront and then deliver the goods or perform without being paid, you lose your leverage. Try your best not to let that occur. If and when you have delivered and the payment isn’t made, you are in a collections situation, which demands that you use other tactics. Learn more about collection strategies here.


Have you run into difficulty getting paid for your artwork or your services? What tactics did you use to resolve the situation?


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