I am often asked to assist web designers and other creative professionals who have not been paid for work produced for a customer. The designer is often left with no reward for his hard work, while the customer has the benefit of a completed product.

There are a few practical steps that a designer can take to prevent this from happening. For example a web designer may ensure that a website under construction remains on the development server and is only uploaded to the host server once payment has been received.

The customer can view the site on the development server as necessary. A graphic designer may make designs available to the customer for evaluation in low resolution versions only, until he has been paid his due.

These are valid and useful methods to ensure payment.

Enter the contract. Although it is often the last thing on a designer’s mind when dealing with a customer, getting a contract signed with the customer is of the utmost importance. It does not have to be a 30 page tome, but it must deal with certain important terms.

Designers worry that by insisting on a contract they are giving the customer the impression that they do not trust the customer. The truth is that having a contract in place introduces an element of certainty to the relationship.

If the designer uses a standard agreement for all customers, there is no reason for any one customer to feel that he is being victimised or distrusted by the designer.

While a good contract will cover many aspects of the relationship between designer and customer, two things that must be included to ensure payment.

Firstly, the work that is to be delivered must be clearly described. It is not necessary to be so specific that the description is a shade less detailed than the final work itself, but it must be clear what the designer will be delivering to the customer.

Secondly, the contract must state clearly that copyright ownership in any works created by the designer for the customer will remain with the designer until the customer has paid the designer’s fee in full.

If the designer follows this approach, he can deny the customer the use of the work until the fee is paid in full, even if the customer manages to get a copy.