Don’t Start Until the Check Clears the Bank

Since I’ve been on the topic of retainers and business, I thought I’d quickly address another important topic. Don’t start any work until the check clears the bank. As I mentioned yesterday, you may have already invested a lot of time and energy into this client prior to them signing. Now that you’ve got the gig, in general you should not start work on it until they send a payment and it clears. You also should not change any other plans (personal or otherwise) until payment is received. This isn’t being mean or unreasonable.

I’ll never forget the time my first year in business. A client “booked” me but hadn’t paid yet. I canceled a show my wife and I were planning to attend the same night as this person’s event. Well, lo and behold, they changed their mind and it was too late for me to get any more tickets for that show. I was not a happy camper. Since then, I can’t tell you all the times I’ve spent cultivating a potential gig, where the clients says, “Yes, we’re going to hire you,” and they never do. Imagine if I turned away other business, or canceled other family trips, etc., just because someone tells me they’re going to hire me. If someone is serious about hiring you, they need to show that. It’s perfectly okay for you to run your business that way.

It’s important to communicate too. Make sure they understand up front that payment is required for a date or gig to be officially booked, and until that time, someone else could potentially come in and grab that date.

Now of course there may be exceptions. These are not hard and fast rules. And don’t be a jerk about it.  There may very well be times when your confidence level of the client actually paying and hiring you is high enough that you feel okay making plans to fit their gig. Or, the caliber of the client may be such that it’s worth taking the chance. If Bono’s people called me up to direct U2’s next surprise roof top music video but they weren’t 100% sure about whether or not it was going to happen, I’d find a way to move events on my schedule to be available, retainer be damned.. 🙂

7 thoughts on “Don’t Start Until the Check Clears the Bank

  1. Great advice for newcomers. Old geezers like me have had that happen many times. I was informed I’d be shooting a wedding January 1, 2011 2 months ago but still no contract! I even did 2 hours of shooting at their engagement party a few days after being chosen as their photographer but they forgot to bring the contract with them. Groom assured me it would be mailed next day. One week later called to say it was being sent the next day. That was 6 weeks ago. BTW, the venue was changed too. I am plannig on something other than shooting their wedding on New Years day!

  2. good advice as always, ron.

    I would also add, “don’t spend the money in your head that you don’t yet have in your hand.”

    1. Excellent advice yourself Mr. Jones. Unfortunately, far too many aspiring filmmakers and photographers do just that each day thanks to good ol’ Mr. Visa and Mr. MasterCar and Mr. AmEx. But, that’s a soapbox for another post.

  3. Good advice Ron.

    In the good old days, we used to talk about how there were only two kinds of business deals:
    Signed and unsigned.

    Now it’s Paid and Unpaid 🙂

    Another good reason to get the SQUARE app (or equivalent) for your iPhone, to at least get the 50% upfront fee upon signing of the service agreement, while in your last meeting with the customer. It’s a great way to also resolve any issues if they are unwilling to pay the retainer at that moment.

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