How to prevent file downloads until your invoice is paid


Eventually we all run into a difficult client on this freelance journey. It’s honestly (and thankfully) rare for me, but it still happens.

Recently, I hit a bump in the road when I delivered an eBook file only to have the client disappear.

I delivered the file for review before final payment. I did that because it was one of our milestones on the way to completing a larger project. 

I thought I had done everything right:

  • We had a signed contract on file.

  • The client paid a downpayment of 50% of the project estimate

  • I clearly communicated what our next steps would be after I received final approval

After I delivered the eBook, though, the client went silent. I sent a few emails only to get no reply. Then I decided to pivot and sent an invoice for the work completed until that point. A few times.

A few weeks later, I received a payment from the client. But my emails were never answered. I'm still not sure what went wrong.

Even though I eventually got paid, this got me thinking - how will I prevent this in the future?

Most of the tools I’d heard of are for this are for photographers. (Like, PhotoShelter.) But I hadn’t heard much talk, or given much thought, to how to share things like PDFs and social media graphics. All while still protecting yourself. 

Even though I hope you don’t find yourself in a similar position, here are a few free/cheap options if you do:

1) Watermark it!

Let your client download the file, but give them incentive to pay their invoice by adding a watermark. You might find it helpful to add the watermark to the middle of the doc - that way it can’t be cropped out easily. This could be as simple as the word “DRAFT” or it could have your name or URL written out. Canva or PicMonkey (affiliate link) will get this done for free.

2) Google Docs

You can do this really simply in Google Docs, you just need to go into the advanced sharing settings. Here’s how:

  • After you upload your file to Google Docs, right click on it. 

  • Select the Share option

  • Click Advanced in the bottom right corner

  • Under “invite people”, type in your client’s email address. 

  • Change the dropdown option from “can edit” to “can view”

  • Under Owner Settings, click the checkbox for the option to “disable options to download”

  • Click send

That’s it! The client will be able to view the file, but they won’t be able to download. 

(Pro tip: In the advanced settings screen, be sure to check your settings under “who has access”. I often set it to “anyone with the link” can view.)


This is a paid alternative, but for good reason. It lets you upload your client’s final product (up to 50GB), and links to your PayPal. You tell Fileship how much your client should pay and it only releases the file when the money is received. The links expire in 7 days. (But if that doesn’t motivate the client to move quickly, you can just upload it again.)

Fileship takes 4% of the payment, plus you’ll still pay PayPal’s fee. So there’s definitely a cost associated with this, but it’s a good option for specific situations.

+ OPTION 4...Pancake

I'm adding this in at the bottom here because it's not a inexpensive option (to start with). You pay a one-time fee, rather than an ongoing monthly cost. In the long run, this may be something to look in if you're in the market for a comprehensive system. Pancake offers a lot - project management, invoicing and time tracking. And it offers the option to, of course, hold on to your final product until you receive payment.

I’d love to hear from you. How do you protect yourself when sending deliverables to clients? Have you run into a similar problem yet? What did you do?


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