If it’s any help I work like this: I take on about two bespoke builds a month (my templates take less than a day to knock out so I take as many of those as I can). Typically I book bespoke work 2 months in advance. To book a slot the client must pay 50% of the estimate (not a quote, an estimate) up front. Then once the work is started and about 50% complete they pay the balance. I make no exceptions. Typically, this 50% completed point means the site structure, design and navi system is done, it’s just the content to add.
Sure, I don’t get some gigs, as some won’t pay up front, but I see these clients as people who don’t value and respect what I do and who will most likely be bad payers anyway, so no lose.
Of my stalled projects, of the ones that have only got half way (ie. only half the estimate has been paid) I’m pretty sure it’s for financial reasons that it’s stalled. Some of these clients paid their first instalment in Oct/Nov last year, and now have run out of money.
What’s odd is the two that are fully paid up but not supplying me the content.
But yes, NEVER start work without some money up front. Ever.