Luckily for me, ForInsite is blessed with what I refer to as the best clients in the world! Many of them have become friends and mean a lot more to me than just the label of a "client". However every once in a blue moon this happens....
I have been in business for a long time and other business owners and independent consultants have asked me about what to do when their clients that have not paid them or shorted them on a contract agreement? By talking to them, it is easy to see they are extremely angry and showing hostility. This is very unfortunate, but there are many scammers and dishonest people out there that would not think twice about taking advantage of you. Once upon a time a used to get very upset, down right obsessed with the fact that a client ripped me off or didn’t come clean with a contract agreement. Luckily for me, this has only happened a couple times in the last 10 years, but still, It is hard not to take it personally as it is an indirect way of saying your work and time is not important or I don’t value you enough to respect you!
These types of clients will try every excuse in the book from:
- “I found something much cheaper,
- “this price is crazy” (after the fact they agreed to the price)
- “it didn’t meet my expectations”
- Business is slow right now so I can't pay you
- I need to see a copy of the contract (when you know they have one because they signed it)
or whatever they can think of to justify why they shouldn’t have to pay you. In the end, remember this “They agreed to the terms at the beginning so there is no excuse not to pay you!” PERIOD.
What can you do to protect yourself?
- Never work without a written and signed contract! NEVER! Be sure that your contract clearly includes all the deliverables and payment terms. If on monthly services, be sure to put the duration of service agreement and when each payment is due.
- Take a 50% deposit. If a client has a problem with this then walk. You are going to get screwed! Trust me from experience! It is a relationship, half your risk and half theirs. They take a risk of losing 50% by you not doing the work and you take 50% of the risk of doing the entire job and not getting paid the last 50%. Sure they can argue that if they don’t pay the second 50% you just don’t deliver the work, but that doesn’t change the fact that you put in all the time and did all the work which you would not get paid for. You would still be out if they didn’t come clean on the second 50%.
- Credit Check – Look into if there have ever been payment issues before. Credit Bureau, Better Business Bureau, Equifax etc.
- Duration of business – If their business is a start-up. It is a pay as you go approach. Don’t let credit pile up. If money doesn’t flow, production stops. When money flows, production starts up again. This should be the practice until a trusted relationship is formed.
- Keep a watch on account activity – keep track of the number of declined credit card payments, late cheques, how often you have to chase money. These are warning signs! The more frequent this happens the more you need to consider replacing this client with a more respectful one.
What to do once it is too late?
Chasing money is a very maddening feeling. In fact, I stopped dealing with it all together as it consumed way to much negative energy that only prevented forward progression with my business. I let the pros deal with it now and so should you! Don’t focus on it, as it will only hurt you.
Trust me, those clients will quickly come to wish they would have not ignored you and just worked it out with you when they had the chance.
- Play by the rules - Send them 3 invoices spread out over 90 days. They will ignore you... so expect it! Be sure that you also send letters with the second and final invoice stating that they are behind in their payments and that you want to be paid in FULL. Once the 90 days goes by, then your proceed to step 2.
- Establish a relationship with a reputable and effective collections agency. These guys are trained to squeeze in the right places. They are ruthless and will pester and hound to the end of time. They will call week after week until one goes insane. Simply sell the file to them. By file, I mean the signed contract, all documentation of bounced credit card records, bounced cheques, late payment notices, email notices by you as well as all the deliverables you provided your “X” client. They will handle the mark on their credit Bureau, filing to the better business Bureau and driving your “X” client crazy for the next 5 years. Remember these guys are connected to all the credit agencies and bureau's across the country and have the ability to create a lot of bad marks for a delinquent payer. Plus once you hand it off to them, it is no longer your affair to deal with.
- Make it public – Nobody wants to deal with a company or identity that are known to be a bunch of scammers so letting the next guy aware of what they may be dealing with is a public service in my opinion. If you have been ripped off, I would be happy to know about it so it doesn't happen to me! Social media posts, public blogging systems, open forum boards can reach thousands of viewers. Facebook, twitter, Google +, Tumblr are powerful agents of messaging. There are several tools out there that allow you to post to dozens of Social media sites with one single post which hundreds of thousands of people have access to.
- Google search – Imagine finding a one page website properly indexed in Google revealing that you don’t pay your bills with all the documentation proving it… NOT GOOD!
- Hire a Lawyer - If it is for a significant amount of money (in the thousands) you may want to consult hiring a lawyer. For me anything over 3/4 thousand, I pass to my lawyer as well as doing the steps above.
Remember this, if you decide to use public options as a means to collect payments, you should consult with a lawyer first. We have the right to freedom of speech and freedom of knowledge in Canada and USA, however, slander is illegal. For that reason:
- Don’t embellish the truth or say anything that is untrue because you are angry. Stick to the facts! And the facts that you can prove. A signed contract, your deliverables, bounced payments, declined credit card records and late payment notices. If any half-truths or lies exist that could cause harm, you may find yourself sitting in the hot seat.
- Don’t let your emotions get you. When we are angry, we tend to give opinions…. Don’t! Opinions are slanderous. Only post straight facts..
- xxxxx are jerks, assholes etc.
- xxxxx are unethical
- If you do business with xxxxx, you will get screwed
- I wouldn't trust xxxxxxx if I were you
These are all subjective statements and could be considered slanderous, but easy to say when we are angry!
- I didn’t get paid by xxxxxxx or I didn’t get paid in full by xxxxxxx
- I did xxxxxx work for xxxxxx….
- I was owned $xxxxx
- I didn’t get paid this amount $xxxxxxx.
- Here is the documentation evidence to back up my claim xxxxxxx .
- The contract was for xxxxx months. I only got paid for xxxx months
- They shorted me by xxxxx according to the contract that xxxxxx signed
All factual, with documented proof which is not slander, it is freedom of speech. People are smart enough to draw the conclusions themselves, you don't need to spell out they are jerks.
- Don’t use their logo… It is trademarked… Only the name of the company in plain black text. Don’t even use their corporate colors. If you are going to use an image only use an image of an "upset business man" or a "not paid" graphic that is generic and has nothing to do with you "x" clients business.
People will find out if you turn to public avenues, but if you are truthful and stick to the facts and don’t offer opinions and say nasty things, then it is their own fault that they decided to rip you off and got publicly called out on it. However, you get out of line with your public postings, it can quickly turn your fault if there are damages. STAY PROFESSIONAL!
Spend your half hour and do what you have to do, then pass it on to professionals to deal with which will take the time and negative energy out of your hair. Then move on and never look back. Rather than spending the time dwelling, take that energy and get a new client that appreciates you and will have a long term, great relationship with you. Even if you don't get any of your money, have at least a bit satisfaction knowing that by handing the file off to the pro’s and having the power of the viral web, they will spend time and money just putting out ongoing fires that will continually pop up while at the same time potentially lose business prospects without even knowing it. I myself have seen postings like this on the web by other people and I would not buy from those companies. How would I be treated as a customer if there is unethical business practices behind the scenes? Makes you think twice.