Friday, November 9, 2007

Why They Won't Pay: Crazy Client Excuses

I've been on a kick lately about late-paying clients. I'm currently chasing one down right now, and just finalized payments from two others last week. The score so far is Me: 2, Late-Payers: 1. I'm still waiting on that one straggler.

Anyway, all this waiting and chasing has inspired me to write down some of the most annoying excuses I've had--or heard from other writers--on why clients won't pay.

We've decided we're not going to use it. It astonishes me how often people assume that because they've decided they don't want to use your work, they don't have to pay you. This is pretty common in print--and I've ranted about it before--but in copywriting and web writing (and in my business practices, generally), it's not too common. And it shouldn't be, in my opinion; it's exploitative and it gives clients far too much power.

I actually have had a client tell me he'd decided he wasn't going to use something I wrote for him, and expect some sort of discount. Maybe he was a magazine editor in a former life. Anyway, I pointed out that since there was no kill fee clause in the contract, he was liable for the whole amount.

We had to have someone else rewrite it. This hasn't ever happened to me, but I've heard of people telling writers that because the copy came through with so many grammatical errors, they had to actually hire someone else to rework the writing--and then they took the amount out of the writer's pay check. If this happened to me, I think I'd have a good case in small claims court. I'd bring in my client's original directions so I can show how I followed orders and delivered what they asked for, plus the copy I handed in so that I can show that it's error-free. I think that it wouldn't necessarily come to that, but knowing that I had a good case would give me the confidence to bring out the big guns and threaten litigation if necessary.

We can't pay you til our clients pay us. I've had to tell a client before that the contract states "payment due within 30 days of invoice date" regardless of their financial situation. It's amazing how many times I've heard people using this excuse. It's not like I can tell my landlord that since my client didn't pay me, I don't have to pay rent on the first of the month. In my opinion, this excuse shows a clear disrespect of freelancers and I've been known to get irate when I hear it.

The check's in the mail. No, the check is never in the mail. I've had a client who was months late on payment swear up and down that she sent the check out the minute the invoice touched her desk. When I told her I never got it, she made a big show of checking to see if it had cleared her bank account--and then had the nerve to subtract $20 from my payment for the cost of cancelling the "original" check which never existed.

Oh, that's not my department. You need to contact billing. Except "billing" doesn't exist. The runaround is definitely frustrating, especially when the person your client tells you to email doesn't get back to you. I usually wait a few days after emailing nonexistent billing departments, then send a firm email to the client that the billing department never replied and that I expect him to take care of it, or I'll have to ask my lawyer to get involved--depending on how long it's been since I've invoiced.

The vast majority of clients I've worked with have paid within a reasonable amount of time. Of the late-payers (knock on wood), I've always gotten paid eventually. Excuses might infuriate you at the time--but when the check clears, you'll start laughing.


Harry said...

Wow. For a while there I thought we were the only ones who heard these excuses. The rewrites one is the worst of them, especially when you know the article was flawless when you sent it out. Great post, thanks!

Anonymous said...

How about clients who just disappear into the sunset? No email response, no phone call return... gone. Vanished. Without a trace.

With the goods, of course.

Jennifer Williamson said...

I think these are hazards of the industry--if you're in business for a short amount of time, the crazies eventually start to show up. I've never had an Incredible Disappearing Client before, but it may be just luck.

Anonymous said...

I have a strange on now - he doesn't want to pay for the work I gave him, because he wants more new unrelated work finished first. Yeah right, I'm going to do another project just so I can maybe get paid for the last 2 projects. More likely I'll just get more screwed.

Jennifer Williamson said...

Yeah, I'd definitely be telling this client you can't proceed with new work until the old work is paid for.

Steve sculpts critters said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Savvy Fashionista said...

Hi there:
I ran across this post and I related so much to it that I had to write to let you know. I am currently dealing with the client, who did not know what they wanted in the first place and now everything is a mess. She actually contracted me to write a business plan for her and like an over-eager bunny, I said yes. I provide business consulting to many small businesses, have written plans and proposal so I was (and still am :-) well qualified to do the work.

A process that normally takes me no longer than 3-4 months stretched into over 12 months. That should have been my first sign. Finally sick of the slow responses, the "not listening" and back and forth, I let the client know that we needed to finalize things and keep it moving. She comes back to me to let me know that she has, yet again, another location change (those who have written business plans know that changes like that require major re-writes). When I told her as such, and as a result more fees would be incurred, the tone of the relationship changed, and she really did not want to pay the remaining balance. Long story short we were able to come to some type of agreement and I thought I was done. WRONG. She emails me today- stating that she had it reviewed by a volunteer at a small biz clinic...and the feedback was not good. SIGH. Lo and behold, the "feedback" provided by the volunteer is everything that I have been stating to her over the course of our working relationship.

One thing I find about some novice entrepreneurs is that they do not understand that business planning is a process and that it is the process and not the plan that is most valuable. This woman is has the nerve to come back again asking for concessions. Enough is Enough. It is not my fault that you-the client- refused to read your own plan or heed my advice about timing. Man, I have learned so so so many lessons in dealing with this one client. To the point, that I will no longer write business plans for folks. I will review, critique and edit, but only if you provide me with already written plan, and only if you have gone through some type of entrepreneurial training so that I can guarantee that you get it.

Coming across your blog and reading some of your postings, has confirmed that I am not the one with the issue. I stand by my work because it is good work, and the client is just going to have to deal with it because our contract is complete. I really hate having to write the cease and desist letters!!!!