so the fish said...
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Hey! I forgot the title!

I have a freelance client that owes me money. As in, we have a signed contract that says they will pay me x amount by no later than x date, and after a more than patient time after that date had elapsed I sent an email saying I hadn't received a check and could they please verify the date sent and mailing address and six days after that email, which was now two full weeks past the contractually-obligated pay-by date, I sent a follow up email and finally got a response that said oh, we can't find your paperwork, could you send it to us again?

Um, excuse me? You couldn't find my paperwork two weeks ago and so decided to just not pay me and also decided to not let me know about the lost paperwork? Were you hoping I wouldn't notice?

If they were otherwise the perfect client, I might be more inclined to say ah well, these things happen sometimes. But instead they are the client that asks for additional unpaid work with unreasonable deadlines and that has a content management system that makes me lose the will to live every time I have to use it and that represents the lowest-paying job I have accepted since graduating college. On the other hand, the work is far from difficult (I was going to say that it was easy money, but since you are apparently required to both work and beg for your money I changed my mind) and while Chris and I are doing fine, in this economy it feels foolish to walk away from any paying job.

So, presuming that the check actually arrives and is for the appropriate amount and doesn't bounce like an india-rubber ball (bonus points to the first person to catch that dorky reference),

Comments (27)

It it from the Bee Man?

Why do I not see your grossly inappropriate tweets? Want! ;)

I have a similar situation. And for the same reason you listed (bad economy and the money finally comes) I keep working with them. But I have withheld work before until I had been notified that my check was in the mail - and not just proverbially so. I hate to do it, but I work in good faith so therefore they should pay me, darn it!

Hope you get paid soon!

Don't quit yet, but require payment up front, or hold the work until paid as Allison suggested. I have a similar situation, and am still holding an order--it's been 3 months! At least I have something to resell. Good luck!

It doesn't sound worth the trouble for you, but there is probably someone else out there who needs the income and is perfectly willing to take the extra steps with the company to get it. So I'd say let the job go if it's creating frustration for you... you have enough to keep track of and it might be a better fit for someone else.

I'm actually going through this with one of my company's MAJOR vendors. Our accounting department just isn't getting it done fast enough, though by all means we INTEND to pay and the ball is rolling. I would hate to lose a reliable and excellent vendor because of acct stupidity.

So stick around - if it becomes a HABIT, then I'd say, walk.

india rubber ball - A A Milne poem about bad King John.

and personally - I don't think that client's worth the worry.

Can I follow you on twitter? Is that how to ask? It just sounds so...stalkerish. I have been lurking here reading your blog since, oh, 2006, when one morning I was up and online at 4AM and mad at my child (who is about 5 months older than Mia)and was trying to figure out WHY OH WHY my child would not sleep (as if there's a reason--I know that now).

When I was first self employed I came across this sort of person of often, you just know that they are going to be difficult, untrustworthy and so not worth the stress from the very first dealing with them, and so I don't deal with them anymore. If I come across a new customer like that then I give them my highest standard of work (like usual, and if only to satisfy myself) but wash my hands of them as soon as politely possible. Yes it loses me money but no amount of money is worth the stress and lost sleep they cause me!

I would never ever send out my finished craft unless the payment has cleared first, just like you wouldn't walk out of a shop with an item of clothing or whatever while waving to the cashier 'the cheque is in the post!', you have every right to ask for the money - or at least a deposit - upfront first.

I would inform them of a newly instituted late payment charge in the future.

I voted for the 2nd option, but I hardly give people second chances, anyway!

I want to see the Tweets, dammit. (I am singularmoment on there)

I voted the "forget about it for now" option.

I am also delurking to say hi! I'm Sam. I've been reading your blog since Mia was about Owen's age (I know, I should have said something sooner) and thought it was about time I said something :-)

Your children are beautiful, and look so happy in the pictures!

This unfortunately has happened to me a lot as a freelance musician and I agree with Michelle's comment. A late charge or non refundable deposit works wonders for future interactions.

I would send them the paperwork and a formal letter/email about revised conditions regarding future late payments or paying at the time of delivery, etc.

This could be a simple mistake (e.g., the person has too much work and is all over the place) or it could be them trying to delay payment as much as possible.

I chose the "give them this one chance" option. It sounds like they're really dumb and are trying to cover their dumbness; too soon to say if they're actually EVIL instead of dumb. If they did it again, I'd dump them.

I'd just quit. Life is short, and these people aren't worth the stress.

No, isn't the 'india rubber ball' reference from Robert Louis Stevenson's "My Shadow?"

I do freelance too, and I've been stiffed on a huge bill before. I would recommend more formal contracts, and having a lawyer friend (Internet reader) send a letter in legal letterhead to them if it happens again.

Okay I cheated and googled your india-rubber ball. The first hit seemed so appropriate to be the possible source. King John's Christmas? I would think Pooh's poetry is more likely to be ringing in your head these days.

Two words: "Late Fees". I have a few clients that this is an issue for and I sent out a memo stating that I would be charging such and such for any payments that were not made by the agreed upon date. I lost one client (good riddance) but the others stepped up. I think in this climate they think they can get away with it.

Here's hoping the cheque arrives without delay!

Really? I'm surprised so many people said forget it. I used to freelance, and I just wouldn't be able to deal with that, had it ever happened. Which it didn't, because even though I worked with cash-poor non-profits, they at least had some professionalism and respect for those they hired.

I love how now all sorts of misery is now justified because "in this economy" you have to put up with it (not just you, I've been seeing it everywhere). Look at the bigger picture -- in this *life,* you only have so many hours to waste on jobs like these.

Hold the work until you get paid, then implement a late payment fee of around 10%. Just because you and Chris are "fine" doesn't mean that you should have to wait for your hard earned money, no matter what the sum is.

If it happens again, take the money and run. It doesn't sound like they appreciate the extra effort they demand you put in anyway - why waste your time on someone like that when there's probably someone wonderful waiting for your skills?

Quit, unless it's really good money and you and Chris aren't doing that good as you want us to believe. In that case: tell us you quit but turn around and beg them for more work.

I read this recently and it about sums it up:
Never Work for Assholes by Derek Powazek
http://powazek.com/posts/1733

I think this kind of thing is pretty common in the business world--entire departments are dedicated to handling this sort of thing, you know? But if I were working by myself to earn some cash on the side and the pay wasn't that great and they have jerked you around about things other than the pay, I would just let them go. I just don't think the stress it causes would be worth it.

I have a 6th option for you: forget it this time but next time let them know that your accountant/bookkeeper (how do they know it's actually you, right?) is now requiring a 50% deposit at the start of each project that will be deducted from your final invoice. That way, you'll be able to stop working if there is an issue and not lose money on the time you've already put in.

Good luck! Freelancing can be great but it does suck sometimes, doesn't it?

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So the Fish Said...

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