2 years or so ago I took on a client that seemed like a dream: a US based non-profit organization that needed someone to do basic web updates to their site on a monthly basis. Without getting a chance to haggle on a price, they had a monthly payment on the table at a “too high to believe” range for just basic text updates. And the gig payed US dollars. Who would say no? I got the keys to the site that week. I did a few updates and fired off invoices like a good little chap to the organization’s treasurer in NYC.
The invoices were being paid in a moderately timely manner at first and then 6 months into our business relationship, the cheques stopped coming regularly. The Toronto contact woman seemed nice enough and came recommended from a mutual client/friend so I didn’t bother creating a contract for the work in the beginning. Bad. A few emails to the contact here in town with CC’s to the NYC woman with the checkbook would get the cheques going again but it was the same story for the next 6 months. I suddenly could see how the previous webmaster walked away from this golden goose.
My requests seemed like nagging after a while and they seemed to irritate the Toronto contact. To quote her after once complaining to her via phone: “You know, the people from this organization are doing this on their own time, it’s volunteer, so she doesn’t have the cheque book out all the time.” Well… I do this for a living. I expect payment when payment is due like any unconditional transaction. But I didn’t say that. I’m way too nice, or spineless.
After a year of this, I quit. Last fall I handed in my resignation to the board in NYC via email and then got frantic call from the Toronto contact. We talked and she smoothed things out, promising that the invoices would be paid when received, no need for terms. I didn’t believe it for a minute but gave her the benefit of the doubt.
At this point I should have walked away, kids. Getting re-involved with this organization without anything in writing was just plain stupid on my part. I’ve bolded that to remind me that I’ve broken the first rule of professional freelance work. Get. It. In. Writing.
I restarted working for them and I got paid promptly from NYC. Once. The cheques came in sporatically after that, up until March. My last two updates are still outstanding to this date.
After careful consideration I sent yet another resignation email just after my last update in May which resulted in an “I’m so dissapointed in you” email from the Toronto contact. I guess if you have a job that you wish to leave for whatever reason, you should stay with your employer and continue to be their bitch and like it. The Toronto contact insisted that since I was leaving them in such a lurch before their next update, I should be doing their next update for June. Thirty to fourty-five days before the next update is a “lurch”? I imagined her stomping her foot like a spoiled child as she typed “lurch”. I cringed at the thought of still having them on my desktop but thought about the money from the outstanding work and agreed to the final update.
It wasn’t a huge amount they owed me but it was the principal of the thing. Come on… I did the work, why shouldn’t I expect to be paid in a promised timely manner? For every passing day without word or cheque, I was donning the armor for a crusade. A crusade for every freelance designer out there who has been admonished by their remiss clients.
I waited for the June update to arrive. Nothing. Remember, dear readers that as of June 01, 2006 I had heard nothing from them for over 60 days and their invoices sat staring back at me, dividing me between guilt and anger just by their exsistance on my hard drive. I fired off a couple emails to the NYC contact asking for payment. I got an autoresponder and one short “soon… soon…” then… silence. Nothing through my mail slot. This morning, I go to their site and find the June update completed sometime this weekend by their new webmaster, I suppose.
My last email to both NYC and Toronto contacts was thus:
I see that your site is being updated by a new webmaster so you are up and running again which indicates that you are able to close my account. Unfortunately my repeated request for payment (or even some indication of when I could expect
payment) are going unanswered which is putting me in a difficult position.
If you do not respond to my email or get in contact with me today, I will be forced to take action. Canadian Contact Lady*, please email me or call me today on my cell. If I haven’t heard from you by 5pm today I will be considering legal action towards your organization.
I know that going after a US-based non-profit organization for a sum under $500CAD would be laughed at but it was the only “legal” threat I could make. I had fantasized about removing the unpaid work I had done but that would result in certain cyber-tresspassing issues since I wasn’t really their webmaster anymore. They haven’t changed the FTP codes, something I am sure will come back an bite me in the ass if they are hacked in the near future. I did request that they changed them as soon as I quit since I didn’t want that responsibility, but that, like the rest of my emails, have fallen into deaf inboxes. No. I’m not so petty to vandalize a site. Realistically I could go Small Claims on the Canadian contact, since she is the organization’s representative here in our lovely country and listed on the site’s Board of directors page. If anything I could disrupt her busy schedule to lose a couple hours of work in dealing with me as recompense for my lost time, but would probably only see 1/3rd of that after court fees.
Back to the story: In response, I get two emails back this morning. From the NYC contact:
Your payment was been (sic) sent. You should receiveit (sic) sometime this week.
Always the perfunctory response from NYC.
But the best was from the Toronto contact who decided that going a different route to comment on my email was far more professional:
What are you…an idiot? First of all, no one sues someone for $400 moron. And considering that you left us in the lurch with next to no notice to find a replacement, you’re lucky you’re getting paid at all. You hysterical behaviour and the tome of this email is insulting, rude and very unprofessional. And I for one won’t hesitate to dissuade anyone on this side of the border from working with you ever again.
(Too many “sic” to note. Trust me, it’s a pure cut-n-paste.)
Punch “define: tome” into Google and the first thing you get is:
Denotes medium sized cheeses with great rustic character usually made in the mountains
So… I’m hysterically upset, sending out rustic cheese emails because I haven’t been fairly paid for work that I did. This long rant may prove the first part, granted. But the last part has me confused. A rustic cheese? Apparently I had hit a nerve!
I spent a while reading and re-reading that email and thank my lucky stairs I don’t have to deal with this organization ever again. Especially the Toronto contact woman who certainly knows how to professionaly scold the people she owes money to.
But Ted! Where is the ironic ending to such a rant, I hear you ask? Thanks for asking, here it is: The site that I was working on and not getting paid for was for an organized group of communication specialists.
Yeah. Go back and check out their spelling. I wonder, with all the spelling mistakes I do on this blog, if I could join their organization?