When Good Clients Go Bad

Personal Bits, Work

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.

*(name changed)

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?

10 thoughts on “When Good Clients Go Bad

  1. Pingback: Dead Robot » Dead Robot

  2. M Healey

    There’s a theatre company in Spokane that did very well out of the Drawer Boy a year a go, and won’t pay. Won’t even respond to email or phone messages. Still in business, just not responding. I looked up the head of their board, and bugged her at work. She was appalled, but nothing’s happened.

    It’s not a lot of money, but I feel like flying there and just showing up at the theatre. Nothing is freaky-making like not being respected.

  3. Dead Robot

    Judging by the names they drew in for panel speakers that passed by my desk when I did site updates, I am pretty sure they’re not hurting for cash. Hence my hysterical tome.

    I will not name them. Not unless I have to. Sit tight. The cheque isn’t cashed yet.

  4. Furface

    While a fine cheese can have a certain rapport bad business manners just stink.

    I think you should let everyone know just who you are talking about and see how much not-for-profit they get from the publicity.

    I bet that their CEO got paid on time and if they are like some of our NFP outfits they are probably unionized paying their regular staff ridiculous salaries in the “pulbic good” while poor talented web-slingers like you have to fight tooth and nail………

    Who is screwing you?

  5. Dead Robot

    Thanks Dan. I didnt see that part about including the fees when I was investigating. I’ll take that into consideration if I have to.

    Anyway, by the Toronto Contact’s email I bet you can judge what our conversations were like. I have 2yrs of emails to back that up. Regardless, I’m glad to be done of her.

    After this I am going down to one freelance client only, one I have been working with for 6 years now, so there’s an established rapport.

    Wait… is rapport a strong cheese?

  6. Dan

    “What are you…an idiot? First of all, no one sues someone for $400 moron.”

    IANAL, but that’s basically what small claims court is for. Also, you can include your court costs (filing fees) in your claim. The biggest question is whether it’s worth your time.

    Your invoices and records make it easy. Your email log of their various sundry comments make things even easier.


  7. daryl

    this sucks. and it’s the same way with my art/writing stuff. i only _just_ got a cheque today for a print that sold like a year ago from this gallery. incidentally i found out about the sale by googling myself and finding a blog where the buyer wrote about the piece. the person at the gallery didn’t even remember selling it. all this stuff is totally like being in an abusive relationship. i mean, you want to give them the benefit of doubt, but at some point you just have to say no. but i always go back for more….

    again, not so long ago i had to hound hound hound to get payment for an article I wrote. the paper was taken over by someone else and my contact’s email and phone message were still active(!) long after she was gone. sadly, she never mentioned this little tidbit to me, or thought to pass along my invoices.

    these kinds of things especially suck when working with people who are non-profit or places that are only scraping by themselves, then again when you get this mess it’s kind of no wonder they are only scraping by. at least i can take a perverse kind of comfort in knowing other people have to do this same harping routine to chase down $$$.

  8. SharkBoy

    What if by mistake you would have replied to the NYC contact thanking her for sending the payment and at the same time copying the Toronto contact’s response? I’m not sure NYC would approved of Toronto’s “communication” skills… She’d probably be shocked to see that she pays this Toronto “communicator” such large amount of money to use words like idiot and moron when she could be using more literary words such as nincompoop, ownshook, omadawn, schlemiel, dullard, bungler, imbecile, cretin, mental defective, blunderbuss, clod, palooka, lummox, twerp, dotard or muttonhead.
    Unless she’s a volunteer, then it’s acceptable.

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