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‘Pay Me... Or Else!’: How To Deal With Non-Paying Clients
By Lior Frenkel, 30 Apr 2015
This story is contributed by Lior Frenkel, founder of nuSchool. He partnered with Webydo, a code-free web design platform to write a book about helping freelance web designers deal with difficult clients.
Two years ago I made myself a promise: Never again would I pour my blood, sweat and tears into a project only to come up shortchanged in the end. I would never allow a client to screw me over again.
You see, I’m a freelancer building websites, and for six months I busted my ass for my client, Mr. Sinister, AKA the man who was so excited about my work, and who got me so thrilled about building him a website, only to completely disappear once the work was done and the invoice submitted. Instead of hiring a hitman I decided to learn and try everything possible in order to get paid on time by my clients.
I started looking around for ways to avoid this situation. I asked experienced creatives for advice, I read every 101 freelance book. I even came up with a few ideas myself—and then I tried everything I had learned: it worked like magic and it still does for every new project I take.
As a result, I took all of it and put it into a book –– a guide for creative professionals on how to get paid on time by your clients. After putting it together I decided to talk to the good folks at Webydo about helping me get the word out about the book. Their huge community of freelance web designers and agencies is exactly the kind of people I want to reach.
What’s in the book?
It isn’t about clients from hell, even though they certainly play a role. Consider it my playbook for getting paid. If you’ve been in the freelance design business long enough, it’s fair to assume this has happened to you.
You completed contracts, clarified specifications, and delivered what was expected – on time and to completion.
You have fulfilled your end of the bargain. But now, you’re stuck with a difficult client who doesn’t even have the courtesy of paying you on time, or even worse - responding to your e-mails. Not even the last one, which your lawyer sent. Pretty much anyone in the creative freelancing field has had to deal with this at least once in their careers. In fact, 8 out of every 10 freelancers have had a client refuse to pay.
While doing my research, I realized that it seems to happen more frequently to certain people, and almost never to others, which led me to ask why this is the case and if this is something we can control?
Are there actions you can take in order to decrease the possibility of a client skipping out on their final invoice? I hear those stories all the time from my creative friends, and I think we should unite, as a community of freelancers, and stand as one against all those horrible, non-paying, clients.
Why Won't You Pay Me?
First, we need to understand what’s going on in our client’s head. As a project manager, I’ve hired many freelancers designers and developers throughout the years. So I know what it’s like to be on the other side of the inbox. Apparently most of the times you did not get paid were not due to pure evil, but because of many other, unforeseeable reasons. For example, when your client isn’t happy about your work. We have all been in this position: Faced with paying for a service that we don’t feel was what we paid for.
Maybe it was a bad haircut, or trying to determine what to tip a bad waitress. The point is, not wanting to pay because you don’t feel as though you are getting what you paid for is a normal reaction that most people experience at least a few times in their lives. The problem is, judging creative work on that spectrum is fairly subjective. If my refrigerator breaks, I call for a technician.
From there, it is very easy for me to decide if he did his job or not. If the fridge can cool down my beers and cheese - he fixed it. He deserves a fair payment.
Creative work is unlike fixing a refrigerator. There is no standard way to measure whether the work is done or not. If we can put ourselves in our clients’ heads, it becomes easier to understand what is happening. Which not only allows us to come up with a solution, it also helps to prevent the issues in the first place. Your clients might not be happy with your work if you haven’t communicated what you’re doing to them well enough, or if they don’t trust you or your creative professionalism.
Covering Your Ass: From Start to Finish
I learned a lot about the things you should do both before and during a project. Simple habits you can grow that will make your life easy. Here are some examples:
- Before the project starts you need to pick the right clients for you, and avoid the ones that raise a red flag in your mind - the Cheapskate, the Man With A Dream, the Lawyer in the Making and the one I personally avoid the most - the Needy one.
- You must have a great contract. Not one that will help you win a court but rather will help you avoid ever ending up there in the first place.
- During the project you have to set up a first paying milestone as soon as possible - so you can learn how your clients act when they have to get the wallet out of their pockets.
- You have to keep communication open. Don’t hide behind your iMac and then pop up when you’re done—only to find out your clients have changed their product. If you’re in good communication with your clients, making sure they like you, it will be much harder not to pay you on time.
However, some clients won’t pay you no matter how great your contract was, or how likeable you were. And this is when we ought to bring in the big guns. There are many options to deal with a non-paying client, including new services and startups that could help you with this situation. TrueAccord - just to name one - will help you collect your debt with their online app. Pay Me... Or Else! Other tactics may be... inappropriate.
They are immoral, and you need to have huge balls to pull them off. You wouldn’t believe what creative people can pull out of their creative hat when they are upset. So while I don’t advise you to use those, I still include all of them in my book. You know, for the sake of science. Here’s one of my favorites:
Marc Collins is an experienced, talented designer who had reached his threshold for dealing with a non-paying client. He came up with a “last resort" that he used only twice in his career, when he’d been “f**ked by a client".
He sent one last email to the client, who he refers to as PigClient:
- Dear Mr. PigClient You are using my work but have refused to pay me and you are clearly avoiding my communications. I have just launched pigclient-warning.co.uk and here I will document proceedings. Also, as a webmaster I will use my considerable SEO skills* to ensure that pigclient-warning.co.uk is the first search result for anyone looking for your own website. I feel it is in the public interest to openly document this. To end this today you could pay my final invoice and I will immediately remove the page. That will be an end to it. I have attached a revised final invoice to include the cost of buying pigclient-warning.co.uk plus a £50 admin fee for writing this email.
In both cases, the bill was paid within the hour.
Marc himself does not recommend you use this method, explaining that your client could easily sue you. Do me a favor, and first grow those habits I’ve mentioned before you even consider to try such a thing.
Anyhow, now is the time to make yourself the same promise I made myself two years ago. Never Again. Don’t hire a hitman, grab my (free) e-book to learn how creative professionals should deal with non-paying clients.
This is a sponsored feature.
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