Getting a client to pay?

Subject: Getting a client to pay?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 25 Oct 2001 08:49:49 -0400

Bruce Byfield reports: <<I have a client who's refusing to pay. The client
has (to put it politely) an extremely elastic memory and is becoming
increasingly abusive, claiming that the work wasn't completed to his
satisfaction, that it was incompetent - almost anything to defend his
refusal. These claims not only grow each time we talk, but also change.
Contractually, the client doesn't have any basis for withholding payment.>>

Then as a first step, arrange a time to drop by his office and talk about
this so you give him one last chance to be reasonable; most people find it
difficult to be unpleasant in person, but the distance provided by a
telephone or e-mail gives them false courage. Explain to him that you've
done the work, agree that if there are any loose ends to tie up you'll be
happy to do it after you've been paid (i.e., remove any obstacles to payment
and demonstrate one last time that you're willing to make your clients
happy), and emphasize that you expect payment now, before you leave the
office. If the cause of his behavior is that he's in financial difficulty,
and taking out his fear and anxiety on anyone who comes within reach, you
might be willing to let him pay in installments to make it easier to pay,
but you're taking an awfully big risk. If he's still unwilling to settle
honorably:

<<I can also disprove his claims by our e-mails and other documents. If I
went to small claims court, I would almost certainly collect. I've also
considered a lien on some equipment I have that belongs to the client.
However, both these courses of actions would take time and effort.>>

Not as much time and effort as you'd think, particularly since you can try
putting a lien on his equipment--just talk to a lawyer about the legalities
so you don't end up in trouble over this. A family friend once tried the
following trick: He explained to the client that if he left the office
without a cheque, or if the cheque bounced, he'd see the man in small claims
court. Moreover, he threatened to "subpoena" (if that's the right word)
every single employee of the company to serve as a witness. The fear of
having his entire company shut down for a day, and having to pay the
employees to stand in line at the courthouse for hours on end, made the
client cave in. Of course, a threat's not worth the breath it's printed on
if you don't follow through--and since your case is good, you should. Put
your papers in order, get a good novel (or load your MP3 player to the
gunwales with good music), and plan to take a working holiday at the
courthouse.

<<What I'm owed isn't very large, and I could walk away from it, but, in the
last few years, I've come to dislike backing down from this sort of person;
it only encourges them to abuse someone else.>>

Yup. Even if the money's not huge, there are moral implications to leaving
the problem unsolved. More to the point, you earned the money, and shouldn't
abandon it. An alternative is to turn him over to a collection agency, but
that gets nasty and you won't get as much money as you would get through the
court, since such agents take a cut of the proceeds.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at
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"I vowed [that] if I complained about things more than three times, I had to
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