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How much would a client have to owe you before you'd take them to collections for failing to pay? And how far past the due date would they have to be before you'd go that far?
June 6, 2011
Timely. I'm battling this right at the moment. 60 days overdue and it's complicated by the fact that it's a relatively small amount of money – ie. enough to be useful to me, but probably not enough for a collections agency – and the client is not in this country. I'm going to find out what I can threaten him with and threaten him, but I'm pretty chicken to make those phone calls
First of all, I'm sorry you're dealing with one of these "lovely" situations right now.
As for the call, why not put it in writing instead? It's more formal, and there's a record of it. It also gives you time to say what you need to say, cool off, and then edit. That's sometimes better than the risk of getting caught up in the moment during a phone exchange.
June 6, 2011
Been there, done that, no reply. He's been getting regular emails and account statements from me since he was 30 days overdue
It's funny, because I was recently in his city on holiday and offered to drop by his office, and I did get a reply saying 'thanks, but I'll be away' (pity, because then I could have claimed my trip as a business expense) – yet my cries for money are falling on deaf ears. Still, there were warning signs about this client, and I ignored them. Won't do that again!
That sucks. I'm sorry.
He probably wasn't away -- just didn't want you showing up. Lovely.
If you don't mind me asking, what were some of the warning signs you noticed? If nothing else, it might key other folks in on what they should look out for.
June 6, 2011
Oh, I'm sure you're absolutely right that he just didn't want to see me But at least I knew my emails were getting through!
First warning: lack of detailed brief. Second warning: I had to phone several days after I sent my quote to check he was okay for the work to go ahead. He said he was. Third warning: a couple of hours later, I received an email asking what he actually got for his money (suggesting he hadn't actually looked at the quote). He then suggested that, based on the hourly rate I'd given him earlier as a guide to how I charge (ie. not bargain basement), it 'shouldn't really take you more than three or four hours, should it?'. I should note that the quote was for a sales brochure of, at that stage, indeterminate length and a website. (Also, something about how he'd like my involvement with his company to be long-term but needs to be realistic in terms of the hours charged. Ha – YOU be realistic!) Anyway, he was happy enough to pay the deposit but was pretty difficult to get information off when I needed it, which held up the writing, and that annoyed him. He seemed to think that he was paying for me to pull words out of the air (or somewhere else) and he didn't have to do anything else.
SO. What I'll be doing in future is not ignoring those signs (I know, I know, but it was in that quiet period right after Christmas. Here that's when everyone's having their summer holidays and it gets slow for all businesses) and I'm looking at sending work through in a PDF that's set up to disallow copying and pasting, making it viewable but virtually unusable until the work has been paid for. I've also increased the deposit for new clients from 25% to 50%.
I mean, if I have to write it off it's not the end of the world but it still pisses me off. I'm calling my accountant today to find out how best to deal with it. But I've been doing this for close to four years now, and this is the first really bad experience I've had, so I call myself pretty fortunate. And at least it's not like the horror stories I've heard from people who've had to write off five figures.
"Realistic?" Yikes. I understand the urge to operate on a shoestring. But either that client needs a major reality check (as in he sounds like the type who assumes writing is "easy" work that anyone can do) or he should just save money by doing it himself (and learning the hard way).
Heck. I'd bet most of us have taken on gigs for one reason or another even if there were signs it wouldn't turn out well. I sure have.
It sounds like you have a good plan in place to deal with future prospects though. So congrats on that. At least it ended up being a learning experience, right?
As for those not collecting five figures… wow! That's crazy. I can't even imagine being owed that much for services. I'd be billing them in parts along the way instead. Well, live and learn.
June 6, 2011
Partly I'm blaming my website. I'm rebranding and redesigning the whole thing to make copywriting look like a professional service, not 'I'll do this because you can't be bothered'. That was kind of okay when I started, but now that I know what I'm doing as a copywriter I'm worth a lot more, and I'm going to work with better clients.
Thanks for the support
Sorry to be late to the discussion, but I'd take any client into collections 100 days after the first invoice is sent. I have a process and I stick to it -- they get three invoices sent at 30-day intervals. The second and third invoices get late fees attached, and ten days after that last one, they get turned over to collections. I add this line -- "Please pay within 10 days to avoid litigation."
It's never yet failed me. And I've not had to take anyone to collections or small claims court yet. Yet. There's always a first time.
February 11, 2010
June 6, 2011
Just to share a success story – the client mentioned above finally paid, in full, yesterday. He was lucky because I was literally an hour off calling a debt collection agency (and I was lucky too because I avoided their fees – though by that stage it was more about the principle than the money).
About a month ago, I called the agency to get advice. This was after I'd had several promises that had come to nothing (my favourite was that he was going to be in town the following week and would settle the account then. I heard nothing, followed him up, and he said he'd called and missed me, except I'd been in the office almost the whole time!) and they advised me to send him a final notice, giving 14 days' warning that if the account was not settled it would be sent to collection. Again, I heard nothing, until a couple of days ago when he asked for my bank details to make a telegraphic transfer. For the fourth time, I sent them, assumed it was more of the same 'cheque's in the post' – but nope! Money was there yesterday.
So, to anyone reading this, threatening does work. Just make sure you keep at them, and that you have a proper system in place for dealing with late payers. After this experience, I've revised my system – I now get 50% upfront from new clients, and if they're more than 30 days late to pay they get penalties added. If there's no payment after 60 days, they'll be getting the 14-day notice, which I'll stick to. It also would pay to make sure your contract or terms state that clients pay any fees associated with debt collection, because it can cost quite a lot. (I was quoted $60 admin fee, plus 25% of the collected amount.) I didn't have that before, but after that close shave, I sure do now! Oh, and I also sent a nice 'thank you' email after he paid. I'm pretty sure his late payment was due to him having financial trouble, and even though you wouldn't catch me doing any more work for him, I don't want to burn the bridge.
February 11, 2010
Good for you for sticking with it until you got paid.
And it's probably a good idea to send that thanks. Even if you don't want to work with him again, who knows? Maybe he'll send someone else your way in the future. Good call.
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