Q: What to do when the client won't pay?
A: Stand by this business decision:
- I did the work as agreed.
- I expect to be paid for the work I did.
- I will do whatever I reasonably can do to get the money I earned.
To begin with I expect that there is some written retainer or letter agreement between you and the client which, at the very least, spells out the services to be performed, the time within which to perform them, and the agreed-to fees to be paid for those services. The agreement should be mutually signed. The retainer should be received. The work should commence.
Over the years many of us have been in the position of receiving less than what was agreed to and, on some occasions no payment at all. Why? Because the client [fill in the blank]. For example, the client decided that the services were not worth being paid for; did not get the result that was expected and took it out on the fee agreement; found out later that there was a cheaper service ands wants you to act as a discounter or rebate; and so on.
I will go out on a limb here - in my personal experience women are less likely to fight for what is owed them. Maybe we want to be nice; maybe we devalue our services; maybe we just don't know how to stand our ground.
TIP: It helps if you are other than a solo practitioner and have the weight of a department to go to bat for you. If you don't, start here, "I am not in the business of subsidizing law firms or other practices."
TIP: Prepare your 30, 60 and 90-day notices. Prepare to follow through on them.
TIP: Know how collection agencies operate and when to call them in.
TIP: Know about the ins and outs and pros and cons of using small claims court.
TP: Have a neutral party available who can do the heavy lifting for you, if appropriate.
TIP: Stand your ground.
"Standing one's ground" us a lesson that was hammered home to me the other day by my neighbor. For the past 25 years he has cleaned, polished, stripped and resurfaced all manner of floors both commercial and residential. He is a pro whether it's wood, tile, granite, marble, or the hand-painted Mexican pavers at the Western White House. He knows his stuff.
A week ago he went to refinish a floor. When the job was done he handed his invoice to the customer who refused to pay it pointing to some things that he was dissatisfied with but which did not exist. Ny neighbor stood his ground. There was only $600.00 at stake. In the past he would have walked away rather than get into it. This day he stood his ground. And when he tells you the story he is still surprised at that.
Voices were raised. Neighbors gathered. Finally, the customer told my neighbor to get into his van and follow him to get a check. There was a pretty high-speed chase through town before the two arrived in an apartment complex parking lot. The customer darted into one of the apartments and my neighbor waited by his van.
In a little while the customer came back outside with his wife who was carrying a small baby. He asked my neighbor to step behind his van. My neighbor, a short, over-weight, older fellow I have known for seemingly forever said, "Dude, I don't want to get into it with you or your family. Just pay me for the work I did."
The customer wrote out a check in the full amount. My neighbor drove to the bank to deposit the check. He learned that there was plenty of money in the customer's account.
Why all the nonsense? Who knows. Who knows.
Like many of you I imagine that for one reason or another we, too, have made concessions, given discounts, or even reluctantly and resentfully written off the bill. In the process we've lost money. But worse, we have lost trust when another's integrity is not in line with our agreement. An agreement, by the way, that was spelled out in writing and mutually signed.
Our grandparents were right when they taught us that a man's (or woman's) handshake is their word. When it is false, stand your ground to get the income you earned and then consider letting the relationship go.