Well, seeing as I have been incredibly patient with this particular client, I thought I should write a blog post about why on the 1st of May, my client terms will be changing. From 50% up front and the remaining 50% on handover which has worked for me since around 2005 to a full 100% upfront before I retain you as a client.
For the first time ever, I have had a client who doesn’t want to pay and wants to use her business failures as the reason. She blames Facebook and simple Site Settings (which I offered to fix as soon as the invoice was paid) for her business collapse.
Quite simply, while I am sympathetic to the plight of small business owners, at the same time, her business position is not my problem. I DID MY JOB. Why is it that she thinks that I don’t deserve to get paid? Well let me tell you a story little ones, sit back as this is a long one!
It all started when Mellypop started having issues with her site and she found out her host/site builder wanted to charge her for updates and fixes. *shock, horror* He wanted to charge her to do work – this should have been my first warning bell really.
But no, I was helpful and since we had talked about a website prior to this, I offered to help her move her site to cheaper hosting and I offered to help her with a few issues with the site.
So we did this and in the process I explained to her that her site had been built with numerous parts of custom code and that I wasn’t prepared to work on that as it wasn’t mine and it would be expensive for her to pay me to learn how it all went together.
She wanted new features and those were not available on that system without more custom code. Again I told her this would be expensive as I’d have to learn the precious code plus write new.
I suggested a new site, built specifically for eCommerce as her current system was not and was only really suitable for small, single unit sellers such as SAHM type people. I suggested a far more robust system, Magento. Which is my recommended branding for those in business who want a quality build and full business reporting/financial controls.
I quoted her $3000 and told her it would take approx 6-8 weeks to build. She couldn’t justify that yet so said she would wait and asked about updating her site, which I advised her against due to the custom codes.
In fact, I had attempted an upgrade on the system and found it broke her shopping cart completely, which she wasn’t happy about so we had to roll back to the previous version for her.
Now some months passed, on September 3rd 2012 when she again asked me about building the new site I told her I usually charge $5’000 but would do it for her for $3’000 and I also offered her (as she was friends with good friends of mine) a very unusual deal, of 50% up front and 50% paid off over 6 months. Because I trusted her.
At this time she came and discussed it with me but it went no further than discussion. All my quotes are only valid for 7 days so I figured that she wasn’t really that interested, which was fine with me.
Now 2 weeks later, there was a rather big fuss made, and I received a desperate phone call from Melissa Spiller, who was in a mad panic because she had done what she had been instructed not to do. She updated her site “because I thought it was a good idea” oh and she had ‘forgotton’ the instructions not to update it.
Of course, as she had already seen, this broke the site and rendered it unuseable.
Now, the site itself was not repairable this time, as there had been almost 3 months between the initial site move and her destroying it. She hadn’t taken any backups prior to pressing ‘update’ and the act of updating, cause major database changes.
So I could have put her site back to months prior but she would have lost all sales information.
At this time, she asked me if I could build her new site urgently. She needed a site up and running within a few days.
So I agreed.
It took me about 6-10 days, working for over 18 hours a day to build a new site, create a new template and design her new logo (which incidentally is my design and it’s not paid for either!) and setup the new site to work how she initially asked it to.
We didn’t do a comprehensive setup, as the aim was to get it up and running as fast as possible, so I had told her that we would need to tweak settings and finish at a later date.
The next bombshell she dropped was that she needed the financial records and client records from the old site. Including a list of every client she had sold to.
So at this point, being I was working on the new site, I turned this job over to a colleague who managed to work his way through the database, pull out all the information from all of the different tables, then collate them into spreadsheets of useable data using data matching tools so that data from over 12 tables was able to be provided as two documents.
A sales spreadsheet and a customer spreadsheet with all of the customers relevant information.
This was a huge job and required specialist experience, hence me using him.
Now once all this was happening and I had the site running and at a point where I could turn it over to Melissa, I did. Getting her in to teach her the very basics of the site and starting her on adding stock and creating product to sell so she could get up and running as quickly as possible.
Again I reiterated to her that I would go into more detail later on once everything else was sorted out. Which she was happy with.
She also had me create multiple images and custom code to make her homepage look as required.
I left her entering her stock lists and once she said she was happy with the site, I then generated my invoice to her which was for $4’000.00 which was the urgent build of her new website, design and image content creation, custom coding requirements, data recovery of her old website and data compilation from her old database.
This was a reasonable invoice bearing in mind, a site usually takes 6-8 weeks, not ONE week and that I don’t usually do database recovery work.
The invoice was generated on the 28th of September and sent to Melissa. Who then sent me an email demanding to know why it was more than she expected.
So on the 29th of September, I quite clearly explained to her that I was giving her a substantial discount from what I would normally charge such an urgent build (with my hourly rate it should have been double that invoiced) and I had charged out for the work done, which was the urgent site, graphic design and data recovery.
She emailed me back on the 29th again, to tell me she wasn’t sure whether she could afford it and offered to pay $3000 in cash and $1000 in store credit if I would do her a ‘cash deal’ which at the time I agreed to and was happy to accept if it helped her out.
At that time she also asked me if I would like some shoes from her supplier order she was placing that evening so I asked her for two pairs.
I never got these incidentally…..
Now when I checked with Melissa about payment, I had no reply until October 3rd where she claimed she would pay me that week once a payment she expected would come through.
So I patiently waited.
On the 11th and 12th of October we exchanged a few more emails where Melissa gave me excuses for why she hadn’t paid. I asked her to at least make an effort to pay, which she ignored.
By November I was getting upset at having had no contact and no payment so I again contacted her. It took several emails to get a reply but on the 5th of November she finally claimed to have set up an AP into my bank account.
So I waited a couple of days to see how that played out (as you can imagine I wasn’t sure I believed her at this point) but indeed there was a payment that arrived into my account.
She had indeed setup an AP for $25 per week.
At that rate, it was going to take her more than 2 years to pay off. However she promised me (when I emailed her to point out that the timeline was far too long) that there would also be some lump sum payments to help that. So I patiently waited.
On the 12th of December, she emailed me to tell me her house was on the market and she was going to pay me when the house sold, if it hadn’t sold by then they were doing a tattoo show early 2013 and she would pay me at least half after the show.
So again I waited.
2013 rolled around and Melissa was bouncing payments, and I was still having no contact with her, so I again emailed her for clarification on her situation with lump sum payments.
On February 27th she emailed me to tell me that they lost money at the tattoo show, but that the house had sold, settlement date was the 22nd of March and she would pay the full invoice a week after that once the money was sorted.
Yet again I waited, with a little more hope this time.
Having heard and seen nothing by March the 25th I reissued my invoice and resent it.
I did this, as having seen no items from her ‘store credit’ arrangement and not having received payment, I accepted that she was reneging on the arrangement and I went back to my initial invoice.
I did deduct the payments of $25 per AP that she had paid, and I also included the bank charges that I incurred when she bounced three of those payments. I included the dates of the bounced payments and a list of dates of the payments that were successful.
Now things started to get fun.
As once I sent through the new invoice, firstly Melissa tried to tell me my bank was wrong and she had paid more than she had. However I had to point out to her the dates of the bounced AP’s of which two of them I had emailed her about at the time and she’d promised double payments the following week – which never happened.
So I asked her to check her bank records please as the money had definitely not gone into my bank account. I was more than happy to get a verified print out from my bank to confirm this.
She also again argued the figures.
Which I once again gave her the information as to why the invoice cost was what it was.
I also reiterated to her that she was in fact getting a discount, as things like her data recovery should have been billed out at well over what she was charged for. As was the site build bearing in mind I was working overtime hours to get this system done outside of normal timeframes.
I also asked her to stop her AP since I was expecting payment in full, so I didn’t have to redo the invoice yet again if more money came through via AP. As I would have to then deduct that.
And the communication once again stopped.
Now the last series of emails were on the 11th of April.
Bear in mind it’s now been over 6 months since the site was built and the original invoice was generated. I’ve been paid about $500. So I feel I’ve been very patient with her.
I emailed her on the 11th to inform her that I needed the invoice to be paid as soon as possible, as the contractor who did the recovery work had not been paid because she had not paid me and he had now threatened to lodge his invoice with a debt collection agency. Which devastated me. A ten year working relationship down the drain and my credit record was now at risk.
I had thought that since her house was sold and with her past promises, that she would pay.
However the games had just begun it seemed……
This time, the emails were telling me she would pay $1000 now and the rest after I ‘fixed’ the site.
So I asked what was wrong with it, to which she sent me a few things – which as I replied to her, were not ‘broken items’ but were merely settings and her needing to learn the system.
I told her that as soon as our invoice situation was sorted I would happily work through those few little things and we would also go through the training time that I had promised – I keep my promises you see. I don’t renege on my guarantees to my customers. Even when they treat me so badly, as soon as the money was sorted I would be more than happy to tidy up the last housekeeping tasks.
I also reminded her some of the settings were her choice and we had said right from the beginning we would go through and adjust them at a later date.
I also reminded her that I’d be able to send through her documents as soon as the invoice was sorted out.
She then claimed she would not pay me as she didn’t believe that I would fix the site (which isn’t broken) and she didn’t think I would send her info.
Now, I’m not sure why she thinks that I wouldn’t, and I again reassured her that once the financials were dealt with we would be able to put it behind us and work through her site.
I asked her to please pay her invoice.
She again kept throwing back at me she wouldn’t pay until the site was done. So I explained yet again my terms and that she had been given terms which I wouldn’t give people normally (and never ever will again!) already and I needed payment to stop my associate’s invoice being placed with a debt collection agency.
She has refused, using more excuses as to why she hasn’t paid anything…
Long story short, she is refusing to pay and is telling me that I am essentially untrustworthy and that if she pays me, I won’t do what I have agreed to.
I actually find the last half of that sentence to be the most abhorrent part of all our discussions.
As I have never ever left a client in the lurch and I have done nothing but bend over backwards to help this woman out and to give her a good quality business system.
So I’m happy to lay out all the facts of our dealings and I am officially resigning as her web developer effective immediately.
I am lodging the invoice with a debt collection agency, I have an appointment to handover the paperwork and all relative email communication and bank statements showing payments actually made and deducted and I will be allowing them to recover the debt on my behalf.
For the first time ever, I will actually be leaving a client in the lurch, which makes me feel ill and like I have completely failed at my job, which I resent and this is NOT me or how I want to be.
However I have been left with no option in this situation.
This will NEVER happen again though.
Watch for my updated terms and conditions, which will be much stricter and protect both myself and future clients from horrible situations like this.