When A Client Puts You Between A Rock And A Hard Place

I enjoy writing. I think I have a great job — sitting at a computer, putting words together and getting paid to do so is a fantastic arrangement in my mind. But there are days that remind me that this is work.

Last week, I had those days. A client that I had previously enjoyed working with did a 180 on me. He essentially told me that he would only pay half of my invoice. I couldn’t decide how to respond. I just kept thinking how unprofessional this was — how obviously this client didn’t think of me as a business owner.

A good businessman would never tell an electrician or a locksmith that he was only going to pay half the invoice after a project was already completed. He would never order a meal, eat part of it and then refuse to pay the whole bill.

The position that it put me in was even worse. If I accept the half payment offered, what does that say about how I think of my work? But if I don’t accept that payment, the odds that I’ll get anything are nil.

I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. I wound up accepting the half payment, simply because I couldn’t think of an alternative. I won’t be working with that client again, though. And I’ve been putting more energy into building those parts of my business that don’t rely on clients’ willingness to pay their invoices.

11 Comments

  1. Joel Falconer   •  

    Ouch, that sucks to hear, Thursday. I’d like to look into this a little more and see what us writers can do in this situation, because I’m sure the restaurant with a half-eaten plate on their table and a half-paid bill in the till wouldn’t accept it lightly. If you’re not going to work with them again, no harm in going after them for the full invoice, but I imagine it involves a lawyer sending a letter.

  2. CJ   •  

    Take what they gave you. Then take them to small claims court for the rest. I had a client in NYC not pay me what they owed. I went small claims court in NYC. had to wait a few weeks for the court date. The deadbeat did NOT show up, as expected. was awarded the full amount owed, PLUS interest. He had 30 days to pay, and of course he did not. A sherrif showed up at his place of business, and said either he was going to walk out with a check, or start taking laptops and stuff till he reached the amount. He got a check made out to the court. I received my payment 30 days later, with a small amount taken out by the sherrif. All in all it took six months, but the satisfaction was forcing the guy to eventually pay. Hope this inspires you. CJ

  3. Joe Ferry   •  

    Do you use a Letter of Agreement, specifying the scope of your work, a timeline, the price and payment terms? You and your client both should sign the letter before you do one minute of work. The document is legally enforceable, at least in Pennsylvania,

    I know you’ll be tempted to forgo the letter, especially for a client that you’ve done work for in the past. But, it’s the best way to protect both sides from just the kind of situation you described.

  4. thursday   •     Author

    I do use contracts and such to protect myself. But there is another facet to the problem — it really isn’t enough to bother taking them to small claims court or calling a lawyer. It would cost me more in lost time just than the project would ever be worth, let alone a lawyer’s fees. It really is a rock and a hard place.

  5. Joe Ferry   •  

    On what basis did he insist on only paying half your fee? Was he not happy with the quality of the work? The amount of time it took? Or did he just think the fee was too high, but just waited until you were done with the work to say something.
    There is no way I would accept half of the fee we agreed on. I would tell him that unless he pays the full fee, he has no right to use your work. If he does, you can sue for intellectual property rights infringement, which could carry a much much higher penalty. I would put that in writing to him and see what happens.

  6. thursday   •     Author

    Joe, I agree that if a client plans to use your work, there is no reason to ever accept less than your full fee. The client has decided to go in a different direction, however, and won’t be using the piece. I will be checking up to make sure of that, of course.

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  11. Deborah Dera   •  

    That’s awful! It’s not your fault that he decided not to use the piece – you still created it for him, and he should be paying you for your time.

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