Getting paid – what to do and to avoid when working for clients

Posted on April 8, 2011

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This is a blog post I wanted to write for several months now.

BASIS

How do you assure you get paid? Well: everything revolves around six basic principles:

  1. Screening – Is your (potential) client up to it?
  2. Clarity – When you disagree, can agreements be disputed or are the crystal clear?
  3. Communication – Do you involve your client in the process, or is he an alien being you rather avoid?
  4. Doing your work – Did you deliver what is promised?
  5. Building your client and project dossiers – Can you prove that you and the client agreed or disagreed on something?
  6. Sending your invoices – No invoices, no payment

All of this will be elaborated on in this post.

“Fuck you, pay me”

See this video.

Screening your client

Before you do business, there are quick and simple tricks to find out if your client is willing to pay at the end of the ride. I divided them in three phases:

  1. Phase 1: the intake – Clients who are nor willing to pay, or are unable to pay you, do not have the budget you requite.  Here is how you find out if they can cover your costs.
     

    1. Ask for the budget they have in mind – It is a simple and direct test to see how seriously they take things. If there is no answer, if they try to dodge the question, if they “have to think about that” or if it is a fraction of your costs, they will very likely say no or try to fuck you over later, if they do hire you against all odds.
    2. Mention the required budgetrange immediately –  Once you have an understanding of what your (potential) client wants, mention what it will roughly cost. If they wince, very likely the best thing you can do is get up and leave. As they do not have the budget or the experience.
  2. Phase 2: your offer -and the binding conditions – When your client accepts your offer, they also accept your general and specific terms and conditions – IF and WHEN you mention them. These terms and conditions bind your client to you and oblige them to pay your bills if you have met your part of the bargain.
    1. Be clear on your terms and conditions – If the (potential) client has a problem with them, either you are too defensive, or the client wants your services for free.
  3. Phase 3: Change requests – This is where you have another chance to find the true nature of your client when phase 1 and 2 were passed or skipped. If the client wants all kinds of changes without paying the price, you are very likely on your way to trouble.

Signals of clients that smell like trouble

  1. Hesitations and dodging Client side commitments– While it is “normal” to ask all kind of commitment from your side, the client tries to get you to drop specific conditions on your side.
  2. No real understanding for your side of the bargain – Stuff you mark as “risky” are questioned and put into question. The fact that you ask some commitment from the client is met with disbelief
  3. Request for changes in your conditions – more subtle are the requests to make your conditions less strict
  4. Favors – even mor subtle are “bargains” where your potential client offers you one or more favors without backing that up with concrete actions. Think of this: if your client really has an awesome network, an awesome idea or whatever he or she will be able to cover your costs. End of discussion.
  5. Delay tactics – Postponding payments, signing contracts and everything that binds that client to legal commitments.

Trouble can be defined as follows:

  1. Your bills will not be paid – leading to potential issues on your side with paying your bills
  2. Endless projects based on your goodwill – The “2 weeks” turns into 2 months and no extra compensation
  3. Your bills might get paid some day – And hopefully before the shut off your heating and electricity

Action to take:

  1. Walk out – As simple as that. Clients who do not trespect you, your work and the cost you make in their interest are a waste of your time and if you allow this to happen too many times, they can cost you your business.

When the client does not want to pay

In the worst case scenario, you did work and made expenses the client does not want to pay. This can either be:

  1. Unjustified
    1. According to law – because up to that point you delivered according to promise. You basically did what was required according to the agreements between you and the client  until the moment your disagreement started
    2. According to you – because you think did your job right and you think the client is wrong
  2. Justified
    1. According to law – because you did not deliver according to what you agreed on with the client
    2. According to you – because the client is right according to your point of view

Whatever happens, your Client- and Project dossier is key here. So lets take a look at that next.

Building your Client- and Project Dossier

Your base Client and Project dossier consists of the following elements:

  1. Your general conditions of delivery – if and when sent
  2. The contracts and agreements that formed the start of the assignment –
  3. Offers to the client– with amounts and specifications of what will be delivered for what price and under what conditions
  4. Changes in the offers made to the client – including changes in price, changes in conditions and delivery times
  5. E-mails containing promises to the client and promises from the client – including summaries of verbal conversations and all of the items above
  6. E-mails containing change requests and confirmations from the client – as the project progresses, change requests will come in. Any change request not documented can cost you

We will go deeper in each of these aspects later.

The bottom line of you client dossier is this:

  1. Documentation – Make sure everything is documented  either in contracts and/or E-mail
  2. Clear communication – Make sure your communication is as clear as you can be. Be explicit. Avoid vague language.
  3. Confirmation from the client – Ask for confirmation by the client for everything and anything that moves away from the original- and later agreements.

Which moves us to the next point later in this post: “Assume that your clients have a dossier on you”

Assume that your client has a dossier on you as well

Anything you communicate to the client is retrace-able. When you communicate to the client, always assume that:

  1. The client will and can use anything against you – So:
    1. Never make promises you can not keep – Even if the client uses emotional blackmail to get you there.
    2. Never make promises that will cost you – Like doing stuff for free. Working late hours. Investing your own money in it. Whatever.
  2. The client is forgetful – You start with “A”. You mutually agree to move to “B”. The client forgets, changes his mind or starts to panic and falls back to “A”. Whatever happens, that is the moment where you use your dossier to kindly remind the client that: “in e-mail X, written and sent on date Y, we agreed Z”
  3. The client can not be fooled – You start with “A”, you agree to move to “B”, but along the way you change your mind and want to go back to “A”. As the client has a dossier, he or she can easily point out to you that: “in e-mail X, written and sent on date Y, we agreed Z”

Be clear

Being clear does not come natural for many people. Either due to a feeling of: “being unpleasant” or “bitchy” to assuming that you do not have to be explicit to be understood.

When with friends, you can get away with that. When you are in dispute with your client to get your money, you are simply fucked. Anything that is not explicitly stated is open for interpretation and everything open for interpretation makes a very weak case on your side.

Be clear about the following things:

  1. What you can do – your expertise, your training, your experience
  2. What you can not do – the stuff that is out of your reach, the stuff you do not know about. The stuff that takes more time than you have available.
  3. What others will do / will have to do – as you can not deliver it
  4. When and how you expect the client to pay – Beforehand, afterwards, before / during / after? Per month? Regardless of success?
  5. Exceptions that can lead to failure – And how you are- or are not to be held responsible for
  6. Conditions for delivery of specific requirements – And the consequences for you and your client if these conditions are not met

The list can be made longer than this, but follow these 6 items and you prevent 85% of all most common problems you will face.

Each aspect will be covered below.

Do your work

So obvious I almost forgot to mention it. Doing your work means:

  1. Do what you promise – Whatever is in your offer and whatever is agreed upon by you and your client in any change request and feedback has to be done. If you do not, you break the contract and the client is not required to pay.
  2. Make sure it works / is conform client expectations – Except from doing what you promised, it also has to be what the client expects.
  3. Deliver – Doing what you promise and making sure it works is nothing if it never reaches the client. So deliver.

Communicate

To assure the client is on your side, instead of some kind of alien creature, make sure you communicate.

Communication covers the following items:

  1. Your offer – containing what you will and will not do and what costs are connected to that
  2. Status- and progress reports – Tell your clients where you are and what is going on. Do this factual. Keep it businesslike. Communicate in “requirements delivered” and “delays due to…”
  3. Documentation of changes and change requests – Make sure that everything is written down and read and responded to by the client. If parts are crucial for the project and your assurance to avoid conflicts later and receive payments state that you: “can only continue the work if this change request is approved”.
  4. Demos – show what you are doing. Go to the client, invote the client over, show intermediate results.
  5. Feedback and feedback sessions – Invite the client to test, taste, read the required items. Ask for feedback. Write it down. Communicate the feedback back to the client, ask for confirmation and corrections.

Each of these items will be discussed in more detail later.

Send your invoices

When you do not send your invoices, your clients will not pay. So send them.

If you have trouble sending them, you are not the only one. Some people go broke due to this simple resistance. Especially in the creative industry.

Simply get over whatever blocks you and do it. Also read: “Assume you are equal”

When things go wrong

Things can go wrong, ending in a client not paying, or even worse: starting a legal procedure because they hold you responsible for significant losses due to your inability to deliver as promised.

See the end of this post for more about that.

Diving into the deep

Now that you have read the basics, lets dive into the deep.

YOU AND YOUR CLIENT

Assumptions of equality, superiority and inferiority

Your client is a human being like you.Your client will die at a certain point. Just like you.

It is very easy for some people to feel either superior or inferior to their clients. Both are wrong positions, as they will fuck you up on the long run. Below are the aspects of inferiority and superiority. Further down in “How to avoid stupids mistakes” I will explain why this is relevant. You can skip to that part directly if you want.

As a lot of how you deal with your clients depends on how you yourself perceive you and your client, lets check that first.

Aspects of assumed inferiority

  1. You are feeling inferior -Which can be reflected in the following assumptions:
    1. Your client is doing you a favor by granting you a gig – And you should do your best to show your gratitude
    2. You have no real right to ask for favors or anything – Meaning that you:
      1. Are afraid to call the client – asking for stuff you need or want
      2. Will try to solve issues that are not yours – leading to more work and more worries than you have to have and/or do.
      3. Try to solve issues that might not be issues at all
      4. Will give away stuff for free (so called “favors”) that others would charge money for
      5. Will not be clear on your boundaries – doing stuff that makes you feel even more bad about yourself, becouse they go against what you feel is sane, healthy or good for yourself
      6. Will make promises that will cost you – see “give away stuff for free”, but also doing overtime, working weekends without any form of compensation
      7. Will make promises you can not keep – either under norman circumstances or simply impossible to keep
    3. You would really lose something when losing this client – Meaning that:
      1. When this client is gone, “you will have a problem” getting new work and new income
      2. It is possibly or likely (all) your fault and/or you are stupid and/or this will rub off on future assignments with other clients
      3. You over-estimate the importance of this specific client
  2. Unrealistic planning – As you want to please your client and disregard your own capabilities
  3. Made believe that you are inferior – This is when your client abuses his or her “position” to make you feel bad about yourself. The entire aim of this game, whether it is consciously or due to a simple lack in people skills is to make you feel inferior. The aim of that is to put you in a position of feeling powerless. See item 1.

In the end it is all a matter of perception.

Aspects of superiority

In aspects of superiority things are turned around:

  1. You are feeling superior – Which can be reflected in the following assumptions:
    1. You are doing your client a (giant) favor by accepting the gig – Basically the client should fall down on their knees and kiss your feet because you are going to help them or even save them from whatever might happen if you would not have been hired.
    2. The client is an idiot – Who does not know anything about anything including:
      1. No clue how you do your business – Because they are idiots
      2. No clue how to do (and they should be doing) their business – because they are idiots
    3. You have every right to abuse your position – By asking for any favor and expecting that favor to be granted
      1. Because you are a one of a kind super hero – and when they lose you, they are fucked because anyone else who will take this job will screw up and cost the client a lot
      2. Because you have them by the balls – due to a contractual lock-in or a proprietary solution that only you can deliver
    4. You will strive to find new ways to get even more out of any situation – If you can milk it, you will milk it. To the max.
    5. You have nothing to lose with this client – As for each client wasting your time, there are ten others waiting to be saved by you
  2. You will milk the client -By:
    1. Overcharging the client
    2. Stating you worked X amount of hours where in reality you only worked Y
    3. Delivering inferior products or results for premium prices
    4. Taking whatever you can get from and via that client – Including their clients, deals via their partners, bypassing specific aspects in your agreement with the client because that is more beneficial
  3. You have them believe that you are superior – The client will not always buy your story, but once you have them, see item one.

This approach is predatory. The client is prey. You are the hunter. You kill, they lose.

There are several places where this approach can come from:

  1. A reversal of insecurity – Instead of feeling inferior, you turned your insecurities around into a false belief of superiority. Deep down you fear your clients, but by treating them- and perceiving them as stupid idiots, you made a mind game where you are safe.
  2. A loss of perspective – Maybe you are really good and most clients are less smart compared to you. Maybe you do make less mistakes, work faster and more effective. That still does not make you any better.

Aspects of equality

When you assume your client to be your equal:

  1. You are doing your job – nothing less, nothing more
  2. You are partnering with your client to get the best results for both – Meaning:
    1. Realistic planning – Due to better synchronization between the clients expectations, wishes and your capabilities you deliver when you can, in the order that suits the clients requirements.
    2. More result for the client – For the same amount of money
    3. More result for you – Due to, again, a better synchronization between the clients expectations, wishes and your capabilities
  3. You do not take shit from your client – Meaning that:
    1. Agreement is agreement – So when the client claims “A” where you agreed on “B”, “B” is what the current reality holds.
    2. Everything has consequences – Change requests, stuff not delivered on time by the client, and so on. Either in deadlines that will move, costs that will rise, other things that can not be done as a result.
  4. You do not shit in the backyard of your client – Meaning that:
    1. Agreement is agreement – When you promise “A”, you deliver “A”.
    2. Everything has consequences – So when you make promises, make mistakes, do not deliver or make false promises, you will do your best to solve this, together with the client or behind the scenes.
    3. You respect the boundaries set by your client – Including not stealing clients or doing stuff/making deals behind the back of your client.

COVERING YOUR RISKS

How to avoid stupid mistakes that can cost you – a top 11

There is a basic recurring pattern in doing business and a summary of things you find scattered over this post.

  1. Do not rely on a spoken agreement – Regardless of how good you know the client and how awesome your relationship is, it is stupid. The human memory is unreliable and disagreement on details can ruin a good relationship.
  2. Do not start the job before the contract is there – Regardless of whatever, this is stupid. See further down below what can be a contract and what kind of basic stuff has to be in the contract to cover your ass.
  3. Be very specific – Some people see vagueness as a virtue. By being vague, you have nothing to be nailed on and thus you can do anything you like. The backside of vagueness is that the client can use this same thing to stretch the deal on your cost and in their benefit. So when you promise: “a nice car to your satisfaction for 20.000 euro” and mean to deliver a Fiat Panda, the client can lawfully stretch this to become a 200.000 euro Tesla car.
  4. Do not promise something you can not deliver to: “please the client” – This can be either a result, product, delivery or a deadline. If you are less than 90% confident you can do what your client expects you to promise, add: “under the following conditions”.
  5. Do not sign contracts that offer no benefits to you – Some clients will offer you a contract that is writting entirely in their benefit. The bottom line is usually that you have no rights at all and they can do whatever they want with you and your work.
  6. Do not waiver any copyright or Intellectual property of stuff you consider “yours” – With any assignment also comes the question: who owns what? If you and/or your company relies on a specific technology or a specific piece of Intellectual Property (IP) that is used for many other clients, either do not sign the contract, or create something completely new. You risk signing away your own stuff and you risk a lawsuit when you use – or have used – that IP for other clients.
  7. Always document changes and new agreements – Things change. And so the end result will change. As will your costs. If “A” changes into “B” and you have no documentation of the changes and new agreements, the client can lawfully reject your added costs, your entire invoice and even lawfully sue you for your “failure to deliver”. Also see “Building your Client- and Project Dossier”.
  8. Do not assume anything: verify –  Assumption is the mother of all mistakes. In the case of assignments it can lead to paranoid mind-fucks in your own brain, wrong implementations of requirements, wrong answers and useless results. When you are unsure about something or anything, save yourself the trouble and/or misery. Verify with your client.
  9. Don’t ever talk (or write) bad about people and clients to others – Even if you think these people and clients “totally deserve it”: “because they are assholes”. Regardless if you are “right”: it will reflect directly on you, your reliability and your reputation. It can also lead to lawsuits for defamation.
  10. Do not play dead when things go wrong – Some people become unreachable when the shit starts to hit the fan. Usually because they have no clue how to deal with the situation. This is in most cases the most stupid thing to do, as it can lead to even more damage than when you are reachable. See “Managing expectation” and “Damage control” for more about this.
  11. Never give in to threats – Some people will try to own you by working on your sense of responsibility, guilt and ignorance. The most common way is the use of threats. The solution is simple: Do not play their game. Walk away.

Risk assessment and covering your ass when you are not sure you can deliver

Risk is part of every and all projects. Unable to deliver can be due to:

  1. Something new that has ever been done before, but you think you can do – This is a risk that can be quantified. Usually it is from “very high” to “low”.
  2. Something that you simply are unable to deliver, but offer via a partner – Because it is not part of your experience. You might be hiring some external expertise for that, but they might fail as well or you have never worked with them before. Again, risk levels are to be der
  3. Something you overlooked – This is a risk lurking in any and all projects. It is “the hand of god” or “bad luck”. One of your key people can get an accident, your secret laboratory might explode due to another process or your office might been robbed empty the night before.

Things to do:

  1. Define the risk levels per item or requirement – From high to low, based on your experience. Did you do it before and do you have good experiences? The risk then is low. It it a first time and is the chance of failure high due to a lot of circumstances you are not sure you can control? Then the risk is very high.
  2. Discuss with your client how bad he or she wants to have specific requirements to be done – Here is an overview of recommended steps:
    1. Are the risks very high? – Recommend another solution or for the client to drop this requirement. If the client insists, do not promis anything else buit that you will do your best.
    2. Are the risks high? – Insert conditions that cover the things that can go wrong. Like: “We will deliver A under the conditions that X, Y, Z are met and D, E, F will not occur”. Make also sure you have a process in place where the client will officially approve “A” is not delivered and that this is documented. For instance as a change request.
    3. Are the risks medium? – If you need to, insert conditions. If you are confident you can solve the risks, leave the conditions out.
    4. Are the risks low? – Assume your standard terms and conditions cover.
  3. Insert conditions under which a requirement will be delivered in your contracts – As discussed in point 2, make sure you make the conditions clear under which a requirement will be delivered and what non-delivery means to you and the client.

Making a contract

The contract has to be at least:

  1. In written form – can be an e-mail or your Offer
  2. Stating what is expected from you/what you will deliver – in clear steps or expected results
  3. Stating what your reward will be – in money or otherwise
  4. Stating how this reward is calculated – Do you work by the hour? Is it a fixed fee?
  5. Stating how exceptions are handled – What do you do when requirements change? How do you deal with unforeseen circumstances, changes and unforeseen additions? What are the consequences for the client?
  6. Stating under which conditions the assignment is assumed to be successful – In the form of clear quantifiable results or otherwise
  7. State what the client has to pay when the end goal is not reached – In some cases, you will not end the assignment. For instance due to a conflict, a bankruptcy or because there is no budget. See: “Choosing a payment agreement”

Choosing a payment agreement

To make sure you get paid, make sure you have a clear payment agreement with the client. Communicate this clearly to your client before you make the offer. State this explicitly in your Offer.

The most common options for payment agreements are:

  1. Pay everything on delivery – very unsafe and only to be recommended when the assignment is small enough to take losses
  2. In parts, per requirement or set of requirements – Safer, and very safe when your contract states that new requirements will only be picked up when the invoice of the previous set is approved by the client
  3. In percentages – For instance: A percentage when the project is started, a percentage when the product is delivered to the client and a percentage after the product is completely approved
  4. Per period – For instance: every week, every month. Very safe.
  5. Per hour – Regardless of the result, each hour worked and billable is charged to the client.

There is no clear rule what kind of agreement you should make with your client, or what defines the best choice. Here is a rule of thumb you can use.

We separate it into two chunks:

  1. For the work done
  2. For the materials used

For the work done

  1. When the assignment is less than one week
    1. Pay everything on delivery
  2. When the assignment is more than one week – You will need to start covering risks. The most common way is to agree upon a payment arrangement where at least the basic costs are covered. Regardless of what will happen during the process.
    1. Percentages on start, delivery and acceptance – the most common is: 30% on start, 50% on delivery, 20% after acceptance.
  3. When the assignment is one month or longer – You will be dependent on this one client for a significant amount of time. So you have to assure payment is .
    1. Percentages on start, during delivery and acceptance – 30% on start, 50% in chunks per week or month during the delivery process, 20% after acceptance
    2. Per week or per month – As the period is substantially long, you can choose to cut the total amount up and bill per month or per week. This is the most clear

For the materials used

  1. Per purchase – For each purchase done, the client pays directly, or immediately after
    1. Beforehand – The client pays you, you go out and buy the stuff. No risks involved on your side.
    2. After  the purchase – You pay from your budget / reserves, you buy the stuff, the client pays afterward. Risks involved, but overseeable.
  2. Beforehand
    1. Based on a total budget , you ask the client to pay beforehand for all materials. This is uncommon. Especially when things can be variable.
  3. Per period of time
    1. Beforehand – Based on estimates per period, the client pays you, you go out and buy the stuff. No risks involved on your side.
    2. After  the purchases – You pay from your budget / reserves, you buy the stuff, the client pays afterward. Risks involved, but still overseeable if the periods are short, like a week.
  4. On delivery
    1. You pay from your budget / reserves, you buy the stuff, the client pays afterward. Risks are definitely involved and very high.

The difference between delivery and acceptance – and why you do not want to take risks

When you deliver a product, it means that you invested, did everything you could to do it right and it is finished in your eyes. What you have invested until then is time, money and materials. All this costs you.

These costs have to be covered by the client. If not, you will go broke and bankrupt at a certain time.

  1. Delivery / 50% to 80% objective / legally solid – Delivery is where you deliver what is promised according to contract. If you have done your work properly, this is mostly non-disputable and where the original specifications changed, you have these changes and the Client Approvals in your dossier. The clearer you are in describing what had to be delivered, the stronger your case is. Unless you over promised and under delivered.
  2. Acceptance / 100% subjective / legal quicksand – Acceptence is completely subjective and where the client says: “yes, this is what I expected and wanted. I accept”. It is legal quicksand as it is your word against that of the client.

Here is what the possible outcomes can be (excluding the obvious: “you delivered according to specifications, the client accepts”), and how you can end up on the bad side of it all. Also read or re-read “Choosing a payment agreement” afterwards:

  1. You delivered according to specifications, but the client does not accept – Meaning that legally you did as you were asked, but the client does not want your result. If you are unclear about when the client has to pay, this can lead into the client not paying at all and you being fucked. And be legally in the right. See: “Choosing a payment agreement”
  2. You did not deliver according to specifications, the client does not accept – Meaning that you did not perform and the client is fully right. If you do not cover this situation, you might end up not getting payed at all. If you have an agreement per hour, it means that the client has to pay and you are legally in the right. But: if you are payed by the hour with a legal responsibility to deliver as required, you might face legal action as the client did pay and you did commit yourself to a delivery of specific requirements.
  3. You did not deliver according to specifications and the client accepted – Due to some magic, you pulled it off to deliver something that was not required and still the client is happy. Hurray for you.

If your payment is completely dependent on “Acceptence” you are increasing your risks of not getting payed at all. One out of every 10 clients (on average) will try to escape payment, will simply fuck you over, or made a mistake to hire you when he or she should have hired someone else and does not want to take responsibility for that.

To make sure the client is in all the way, or to know when it is time to separate, see the next part: “Managing expectation:.

COVERING YOUR CLIENT RELATIONSHIP

Managing expectation

A contract in any written form (including an offer and notes from meetings and talks) is one thing. The result that is expected is another. In most cases, the expected result is something new. Something custom made or customly done, for that specific client.

Both you and your client will have specific expectations and a specific vision of what that end result will be. And they are seldomly the exact same.

To avoid a mismatch, this is what you need to do:

When starting the project

  1. Be very clear about what you will deliver – Show examples by other people. Let the client “taste”. Let the client “feel”. Show contrasts: stuff that is much better than what you will do. Stuff that is more crappy.  Specify item per item. Define exceptions. Define the parts that are a risk.
  2. Be very clear about risks in the process – If there are parts with uncertain outcome, define them. Define the levels of risk: high? Medium? Low?
  3. Undersell, without making yourself an underdog – Make sure the client has something in mind that is realistic. That meets the expectations. But that also is slightly less than what you know you can deliver. Sell a cake that tastes good. That you guarantee will taste good according to specific levels of price and quality, because your process allows you to.

When working on it

  1. Involve your client in your process – Many projects that go horribly wrong treat the client as some idiot and/or alien entity that should be feared. Internal processes are to be kept secret and anything that goes wrong should be hidden. Instead, make your client part of the process by sharing what needs to be shared. It helps reducing risks.
  2. Show what you are doing – Show results. It is one of the most powerful ways to manage expectations as the client sees what is happening and where it is going to.
  3. Ask for feedback – It involves the client deeper in the project, giving him or her the feeling of ownership and shared responsibility. Do not forget to document the feedback.
  4. Tell the client how you will implement the feedback – Document it, send it, ask for confirmation. Apart form managing expectation, you also are building the dossier that will help you and the client when things become unclear.
  5. Inform your client on time when things do not go as expected – Especially when things go bad, you need your client to be on your side. The main benefit for you and the client is that you can re-evaluate strategies. And yes: some clients will not appreciate this, as they expect you to be perfect and awesome and in total control of everything including the weather, instead of a human being. Others understand that – like them – you are human and that things sometimes go wrong.

During the entire process

  1. Do not be afraid to lose a client – If you are unsure for all good reasons (due to risks) and if the client feels that you are not the right person or company, accept. It will save you a lot of trouble later.
  2. Do not try to make things look better than what you can do – The client will always take that as the basis. And if you under-deliver, it will be a dissapointment.

DAMAGE CONTROL

When stuff goes awry on your side – do not play dead

Especially when things go wrong on your side, you and your client should be close buddies. Any silence on your side makes your client even more nervous and when the stakes are high, thoughts about legal steps and involving lawyers are very close and easy made.

So do not play dead. Be available. Increase your communication. Show your processes. Make sure it is clear you are doing your utmost best to solve things.

See “Managing expectation”. They are the sames steps, but with intensified communication between you and the client

When stuff goes awry on your client side – do not be afraid to point out your clients responsibilities to you

It is possible that your client does not want to pay due to a dispute.

Here is what you do:

Check who is right

  1. Who is right? You or the client?
    1. Open your project dossier
    2. Collect all the agreements between you and the client
    3. If the client is right, drop the case, unless you believe in hammering money out of people by persistance
    4. If you (think you) are right, dare to make it into a legal case.

When you (think you) are right

  1. Open your project dossier
  2. Collect all the agreements that bind your client to you
  3. Step 1: Reminder
    1. Write a short and simple e-mail stating/quoting what your client agreed upon towards you and:
      1. CC the e-mail to your accountant or your lawyer
      2. State in the heading that the mail has been CC-ed to your accountant or your lawyer
    2. Do NOT talk about (legal) consequences or any steps you might or will undertake
    3. Do not put a deadline for response
    4. Wait for the response
  4. Step 2: Client does not respond within a specific period
    1. Write a second e-mail, refer to the previous one, stating that you have not received an answer.
    2. Put a deadline in the mail and state the consequence if the client does not responds before that time
    3. CCed to same people
    4. Wait for the response
  5. Step 3: Client still does not respond
    1. Write the last e-mail in this series, stating that you will:
      1. Starting to take legal action if the client does not respond
  6. Step 4: Take legal action

In most cases the client will respect the agreements you have between the two of you. In my experience only a few did not.

When the client denies your claims

  1. Re-check your dossier
    1. Re-check your delivered requirements
    2. Check if they meet all agreements
    3. Check if all changes and delivered items were accepted by the client
  2. Take legal action

When the client is late in payments


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