Unpaid invoice. How do I get them to pay without being a complete bitch about it?
October 9, 2010 12:51 AM   Subscribe

Unpaid invoice from contract. I'm new at this, how do I get paid without being a complete bitch?

I did a contract job for a company, that clearly stated at the end of my contract I was to submit to them a detailed invoice, which I promptly did. When they got the said invoice, they ask for additional *none-related-to-the-contract-agreement* type of details. I obliged. The second time, they wanted me to answer questions on the invoice that would put me, "the contractor" in a legally negligent position (in other words, they didn't want to pay me for my time and services).

I waited 30 business days after they received the invoice, then sent them a short and polite email to let them know I haven't received payment, when could I expect it and if they needed more time. I got an email back telling me that they expected the invoice to include what I mentioned above. I let them know that I wouldn't put myself in that kind of position and that the contract was clear about what I did for them as well as how much I was to be paid.

It's now been 45 days. My father said I should file in a small-claims court. If I do so, do I need to notify them prior to filing the paperwork that I will be taking them to court? do I need to do anything else in terms of contacting them? approximately how long is the process for a situation like this in small claims and is there anything I can do to speed it up?

posted by servix to Law & Government (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The second time, they wanted me to answer questions on the invoice that would put me, "the contractor" in a legally negligent position... I got an email back telling me that they expected the invoice to include what I mentioned above.

Maybe this will be clear to other people but it isn't clear to me. There are things a company can demand in terms of what constitutes a valid invoice but I have no idea if that's what is being requested here. Can you be specific?
posted by DarlingBri at 12:58 AM on October 9, 2010

Get on the phone and ask for payment. Email only goes so far, and gets forgotten. Ring, explain the rules, ask when you can expect payment, be polite. If payment isn't received by agreed date ring again and say you're coming down to pick up a cheque. Don't take no for an answer, be polite.
posted by the noob at 1:08 AM on October 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nobody's going to be able to give you much in the way of useful advice without some more information. In particular:

1. Where are you, and where is the company?
2. What does the thing that DarlingBri quoted mean?
3. Taking one possible answer to 2 - were you "legally negligent" in the way you performed the work? I.e. do they have legitimate reasons for not paying?

A rough idea of the amount of money involved would also help.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 2:43 AM on October 9, 2010

I've been self-employed for 10 years, and I've been there. As much as you feel like you're getting screwed, in general it's always best to assume the best -- that it's just an oversight or they've simply made a mistake. Or perhaps you've misunderstood something?

Get them on the phone pronto. Act professional and non-adversarial. Email can easily be misunderstood or misinterpreted. You'll get a more accurate reading of the true situation when you can see/hear them.

FWIW, I always get a partial payment (1/2 to 1/3, depending in size of project) upon agreement, with the balance due upon completion (not 30 days hence -- although that's often when the check arrives, unfortunately.) Try never to let payments get beyond 30 days past due. Your chances of collection plummet.

Good luck!
posted by wordwhiz at 5:19 AM on October 9, 2010

It's not being a "complete bitch" to ask for payment due for services rendered. It's business. You get them to pay by proceeding without that mindset and with whatever effective steps are suggested.
posted by peagood at 6:49 AM on October 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

It may help you strengthen your resolve to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they do this to everyone. Something like this comes from a departmental policy (whether overt or unspoken) of giving contractors the maximum number of hoops to jump through, and basically dicking everyone around as much as possible.

It's reprehensible, but extremely common. You will learn to recognize the signs in the future, young padawan, and act accordingly.

In other words, when you pick up the phone and ask to speak to the manager of Accounts Payabo and tell them in firm language that your invoice is past due and they are going to have to cut you a check today to avoid being taken to small claims court - you're not being a bitch. You're being just like every other contractor they work with.

Trust me, they're used to it by now.
posted by ErikaB at 7:14 AM on October 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

Call. Then, if nothing happens, registered letter. Then small claims court.

And being a "complete bitch" is not the same as being aggressive in your own behalf. You did the work, you lived up to the contract, and now, the other party needs to be held accountable.

This isn't about friendship, it's about business. In the future, set a payment schedule, so that you'll hit certain milestones, and get paid for each one. I usually ask for 1/2 up front and the balance upon completion.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:05 AM on October 9, 2010

Also, write a late payment fee into your contract if possible.
posted by the_blizz at 9:14 AM on October 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

The second time, they wanted me to answer questions on the invoice that would put me, "the contractor" in a legally negligent position (in other words, they didn't want to pay me for my time and services).

Need clarification: what do they want you to put on the invoice? Line items containing work you didn't do? A lower price?

If it was me, I would try to get the person who signed your contract and the accounts payable people on the phone at the same time. Play this game "Joe, did I perform the contract as specified? Yes? Sam, can you tell Joe and I why I am not getting paid? You have a copy of the contract and an invoice detailing the work I completed. The terms were immediate payment, it has now been XY days since you received the invoice. If I don't see a check on my doorstep in 48 hours, I will be filing a claim in small claims."

Then do it.

Another way to play it is to try and escalate. See if you can get some kind of CFO or accounting manager or owner of the company on the phone, and say something like "Ms. Bosslady, I'm not sure if you are aware or not, but I recently did some work for your company. Everything was satisfactory per Joe Client in XYZ dept., and I submitted an invoice. It's been XY days now and I am getting the runaround from your accounting people. I know I pride myself on paying my vendors on time, and I imagine you'd want to know it if your people weren't doing the same. Etc."

(Don't be aggressive. Salesmen, football players and bad cops are aggressive. Be firm and persistent.)
posted by gjc at 6:02 PM on October 9, 2010

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