Business and Friendship Situation
October 5, 2011 10:02 PM   Subscribe

What should a new freelancer do with a "client" that they don't really want to work with, without putting their best friend in an awkward situation?

My BFF hooked me up with a work co-op at her company while I was a student. I worked directly with her supervisor Shamus, whose personality I don't really care for.

Shamus is lazy, wants people to read his mind, and can't be bothered to respond to questions or do anything in a timely manner. Despite this I was professional and did everything that was requested of me. When the co-op was finished he gave me a good review.

He then contacted me weeks later and asked me to do a quick little project, only 2 hours. Against my better judgement I didn't get him to sign a contract, because I hadn't officially launched my business.

On Monday he asked me to do another project that he needs for Thursday. I sent him:

1. A contract which states that the work can't begin without his signature.

2. A copy of the unpaid invoice for the previous project asking for immediate payment (this invoice has been outstanding for 3 weeks.)

He has not replied. He did not return the contract I specifically asked him to sign and made no mention of paying the invoice.

Tomorrow is Thursday, what should I do?
a. Call him and remind him I need the contract signed in order to do the work.

b. Do nothing.

c. (insert your own option)

I don't really want to work with Shamus. I also don't want to put BFF in an awkward situation because he mentioned to her this morning that he sent the project to me. BFF can't stand Shamus and is not surprised by his behavior, but she thinks that he has a lot of contacts that I could use. He is well connected.

Another factor is he is on the very outskirts of my social circle and every 2 months or so we end up at a gathering together. So I am certain I will see him at the upcoming Halloween party.

Thanks for your help.
posted by it's a long way to south america to Work & Money (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Um, don't work with Shamus. BFF knows he fails so will understand why you don't want to work with him. He hasn't paid you, he sucks at telling you what you need to do to do your job, cut the ties. But in a non-bridge burning way.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:17 PM on October 5, 2011

Call tomorrow and remind him about what you sent. After this resolves, decline the next job with a polite "no, thanks, I won't be able to accept this job." By the way, you should have contacted him every day if he needed to sign something to start a job with a short deadline.
posted by michaelh at 10:25 PM on October 5, 2011

This has already taken care of itself. You don't want to work with him and for whatever reason, he doesn't want to sign a contract so he's accepting that you won't be doing the work. Why would you phone him every day to hassle him for work you don't want?! If your friend makes a comment about him sending the project to you, your response should be that he never got back to you with a contract so you could start the job so you assumed he found someone else and you wish him all the best. And if his project runs late? His non-commital and lack of action is not your problem.

Then next week, send him another copy of the invoice and state that he'll start incurring late fees for non-payment from x date (assuming it's stated on the invoice). When you see him socially, smile and nod. But don't feel uncomfortable, he created the situation and there's no shame in wanting to be paid and be treated in a professional way. He'll learn that if can't do that, he won't get your services.
posted by Jubey at 10:44 PM on October 5, 2011 [11 favorites]

If he did not sign a contract on the first project, how does he know the invoice is 3 weeks overdue? What were the payment terms of the invoice? How big is his company? Ask bff what the process is of paying a vendor. Maybe bills only go out once a month.

Having asked all that, I would not work with him if he is dick.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:59 PM on October 5, 2011

Best answer: Send him a reminder/second invoice for the first job, including the interest you will charge if the account goes 30 days past due, refuse the second job and say no to any future jobs. Be polite and professional but firm.

You haven't actually been hired for the second job since he hasn't signed your contract, so you shouldn't feel any obligation to him on that one. If he calls you to ask about it, tell him that not being paid for the first job and not getting the contract for the proposed second job were interpreted as not being hired. Then ask again for your money for the first job.

If he persists in not paying you, go up the food chain and get payment from his supervisors.

For future jobs, you can always say you are unable to take a job at this time or to meet that deadline. That leaves the door open--provided you ever get paid for that first job--should he ever come to you with a job that is worth your time. These little jerk-around jobs aren't. Being courteous and professional should help with any possible social awkwardness.

When you're first starting out it's tempting to take every single job that comes in the door, but if you can keep the fear of starvation in check, it's better to use your judgement about which ones are really worth your while.

Mike Monteiro's Fuck You. Pay Me. video is a great pep talk when you are feeling wobbly about getting money from a client.
posted by looli at 11:00 PM on October 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

Since you are just starting out and building your reputation, I agree that a phone call is in order. If you don't wish to speak directly to him, call a little before his office opens so you can leave a voice mail for him. You could say you are calling to follow up with him because you never got a response from him regarding the assignment he proposed to you. I would try to come across as clear, upbeat, firm and positive. Don't be apologetic. Say you wanted to confirm that you weren't sending any work product to him since there was no response and you wanted to be clear that he knew that, just to remove any doubt. This should free your conscience of any lingering worries about the whole thing.
posted by dottiechang at 1:45 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

It doesn't sound like you have a problem with future work with Shamus -- not working without a signed contract is an excellent plan, and I think it's great that you've adopted it and are sticking with it. Currently, you do not have a contract with Shamus so you are not working for him.

Make sure your expectations for payment are in line with your industry. I notice that some people who are new to this have the idea that payment would come around as quickly as a payroll check. If you are sending invoices, it is not payroll. The payment terms should have been in your contract (which I understand you didn't have with him for the previous work), and should be reiterated on the invoice. Ask other similar businesses, but it would not surprise me if the average terms are net 30, 45, or even 60. That is, 30, 45, or 60 days to pay after the date of the invoice (the date you sent it, which is not necessarily the date you completed the work). If you want to read more information about payment terms, this article on the Accounts Payable Network outlines several and discusses them.
posted by Houstonian at 2:54 AM on October 6, 2011

b. Do nothing. At least not about the new project. The ball is firmly in his court on that one.

As for the invoice, net 30 is typical unless you negotiated otherwise. So do nothing there until you hit 30 days, at which point send him a reminder, followed at weekly intervals by increasingly strong reminders, followed at 60 days by a letter on legal letterhead. (I use Prepaid Legal for this kind of thing.)

If he does come back with a signed contract for the new work, go ahead and do it. After that, whenever he calls with more work, you are alas too busy. In perpetuity. That's the easy way to fire a client.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:22 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To answer your questions Johnny Gunn, he received an invoice on August 12 that was net 30 days. I was not paid by September 12. He would be paying me directly and be reimbursed by his company. This is a small company.

Dottiechang, I did just that, left a voicemail this morning just saying I hadn't received the contract which I would need in order to get started. He responded by email to say that he doesn't have "time for paperwork" and it's "easier" to get someone else to do it. No mention of invoice.

I actually feel relieved. And to be honest, I don't care if he ever pays me. I just don't want to deal with him again. The good thing is now I will have an easier time telling other potential clients that I can't work without a contract.

Thanks all for your responses. The Fuck You Pay Me video was awesome.
posted by it's a long way to south america at 1:00 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

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