Quitting my job, should I tell my boss the real reason why?
July 26, 2014 4:49 PM   Subscribe

Freelancer here. I've been doing design/tech/maintenance work for this one guy's website for a little under a year. It's part-time and pays well...when he pays. He has a habit of being late on payments and unreachable...I've resolved to quit. Should I tell him the real reason why?

I work remotely and I scheduled a call with him on Monday. He's been late (again) with a monthly payment. It's not really the late payment that annoys me, it's the fact that he won't reply to any of my follow up emails about my invoice (but he responds to other work-related emails). I wouldn't even be that mad as long as he lets me know that he's on it, or it would get paid soon...the radio silence drives me nuts.

Although the job pays well and contributes to a significant chunk of my monthly income, I think I'm better off quitting. It's stressful not knowing whether or not I'm going to get paid. And even though it's not really my responsibility, when I see his site falling behind his competitors, it makes me feel bad. I want to make the site better. But he's not really putting in the effort to do that himself and I feel torn between going all in to really improve this site (taking on a role that I did not really agree to) and holding myself back because...well, why should I put in that much effort if he isn't + he isn't paying me on time?

I'm not thrilled about giving up so much of my income stream (it'll be hard to find another job that pays that well and gives me that much freedom) but that stress and uncertainty negatively affects my work ethic for that site and that does not make me feel good.

So when I talk to him on Monday should I tell him it's because of the late payments and the lack of communication? Should I tell him that it's affecting my work ethic? Or should I just lie and say that something else came up? FWIW we did not sign a contract (I do pay taxes on all my earnings) and I did not say I would work for him for X amount of time. Since I have a couple things in motion for his site already, I plan to make August my last month.
posted by bluelight to Work & Money (23 answers total)
Have you actually had a serious chat with him about how upset you are about the late payment and the lack of response to your emails on the subject?
posted by ClaireBear at 4:56 PM on July 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

Will it affect anything in a positive way if you tell him? On the other hand, will telling him ruin any chance you have of working for him again if you have to? (You know, in case of emergency. Something you can't predict right now.)

A while back, I was considering some similar questions, but concluded that my list of issues would not result in any change on their side. (If it were that easy, things would have already changed.) All it would do is create bad feelings (and thus bad references, bad chatter, and no chance of working there again if I needed to). I used a neutral reason for moving on instead.

If you think he's truly oblivious to the problems, that might be one thing, but since he's selectively ignoring invoice emails? Pretty sure he already knows.
posted by wintersweet at 4:57 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't see a downside in telling him, especially if you would be open to continuing to work for him if the situation changed; for example if he was willing to start paying you in advance.
posted by metasarah at 5:08 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, couch it in a straight no drama way, touch on any positives from the job as well, but let him know.
posted by edgeways at 5:10 PM on July 26, 2014

I have a little experience with a similar situation. I worked with a programmer who did really good work for me, we were on very good terms, and unbeknownst to me the person handling my bills was not paying the programmer promptly. This relationship was very important to me. The programmer sent me a very blunt email about how angry he was about the situation. I'm glad he dId. Sometimes it just takes being blunt to get what you want and fix the situation.
posted by jayder at 5:15 PM on July 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'd definitely tell him the reason why if he asks, but not if he doesn't seem to care. Although if I were you I'd at least try a different approach. Maybe "Because of issues with late payment I'm only going to be able to accept future assignments from your company on a pay in advance basis. if you're uncomfortable with that, I understand. It's been good working with you."
posted by skewed at 6:00 PM on July 26, 2014 [25 favorites]

Although the job pays well and contributes to a significant chunk of my monthly income, I think I'm better off quitting.

OK well I think you're better off averaging your invoices for the last six months, and making that a retainer amount that has to clear your account by the first of every month, on which you bill on top. And yes, I would discuss this with him, because you are actually better off not avoiding confrontation but rather keeping the client if you can address the billing issue.

And for what it's worth, "I'd be happy to do X, Y and Z but can't start those jobs while you have an outstanding invoice" is also a good thing to have around to say.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:31 PM on July 26, 2014 [26 favorites]

How about something like:

I have really enjoyed working for you, but I [need to look for | have an opportunity to work with] [a client | clients] with a more steady revenue stream [because I'm getting a mortgage | because I'm starting a family | because I'm spending too much time on bookkeeping]. Please no hard feelings, again the work has been great, it's just that my parameters for clients have changed.
posted by amtho at 6:43 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

[because I'm getting a mortgage | because I'm starting a family | because I'm spending too much time on bookkeeping].

Because he fucking owes you prompt payment. Don't explain beyond that. It's none of his business why you want to be paid on time.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:53 PM on July 26, 2014 [34 favorites]

Given that you are a freelancer doing work for hire on a nonexclusive basis, I would suggest that you not think of yourself as having a "job" working for a "boss" but rather that you have a "contract" with a "client." Properly designating the roles will help in your discussions with him along the lines others suggest above. He's not living up to his side of the contract.
posted by yclipse at 6:55 PM on July 26, 2014 [9 favorites]

I work for a small business (like, I'm-the-one-that's-not-the-owner small) and we get into similar positions, occasionally. We do drop clients for not paying within a reasonable amount of time, and we tell them so. Before doing this, however, we generally have a few conversations with them about it, beginning with "We will not do any work while you have outstanding invoices" and continuing on into "We require $X upfront for any further work done" or "We will no longer do work for you if we do not receive payment within X amount of time". If those fail, then it's time for the "Because you have failed to make payments reliably, we are no longer interested in your business."

So, yes, I would say to tell him the reason why. At the very least, it may make him more aware of this issue for the sake of the next freelancer he relies on.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 6:57 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

By allowing this dude to do what he's been doing, you've trained him to believe it's okay. Start correcting that now and tell him he owes you money.
posted by Hermione Granger at 7:34 PM on July 26, 2014 [6 favorites]

Before doing this, however, we generally have a few conversations with them about it

Yes. If you have already decided to quit, it's better to offer an excuse than to say you're quitting because of an issue you didn't let the boss know was a deal-breaker for you. (Of course, it's entirely reasonable that chronic late payment would be such an issue.)

If you might still consider working for this client, a frank discussion as outlined by The Great Big Mulp would be in order.
posted by in278s at 7:41 PM on July 26, 2014

Since you otherwise like working for the guy, I'd try to fix the problem first.

X days after an unpaid invoice, pause work. Send him an email, it can be friendly in tone, but tell him you're going to attend to other things until he has time to square up with you. Don't get talked into starting back up until the check is actually deposited. If needed, X can shrink.

Sounds to me like you might only need to modify his incentives a little.

(Asking for payment in advance or a sizeable retainer is great if you think it will fly. I've never had the nerve to ask for this, but it's certainly done.)
posted by mattu at 9:19 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Something that's worked for us is prompt payment discounts. Introduce it as part of a price rise if you'd prefer: Dear Client, as of August our rates will be $x+5%/hr. If you pay invoices within 14 days then you are entitled to a 5% discount.
posted by cogat at 1:20 AM on July 27, 2014

Limit the discussion to money. Your part of the contract is to deliver good work on agreed timescales, his part of the deal is to pay on time. His radio silence is deliberate.

How to you charge at the moment, time and materials or per project?

If the former, try and restructure your payments on either a retainer basis (if you can get away with it) or issue weekly invoices which have to be paid within 7 days. After your discussion, down tools until he has paid all invoices over a week old and maintain a 1 week payment requirement on all future invoices. Down tools again and insist on a complete catchup if he ever backslides, this limits your risk to 1 weeks work.

These discussions tend to break relationships as he no doubt thinks he is being very clever or "exercising good business practice". If it does break down then he will probably try to weasel out of paying the final invoice, have an incentive to hand like witholding cooperation from your successor.
posted by epo at 3:47 AM on July 27, 2014

Since you're already at the point where you're ready to lose his business, there is another way: You could also send an email saying you're implementing a new policy: After X days on nonpayment, invoice goes up 10%, after 2x days, it goes up 20%, etc. Write it like a form letter to all your clients (even if you only send it to the one problem client, do it as a bcc so it appears everyone gets it). Then include this language on every invoice.

This gives you 3 possible outcomes:
1) The client quits you because they don't like the policy, so you don't have to fire them.
2) The client pays you more, so going over doesn't feel like as much of a hassle for you
3) You have a set of emails (friendly reminder, announcement that in 3 days invoice will go up, new invoice) that you can send at each of the stages of communication which may prompt earlier payment.

Some people will do anything to keep from paying more. Some people are fine with paying a premium if it makes the hassle of getting bills paid on time go away.

You don't owe this guy an explanation. He owes you money.
posted by Mchelly at 4:23 AM on July 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Why not simply tell him that, starting from now on, any future work will require full payment in advance?
posted by aroberge at 6:49 AM on July 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, just tell him that not getting paid on time is a problem. Like others have suggested, you could think about suggesting that he pay you a retainer in advance.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:44 AM on July 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I agree that you need to talk with him and at least try to reach a mutually satisfactory arrangement, although I come to that conclusion from a slightly different angle.

Short of a really bad situation, I think it's unprofessional to just drop a client without ensuring a graceful transition. However, in this case, you can't really recommend that any colleagues take over this client either. So you're kind of stuck until either the situation either improves or worsens.

Don't lie to the client. You don't need a pretext to expect prompt payment. Just tell him "You have historically been slow to pay and unresponsive to my inquiries about payment, and I will not continue to work with you under those conditions." Retainer fees and payment upfront are both options. You can (and IMO should) also refuse to take further work until past-due invoices are paid. You can send invoices at milestones and require payment on those invoices before you continue with the job (this makes it harder to get too far behind on payment).

Figure out your game plan and let the client know how it's going to be. If the client balks or backslides, then you can walk away with a clear conscience.
posted by adamrice at 11:35 AM on July 27, 2014

Instead of quitting, I would talk about it first. Then if it doesn't change, quit. I mean, you admit you are otherwise happy with the gig. Also, if you are at the point where you are willing to give up the job altogether, then you literally have nothing to lose by telling him you are unhappy with the poor communication around your compensation and it affects your ability to get the work done.
posted by AppleTurnover at 3:48 PM on July 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's not really the late payment that annoys me, it's the fact that he won't reply to any of my follow up emails about my invoice (but he responds to other work-related emails)

This leaped out at me. He knows he's not paying you, and he is deliberately and transparently avoiding the discussion. I wouldn't be very confident of a successful conversation with him about money, to be honest.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:29 AM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Re: feckless fecal fear mongering's point. I will say that I think he probably doesn't respond until he has an answer, or at least until he answer is "the check is in the mail." I imagine the real problem isn't that he is choosing to ignore emails, but that whatever payment system they have sucks. I would still talk to him about it and see if it can be addressed before quitting. But good luck!
posted by AppleTurnover at 3:19 PM on July 29, 2014

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