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05/31/2001 Entry: "Deadbeat Clients"

Ahh, the joys of the small business owner. This is an actual letter we sent to a client who just couldn't seem to find the invoices we kept sending. Now, this client is a business that grossed millions of dollars last year and the amount in question, about $4k, is really nothing to them whereas, because of cash-flow issues, it was important to us. Plus, it pissed us off that they were yanking our chains. I've come to believe that it's their policy to try and screw over people who do work for them.

This letter came to mind again this week because we just finished another engagement with these folks and they're trying to jerk us around again. Not on the money, our contract was much tighter this time around and included significant penalties for late payment. No, it's that they keep calling us up and asking us to "just do this one more thing" on the project for them. Well, these are out-of-scope requests on a project already signed off on. We don't do on-call work, not without some ongoing maintenance contract in place. It costs us more money to do that in many circumstances than we can reasonably charge. When we tell them that, they act like we're insane. In my opinion, we'd be crazy if we don't have a strong contract in place whenever we do work for someone, especially if--like these folks--they've shown a demonstrable interest in getting something for nothing. Anyway, here's the letter. I sent this after receiving personal assurance from the head deadbeat that they were cutting us a check right away.

[Deadbeat Client President],

Thank you for your quick response to this. If possible, we would like to send someone by this afternoon to pick up the check. We'll call later to make sure that it is ready before anyone comes over. I'm not sure if you are aware of the circumstances surrounding our attempts to get paid on this four month old invoice.

We originally mailed you invoice [number] back on September 9, 2000. At your request we mailed the invoice to your new address. The invoice covered work occurring in August and early September. Six weeks later, in late October, we called and spoke to [your flunky] because we had not yet received payment. She told us that you had not received the invoice. Per our conversation with [your flunky], we immediately faxed you a copy of the invoice. Just about a month later, in mid-November, we called again because we still hadn't received payment on the invoice. At that time [your flunky] told us that you had not received the fax. This came as a bit of a surprise to us as we had told [your flunky] we were going to fax her a copy of the invoice immediately after our previous conversation and we had never heard that she didn't receive it. We told [your flunky] that we were going to fax over yet another copy of the invoice, which we did immediately after our phone call. Another month went by and we called again in mid-December. [Your flunky] told us once more that she had not received our invoice. At this point, we hand-delivered a copy of the invoice to your office. We called after the hand-delivery to make sure you had the invoice and were told by [your flunky] that a check would be cut and signed in the next batch of checks. Two weeks later, we called again and were told that the check would be cut and signed in the next batch. For the past two weeks, I have been calling [your flunky] nearly every other day. The refrains that we hear constantly repeated are either that the "check is in the next batch" or that "no one is available to sign the check."

This is not the first time that we have experienced difficulties and delays in getting paid on invoices we've submitted to [Deadbeat Client]. We understand that sometimes invoices get lost in the mail, especially where a move is involved. What particularly concerns me is that despite numerous conversations with [your flunky] , we have never once gotten the feeling that [Deadbeat Client] is in any way concerned that payment on this invoice was delayed four months. At no point was any extra amount of effort expended to ensure that we would be paid. We enjoy working with you and want to continue doing so. However, I would like your personal assurance that in the future, our invoices will be paid in a timely fashion.

Again, thank you for looking into this and ensuring that we get our payment today.

Sincerely yours,

Tal