Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Don't let them bend you over.

Recently, I experienced a very ugly work situation.
This post has been written to share my experience and for you to understand not only the steps I took to deal with it but also how I managed to win the battle.

In this business, you will often work on side projects.
Friends, family, whomever, somebody always needs something creative produced and they will ask you. They say that the only thing certain in life are death and taxes but I can assure you, your friend’s engagement party invitations (or whatever) are also on that list when you work in the creative field.

My side projects became so heavy over time that I ended up leaving my full time position to focus on them.
You will have these projects, and sometimes they will end on a sour note. Some people in this world are assholes. It’s as simple as that. This is a story that I hope will give you some food for thought and will make sure that you take all the necessary precautions to keep the ball in your court.

Here’s the quick story. I was hired to produce a logo and business cards for a company.
We agreed to a price, the work was created, and everything went extremely well.
Until my client took the work to his printer for production.
According to my source (an employee of the client), the printing company (also a design firm) asked who created it and for how much?
When my client told them, they said they could have done it much cheaper and proceeded to bastardize my work by creating their own versions. It’s completely wrong and immoral, but it happened.
They showed it to my client, he liked what he saw (and the price), and decided to go with their version.

There was really nothing I could do about it. I wrote the printing company voicing my concern but they basically told me I was making false accusations and they had no idea what I was talking about.

So, I let it go. I sent my invoices to the client and they went ignored. I then got the reply when I pushed that I figured was coming…

“I really feel that you did not do your job fully in this case. I have a lot of family in this business and your pricing (which I don’t believe I agreed on a final price on) is completely absurd. I had the work completely redone and it was done for a fraction of your price”

Now, here’s the thing, in this day and age, you can’t lie when I have a paper trail as long as my arm with emails (and proposals) stating how much I am getting paid, and numerous approvals with “great work” and “we love it”.

This is where things got ugly.

I sent a final invoice (with the approval emails attached) stating that if my bill is not paid, I will have to take legal action.
The client sent an email back to the tune of “my lawyer can beat up your lawyer”.

Step 2, I sent a “cease and desist” letter. The letter claims that the client can’t use anything that resembles my work since I own it and they had not paid me for the privilege.

They wrote back claiming they came up with the logo by instructing me on what they wanted. They considered the whole matter “closed”.

I had enough. It was time for action.

Many are under the impression that the small guy (in this case me) will simply not bother going to court because of all the trouble involved.
In a way they are right.
Here’s how it works (in Ontario)...

To get lawyers involved is a fortune. To go to court (or small claims court...for unsettled disputes up to $10k) is a joke. You have to go to court, pay, and file papers. You have to make copies. You have to serve them. You then get a date (months later) to meet with a moderator BEFORE the case goes to trial to see if you can work it out. If you don’t, it goes to court (months later). Providing you have all the proof, you can usually win. The courts hate it when the small business owner gets screwed out of their money.
Now here’s the thing, even if you win, the client still may not pay you. This means you have to go through the whole court process once again in order to get your money. Many give up and depending on the amount owed, it is simply not worth it.

I wrote back to the client one last time.
The reply they gave is not suitable for print. Clearly, I was not dealing with somebody of sound mind.

Now, here’s how it ended. That night, I made one phone call. To a collection agency.
I like to think of them as “legal mafia”. I basically called in “Luca the collector”.
For 25% of the invoice (which you can actually write off as a loss) they will get your money for you.
Once the bill is in the hands of a collection agency, if the client doesn’t pay, they risk tarnishing their credit rating. Good luck to them if they would like to take out a one dollar loan on a stick of gum.

5 minutes after I got off the phone with the collection agency, the client received a phone call.
A few days later I had the money.

The lessons…

When you start a project, make sure you keep records. Get the client to sign a written proposal (outlining everything you are giving them) before starting. If they don’t sign, don’t begin.

Keep every email they send you during the project. Every one. This way there can be no arguments. No “he said, she said”.

Never let anyone make you believe that the ball isn’t in your court. If you’ve taken the proper steps and kept records, it’s always in your court.

Some people will try anything they can to get out of paying a bill. It has nothing to do with you. You could have given them a masterpiece. You'll still get the same scenario. It's in their nature. These are usually the same people that complain about the bill at a 5-star restaurant stating they didn't like the food.

You deserve to get paid for your work. Period.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

this blog just came in on my "lebow college of business" google alert.

great story! i was really shocked by your solution. i had no idea that people could do that!