Last week a client came to me with feedback on a project I’d just completed. His words were something like this: “I had to revise it extensively for accuracy and it doesn’t appear to have been proofread.” What did I do? I slept on it, then replied with revisions to what he’d added (which had plenty of mistakes), then sent him the invoice. And I decided it was the last time I’d work with his company.
Sound harsh? That’s probably because you’re not used to the games clients can play when they’re trying to get out of paying. Because this was I client I’d had payment issues with before, I saw through his carefully worded email immediately. And because I went back over his changes to see what the devil I’d done wrong, I knew full well he’d not had to change anything for accuracy, nor were there any errors (on my part) that would indicate it wasn’t proofed. This was one more attempt by this client to avoid payment.
There are days when I wish I could drop the professional demeanor and really speak my mind. It’s on days when clients attempt to discredit my work to avoid the bill, or when they change contract terms randomly, promise “royalty” payments, expect 50-percent drops in fees, or make you jump through a dozen hoops just to find out the job pays a whopping penny an article. If you’re like me, you’ve had plenty of opportunity thanks to the proliferation of ridiculous to non-existent business practices of others. Don’t bite. As much as they dangle the carrot, attempt to incite argument, don’t reach for it. Emotions do not belong in business interactions. So do this instead:
Remove emotion. They called you what? Unless they’ve come to your house and set you on fire personally, don’t respond to emotional ploys to get you entangled in a bitter war of words. Extract the emotions. Focus on the facts. When the emotional crud escalates (and it will, for all emotional control games escalate when the target won’t play), repeat only the facts. If it continues and it’s clear to you that things are over between you, don’t respond. Envision that client as the flame on the end of a welding torch. You’d not stick your hand over that, would you? Don’t burn yourself over a stupid, fruitless disagreement.
Suck it up and say…nothing. I’m not saying if your client changes the payment terms you should smile and accept it. I’m saying state your terms, firmly if you have to, cite chapter-and-verse of your contract, and clam up. Just as you’re not going to accept an emotional argument, you’re not going to create one, either.
Don’t fall for the nicey-nice. That sweet client who can’t seem to remember to pay your invoice is using emotional blackmail to keep you from sending out that litigation notice. Again, remove all emotion – you’re running a business. I don’t care if she’s your new best friend. She’s a client who owes you money. Act accordingly.
Reiterate your terms. It doesn’t matter that your client has just offered you royalties and that’s all they have to pay. If that’s not in line with your billing process (and it damn well shouldn’t be), restate that your fee per hour/project is X and that royalties are not accepted. Don’t respond with the “Are you JOKING?” line you’re dying to use.
Sleep on it. Many are the client curve balls I’ve been tossed that had I responded instantly I’d have fouled out on. When your client blindsides you with something unacceptable or just plain crazy, walk away from the computer. If you’re on the phone, excuse yourself by saying you need to consider what’s been said and refer to your files before responding, then hang up. Don’t answer when your emotions are high. Let it sink in, consider your options, then find the best way to respond that sticks to the facts and asserts your own boundaries.
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