Non-paying deadbeat clients

20 replies
So I did some programming, app dev, and front end development for a client to the tune of $3000 worth of work. It has been almost two months and I have received $850 over the course of the project, and have no indication on when I will be receiving the rest. Client has become non-responsive.

Initial terms were for a PSD to HTML with some javascript and php for $900, of which I was paid the initial $450. (50/50 terms). The rest of the work came by way of serving some IT needs they had, which was to be added to the bill.

At the end of their indiegogo campaign (which I did the dev for), I received another $400 but only after chasing them down, and getting a "good faith" payment.

I have full access to the website, hosting, domains, and even the Godaddy account.

In my 13+ years of doing this, I've had plenty of slow payers, but no non-payers (I'm good at choosing my clients) so this is new to me.

Need some advice on how far to go forward with this. The client is in the same state, but about 4 hours away, so small claims is an option, but it takes too long. I'm not a "money" guy. I only work on projects that matter to me so this is a tricky thing for me. Need some advice from savvy business people.
#advice #client #deadbeat #nonpaying
  • Profile picture of the author Enfusia
    While I can't give you advice nor am I. I can say what I would do. The following is for entertainment value only and does not constitute legal advice or council.

    I would go back up everything onto 2 items under my control such as a full remote site back up (I use backup creator) and then onto a drive as well so I have 2 copies just in case.

    Than I would delete everything I did for them and post my phone number in place of it in about 20 point type and wait for the call.

    But that's just me.

    When the bill was paid in full and cashed I would restore everything.

    Patrick
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  • Profile picture of the author dvduval
    I would be careful about doing anything to sabotage them. That could get you in trouble in other ways. What is most expensive is the medical bill later in life if you let things like this get you too stressed.

    If they are not responsive, one strategy might be to try to contact family members and ask if they are okay. Sometimes the embarrassment gets them to pay up.
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  • Profile picture of the author timpears
    I am with Patrick, that sounds like a good plan to me. This is a personal opinion and should in no way be considered legal advice as I am not a lawyer. If that didn't get me my money, I think I would change their name servers on Godaddy, but if that is not over the legal line, it is damn close to it. But I would take the position that this was an accident, I was in the wrong account and changed the wrong domain, I was thinking of something else when I did it, and it was a mistake.
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  • Profile picture of the author SteveJohnson
    Your available avenues of recourse depend on what's in your contract. You do have a contract, don't you?

    I heard a second-hand story, entirely plausible but I don't know if it's true, of a dev who took down a revenue-producing site for non-payment, got sued, and lost.

    I have a clause in my contracts that provides that I can sell the contract to a third party for collection after a certain period and adds reasonable collection charges. It was a carryover from my old painting business (where I couldn't exactly remove the paint and collecting on liens was too expensive); I've had to use it once in time I've been doing programming. I got my money, or most of it (and a couple of nasty phone calls LOL) and they got a spot on their credit record.

    Might be worth $100 of attorney time to see what your options are.
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  • Profile picture of the author writeaway
    Hey, it happens. Go with small claims. Or you can try an outsourced collection agency based offshore.
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  • Profile picture of the author GforceSage
    Collection agencies don't do anything. They make 10 phone calls, write 5 letters, and threaten to ding someones credit and then send you a bill for it. They only usually only steer you towards court if there is a much larger bill amount. Small claims if it's a last resort.

    *Not legal advice, but a plan of attack:

    Letter One:
    Dear _______,
    We have concerns since we have not heard from you or received the amount due on your account from ?/?/?. You have a current balance of $______. We balance our books in relationship to our projects every 30 days. We are able to maintain a premium level of reliability for our clients websites by partnering with the best hosting options available. We have been notified that since your website has accrued an outstanding balance it will be going offline on ( 30 days from date on letter.)
    Please let us know if there has been a change in your situation that we should be aware of or if you need additional terms to fulfill your obligation. We always strive to resolve any financial matters (or contract matters if applicable) directly with our valued clients and not burden them with the costs associated with legal/court costs.
    Kindly submit payment of $______ by (30 days from date of letter) so that we can intervene on your behalf and keep your web presence uninterrupted.
    Best Regards,
    ______________.
    A second letter would explain the legal consequences for not acting.
    Always take the high road. You want your rep to stay strong and not be part of a pissing contest because the client says there is a misunderstanding. Always have all terms in writing with dates of execution for both parties.
    *Always consult a lawyer before undertaking any legal proceedings.
    Best of luck, let me know how you make out.
    GfS
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    • Profile picture of the author bss2t
      A friend of mine used a collections agency who was pretty good. For about $100 they were hounding this guy to complete his end of the transaction. It took about 3 months, but it worked. I'll see if I can find their info for you. For $100, it's worth it just to bother them that much.
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  • Profile picture of the author Lloyd Buchinski
    I'm don't know if this is common with the legal people, but the one time I needed to talk to a lawyer about something like this, the first interview was free to get the basics of the case and see if it was worth it for us to proceed.

    That session gave me enough information to make a simple decision. He also threw in his opinion on the matter and it was a good one.
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  • Profile picture of the author DTGeorge
    Originally Posted by BeauJustin View Post

    So I did some programming, app dev, and front end development for a client to the tune of $3000 worth of work. It has been almost two months and I have received $850 over the course of the project, and have no indication on when I will be receiving the rest. Client has become non-responsive.

    Initial terms were for a PSD to HTML with some javascript and php for $900, of which I was paid the initial $450. (50/50 terms). The rest of the work came by way of serving some IT needs they had, which was to be added to the bill.

    At the end of their indiegogo campaign (which I did the dev for), I received another $400 but only after chasing them down, and getting a "good faith" payment.

    I have full access to the website, hosting, domains, and even the Godaddy account.

    In my 13+ years of doing this, I've had plenty of slow payers, but no non-payers (I'm good at choosing my clients) so this is new to me.

    Need some advice on how far to go forward with this. The client is in the same state, but about 4 hours away, so small claims is an option, but it takes too long. I'm not a "money" guy. I only work on projects that matter to me so this is a tricky thing for me. Need some advice from savvy business people.
    Just like the others, I'll preface this with the fact that I'm not a lawyer, and that my advice should not be taken as such.

    BUT. Firstly I would change the passwords and emails to something that only I would know.

    THEN I would send them a letter saying that legal action would be taken if they do not send the payment forthwith.

    THEN I would remove all of my code, and any work that I might have done for them. Every single last bit of work I had done would be removed from their site.

    If still no response, I would probably actually contact a lawyer. But if their website is screwed up without the code, then I doubt it would matter, they will probably get back to you
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  • Profile picture of the author Gengis
    If you have a contract with this person and they're not doing their part of the agreement you can either remove the code or move on and learn from this experience or call it a loss and move on..

    Either way if you let this bog you down too much it will affect the rest of your work and day..

    If you have 20 other projects you're working on it will make it easier for you to move on so go out and find business..
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  • Profile picture of the author RobinInTexas
    I wouldn't remove my code, I would edit 1 character at a critical point in the code on the site. preferably where a transaction or lead capture takes place. Just one semicolon in the right chunk of PHP code if you get my drift. The site should for all intents and purposes look exactly the same as it did when you completed your work.

    Just sit back and keep hounding them for your money and wait for them to notice the problem. Then explain what it would take for you to drop what you are doing and look for their problem.

    If you have ssh access, judicious use of touch and a quick edit of a couple of lines of ~/bash.log should hide your tracks (mostly).

    Any obvious damage to their business could result in a lawsuit that win or lose you might not want to pay for. Last time I asked a lawyer about taking on a case, the "up front" money to take it was more than what is involved in your situation.

    I am not a lawyer, in fact have no legal training whatsoever. I don't even play a lawyer on tv.
    In no event will I be liable for any loss or damage including without limitation, indirect or consequential loss or damage, or any loss or damage whatsoever arising from loss of data or profits arising out of, or in connection with, the use of my opinion. Taking legal advice from anyone via the internet is a bad idea, you should do your own research and consult proper legal counsel before embarking on anything after breakfast.
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  • Profile picture of the author John Romaine
    Originally Posted by BeauJustin View Post

    In my 13+ years of doing this, I've had plenty of slow payers, but no non-payers (I'm good at choosing my clients) so this is new to me.
    Get paid first, then do the work.
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  • Profile picture of the author THK
    I think the gas will cost you less than any legal fees. If you know their business hours, why not pay them a visit?

    And I would not call any family members or friends over this (as someone else suggested). That is little too unprofessional and tacky, even for a non paying client IMO.

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  • Profile picture of the author bd02
    I can't say there is any one way to succeed here. I say that because it really depends on the personality type you're dealing with. For instance, I had a client once that was very deep into us for IT consulting work. He was an irresponsible bully. The only way we'd get payment from him was to threaten him and his office manager with collections. However, he was in extreme in the type of people I don't work with anymore.

    With all that said, I believe the best way to handle any of these matters is to sit down face to face and hash it out. An in person conversation can go along way towards clearing the air. When you go into talk, have a plan on what you're goal is but also what you will settle for. While doing IT consulting work I was found I was becoming more of a politician than a technician and the more I accepted and embraced that the more successful I became.
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  • Profile picture of the author Josh Monroe
    Like Patricks post, this is for "entertainment value" only - but since they live so close, why not have some of your "associates" pay them a visit?


    That should do the trick
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  • Profile picture of the author marketerpro
    Even seemingly honest clients can cheat you, if circumstances make it attractive. I know how that works, as I have had it happen to me. This I got recently and it has some good tactics. It's called 'Don't Get Screwed'..

    http://www.warriorforum.com/warrior-...your-work.html
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  • Profile picture of the author Woodward82
    What kind of business do they run? Is it a legitimate offline brick and mortar? Or an online blog ect.

    If they have a legitimate business (offline) kindly send them an email and let them know that you will file a complaint with the BBB and other sites/blogs that could potentially hurt their business beyond what they owe you.

    I dont have time to draw up anything but I noticed a comment above that had a pretty decent drawn out email. I wouldn't threaten them, just kindly remind them that the bill is past due and remind them that it could hurt them in the end with things like the BBB.

    Other than that, I dont think ruining your reputation as a calm professional would be worth much else.

    If you can pay the court fees and it wont hurt your bank account definitely file small claims. It may cost a few hundred bucks, but if anything turns about one day they may be forced to pay. And if you win they will be responsible for the court cost also. Maybe just maybe the court letter will remind them to pay up before hand. If the few hundred a couple days away from work isnt viable see step one.

    I wouldnt take any code down or anything
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