I’m a new business and I am figuring out this whole ‘business owner’ thing as I go along. I didn’t make a plan I just did it. That’s neither the best way nor the worst, it’s just a way and happened to be mine in this instance.
I was lucky, I jumped straight into things and was ticking over/breaking even pretty much straight away. I had a few people get in touch with me that I didn’t think I resonated with and ultimately turned down the opportunity of working with them. I liked the people but I knew I would dread the work and one of the reasons I made the decision to go self employed was to have a bit more control over what I worked on and who I worked with.
But lets not forget, I have bills to pay and a child to support and the decision to say no was never lightly taken. I had the great fortune to be well thought of by previous colleagues and they hired me for their own businesses as they too have, or are in the process of, branching out. Great!
Then came an unknown entity – my first client that I didn’t know from Adam. They were a small tech start up who got in touch with me online, a company whose two partners were dynamic, young and hungry. They were exactly who I thought my ideal client was and the work they hired me to do was a cake walk. The type of work I could almost do with one hand and my eyes shut. It was exciting because there was also the prospect of so much more from them, they were going from strength to strength and we had a plan to increase work and change up the type of work as they excelled even further. I was excited, not about the work itself initially but about where this could lead us both.
Contracts signed, terms agreed and work started blissfully with regular conference calls and lots of communication.
Then came my first invoice and to my total chagrin they didn’t pay it on time.
It sucked, I felt miserable having to chase but late though it was, they paid – an error with the email address they said which they had now rectified. Against my gut I accepted it on face value, after all we have a contract etc. I put it down to a glitch (it can happen to anyone) and carried on.
All was back to normal and I carried on with my work, then the system that I accessed on their behalf required something only they could do but I couldn’t seem to get hold of them and I lost 3 days of their work chasing them to do it. The next few invoice payments were also late. Only just but late nonetheless and I found myself chasing them every single time.
I was frustrated every day because I could have been occupied doing something else for The Amy Johnson or utilised that time for another client who paid me on time and didn’t suck extra hours out of my busy work schedule to chase them.
Then my most recent invoice for the work and the payment due date was 22nd August on 7 day terms…Radio silence, not paid AGAIN and this time it’s been a longer wait than ever before. I knew there wasn’t an issue with the emails, I checked. I have emailed/chased/called and nothing. I am being ghosted and completely unprofessionally that makes me sad and want a good cry, the sadness doesn’t stop me being a professional it just makes me human.
It was already bugging me every day and this has been a real learning curve. My trust in them is gone. Though I kept questioning myself because their work offers a reasonable amount of money every week (if they pay) and of course, I don’t want to be without.
What do I do? I thought, do I continue my contracted work knowing that they are likely to pay late EVERY SINGLE TIME or, do I refuse to work and insist on the invoice being paid in full? Do I just leave it and let them chase me as to why I haven’t been doing their work. I had tried to offer them the opportunity to change our agreement to better meet their capabilities but no contact makes it very hard to have that conversation!
This is very different to what I have been used to working for large national companies with whole departments dedicated to dealing with these sorts of things. The answer was a no brainer but still it wasn’t an easy decision to take. I don’t think that these guys intended to cause distress. I think they were simply working beyond their means and unorganised at this stage of start up. I was however, paying the price and at my stage in start up simply do not have the room for this kind of issue.
I felt used. Like I was becoming the professional administrative booty call of people who just didn’t really take note of the negative impact they were having.
I decided to complete my work that week and broke up with them. I reminded them that I now had £300 outstanding, gave them the date it requires payment by and thanked them for their time but in line with my contract yada yada yada this relationship was not going to continue. I had completed my work to date and felt that, though I wish them the best of luck, I cannot continue to work in breach of the payment terms any longer.
I am still waiting for payment and there is total radio silence – even though I still have full access to their systems so I am not convinced they have accepted this change in our relationship.
£300 is a lot of money and at this stage of business I simply cannot swallow it as a learning experience. Yet, realistically it will cost me more than the £300 to go legal because of the volume of my time and energy it will take.
I will be honest, I am angry and incredibly disappointed. Not least because of the lack of professional courtesy but the frustration at myself. The hours I spent on their work could have been spent getting paid by someone else for doing theirs or promoting and moving my own business forward.
Of course we all try to alleviate too much risk when starting out with clients but there’s always some and whilst logically I know ending that relationship was the right thing to do it wasn’t an easy decision. I felt sick to my stomach everyday worrying about whether this client was going to always pay late, trying to find ways to turn that around with them so we could continue in a positive way.
There were times when I was getting ready to call time on it that I worried I might even be cutting my nose off to spite my face. You see, I am convinced they will find success in time and I would have loved to share that journey with them. Sadly the constant uncertainty was making me dread doing their work as I felt as though this could be the time I ended up never being paid and ultimately would end up having done a portion of it for free. I felt disrespected every time I had to chase the payments.
Having had to break up with them via email (still being ghosted) I now feel that I am unlikely to see a penny of that invoice so not only am I out of pocket but I am utterly disheartened.
What I realised is that there will always be the odd client that doesn’t pan out in the way you had hoped. This one, this ‘ideal’ client certainly shook my confidence a little and it made last week very hard. It definitely affected how I felt about doing my other clients work. After all, they could all do it couldn’t they and then I’d be the one left up the proverbial creek with bills to pay and mouths to feed and no income…
Deposits etc. are great and is one of the ways to protect from this sort of thing but one of my frustrations is that a deposit just covers what I do for them, not what I would be doing with that time if I didn’t have to do their work, like speaking with potential clients, marketing, content creation.
Like you, my time is a commodity that simply cannot be retrieved.
You see, I didn’t fire my client because they were having difficulty paying – we could have renegotiated what I do for them to fit into their budget etc. We certainly could have made something work until such a time as they could increase the workload and pay on time.
I fired my client because the uncertainty they made me feel was untenable in the long term. The financial peace of mind wasn’t there and so the cons of the job far outweighed the pros.
I don’t think anyone can take the decision to fire a client lightly, it was the best choice in my circumstances and in evidence of that, during the time that I would have worked for them yesterday I followed up with 2 potential clients. I now have meetings scheduled for next week with both of them (again during the time I would have normally worked for that company) to see about progressing our working relationship and of them becoming paying clients. Contracts are being drawn up and we just need to confirm the small details and sign on the dotted line.
If you feel disrespected by your clients, if you get ghosted often, if you are worried every time they’re due to pay then it may be worth at the very least renegotiating that relationship.
Tell me, what client issues are you struggling with at the moment?
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Thanks for reading,