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Grinding back when good clients start to Grind

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Craig Seeman
Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Jun 23, 2010 at 4:23:47 pm

I know you love stories so . . .

A client of many years is rebranding so decides to rebrand a TV spot we did 6 years ago.

Over the years they always paid in the usual thirds and always payment completed by delivery. Often, once the spot is completed, it's just a compression and file upload for cable distribution and a small bill so we started invoicing for those. They'd usually pay within a few days. The last time we did this days became months and email reminders were ignored (claimed he though they were spam). He finally paid when it came time to do the rebranding work.

The work on the first spot is done. They've approved the online watermarked version and it's time for delivery and I send them a PayPal bill so they can pay hassle free immediately. They have an urgent file delivery for a media buy. They responded to the PayPal bill by saying they'd pay "soon." A day later they ask why haven't I delivered as the cable network has contacted them. I asked to please make PayPal payment as we can't deliver final product (already viewed and approved by client) until we get payment.

So they respond that person to make payment is watching a sporting event and don't I trust them for payment. This is urgent, so they say. This after they took months to pay the last small bill.
I explained that PayPal only takes a few moments (they're not new to this).

As a small business we don't want to invest resources into trying to collect especially when the previously good client already did this recently.

IMHO if clients expect urgent delivery they should expect to pay with equal expedience.

It's sad when a client of many years changes their payment behavior but when they do, we must change our billing procedure. I may lose the client but I have to weigh that against months of trying to collect. This is especially so when the client is paying on delivery (no partial payment) and want to pay AFTER delivery when we have no collateral to hold.

We've all know about grinders but the "new" paradigm to look out for is that clients who weren't grinders may become such and each of us may need to draw a line to demark when that happens.



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Mark Suszko
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Jun 23, 2010 at 4:34:54 pm

If you are afraid to lose a client that technically hasn't/isn't paying already, what exactly is there TO lose? More of no money!?!? Heavens forbid!

Stick to your guns, Craig. Character is who you are in the dark.


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Craig Seeman
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Jun 23, 2010 at 4:58:38 pm

Exactly Mark. EXACTLY. It's not even worth the time to send out reminder notices in my opinion. I'd even trust the client given the longevity of the relationship except that he's already stalled on a previous small bill. Only paid when he actually had more work to do.

I do not want to foster the practice of "we'll pay our previous bill at the time we have more work to give you." It's not the proper cash flow for a viable business model. When a client's solution to the current economy is that kind of bill payment that's my "line of demarcation" for when they become "grinder." No client ever should hold your business ransom on payment.



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Todd Terry
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Jun 23, 2010 at 4:40:28 pm

[Craig Seeman] "So they respond that person to make payment is watching a sporting event"

Love that.

My response would be "What a coincidence! The person who will do your upload happens to be watching that same event, too. I guess we'll sort it out when the game is over."

I love it when excuses are pushed so far beyond the laughable point.

Stick to it.


T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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Craig Seeman
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Jun 23, 2010 at 5:05:13 pm

So client sends email saying they'll call me later.

Why, so they can tell me some story about why they can't pay a small bill immediately? If they can send me an email they could have made PayPal payment in the same cyber breath. If they had an excuse they could have emailed that for what it's worth.

BTW another thing clients can do is chew up your time in back and forth unnecessary conversations. One has to measure time in total in figuring the value of the work. I have other work to do and I may not be able to talk to him at his convenience on what I consider and unpaid bill at this point.



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Mark Suszko
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Jun 23, 2010 at 5:51:54 pm

My response would be "What a coincidence! The person who will do your upload happens to be watching that same event, too. I guess we'll sort it out when the game is over."


Maybe they can pay by vuvuzela?:-)


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Craig Seeman
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Jun 23, 2010 at 6:23:26 pm

[Mark Suszko] "Maybe they can pay by vuvuzela?:-)"

That's what I play into the phone when the client calls.




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Ron Lindeboom
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Jun 23, 2010 at 6:42:44 pm

[Craig Seeman] "We've all know about grinders but the "new" paradigm to look out for is that clients who weren't grinders may become such and each of us may need to draw a line to demark when that happens."


As you said, Craig, your usual "billing thirds" were met by this erstwhile client -- but when they departed from that rule, I think it safe to say that is when they crossed the line into being a grinder.

They confirmed their new status when they ignored your bills for a paltry amount.

They locked their new grinder status into concrete when they used one of the oldest tricks in the book -- the ever predictable "we need it now, it's an emergency" crapola -- and refused to pay before delivery.

When people try that one on me, I tell them straight out: "I have an emergency too, I have bills that are coming due."

I also point them to my article "Clients or Grinders: The Choice Is Yours" and tell them to read it. They get the point.

Best regards,

Ron Lindeboom
CEO, CreativeCOW.net

Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil are located in the same individual.

Graveyards are full of people the world couldn't do without.



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Craig Seeman
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Jun 23, 2010 at 7:28:48 pm

[Ron Lindeboom] "They confirmed their new status when they ignored your bills for a paltry amount. "

Yes, and it's best to stop that tendency in the client when it's paltry because the next time it may be a bigger. It's best to implement "behavior modification" immediately.

[Ron Lindeboom] "When people try that one on me, I tell them straight out: "I have an emergency too, I have bills that are coming due." "

I sent them a polite email in response to their "emergency" that the business has equipment maintenance and supply expenses so we cannot work under "payment after delivery" business model.

That their only response was "call you later" seems to redefine the meaning of "emergency."





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Steve Kownacki
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Jun 23, 2010 at 7:36:55 pm

[Craig Seeman] "that person to make payment is watching a sporting event"

Hmmmm... I think the Pres of BP was watching a sporting event too. Maybe it's a trend.



Steve



Jump to the FFP Website



View Steve Kownacki's profile on LinkedIn




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David Roth Weiss
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Jun 23, 2010 at 7:49:56 pm

[Steve Kownacki] "I think the Pres of BP was watching a sporting event too. Maybe it's a trend. "

Do these idiots actually believe they gain respect because they're watching a sporting event while the rest of us are laboring?

Think they're slightly detached from reality?

David Roth Weiss
Director/Editor/Colorist
David Weiss Productions, Inc.
Los Angeles

POST-PRODUCTION WITHOUT THE USUAL INSANITY ™

EPK Colorist - UP IN THE AIR - nominated for six academy awards

A forum host of Creative COW's Apple Final Cut Pro, Business & Marketing, Indie Film & Documentary, and Film History & Appreciations forums.


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Mark Suszko
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Jun 23, 2010 at 7:55:01 pm



[Steve Kownacki] "I think the Pres of BP was watching a sporting event too. Maybe it's a trend. "

Do these idiots actually believe they gain respect because they're watching a sporting event while the rest of us are laboring?

Think they're slightly detached from reality?






"Are you not entertained!?!?!???


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David Roth Weiss
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Jun 23, 2010 at 8:04:47 pm

[Mark Suszko] ""Are you not entertained!?!?!??? "

I was watching U.S. Open Golf on TV last Friday at times during my work day, but I didn't alert all my clients to the fact, nor did I suggest to them they should give me any special treatment because I was watching. Heck, maybe I should have demanded overtime or even golden time, because I completed a few things after 5pm and it was officially the weekend?

David Roth Weiss
Director/Editor/Colorist
David Weiss Productions, Inc.
Los Angeles

POST-PRODUCTION WITHOUT THE USUAL INSANITY ™

EPK Colorist - UP IN THE AIR - nominated for six academy awards

A forum host of Creative COW's Apple Final Cut Pro, Business & Marketing, Indie Film & Documentary, and Film History & Appreciations forums.


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Patrick Ortman
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Jun 24, 2010 at 12:29:03 am

>>BTW another thing clients can do is chew up your time in back and forth unnecessary conversations. One has to measure time in total in figuring the value of the work. I have other work to do and I may not be able to talk to him at his convenience on what I consider and unpaid bill at this point. <<

It's so easy to fall for this, though. I have had too many situations (especially this year) where I have spoken with a potential client, then attended a meeting with her higher-ups, then presented multiple estimates (and sometimes full proposals!), hoping to land business.

It gets really easy, the more you feel invested with someone, to give them huge amounts of back and forth, unnecessary conversations for free. But like anything, you (and by you, I mean me, actually!) need to do like you've done and set a line in the sand. Once they cross it, they're officially a grinder and not worth the time.


---------------------
http://www.patrickortman.com
Web and Video Design


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Bob Cole
unbilled time
on Jun 24, 2010 at 2:48:37 am

[Patrick Ortman] "It gets really easy, the more you feel invested with someone, to give them huge amounts of back and forth, unnecessary conversations for free."

Hear, hear. I was just thinking about this the other day.

My business model is to charge by the day for shooting and either by day or hour for editing. Pre-production sometimes as well. But what about those many minutes that are spent on other, necessary activities associated with shooting and editing? I spend untold hours on email and phone conversations with clients, planning, reacting, requesting materials, searching the Internet, making suggestions. I can't even begin to estimate the number of unbilled hours.

I'd be curious how others handle the unbilled-time problem. I know that lawyers bill in tiny (six minute?) increments, using dedicated software for tracking phone calls, photocopying, etc.

But the rules of the game have to be set up front.


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Craig Seeman
Re: unbilled time
on Jun 24, 2010 at 3:25:05 am

I take all my work time into account when working out the business model for my rates. Generally I'd recommend you need to make all your targeted income in a week with 20-25 billable hours. In other words your rate should bring in your full target on 20-25 assuming you work 40-50 hours a week. In other words the rate for 20 hours billable assumes 40 hours of work.

There's a huge amount of unbillable work ranging from client communications, marketing, sales (especially if you're doing your own sales), equipment maintenance, education, accounting, etc. Of course if your income is high enough you might pay others for some of that but if you're "mom & pop" you have to have time to do all that as part of your facility work.



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Todd Terry
Re: unbilled time
on Jun 24, 2010 at 4:44:03 am

Bob...

We basically have three rates in our shop... an hourly rate for shooting, an hourly rate for editing, and a catch-all hourly rate for "pre-production."

That pre-prod rates includes any and all time for just about anything that happens before we pull trigger on the first shoot... writing, concepting, casting, making phone calls, location scouting, research, lining up crews or talent or props, meetings... all that jazz.

Usually a first meeting or contact with a client is gratis... after that, the clock is ticking for any and all work... ESPECIALLY meetings. Some clients are very "meeting happy" and like to meet and discuss things for hours on end, way past the point of productivity. We're fine with doing that and are happy to oblige if it makes them more comfortable and it's the way they like to work... but it happens on the clock.


Works for us. Your mileage may vary.



T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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Bob Cole
Re: unbilled time
on Jun 24, 2010 at 10:12:13 am

Good points and thanks.

Craig, re billing at a rate that assumes another hour or so of unbilled time: I agree, of course; but some clients' projects need tons of post-prod. "garbage time" and others take almost none. The ratio of billed to unbilled hours varies tremendously from project to project, and that doesn't seem fair to the clients who pay the freight for others.

Billing for pre-production, as Todd points out, is accepted practice. Would that projects could be planned so well that pre-production leads to shooting leads to editing. But some projects (& clients) require as much "pre-production type" time after the shoot as before. I find myself researching additional footage sources, dealing with discussions about revisions, rewriting the script -- sometimes chewing up most of a day -- on unbilled time, for an edit that will take a couple hours. It's a flaw in my system. I think if I just had a good name for the time, I could bill it.


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Craig Seeman
Re: unbilled time
on Jun 24, 2010 at 10:39:26 am

Projects that have specific pre production needs are billed as such.

The problem is the number of phone calls and emails in general eat into a day's work. I find this with nearly every client for me at least. I'm not talking about booked meetings but all the, "let's talk, I'll call you, can you explain . . . " that goes on for what seems like nearly every job I do.



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Todd Terry
Re: unbilled time
on Jun 24, 2010 at 1:33:04 pm

"...all the, 'let's talk, I'll call you, can you explain . . . ' that goes on for what seems like nearly every job I do."

Oh yeah, we get that all the time too. And we're happy to give someone a five minute phone call... but if someone wants to yammer on for an hour, they pay for it.

Fortunately we don't do too many new clients... maybe only three or four brand new ones a month. Most of them are established clients (mostly ad agencies) that we have worked with for years. That helps in that we know which ones are going to be meeting-crazy, and which ones leave us alone. That helps us figure in how much pre-prod time will be needed and will be included in their original cost estimate for the project. With some, we know we won't need any... with others, we know it's safe to include 8 hours or so of that. I think with most of our projects we usually count on about 3 or 4 hours of clients meetings, conference calls, etc.

With brand-new clients it's harder... we just have to try to get a feel for them at our first contact and try to guess whether they are going to need a lot of on-the-clock handholding.

It's not an exact science by any stretch, but it seems to be the best we can do.



T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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Nick Griffin
Re: unbilled time
on Jun 24, 2010 at 3:20:46 pm

There seems to be missing from the later portions of this thread. While yes, most of us should be able to charge for pre-production meetings, phone conferences, lengthy explanations of simple concepts, etc... for it to work it has to be done from the start. It's extremely unlikely to be able to successfully add a new category of charges to the estimates or invoices of existing clients where they had not appeared before. However if these potentially "non-billable" items are line items on an estimate from the start of a relationship they are far more likely to be accepted. In my experience. Your mileage may vary. Member FDIC.


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Patrick Ortman
Re: unbilled time
on Jun 24, 2010 at 4:55:56 pm

Nick's right- it's best to have these things in there from the start. Same with pricing in general. It's just so hard to change things later.

We've struggled with a client we have had for almost 10 years, as far as getting them to a more equitable arrangement. They kept coming back with "well, I remember when you shot a video for $1,000- why should I pay you $15,000 for my tv commercial?". Eventually, and I hated it- REALLY hated it- we had to let them go.



---------------------
http://www.patrickortman.com
Web and Video Design


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grinner hester
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Jun 25, 2010 at 5:55:24 pm

People often look at this as losing a client. While this did happen, it happened long ago... when their funds ran out.
Don't beat yourself up over it. When I was younger, I had a motto of there is no good reason to ever lose a client. Now, brother lack of funds is a fine reason to lose one.



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Craig Seeman
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Jun 25, 2010 at 6:12:58 pm

and when the client called twice asking to speak to me I didn't call them back. Two hours after his second call the money was in our PayPal account. That night they got the report that the spot was uploaded to the cable provider.

I then sent them a bill for the upload.

I will not proceed on the rebranding of the next spot until the bill for the upload is paid. Extremely small but they're going to learn a lesson.

If their funds are gone they can go away with no loss to us. Oftentimes though the funds are there but they just think they can use you for an interest free loan to their business and that is all too common.



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Neil Hurwitz
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Jun 25, 2010 at 6:37:47 pm

I agree with most here, BUT There is a real cost associated
with getting new clients that should not be ignored.
The small bill mentioned here might be a lot less than a
fancy dinner to schmooze a new client. For sure, I'm not
saying bend over, What I am saying is that it's better to
work with a client in distress than to blow them up.
They could land a whale next week and ring your phone to gloat
"I just got a million dollar contract and you're not getting a dime
because when I was down you kicked me in the gut"
Remember the scene in Pretty Baby where Julia walks back into
the fancy Rodeo Drive shop, Hoists up her bulging bags and says
"You work on commision right? Big Mistake, Huge"
So with clients in tough times it's
"Swim Together or Sink Alone"


Neil Hurwitz


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Craig Seeman
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Jun 25, 2010 at 6:58:07 pm

[Neil Hurwitz] "What I am saying is that it's better to
work with a client in distress than to blow them up."


That's if you believe the client is in distress. Some clients figure they can get away with it.

I was senior editor at a big facility in which a client was six months behind in payments. They'd usually book half the edit rooms on any given day. It's not that they stopped paying, they just got into the habit of paying six months late. The client threatened to leave every time the facility asked them to catch up. They paid their bills (the ones for six months back as they aged to that point). Since they were paying, the facility accepted those terms.

It turns out they were banking the money in short term CDs to make interest which is why it was always six months behind.

The facility went under. The client simply moved to another facility.

That whale can sink your ship. Business models and business plans have a purpose. They're not philosophy statements. It's what you've decided so you business survives and, hopefully, has the opportunity to grow.

Sure it's hard to get new clients but it's easier to do that then get sunk by the old ones. Removal of a diseased tumor is certainly painful but the alternative may be worse.

If you're a small shop, it may only take a few, out of many clients, to do serious damage to your income and expenses.






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Ned Miller
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Jun 26, 2010 at 1:17:49 am

Does anyone else done this? I have two long term clients: one I produce training videos for, they are the US's largest bank and only do 90 days net and the other I DP for and put together the crew, sometimes a large crew, they are the US's largest packaged food company and are now 60 net for everyone. Both pay exactly on that day, then there's maybe three days in the mail.

All costs are "soft", meaning no "hard" costs like airfare, hotels, etc. So what I do is tell the crew and vendors like teleprompter services, etc., "I have good news and bad news. The good news is I have a good piece of work that we can bump up in rate due to their being a late payer. The bad news is they will be 60 days (or 90). Are you in or out?" Perhaps if it's a kid in his twenties who needs the money badly I will pay out of my own pocket, otherwise all us older pros will wait. That's the deal.

Since the people I call have worked with me, sometimes for decades, and we know these are two of America's largest companies with no danger of going under, most people I call are cool with it. I email the day I get the check that their check will be going out in that day's mail.

The food company: ALL vendors are 60 days, no matter what. No upfront, no negotiation, period!

The big bank you all know: They are 90 because they are worried about vendor fraud and the invoice has to go through MANY layers of approval, and if it's for a new department I start all over as a "new" vendor with incredible paperwork. I have worked with both companies for many years, going back to when 30 was the norm.

But...there's a premium I charge and I can bank on the exact day the check will arrive. Most of the work all of us on this forum would consider not too challenging. Seems like sticking to my guns about upfront and 30 days net would be shooting myself in the foot. Anyone else do this?

Ned Miller
Chicago Videographer
http://www.nedmiller.com
http://www.bizvideo.com


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David Roth Weiss
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Jun 26, 2010 at 1:32:29 am

[Ned Miller] "Seems like sticking to my guns about upfront and 30 days net would be shooting myself in the foot. Anyone else do this?"

There are indeed some clients that simply can't budge because of corporate rules, and if you try to force them, you'll be history. Those aren't the ones that are the real problems, it's the ones who tell you 30 or 60 days, but don't pay for six months, or who never pay, that you have to really worry about.

David Roth Weiss
Director/Editor/Colorist
David Weiss Productions, Inc.
Los Angeles

POST-PRODUCTION WITHOUT THE USUAL INSANITY ™

EPK Colorist - UP IN THE AIR - nominated for six academy awards

A forum host of Creative COW's Apple Final Cut Pro, Business & Marketing, Indie Film & Documentary, and Film History & Appreciations forums.


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Neil Hurwitz
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Jun 26, 2010 at 12:42:12 pm

Years ago my shop did tons of work for one of the worlds
largest pharmaceutical companies, as long as I had the right
paperwork and Po's it was 30 days like clockwork. CEO retires,
my contacts at senior management level told me the new CEO is a
hatchet man and get ready for a sh-t storm. Sure enough 2 months later I get a form letter saying that the company is going to a
"Net60" policy No Exceptions, Take it or Leave it. This company
spends Billions a month so they created a "profit center" out of a "cost center". So I just added a little to my rates, no problem.
Then the real hammer came, everything over 1,000.00 had to be triple
bid. The end of an era for me. If you have locomotive clients
(that pull the train) you are always vulnerable. It's the age old question, Is it better to have 100 clients each representing 1%
of your billing Or 5 clients each representing 20%?
It has been my experience that Unless you have some really
big clients, % wise, you are in for a tough haul.
I would be interested to get a concensus on this

Neil Hurwitz


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Bob Cole
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Jun 27, 2010 at 1:14:46 am

[Neil Hurwitz] "Is it better to have 100 clients each representing 1%
of your billing Or 5 clients each representing 20%?"


There is such a thing as too many clients, at least for a sole proprietor. I've seen some talented craftsmen, who are getting more business than they can handle, expand from being successful freelancers to mediocre managers. They think they are good at hiring talented people and motivating them, but they learn how difficult that can be. And on top of that, they now have a "nut" to meet every month. The talents of a great cameraman/producer/editor are not even distantly related to the skillset of a manager.

Small can be good. My clients know that I'm focused on their interests, and I think they appreciate it. Do I want a few more? Of course. But not many more.

This can be carried to an extreme; corporate outsourcing has led to people who are called freelancers being hired full-time, for years on end -- in effect, employees in all but name and certain benefits. But even being an official employee is no guarantee of job security. That bird is a vanishing species.



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Michael Sigmon
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Aug 2, 2010 at 7:10:10 pm

I think this is a valuable perspective. When an ongoing client suddenly becomes slow to pay, take the time to find out the real story.

Sometimes balls do get dropped. I've had this happen more than once, and all it took was a courteous phone call or two to get it straightened out and get paid. One time very recently, the client paid EARLY but I never received their check for whatever reason. Mail really does get lost by the post office, every so often. This was a client who had been slow-paying on four previous occasions, so it would have been easy for me to assume, 'there they go again, the SOBs' and go off on them. But, I didn't. One polite phone call later and they FedEx'd my check for next day delivery, which was totally unnecessary (a slower service would have been perfectly acceptable). Clearly, having a level head about it paid off.

Sometimes clients are having cash flow issues but are reluctant or ashamed to talk about it... so they lie to you or tell lower-level flunkies to give you a story. Making the client comfortable with leveling with you as to why they are slow to pay, can reveal quite a bit and possibly offer a path to resolution.

And... sometimes they are just trying to float their business on your back. Maybe they are going downhill. Maybe the boss' son took over and he has no clue how to run the show except into the ground. I've seen over and over that exact situation, where a family member (usually the son) takes over a business and has no vision other than cutting costs and grinding vendors.

But... at least take the time to find out. That's just good business sense.


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Patrick Ortman
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Aug 2, 2010 at 7:14:13 pm

True, yes- it's easy to assume a client is an evil troll when they pay slowly or stop paying, especially with today's economy. Sadly, pretty much 80% of the clients who seem like trolls turned out to be, in fact, trolls :-). Still, vital to get the real story whenever possible.

---------------------
http://www.patrickortman.com
Web and Video Design


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Craig Seeman
Re: Grinding back when good clients start to Grind
on Aug 2, 2010 at 7:25:14 pm

You can only hope you're getting the real story. Sometimes they drop strong clues.
I've had good clients send checks that were lost in the mail so I never assume they're ducking.

In the above case the client told me they would not pay until after delivery so it was clear they were changing payment method. They had previously expanded their business into another market and told me that their potential customers were fighting with them on price unlike their other market.

Given the small size of the bill and the change in payment method I had no confidence that they would be able to afford our more expensive services. That's when you know it's time to get the money under your, not their, terms. I can understand breaking a big bill into smaller payment bites for a good client but when they start fighting over pennies you know their business is in trouble. That's the time to cut bait and run.



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