Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bad Clients

I love being a freelance writer, and if God and Mr. Peevie allow it, I will never go back to a regular full-time job, ever.

That said, there are some things that suck about being a freelancer. One of them, as I have noted, is that there is no guarantee of a regular paycheck.

Another is that sometimes clients are slow-to-pay, or don't pay at all. Why is that? I currently have two clients that I produced work for who are not paying my bill. One is a former colleague; we used to have lunch together periodically; we are friends. She signed off on my quote in February, and I delivered the first draft of a resume to her about a week later, along with an invoice.

We went back and forth with emails for a few weeks: first she wanted to do a conference call, then she didn't, then she asked for a different resume format. By this time it was late March, and she still had not paid my invoice, nor did she pay the up-front half that my contract required; but I still delivered the second draft on April 3. Five days later she asked me for another re-write, and this time I insisted that I talk to her mom--the actual subject of the resume--to make sure that I understand from her exactly what she wants.

Now it's a month later--three months after we made the contract--and my former colleague has not put me in touch with her mom, nor has she paid my invoice. I had asked her after the second draft was rejected if I could just call her mom directly, but she wanted to set it up herself. She is now ignoring my emails.

Grrr. Bad client.

The second non-paying client is a huge IT consulting company in Florida. They probably do millions of dollars of business every year--but they are stalling, or reneging, on paying my lousy $150 invoice for consulting on and re-writing a marketing brochure. WTF?

This client I got through E-Lance, a website that allows people or companies to post freelance projects online, and subscribers pay a monthly fee to have access to the job listings and bid on the projects. Since it's a virtual international marketplace, I'm bidding against writers in countries where the dollar is worth a lot more than it is here; and without exception, all of the jobs I've bid on have had minimum bids of $50. In other words, someone in India or Bulgaria is willing to write 50 articles for a grand total of $5, which, bully for them. I'm not.

So this IT company, which will remain un-named unless it turns out that I really am not going to collect any money from them, asked me to turn around a first draft of this brochure copy in 24-36 hours, which I did. I did some research on the company, researched their competition, made some recommendations for how to improve the piece they were producing, and wrote a concise, peppy first draft.

They hated it.

It's fine for them to hate it, though, because that's what a first draft is for. Anne Lamott calls them "shitty first drafts." This company is apparently unclear on the concept of a first draft, because, as it turns out, when they didn't like what I produced, they gave the project to another writer to finish up for them. They were planning on just dropping the project and not paying me, because, as the client said to me the other day on the phone, "I didn't get what I wanted."

But let me backtrack. At first, I didn't get any feedback from the client himself, but his representative told me the client was unhappy with what I had done for him and that there were grammatical errors in what I had written. Now, I might not be Noam Chomsky, but I do know my way around a p-ante, if you know what I mean. Which you probably don't, but stay with me here.

(Oh, and just as an aside, I did wear Noam Chomsky's name on my back during one of those meet and greet games in college where you have to go around the room asking people questions to figure out what name has been scotch-taped to your shirt. Every time I asked a question--am I a male? Am I alive? Am I in sports?--people would look at me with a blank expression and say, "I have no idea." This was Mr. Peevie's hilarious idea, and yet I still married him.)

So back to my point. When I pressed my client to point out the alleged grammatical errors in my writing, he admitted that they weren't so much "grammatical" problems as they were concerns about word choice. Effing word choice. That's like telling an engineer she made structural mistakes in designing a bridge, when in fact she painted it a color that you're not quite comfortable with.

He also said that what I wrote wasn't long enough. So for word choice and length, he figured it was just fine and dandy for him to breach his contract with me. In fact, I believe he considered that by not delivering a perfectly acceptable first draft, I was the one who had breached.

I told him, look, Mr. IT Guy, you're a billion dollar company. I'm a sole proprietor operating out of my home office. Are you really going to cheat me out of $150 dollars? He replied, without any irony, "We're not a billion dollar company," which missed the point by approximately 26.2 miles.

At one point he said, well maybe we can still pay you to produce another piece for us. Of course I'd love to get more business from you, Mr. IT Guy, but I'd like to get paid for the first job FIRST, I told him. (I can be very direct when I need to. Some people call it combative.)

In the end, we agreed that he would send me his comments on my original first draft, and I would revise it so that they could use the material for another purpose. This is what should have happened in the first place. That conversation occurred two days ago. I'm still waiting for his edits.

Bad client.

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