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  1. #1
    SitePoint Wizard
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    Client refusing to pay invoice

    Back in October last year I did several days' onsite work for a company local to me.

    When I was sorting out my timesheets last month I came across the one I'd been keeping from this company and realised I'd forgotten to invoice them for one of the days that I worked. I promptly sent off a bill to them, apologising for the fact it was over 6 months late, and waited for payment.

    I got an email today in return after sending a reminder, saying that "At the time you were working with us I kept reasonably close track of what we owed you, and I thought it was all paid - I've no way of knowing now whether this invoice is really due or not. I think this is one you may have to put down to experience - a lesson to get those invoices in straight away in future."

    In other words he hasn't been keeping accurate records of his contractors' hours and doesn't know whether I really worked that day or not. I did work the day and I'm not trying to steal any money from him, but what's a logical next step to take in this situation?

    Sam
    Sam Hastings

  2. #2
    King of Paralysis by Analysis bronze trophy
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    You can sue him but good luck proving you worked that day.

    If I forgot to bill for one day six months ago, I would just chalk that up to experience and not send them an invoice in the first place though.

  3. #3
    SitePoint Wizard silver trophy
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    If you kept documentation on the days you worked, and he doesn't I'd pursue it. It may not make it to small claims court but it seems to me that it's him who should learn a lesson about keeping better paperwork.

    It doesn't matter how long it's been if he hasn't paid you, he still owes the money.

    If you have enough documentation, send him a reply stating that he does, in fact, owe the money and you'd be happy to forward him information on which days were worked and not paid for... and be sure to request prompt payment.

    If he still doesn't pay, take him to court.

    I don't know what you charge, but a full-day's billables for me is a lot of money and it would sure be worth the little court fee to take someone to small claims court. I'm sure it's a little different there but not much.

  4. #4
    SitePoint Wizard bronze trophy
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    Seems to be a couple of things going on here. First off, your client is openly admitting that he doesn't trust you and perhaps thinks you may be trying to pull the wool over his eyes. Secondly, he's suggesting that even if you did work that day, you are no longer entitled to that money because you took too long to bill him.

    Either way, I'd definitely take his advice and chalk it up to experience and move on. And by move on, I mean never work for them again - if he truly thinks you'd come back 6 months after a job and make up a fictitious day, I really wouldn't want to work with someone so untrusting again. Equally, if he thinks you should be 'punished' for an honest mistake just because it took you a while to bill him, again, I wouldn't really want to deal with this type of client.

    While a day's work may be a few hundred quid, I think principles are worth a lot more than that.

  5. #5
    chown linux:users\ /world Hartmann's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by shadowbox
    While a day's work may be a few hundred quid, I think principles are worth a lot more than that.
    But the principle is that if he worked, he deserves to be compensated, correct?

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hartmann
    But the principle is that if he worked, he deserves to be compensated, correct?
    That may be one principle - I personally would place the principle of choosing not to work with distrusting clients to be somewhat higher than the principle of trying to salvage a couple of hundred quid from them - maybe that's just me. I'd also consider the fact that I should be a bit more organised about my invoicing so as to not forget to bill them for all the time I spent - in this respect I feel it's money well spent as in the future, I'd certainly not make such a mistake again. All in all, it's a messy situation - no one is going to like being billed for work they assumed was paid in full 6 months back, so you can perhaps understand any knee-jerk reaction the client may have given. On the flip side, no one likes to think their clients distrust them and also are looking to worm out of a few bucks.

    Personally, I would have never sent the additional invoice - expensive lesson, but lesson learned.

  7. #7
    Life is short. Be happy today! silver trophybronze trophy Sagewing's Avatar
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    Walk away, and keep better records. It's always up to the vendor to make it easy for the client to pay.
    The fewer our wants, the nearer we resemble the gods. Socrates

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  8. #8
    SitePoint Wizard Lil_Red's Avatar
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    As the others said, walk away and learn from the experience.

  9. #9
    SitePoint Addict Sgt. Baboon's Avatar
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    Put yourself in the client's shoes. You are working with a designer who has billed you for the work he did. You think you are all paid up, as the designer has billed you and everything is complete. Then one day, out of the blue, and many months later, you get a bill for a days work.

    What would you think?

  10. #10
    SitePoint Wizard silver trophy
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    If this guy was a great client who sent me tons of work, I'd probably let it go. Even if he was just really nice abou it, but considering the tone of his email he seems like he wouldn't pay it even if it were due.

    So if Sam has all the proper records showing where he worked and how much work he was paid for, it should be easy to show the client that he wasn't in fact paid for that time and that he is owed for the balance.

    Of course, it may not be worth it. I guess it depends. I do think it's our job to make it as easy as possible for our clients, but accidents happen and Sam said he sent an apology with the invoice. The response he got from the client would just make me want to pursue it even more.

    Of course, it may not be worth your time - you could easily spend another whole day trying to collect on a day's work...

  11. #11
    SitePoint Wizard
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    Well it seems, as I expected, that opinion here is vastly divided.

    One the one hand, I've been very slow and disorganised and I admit that I should have invoiced him promptly for the work. On the other hand, from my perspective, if I've worked for someone, I expect payment, no matter how far down the line I ask for it.

    If I were the client, I would keep accurate records of exactly when my contractors worked for me, whether they had invoiced for that work, and whether each invoice had been paid. I would keep said records indefinitely, in case any disputes (like this one) arise in the future. Maybe one or two months after the work was done and I didn't have an invoice in my hand, I'd call the contractor and ask if he was going to bill me. It might sound stupid, but personally I wouldn't feel right taking free work from a client without their knowledge.

    In all honesty I can live without being paid and I'm really not opposed to the idea of letting it go. However, as Brandon points out above, the tone of his email was a bit harsh (in a portion I didn't paste in he addressed me as "me old son"). Also, in the past they have been very very slow to pay me - up to 4 months late in one instance. And I'm aware they still owe money to a few others that have worked for them. So there was no way I'd be working for them again anyway.

    I don't know though. I'll give it a couple of days and decide whether to let it slip and learn from it or pursue it. I definitely have adequate records of my time which I'll happily provide if he wants me to.

    Thanks for the input guys

    Sam
    Sam Hastings

  12. #12
    SitePoint Addict Sgt. Baboon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SJH
    If I were the client, I would keep accurate records of exactly when my contractors worked for me, whether they had invoiced for that work, and whether each invoice had been paid.
    How exactly is your client going to know when you worked and for how long unless you tell him so? Isn't that what your invoices do? So why wouldn't he think he was paid up in full if you never invoiced him?

    I personally don't see how it can be ok to get demand payment when you send an invoice that late. I think you would feel the same if you were on the other end.

  13. #13
    SitePoint Wizard silver trophy
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sgt. Baboon
    How exactly is your client going to know when you worked and for how long unless you tell him so?
    He said this was work done on-site so I think the guy should've known considering he would've seen Sam coming and going.

  14. #14
    A Smarter Way to Web! zivo's Avatar
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    Post Documentation

    Where an invoice is a good form of documenting what you have done, it should be the last piece that a client gets from you.

    The first should be your contract, or a statement of work on what you will be doing for them. If you do recurring work for a client, send them a status report that details the hours you work. If you do a few hours here and there, in many cases your email messages may also serve as a good source of documentation. I save EVERY email to and from a client, and I recommend it for everyone.

    What happened here happens a lot - reviewing records, and sending an invoice down the road. It happened to me once, and it was from my lawyer! I inquired, and they sent an explanation.

    Look back to all of your documentation and if you have other proof, send it to them. Their response should not be the final word. Follow up with that you
    have.

    mp/m

  15. #15
    SitePoint Evangelist Unit7285's Avatar
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    Perhaps your client's peeved that paying an invoice now for work carried out 9 months ago will involve significant cost in the form of several hours of work by himself and the accounts department? They'll have to locate the records, work out what's what, process the one-off payment and then, if they play strictly by the book, sort out adjustments to their current VAT return to compensate for (what is now) the incorrect earlier VAT return, make similar adjustments to their financial accounts (and it may now involve a previous financial year). All fiddly, boring, time-consuming, expensive, unproductive and very irritating interruptions due entirely to the delayed invoice.

    I'd say he's just showing his irritation in a reasonably civil way (he could have been much nastier) and has decided to avoid all the additional cost and administrative hassle by rejecting the invoice completely. I'm sure his records are just fine and I doubt he distrusts you - he probably just thinks you're being a bit cheeky and unrealistic.

    I've forgotten to invoice people myself on occasion, so I know how exasparating it is when you suddenly realise, but I've never tried to invoice months late. It's rather unprofessional IMO, regardless of the technical rights and wrongs, and I'd prefer to spare myself the embarassment!

    Anyway, you've nothing to lose now as the relationship is completely shot, so maybe a more serious apology will get things moving? Or negotiate, get the original invoice back (as it hasn't yet been processed) and submit a smaller one to take account of the invonvenience caused. It might be worth a try...

    Paul

  16. #16
    SitePoint Addict Sgt. Baboon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by beley
    He said this was work done on-site so I think the guy should've known considering he would've seen Sam coming and going.
    Ah yes. I missed the part about it being on-site.

  17. #17
    SitePoint Enthusiast willie's Avatar
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    if I were you
    give him 3 notice of payments owed
    then hand over to the bill collectors
    If I were him
    i would bill you for time to look upthose old accounts and to validate them, it's for double handling of a single job

  18. #18
    SitePoint Wizard silver trophy
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    Quote Originally Posted by willie
    i would bill you for time to look upthose old accounts and to validate them, it's for double handling of a single job
    Yeah, I'm sure that would stick... just like I can bill all my clients for the time I spend trying to collect or the doctor for the time I have to wait for an appointment. Unless they've agreed to pay it beforehand, I doubt any charge like that would ever stick.

  19. #19
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    6 months is too long. There are many invoice frauds out there. Its not uncommon for a company to receive invoices for stuff they never ordered or get double invoiced. Suddenly getting an invoice 6 months after you think accounts are all settled is unsettling and reputation damaging. I wouldn't expect to get paid, or get more work. Are you thinking like an employee or a business owner?

  20. #20
    Life is short. Be happy today! silver trophybronze trophy Sagewing's Avatar
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    As usual, I recommend that people NOT waste time trying to 'fix' these problems with smaller, less lucrative clients with whom they have tenuous relationships.

    It's [almost] always better to cut your losses and start working towards bigger, better clients with whom you won't have this kind of problem. Dwelling on problems is the kiss of death in business. I watch people on Sitepoint bickering over $100 when they could be earning $125 in the same time period, and slowly climbing the client ladder. Don't fall into the trap.

    Ultimately, Sam was the cause of this problem because he didn't follow business protocol. So, he'll need to grow and become more professional to reach the bigger jobs, too.

    Consider this comment:

    Quote Originally Posted by SJH
    If I were the client, I would keep accurate records of exactly when my contractors worked for me, whether they had invoiced for that work, and whether each invoice had been paid.
    This is probably untrue. It's hard to understand why Sam is so confident that he'd keep such comprehensive records when he wasn't able to invoice properly for a job where he was the vendor (and presumably more motivated to invoice effectively).

    Bottom line: sending a surprise invoice months later makes you look disorganized and unprofessional. If a vendor did this to me, I would NOT pay the invoice unless it was a rare mistake from a well-trusted vendor. Otherwise, I enforce my 'timesheets on fridays and invoices by the 15th of the month' rule without fail. I have my own cashflow to worry about and I don't like surprises. What I WOULD think is, 'this vendor is disorganized and probably doesn't know much about collections, etc. so I'll just ignore them'.

    So, move on and keep your books straight.
    The fewer our wants, the nearer we resemble the gods. Socrates

    SAGEWING LLC - QUALITY WEB AND MOBILE APPS. PREMIUM OUTSOURCING SERVICES.
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  21. #21
    SitePoint Wizard bronze trophy
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    Good post, Sagewing!

  22. #22
    Life is short. Be happy today! silver trophybronze trophy Sagewing's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by shadowbox
    Good post, Sagewing!
    Thanks!
    The fewer our wants, the nearer we resemble the gods. Socrates

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  23. #23
    SitePoint Wizard Lil_Red's Avatar
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    As always, excellent points Sagewing.

  24. #24
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    A better way to handle this would be to send an email or letter to the customer saying something to the effect that you were reviewing your books and still had a receivable outstanding and if they could confirm (with proof) that it has been paid off. You may be suprised that they may acutally pay it off for you.

    Otherwise, its a good lesson we all can learn.

  25. #25
    SitePoint Evangelist Unit7285's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jonabyte
    A better way to handle this would be to send an email or letter to the customer saying something to the effect that you were reviewing your books and still had a receivable outstanding and if they could confirm (with proof) that it has been paid off. You may be suprised that they may acutally pay it off for you.
    Hmmm... accusing them of not paying an invoice that you know never existed seems plain dishonest to me, and therefore not a good idea. Anyway, nobody pays without a supporting invoice so it won't really solve anything.

    Paul


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