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What Happens When a Client Decides Not to Pay?

“Don’t Ever Work”, France, 2013

It finally happened.

I’ve been stiffed by a client.

I grew up in a household where we checked the mailbox every day because we were always expecting the cheque that was “in the mail.”  My parents are self-employed and my father is the creative type—a true artist but not so great when it comes to managing a freelance business and dealing with the financial aspect of the projects.

I remember my father, urged by my mother—who is much better at managing a budget and knew exactly how low the account balance could get before having a very unpleasant conversation with a financial advisor—, making calls to ask why X or Y invoice hadn’t been paid yet. I remember a particularly big company that owed my dad 10,000 francs (€1,500, it was a lot of money back then). Eventually, one day, my dad got sick of waiting and showed up at the store and started working on his laptop, refusing to leave until the cheque was written. It worked—he was paid on the spot, albeit months after the work had been delivered.

When I started freelancing, I swore I would keep a close eye on my billing system and outstanding invoices. So far, it’s been working pretty well. I invoice my clients monthly and I have always been paid promptly and in full, although the federal government can take weeks to process invoices—but this is just the way the system is set up.

It helps that I am not dealing with small businesses but large corporations or public sector clients.

I tend to stay away from small businesses and individuals because I don’t want to waste time chasing unpaid invoices. Besides, my government clients usually keep me busy enough.

But whenever I have some free time or after completing a large project, I put an ad on Kijiji or Craiglist offering resume editing or proofreading services. I like the idea that I’m helping people make a good impression and I’ve seen enough resumes when I was a manager to know that many candidates have no idea what they are doing.

This is how it started with this client. He replied to my ad on Kijiji and I called him back. He needed someone to type his resume as he only had a handwritten version of it. “Sure, I can do that.”

It was a rush job, he needed the resume for the next morning. The three-page handwritten copy he handed out was messy, with info all over the place. I was instructed to “make it look nice,” which I did. I spent time on the phone with him to figure out missing dates, job titles and job descriptions—and to decipher his handwriting.

I sent the resume back. A few days later, he wrote me an email to say he got the job. “Awesome,” I said. “So, the other half of the payment…?”

At first, he claimed he was busy and said we could meet the following week. Then he didn’t even bother replying. He got what he wanted—a resume and a job.

I wrote a final email to him:


I am not going to waste my time for $XX. The easiest way to pay me would be to send me the money through PayPal, bank transfer, or even mail me a cheque (I gave you my address).

If you aren’t planning to pay the invoice, this is the last email you will get from me. I wish you all the best.”

I never heard back from him.

I don’t hold a grudge against him but the experience left a bad taste in my mouth. It’s not the money. It’s the fact that he chose to ignore me and that he didn’t value my work (who, incidentally, got him a job). It feels like a “dine and dash.”

I wish it was a “lesson learned” moment but really, there isn’t much else I could have done. I requested 50% upfront so at least I got that.

Will I stop posting ads on Kijiji? Probably not. This is my first bad experience, the vast majority of people are honest.

Will I hope for karma for this guy? You bet. What comes around goes around… Ottawa is a small place, after all.

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