“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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  1. Klaus May 3, 2014 at 9:15 am

    omg this is so low… he obviously got the job because you helped him and he doesn’t even pay his bill :(. I agree with you, this is not about the money he owes. It’s this kind of thing that makes me lose faith in humanity.
    Good for him that it isn’t me whom he owes money… I would probably send his resume to his employer and ask them to make suggestions how I could do a better job since my client refuses to pay the full amount ;).

    1. Zhu May 3, 2014 at 6:48 pm

      For a split second, I entertained the thought of revenge. Then I decided he wasn’t worth the trouble 😉

      1. Lily May 3, 2014 at 8:19 pm

        Agreed with Klaus. Well, I wouldn’t contact the employer, but I would mention your bad-payer that if it’s more convenient, I can send the bill to his employer. You might have been paid pretty quick after that 😀

        1. Zhu May 3, 2014 at 10:16 pm

          That’s a thought I entertained… seriously, this guy is dumb. I mean, I have all his info! I won’t do anything though, not worth the trouble.

  2. Dennation May 3, 2014 at 10:20 am

    I know exactly what you mean – I had to send in my husband to chase after a client once. Would you believe that I even found myself waiting at 3 AM for a phone call from this client that never called (don’t ask how I got myself into this situation). Now my husband deals with my accounts. If anyone steps “out of line”, he chases them.

    I have to be honest, living in this country it is a lot easier having my husband, a man, handle my accounts. These non-payment situations stress me out so much. I’m ready to just give up in these situations, let by gones be by gones, but my husband is adamant that they pay me. Whenever a difficult situation comes up now, he handles it. I don’t ask any questions – I am sure I wouldn’t approve but I don’t want to argue with his methods because whatever he does, it works.

    It’s really sad that these things happen in our industry. People have these ideas about what it means to be a translator that are not realistic at all and that is why they feel like it is alright to fleece use. Just a few days ago I had the following conversation with somebody:

    French somebody: I had my first taste of translation a few weeks ago. A student midwife asked me to translate part of her dissertation into English. Warning bells are set off in my head – a French native speaker shoudn’t normally be translating into English.
    Me: So how was it? Did you like translating?
    Somebody: It was a nice change from my usual work.
    Me: Did you have many problems understanding the text? (me thinking: this guy doesn’ t know anything about midwifery)
    Somebody: I didn’t understand anything, but that’s the thing about translation – you don’t have to understand the text to translate it, you just replace the French words with English ones. I can’t tell you enough how handy Google Translate is!

    I was fuming – how can people just think that this is what it really means to be a translator?

    Ok, I think I’ll go and work on our renovations to let off some steam.

    1. Martin Penwald May 3, 2014 at 2:49 pm

      Just one word : wow !

      It´s amazing that someone living in a bilingual country doesn´t know what translation means. However, at least, the result of the word-by-word substitution should be funny to read.
      I sympathize, it´s very frustrating when people without the adequate knowledge pretend to explain to you how to do your job.

      is that possible to raise a flag on Kijiji about a bad payer ? It probably won´t give you your money back, but talking of Karma, if this despicable guy is flagged enough, he will maybe learn something.

      1. Zhu May 3, 2014 at 6:53 pm

        This is actually a great idea! Thank you. I think he is pretty active on Kijiji (goes with his trade).

    2. Zhu May 3, 2014 at 6:52 pm

      I can’t tell you how common this attitude is in France… I know many grad students, especially in science, who, according to them, “have no problem writing papers in English because in this field, you just have to replace the French words by the English ones”. Ugh. And then you wonder why science doesn’t make sense! 😆

      But again, the same people claim they came back “completely fluent in XXX language” after spending two weeks in the country.

      Canadians (well at least in Ottawa) tend to respect translators a bit more since they know that speaking a foreign language is harder than it seems.

  3. Canedolia May 3, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    I was thinking the same thing as Klaus.

    I admire you for not being more angry about this, but you’re right, there’s not a lot you can do, and hopefully the guy will get his comeuppance one day.

    1. Zhu May 3, 2014 at 6:52 pm

      Well, technically I have all his info and I could prank him… but I won’t. Karma, my friend, karma.

  4. Lily May 3, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    Oh my. I feel for you, bad clients happen… We had a few similar issue, (very late) payers and also one client who finally claim they can’t pay (…a huge amount of money). But we have always been patient (once, we waited around 7 months) and very, very resilient. I don’t mind being a pain, I don’t work for free.
    Also, we learned to NOT give the final result of our work before the last payment (unless it’s a client we know and trust). There’s ways you can make a document unusable (putting greyed huge text in diagonal behind the content, like “DRAFT” or giving and uneditable/unselectable PDF document with your information on top or in the margin).
    And finally… We forgot about Kijiji. It’s good for individuals selling/buying things, but professionally it’s not so optimal. Do you know eLance and Guru.com?

  5. Jennie May 4, 2014 at 10:14 am

    Ugh, people are the worst. 🙁 Sorry you had a bad experience with this client.

    1. Zhu May 4, 2014 at 11:45 am

      Too bad I need people on a daily basis! 😆

  6. Gail at Large May 5, 2014 at 8:27 am

    I learned in early 2010 that lawyers make the WORST CLIENTS. They will do anything to get out of paying, even if they can afford it, because they study the law and use it to their advantage.

    It is no coincidence that politicians (especially at the federal level) are lawyers!

    A couple of years ago I went against my better judgement and did some work for a Russian litigator (OMG, I’m convinced litigators are the worst of the worst). The shoot went fine, there were plenty of images he really liked, but he kept asking me to Photoshop more and more… the requests were ridiculous, like lengthening fingers, making him look younger, thinner, trying to remove the natural distortion that occurs behind glasses, fixing his hair. I prep clients before the shoot to avoid this post-production crap, but his requests were piling up.

    His words: “I’m in court all the time. I want to look mean.”

    It was out of control and I stopped the work because I didn’t think he would keep paying for the revisions. He kept saying he would, but then I refused to believe him.

    Guess what…

    1. Zhu May 5, 2014 at 10:34 am

      I hear you. I once had a landlord who was a lawyer. Mind you, we were good tenants (no, really!). The guy was a pain in the butt, always documenting things, trying to use the law to his advantage, etc. He eventually found a way to keep the last month’s rent and have us move early to accommodate his schedule. We were young and innocent and didn’t want to fight… and he knew it. Never again.

  7. petite yaye May 5, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    Aouch… As you, I remember my father too !! I was ten, he left the morning with his camping sleep bag, explaining us that if he doesn’t come back at night time this is because he will sleep over the company who ows him money until he gets payed. He came back few hours later with his check !
    Lessons yhat doesn’t kill you make you stronger…

    1. Zhu May 5, 2014 at 9:14 pm

      Sorry your family had to go through that too. It seems awfully common in France…

  8. Christiane May 6, 2014 at 9:02 pm

    OMG that guy is such an ass !! So ungrateful ! Karma is definitely going to get him !

    1. Zhu May 6, 2014 at 9:11 pm

      I hope so 🙂

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