It does not happen often, but occasionally a client chooses not to pay their bill. This year the owner of GovernmentPainting.com a sister company of the more established GovernmentFlooring.com decided to be one of those clients.
We have a policy. If a client does not pay their bill with us, we will never do business with them again, no further help, no further work, no fixing bad haircuts they receive from other developers. We generally give clients several months and multiple opportunities to work things out.
I am a fan and often inspired by Tony Robbins and his podcast. In one episode, he discusses the practice that if you are going to fire a client, fire them very publicly. Let the world see that you have boundaries for bad client behavior. Failure to fire a client publicly devalues your own brand and business.
How did it come to this?
Dennis, the owner of the company, reached out to me to seek my help with a new website GovernmentPainting.com. He had made multiple attempts to build the website, first with Wix or Square Space and then in WordPress. The domain was pointed to one service and there were some minor problems with the site setup on a few pages.
On the whole, with his third attempt, he had not done too bad for someone who had never created a website in WordPress. There were some fundamental mistakes in the technical SEO setup and there was no onpage seo work done at all. He wanted to rank better for SEO and he wanted to have a couple of the page layouts improved. He was stuck. He also hinted at a lot of other work that needed to be done with his more established site GovernmentFlooring.com built on Godaddy Builder. Both sites were running on Godaddy.
I personally and many of my clients have had very negative experiences with Godaddy. Before November of 2016, I the experiences had been better. In my opinion, Godaddy made some strategic moves to change the way they ran their WordPress Hosting, and those changes were not for the better. I have spent dozens of hours on the phone working with their techs to improve their system, but they have ultimately abandoned those efforts. Hence, I never recommend them and warn existing and new clients to consider different hosting arrangements or face problems, including very slow (over loaded servers) and servers that are regularly rebooting or in some level of partial failure and reboot.
I warned Dennis at the start that if he wanted to improve the SEO on his site, he’d need a faster loading website and a more reliable host, among many other recommendations.
He weighed the costs and decided to stay with Godaddy against my advice.
It was not a show stopper. There were many other areas where he needed help, and after a lot of negotiations on line item details, we started in on a project. I was charged with doing some basic technical SEO work and Dennis planned on doing the onpage SEO work himself. He also consulted with me a great deal about fixing the display of some Wistia videos on his account and talks about transcribing them for both sites… All this talk led to fixing the display of the videos, but the additional work never actually came to happen.
The work was completed and I sent him the final invoice.
My work came in under budget. I had estimated 10 hours of work and billed him for 8.94 hours of work.
That’s 1.06 hours UNDER budget.
I sent Dennis a draft invoice and asked him
I want to check and see if you are ready to close out the initial project for GovernmentPainting.com?
The original project include a total estimate of work of 10 hours. The actual work came in a bit less at 8.94 hours.
He responded that the site was down, and asked for a couple other items of touch up work. As he had not stated that he was ready to close out the project and there was still approved budgeted hours remaining and since the site being down was a server issue, I took this as a reply that I should proceed to do more work.
I took initial steps to first chat with Godaddy (63 people ahead of me, and a sign that Godaddy was having server problems). Then I opened a ticket and took the extra step of notifying Godaddy of the ticket and problem on Twitter.
I personally could not see the site being down myself, but Dennis could.
A few hours later at the end of the evening, he paid the bill. This felt odd, since I was still working on his site.
Over the weekend, the ticket came back with no answer really. I finished the few odds and ends, font color changes on a few words here or there.
I later sent him a follow up bill for 1.03 hours of additional labor.
Dennis never paid it.
The total charge was still .01 hours under budget btw. A detail I hadn’t picked up on until I started writing the details of this very public firing of a bad client.
My billing system, sends out automatic reminders for late invoices at the 30 day mark. Dennis did not pay his bill.
He had ghosted me.
In November, I was able to call him and we had a conversation. I laid out my case, pointed out that I had worked on his site over the weekend, and that I expected payment for the additional work done.
If you do basic math, you might realize that this was only $77.25.
I told him that if he paid me, I would provide help or assistance in the future and if he chose to not pay the bill, I would never work with him again. I reminded him that my professional guidance had been to move to a more reliable web hosting company in the first place. On the phone, it sounded like he was leaning towards paying the bill. He never fully verbally committed to this.
Dennis never paid his bill for the Government Painting website. He never followed several of my other recommendations to keep the momentum going on his new website, simple things like publishing some more content, linking to his own new site from his old site and more to help improve the indexing. As a result, as of the last SEO report I ran from Raventools last month, his new site had done nothing, was not ranking for anything, and was getting almost no traffic.
It was a text book example of how to shoot a newly launched website in the foot. It was also a text book example of how to kill off a business relationship. This is the cement going on top of that and I am happy to be done with it…
So for 2018, I’m writing off the $77.25 and publicly firing GovernmentPainting.com, GovernmentFlooring.com and Dennis.
Past Clients that we’ll never do business with again
In the 2008- 2009 era, we had a couple issues. As a result I learned to avoid sub contracting and seek prepayments with new clients. These were the companies that taught us these lessons. They owed Softduit substantially more money than Dennis.
At the end of the day, its not the amount of money as the breach of trust.
Blue Liner Media of New York – I worked as a subcontractor for Blue Liner. They were working a contract for the Izod Center. Our work involved the site and the blog. The end client was happy with our work and not happy with the social media work done by a different person, and they shorted Blue Liner, which then failed to pay us for our work performed.
WebSite Biz of Charlotte – I am one of the primary organizers of the Charlotte WordPress Meetup group. One of our attendees attended one of my classes on WordPress. She referred me to her employer WebSite Biz who needed rapid help fixing a website for their client a prominent Lasik provider in Charlotte. I helped them write code to fix what was a newly launched but broken WordPress installation (until my work was performed). The team was very happy with my work as they had been stuck and floundering for 2 months. Then at the end of the project, they hired a ‘recent graduate’ to be the new project manager. This new project manager unilaterally chose to stop payment on my invoice. The people on the team were upset with their employer and embarrassed at the way I was treated.