How Not To Do Business With A Contractor

how not to do business with a contractorA nasty virtual fight erupted recently between Fitness SF, a gym in San Francisco and web designer Frank Jonen. And if you work as a contractor, there’s some valuable lessons to be learned amid the drama.

Here’s the back story. Fitness SF hired Frank Jonen to “develop a functional website for our brand.” Frank says he delivered the work, but Fitness SF didn’t pay. So, after repeated (and unsuccessful) attempts to collect on his invoices, Frank took the situation to a whole new level by replacing Fitness SF’s website with an angry letter.

Here’s an excerpt of the letter published on the site:

Dear Fitness SF customer,

Fitness SF preferred to ignore our invoices instead of paying them. As a result this website is no longer operational.

We regret any inconvenience this may cause for you as a customer of Fitness SF, however it is a necessary measure in getting what is rightfully ours.

Half a year’s worth of work, including gallery featured logo renderings with over 1,300 views a piece.

While some of that got replaced in an attempt to cover up our work, other parts, like the base design (CSS) of the site were still used, illegally as they’ve not been paid for.

Normally there is no question of paying one’s dues. It is simply a matter of morals. Having morals and acting upon them or not having any and just betraying the people that got you started. Sadly we’ve come to know what Fitness SF stands for, or you wouldn’t be reading this.

Your word on their Facebook accounts will go a long way. We’re a small company in the heart of Europe, which is probably why Fitness SF believes they can sit this out till we perish. Can you support a company that acts like this?

fitness sf website
Fitness SF countered Frank’s claims with their own statement alleging that they paid Frank the sum of $5,000 the day he was engaged to do the work. SF claimed that Frank missed deadlines and delivered incomplete and unsatisfactory work, ultimately handling over an unfinished website to a new design firm at the client’s request.

We don’t know about you, but in this particular situation, neither of the two parties looks good. Some may applaud Frank for taking a stand against non-paying businesses—and for those of you who’ve ever been stiffed by a client, you may have dreamed about doing the same thing. But the truth is that we really won’t ever know the full story. I’m a big believer that your perception is your reality, and in this case each party has their own perceptions of what transpired, thus, their own realities. And the truth is probably somewhere in the middle, with neither party being blameless.

These situations are always ugly and never (hopefully) what any party wants to have to mess with. And the problem with going to an extreme measure like this example is that the designer may well have opened himself up to a lawsuit as a result of the coverage this squabble garnered. I’ve got to wonder if that’s ever worth it, especially if it makes existing or prospective clients worry about what action you might take against them should a dispute ever arise.

The important lesson? I’m a huge fan of the handshake and have great trust and confidence in the companies we take on as clients. Every now and then someone will surprise me, but in most cases, that trust is warranted. Nonetheless, whether you’re a contractor or an agency, good business practices dictate that you take steps to protect yourself before it’s too late.

It’s a critical component of business practices to have contractual agreements in place with all of your clients—and they should clearly articulate the terms of the project, deliverables, timelines, fees and payment schedules. And while you’re at it, take the time to create the process you’ll follow if you encounter a payment issue. And if you really want to do it right, hire an attorney to make sure you’ve covered all your bases.

What do you think about this craziness? Were you cheering on the web developer and thinking of the times you’d been stiffed or wondering why in the world anybody would ever be so brazen as to pull what he did? I’d love to know.

Image: grenade via Compfight cc

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  • Christine Cowley

    As one who has been severely stiffed, stomped on and insulted by the client from hell, I can’t help but applaud the contractor’s actions. I also have to disagree that the truth is guaranteed to be somewhere in the middle. In my case, there is a contract and an avalanche of proof that my deadbeat client lies through her teeth. Bottom line is the cost in emotional drain and $$ to enforce my contract is simply not worth the price. Unfortunately for me, the drama has cost far too much already.

    If she would just go away, it would be good enough closure for me. But she insists on harassing me (twice she called the OPP with false reports about me. All they do when they discover the truth is shrug and say ‘we still had to investigate. No apology.) She continues to send insulting “royalty statements” showing a negative balance owed to me for unsold/returned copies of her book–yet she still works the local circuit and I know, for a fact, that her books are still selling. I could go on ad nauseum.

    What have I learned? That some people lie, cheat and steal. That I am still an honest, professional business person who upholds integrity even at this high price. If not for her constant reminders that she “won” this battle, I might slip into thinking that I would never be conned again. Her perpetual digs keep me listening, paying attention to what people are really saying, and ever grateful for the many many clients (and sub-contractors) who are honourable.

  • http://webmetricsconsulting.com/ Tracy Brown

    Wow! That is an incredible story, Shelly – and a bold move by the web designer. I agree with you: we’ll never know the whole story and it’s likely that both sides carry some blame.

    My partner and I always lay out in an agreement exactly what we will do for a client and what we need/expect from the client to complete the project as contracted. At the very least, it gives us a road map of what each side expects and agrees to.

    A couple of years back I had a non-paying client. I tried to work with this person, but eventually, I let it go. The remaining amount due wasn’t worth my time to chase after. Surprisingly, a year later the former client contacted me and asked to pay the bill to get out from under the weight of not paying for something. I was shocked, and of course, happy. I realize that’s not the norm!

  • Shelly Kramer

    I’m so sorry to hear it, Christine. I’ve got my own horror story – a client I trusted in a way I know better than to do, who royally took advantage of that. And it cost me money and aggravation to deal with it. You’re right – there will always be people who lie, cheat and steal. Hopefully your radar will protect you from them in the future. She sounds like a horrible person. The bright side of that is that horrible people usually don’t limit their behavior to one person, so at some point in time, if it hasn’t happened already, her true colors will show again, and she’ll get her just desserts.

  • Shelly Kramer

    Wow! That’s definitely not the norm, Tracy. Kudos to that client. I’m like you, we lay everything out so expectations on both ends are clear. But when there is a situation like the one you mention, there’s only so much energy its worth expending, sometimes it’s just easier to move on.

  • http://theryancox.com/ Ryan Cox

    If I’d of pulled something like this on a client of mine, you would have flown to Indianapolis personally Shelly and slapped me silly. Nothing good comes of this — invest the time and the effort covering your basis with a sound recoup strategy, hire a lawyer, anything but this. He immediately made himself toxic to all future clients. “What if he does that to our website.”

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