Come back to this post in two months if you don't buy this prediction: it is highly likely he doesn't get paid.
There are better ways to avoid nonpayment. Work with better customers - reputation works both ways. Get references if required. For projects of nontrivial length, agree to milestones and bill on successful completion. Delivery of functional code should practically always be a milestone, which would eliminate most of the downside risk here. Charge a premium, both to scare away bad clients and to cover the numerous sources of risk to your ability to pay rent, of which total refusal to pay is only one.
There's a long established legal principle that if you don't pay a workman he can place a lien on your property, which may even result in it being sold at auction. You can also be charged with theft of services, a real crime for which you go to jail.
If your new client is worried he might go to jail should he be committing felonies, that is also a concern.
We only know one side of the story. It could be that they added a whole bunch of extra charges that weren't in the contract, and when the client balked, did this as blackmail. Or maybe the work was of horrible quality. Who knows? I don't want to work with people that could potentially go nuclear on me over a legitimate dispute.
On the other hand, I'd have no trouble working with someone that has a history of suing clients that don't pay up. Or even someone who point blank told me he'd sue me if I didn't pay up (although I'd consider it mildly offensive). Since I have no intention of doing something that'll make me lose a court case, I don't fear getting sued.
Loose cannons, on the other hand, I do fear, which these guys clearly are. Even if they're in the right, this time.
I now believe that I should have made a lot of noise when someone tried to scam me in this way, and should have spent less time worrying about my reputation. I'm still not sure I should have gone as far as shutting down the (online-only) businesses which I still had passwords to, but I no longer view that as beyond the pale, as I did then.
[Edit: Although, in this case, iwwr's comment suggests it was the developer who was shady.]
That's right, and you can go in endless circles second guessing which party was in the right. If you decide that it was wrong to take the work back, you're just siding with the client. It's not hard to imagine them having done something equally drastic that we don't know about.
In many cases, contracting is effectively lawless and the stakes can be arbitrarily high. There aren't many actions I would categorically rule as out of bounds.
Keep in mind that there are people out there who are utter wrecking balls. They do nothing but damage to everyone they work with, and sometimes to themselves as well. The "professionalism" of their victims is what allows them to keep going.
Man, it's tiring just thinking about her drama.
You don't even know the guy. They could be an incredible developer and you wouldn't work with them because they'll screw you over if you screw them over first?
1) The only thing we know about the guy is that he screwed the client over. The client may or may not have deserved it. Likely deserved it, if you prefer.
2) I don't want to work with him on the chance that the client didn't deserve it, and he'll screw me over when I don't deserve it.
Honestly, I don't see what's controversial about that. It's a massive red flag. Of course knowing more about the guy, or his situation, might change my mind. But that's true of any candidate.
(Note that I realise he's replied to the thread here now - I'm just trying to explain the thinking in my last post.)
Not heard of this before - is this a US thing?
While I've never heard of a house going to auction because of unpaid bills (though I'm sure it has happened), it's exceedingly common for vehicles, equipment, etc to be claimed by someone who was working on them. A very common occurence is for a mechanic to dismantle a car to find out what's wrong, then to quote the cost of repairs to be either more than the person can afford, or more than the car is worth. At that point the customer sometimes refuses to pay even the amount of work done at that point. At which point the car sits in the yard for the alloted period of time, at which point the mechanic takes ownership and sells off what is left (or, sometimes, fixes it themselves and sells for a profit). Usually the mechanic also has the right to charge a storage fee, and to levy interest on the unpaid item to increase the size of the total lien. And it's normal for the mechanic to lose out badly, which is why some people require up-front payment to undergo speculative work to find the source of a problem that could be expensive. The same goes for electronic equipment- it will cost you $200 to even open up a camera to see what is wrong, which is why most get thrown in the bin when they stop working.
It was a good series of posts, either way.
Ultimately, I think I'd probably waste a couple hundred bucks and get professional legal counsel if I really wanted to be sure I knew all my practical modes of reprisal.
You may think future clients will see the righteousness of
your action [..]
It's not fun to make money arrangements with clients that work for both parties, but it's a vital part of running a business. For tech people, it's often neglected, because many of us just want to write code. On the bright side, it's really not that bad or uncomfortable once you become accustomed to it and have successfully navigated those waters a few times. If you are in the business of trading your time for money, then print out the last paragraph of patio11's post and meditate on it before you enter into each business arrangement.
Even if you had the legal right to remove your code, or stall the site, (I have no idea if one would. I assume it depends on contractual obligations) and even if you decided that was your only rational option, it would still be best to handle the matter tactfully.
A future client, even if they agree with your motives, probably won't agree with your self-righteous customer-service methods. That's not the kind of person most people want to deal with. Maybe I'm jaded, but my opinion is that, if your job/contracts require interaction with customers, then part of your pay is to compensate for having to gracefully handle the garbage those customers throw at you. That doesn't mean you just let people abuse you, but it does mean knowing your options, and calmly taking them, or, where you really have no pragmatic recourse, washing your hands and moving on. That's why I hate ever being in a financial position where I absolutely need the current client/contract/job to survive through the next week.
Just my two cents, though.
The key in situations like this is to always stay professional. Stop working immediately and make it clear that you'll start going again as soon as the check clears, but stick to the high road. The client will turn petty on you, will come up with all sorts of slanderous attacks on you, your work, and your character. That's fine. Let him vent. Then calmly explain once again the concept of "work for hire", and how you're perfectly happy to continue doing work for him, provided he pays his bills.
This may or may not work. On the off chance he pays up, you get to put him on weekly invoices payable immediately on receipt. If it doesn't, chances are you're out a bunch of money. Either way, try to suppress your natural geek sense of vengeance. You're the professional here. Never act otherwise.
Now, as a pro, you do have one option. Since your invoices are itemized and dated, and source control is itemized and dated, you're well within your rights to accurately roll back the deliverable to the state it was in after the last paid bill. Tell the client that you don't want him to pay for any work that he's not 100% satisfied with, and as such you have retracted your invoice as well as the work it covered. You'll keep the associated changes archived in case he wishes to purchase them in the future. You wish him the best of luck going forward and regret that you'll be parting ways.
Are you qualified to give legal advice? And if so, are you confident that this advice is appropriate for all jurisdictions where someone might be reading this comment?
If you're in this situation, chance are it's because you're working without a clear written contract. The best you can do is work in good faith and hope that your client does the same.
In my opinion, delivering the portion of the product that has been paid for is acting in good faith. As is giving the option to proceed with the original agreed transaction, should the client desire to do so.
I suggest that taking something away from a client is more trouble than it's worth, even if they haven't paid for it. So to use your ideas with mine, don't formally deliver the completed work until you are paid.
A few suggestions:
1. Be very clear about the fact that the software is "in acceptance testing" state until formally signed off as complete and monies have been paid. It is not "In production." Agree in writing that when you are paid that you wipe any databases involved and start from scratch. This establishes quite clearly that the client is not expecting to run their business on software that is not in production yet, they are just testing it.
2. If this is hosted software, host development code yourself until you are paid, at which point you can deploy it to their system.
3. You're using source code control. Great! Establish a formal "production" branch separate from development. Bug fixes have to be performed in both branches. This is a good practice in any event, but when you're fighting with a difficult client later, they will often complain that the software doesn't work and you have to fix issues with software that is already in production before they will pay you for work you're doing on new features. Now you can fix issues on the production code while witholding new features until they pony up the lettuce.
JM2C. Did I mention that INAL?
0. Get an explicit agreement up front about what you're doing.
Without that, you're sunk.
A lot of clients are just fine, do what they're supposed to and pay for it. A percentage will try to scam you even with an agreement if they sense an opportunity - even with what you thought was a detailed bill of work - because they realise you need them more than vice versa, they've screwed up and need the extra to cover themselves, or because they're just plain crooks. Shouldn't happen but it does; deal with it and move on.
0.a. Get a legally binding signature and include a written-only clause. Make it crystal clear that if something doesn't appear in that definition of services that everybody signed and that has a price tag on it, that it isn't covered by that price tag.
I've translated roughly 3.2 million contracts for services since switching from programming to translation, and I'm pretty sure I could survive as a programmer now, just from that alone.
Perhaps there is a market for some sort of third party source code escrow service, for software contractors.
1. Agree on a %-age of the money as a 'hold back.' The client pays within a set period, e.g. 30 days, if there have been no problems or when all problems are resolved. I wouldn't agree to more than 10% hold-back, personally, but it isn't a big issue.
2. Agree that for each deliverable, there is a milestone for "accepted" where the client tests it on your development or acceptance system, and another for "deployed." There is a payment for each milestone. There could be other milestones leading up to "acceptance," of course, and there would be payments for each of these.
If you're hosting and you set their site to issue 503s for non payment, that's a different matter altogether.
Knowing taking this into the court of justice would take around 3-4 years, I have simply set auto-redirect to random porn sites (picked the top 25 out of Google).
It took about half a day since the man have had his lawyer send me a letter saying something similar to: "we will pay you all what you asked for .... "
I am not sure this was the right thing to do, but I was quite young and enthusiast by then, and I have invested allot of money in that project (hardware and bandwidth contracts - VPS were not invented yet at that time ;-)).
Instead of a landing page throwing your tantrum, have the site mysteriously break and just show a cryptic error message, then just be too busy to fix a problem for a client who hasn't paid anyway. Gently suggest that paying clients come before deadbeats.
When the inevitable legal backlash comes, simply shrug and say you were getting around to it and remind everyone that there might be someone in arrears with a large payment or two. Plus interest. And late fee.
anyone got any suggestions what to do when a client wont pay for increased development costs for work you have already completed?
5:01 AM Jan 18th via web
Should I change a bad clients site to a page that says they aint paid me and then change the password?
7:08 PM Jan 20th via Twitter for Android
this is what I am reduced to http://bit.ly/badpayers
8:34 AM Jan 21st via web
Followed by about a dozen identical tweets, until it got picked up by HN.
Note the key section: "when a client won't pay for increased development costs".
One I remember was a shop where he spent a few days signwriting the entire front. Lots of work, most of it up on 14' tressels, and at the end the owner refused to pay. Said he didn't have to, and there was nothing my dad could do about it.
Except there was - dad went back one night with a roller, a long roller pole and a large tin of white paint, and painted the entire shopfront out. Still din't get paid, but it had two effects: one, the owner needed to get the job done again, and two: the next guy hired would be asking some awkward questions, like why did it look like the job had already been done but then painted over...
"Only 8 percent of those winning plaintiffs collected, court records show. Officials say some plaintiffs might not have notified the court, so as a backup test, the Times contacted 39 winning plaintiffs. Eight -- 21 percent -- said they had been paid.
Court officials nationwide confirm that whatever the real number is, it's low.
"Most plaintiffs would be better off taking their money to the roulette tables in Biloxi, Miss., and placing it on red," said Jimmy Dye, a collections lawyer who works throughout Florida. "They'd certainly have more fun." "
Go on Judge Judy or something. The TV shows will actually pay you if you win.
It helps if you've received checks from the company previously and can give the bank account information to a sheriff to collect for you.
It may be of course that you have no legal recompense; however I'd exhaust all possibilities in that direction before sabotaging a site.
Perhaps what's needed is a "name and shame" list of deadbeat clients somewhere that developers can check before accepting work.
When the client owes me a trivial amount of money I can afford to walk away from the job if I want to. If the client owes me a lot of money, now I am shackled to that client (and the job) because I am chasing my own money.
The key is to never let the client owe you too much. For me this number is about $2,500.
The way I solve this problem is
(1) by getting a substantial amount of money up front; if I get ANY guff from the prospective client when I ask for money, I know how I will be treated for the rest of the project and I may choose to back off at that point.
(2) watch the invoicing very carefully and if they are slow in paying, stop work until they pay. Mr. Pavlov's ideas are in action here: the client is rewarded for slow pay by halting of work with a message "Hey you owe money."
couple of contracts a year paid in pounds/usd/euro/yen and you could sustain a happy life.
visas are a bastard, you need to skip the country every few months to renew your tourist visa.
I have had Thai clients ask to see my work permit before and I am very proud to be able to show them it as most foreign freelancers dont have one.
I've had my fair share of clients who didn't pay for various reasons. Sometimes, small claims court was in order. Sometimes, having patience and giving a struggling client time (literally almost 5 years) led to a payment in full (plus interest!) completely out of the blue. The guy's business picked up, and now he's still a super happy client.
What goes around comes around.
A little about me: I am a freelance developer, educated as a software engineer in Edinburgh then started leaning towards web development a few years back. We quit Scotland 4 years ago to come and live on a tropical island in Thailand where I could take my time winning small jobs, enough to earn what I needed.
Indeed its been quite a successfull last few years, winning many jobs for web development and graphic design, all of my clients have came back for more work. The fact I havent updated my portfolio or blog in over a year is a testament to how busy I have been.
The bare details: I very good friend asked me to help him build a website and a backend system for his staff to use in their day to day business. I quoted a ridiculously low sum of money compared to western standards but a worth that I felt I deserved for the work considering I live in Thailand where the cost of living is less.
The contract was for 6 months initially for a fixed fee split over those 6 months. With regards to the system, which has swollen to quite a full featured product, something I am very proud of, possibly my best piece of work to date, just a shame it wont appear on my portfolio now.
The specifications for the sytem over the course of the development had many more additional specifications added to cover internal aspects of the system that were not originally envisaged, obviously not fully taken into account when originally quoted.
My contact at the company was good, he understood the pitfalls of custom software development and when I explained to him about why the project has taken longer he understood and we carried on regardless. As I said the contract ended in October, the same month they stopped paying me when they suggested that they wanted to suspend my weekly payments and pay me a lump sum upon completion.
I understood their reasons then for doing this and since the project was behind schedule I aggreed to this.
Now I find myself within 2 weeks of delivery of the full system, so I start getting my invoices together for the last 14 weeks of development. I forward them to the client and I am more or less informed that there is no way they are gonna pay that amount. Lesser amounts are then offered, tied to some crazy scheme regarding "support" over an extended period, god knows where the payment for the "support" period was coming from.
In the end it was a stalemate, I felt I deserved my meagre salary, it will cost them a lot more for a UK dev to finish this where their daily wage is more than my weekly wage, so I always thought I would win through. This is actually their second attempt at building this piece of software, the first one was a non-event with an indian company.
The company even flew one of their guys out here to help me finish off the system - my friend, the guy whose idea this all was, he wrote the 'spec' for the software. He has tried to get the UK bosses to agree to this and that but they wont budge, I feel there is apower struggle within the conpany but I wont go into that as it is pure speculation.
In an attempt to help them understand software development, that sometimes you dont
know all of the variables until you start, etc, etc, I forwarded a number of websites and blogs that had interesting articles regarding the development process and reasons for their failure or late delivery, I was told it was pointless sending them as they wouldnt read them as they dont care. One of them was even supposed to have said "why do we need a website?" , now how am I supposed to convince this guy about the trials and tribulations of building a customised piece of software.
So yeah, talks broke down, I felt pissed off, I then sent archives of updated files for the system to my contact, not really updates but resetting the systems development back to where it was when they last paid me over 3 months ago. I then done the same on the server system that their staff were helping bug test. I then; foolishly now I think, put their site into maintenance mode and switched the maintenance page to say "You aint paid me, you suck". The site structure that was there is still there, if somewhat unfinished, all I changed was the maintenance page; I am sure any Drupal developer knows how easy that is to switch off. I also added an extra variable with encoded content onto the $closure that would display if they managed to get it out of maintenance mode. Encoded it just to make it that bit harder to find and remove :)
I do regret doing this, not because of my actions, but as I said before, the guy whose idea this was is a friend, he is a third of the board, it was the other two thirds that swayed the vote though, and I feel bad for him. I know I am not getting paid, my money is long gone, I wouldnt have done this if there was a chance of reconcilliation, I have known that for the last few days, they wont agree to my demands and I wont agree to theirs - stuck in the middle.
I have now changed the offline message to simply say "You aint paid me" and have removed the encoded $closure and I dont intimate that "they suck" anymore, its amazing what the harsh light of day makes you see.
I see a lot of flamers and haters out there, no doubt a few of you will come back on and berate me for doing this, as I said, my actions were harsh and misguided, but if a client bumps me in the future I would probably do it again.
So yeah, thats my 2 cents worth.
What would you have done, I would love to hear what actions others would have taken.
Two things to take away from this:
* If you provide a fixed price without a fixed spec, you had better be prepared to lose your shirt. Fixed work means fixed spec. Always. Any changes must be accompanied by a document (a change order) that spells out the impact to the bottom line, because that's what business managers care most about. The key is to make sure you clearly communicate the impact to the bottom line all the way up to the check signer.
* Never let a project get to 14 weeks without the check signer (not just your contact or stakeholders; the person who will sign the check) knowing that you're accruing billing. It doesn't matter how good your friend is, you don't want them in a position where they're having to act the odd-man-out in order for you to get paid. It may be the "right" thing to do, but you can prevent them from ever being in that position by setting up communication that reaches all the way to the person who pays the bills.
As it stands, I would not have started the additional work in October without further contract and payment schedules agreed to. If I had not done that, I would have been sending invoices all along and stopped work a lot sooner than 14 weeks.
Here's some advice to start with:
There are also collection agencies that can enforce the ruling.
For larger amounts, it's probably worth going to a lawyer.
Generally a company unless it has severe financial issues may just want to prevent the hassle of going to court, and just pay you what you are owed once the threat of legal action arises.
There is no damage to your reputation for taking a client to court for non-payment. Small businesses have to do this all the time.
However I would NEVER take down any sites, intentionally sabotage software etc. as that may make you liable under law. And, as others have pointed out here, there are two sides to the story, and a court gets to hear both sides.
Now that I think about it; I think the site build was initiated after that date so I could have just deleted it, maybe that would have been a better action, but anger and the heat of the moment can cause you to lose your cool.
He also changed the footer of the main site!
It's a Drupal site, so you can get an idea of what it looks like non-offline by going here: http://utilitybidder.co.uk/user/
This is encoded in the web page as 'we ripped...'
If we did something like this we'd be out of business. At large companies the person you sell to is not the person who pays you and creates all kinds of problems. All you can do is work the system and try to plan for it in your pricing. We just give less discounts and charge more for the hassle up front. Puts a hurting on the cash-flow though. We never not been paid.
I put this here as the company in question broke our contract and left payments outstanding,
as a last resort I put their site offline, what else could I do.
Make sure you are paid up front, even if you have a contract, they aint worth shit.
As far as I know, it is a common fear among small companies that some unhappy third parties like unhappy web designers misuse their server credentials to get up to nonsense.
The web designer intended to demolish the reputation of the company. (Who wants to work with a company that doesn't pay the bills?)
However, if the web designer becomes publicly known, it might be a much greater damage to him. Who wants to work with a web designer who has proven to deal with payment issues in a totally unprofessional way, and who has proven to be somewhat proud of misusing trust?
Site Content Copyright © 2010 Utility Bidder Ltd. | All Rights Reserved | Website Development by Jungle Creative (www.junglecreative.com)
It looks like a one man act from Scotland. If its not him, but someone else later down the line, he'd better get on the stick because right now, the ugly is pointing at him.
Edit: Actually poking around, he seems like a decent fellow, rocking the nomad developer dream on a little coconut island. Doesn't seem like something he should/would have done. That might make this doubly ugly. "Utility Bidder" may have hired someone else for further work who took the whole thing down over a dispute about their little part. That would be most uncool.
Its refusing to do proper pre-client interviewing to weed out non paying clients.
The problem is that they didn't pay for the building. If they had paid for it, he wouldn't have demolished his own building.
Just because you ask someone to do something for you doesn't mean that you have to do it. In this case, someone asked the web developer to build a website. Instead of doing that, he just made a "this person sucks" website instead. A great business move, perhaps not, but legally questionable? Also not.
I think the analogy is somewhat apt. The legal system is the mechanism for enforcing contracts and bypassing it out of convenience should be frowned upon. Habeous corpus was inconvenient so it was bypassed. I'm opposed to the suspension of habeous corpus and in the interest of consistency I ought to be opposed to what this developer did.
Such stipulations are a good idea because companies are much more likely to pay you and pay you promptly when you take their site offline than when you pursue conventional collection methods (including lawsuits/small claims).
When people don't pay their phone bill, the phone company politely tells callers that "the phone number is no longer in service." They don't have a recording saying "Bill is a loser who can't pay his bills, so we TP-ed his house and called his kids ugly ... oh and you should probably be friends with Jack instead, he's better looking!"
You know you have a problem with how you treat your customers when the phone companies do a better job than you.
I'm not sure what they could get sued for. Libel? The only statement about UtilityBuilder is that they refused to pay their developer. Breach of contract? This seems more likely, though I haven't ever seen a web development contract, so I don't know what kind of clauses it would have about failure to pay.
Actually, there is also a statement that the user would be better off using a competitor because "we suck".
so you're not paying attention at all? they did not pay him, that is why he did this.