Lessons Learned from Life as a Consultant: Dealing with a Client who Refuses to Pay

BY JOE BARONE

April 18, 2023

When I left the Bank in March 2018, I decided to hang out my shingle as a consultant. Although the first nine months were filled with learning new things and making mistakes, nothing had prepared any of us for the COVID shutdowns. By 2021, I like many other consultants were attending as many Zoom networking meetings as possible to generate business.

A small business owner I met during one of these meetings in February 2021, another introduced me to one of his clients, who ran an IT consulting firm. After making the necessary introductions, I met virtually with the CEO/owner.

During our initial meeting, we had a great conversation. At our second meeting, we discussed a very large amount of work, which included providing training to his help desk operations on both the West and East Coasts. However, I wisely suggested that I should do one or two small projects to see how the relationship worked.

So, work was proposed and I had an agreement from him in writing via email.

From March through June 2021, I worked on three presentations. One was internal and two were client facing. After each presentation, a bill was sent but because there was additional work, I did not press payment. My first mistake.

In June, I informed him that no further work would be completed until payment was made. He said he was having cash flow issues and needed a bit more time. It was a stalling tactic. I gave him a few more weeks. My second mistake.

Throughout July and August, I was emailing him once and sometimes twice a week, demanding payment. Periodically, I would be cc’d on an email that he sent to another “employee” asking to process my payment. These were just more stalling tactics.

In September I informed him that if payment was not received by October, two things would take place. First, I would contact anyone and everyone that I could about his failure to pay and post on every business site possible about his non-payment. Second, if necessary, I would engage an attorney I had already consulted with, who specialized in debt collection.

By threatening to post adverse reviews and bring in an attorney, it was my hope that he would pay. I was wrong, as I promptly received a letter from his attorney.

His failure to pay was posted on Google Business, Yelp, etc. I also contacted the various Chambers of Commerce, only to hear that others had had the same experience.

I engaged an attorney with the hope, that even though it would cost a fair amount of money, I would be able to get some payment. And, to be honest, it was the principle of the matter. I had completed the work, he accepted it, was satisfied, and he needed to pay.

After repeated calls and emails by my attorney, we did the only thing left: File a claim against him and his company in Small Claims Court in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.

At my first court appearance in February 2022, he did not show. Unfortunately, the judge did not grant judgement to me and required me to show up again for a trial which I did in April 2022. Only then did I discover that he had been granted a delay due to a “family emergency” the day before. A new court date was scheduled for May where he failed to appear and I won. Now the problem was collecting.

In late June, I was surprised to receive an email from an attorney, representing the IT firm. He stated that I should have received payment and yes, it was in my Bank account.

Although I probably spent as much money and time fighting for payment, as the payment itself, there were several lessons learned:

  1. An email stating that he agreed to the work was good, but a signed proposal or contract would have been better.
  2. Be forceful about payment and stopping work. It is better to lose a small amount of money up front, than a larger amount later.
  3. Writing on Yelp, Google Business, etc. was a good idea.
  4. Contacting local Chambers of Commerce was good. They keep records of such dealings of both current and past members.
  5. Small claims court is not as daunting as one might expect, especially when one has gone through it.
  6. Because I spent so much time and money fighting this in a Small Claims Court far from my home, my proposals now also include a clause stating that if I must take you to court, you are also liable for attorney fees, travel expenses, lost wages, etc.

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COMMENTS

  1. Kurt Nemes

    Thanks Joe for posting your lessons learned. So sorry you had to go through this. Hope you and family are well.

  2. Mohammed Jahangir

    Dear Joe Barone: Thanks for sharing your experience. Our WBG skills and experience are limited to tackle ‘Life after Worldbank.’ Your points are informative and very helpful. Best regards Mohammed Khaled


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