Service of Debt Collection

September 14th, 2015

Categories: Anger, Cheating, Debt, Errors in Judgment, Fair and Square, Small Business, Trust, Writers

where's my money

I read this on a Facebook posting on September 10: If you write for _______, please beware. I filed my invoice on June 1 and still have not been paid. The editor gave me the wrong info on who to send my invoice to–twice! I’ve sent numerous emails and it’s been so time consuming trying to collect my money.

“I got a few emails from their accounts payable dept. saying all my info was in and I should be getting a check soon. Today, I checked on it and was told that they do not have all of my paperwork. I finally heard back from the editor and she said, ‘I really hope you won’t tell people not to write for us because of $300.’ I’m not telling you not to write for them. I just–at this point–really dislike them. I just want you to beware.

Social mediaWriting about this kind of exploitation infuriates me as do people who either play games, working the float on small fry suppliers making them wait for months or worse—ordering work they know they can’t/won’t/don’t plan to pay for.

I’ve written before about a writer friend who was stiffed a fee in the middle five figures by people she knew in an industry in which she was well known, causing such havoc on her finances that she had to move precipitately to another/less expensive city where she didn’t know a soul. The company was going bankrupt and the owners took advantage of her. This was years ago and I still want to take a shower when I think of them.

I knew a flim-flamer who told a graphic designer he worked with for years, “You designed those logos on spec,” when nothing of the kind had been said. Contracts don’t protect you: They cost too much in time and/or lawyer’s fees to defend in court. I’ve not been immune nor have other honorable, hardworking colleagues in PR who provided topnotch counsel, creativity and results.

The typical victim is not too big to fail so who cares?

I used to see typed or handwritten names of people on bits of paper taped to grocery store cash registers representing customers whose checks the cashier was forbidden to accept. Because the honor system doesn’t work so well, instituting a similar online virtual list, by industry, of individuals and companies who have swindled others wouldn’t be viable. People who disliked or were jealous of someone could add a name that shouldn’t belong and anyway, nobody is guilty here without a trial.

taking candy from a babyWhat’s the difference between these perpetrators and youngsters who mug the elderly or adults who abuse children?

What do you think about resorting to social media to accelerate/stimulate/embarrass a company to pay? Before hiring someone, even for a project, smart employers check a person or company’s Facebook, Twitter and other social media pages where they’d see such postings. The writer in the intro was angry and rightly so, but would a reputation of blabbing to the world about a grievance frighten away future clients?

Exploitation

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14 Responses to “Service of Debt Collection”

  1. hb Said:

    As someone who made his living lending money, I’d like to warn your readers that debt collection is a tricky business. Due to past abuses by creditors, the Law goes out of its way to protect debtors. I’m no lawyer, but I’m not sure to what extent publicly attacking someone who owes you money is a good idea.

    It is much better if, from the beginning, you decide to only do business with people you trust. They, too, may run into a bad patch, often through no fault of their own, and not be able to service their debts, but at least you can work with them as they deal with their problems.

    As the wise man said, “No business is better than bad business.”

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    hb,

    I’d thought only of the writer’s reputation. I hadn’t thought that she might be in trouble with the law by naming names on her Facebook page.

    When I’ve been stiffed, and thank goodness it hasn’t been often, I would have been thrilled if the person who owed me money offered to pay $100/month or some amount to show good faith. Somehow they never do.

    The wise man who said “no business is better than bad business” was correct. Reality check: It’s easier to follow his rule when business is booming.

  3. David Reich Said:

    Sometime, out of frustration and anger, outing someone online might be only way to get some sense of satisfaction.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    David,

    While I agree and I empathize, I’m not sure it’s a good strategy for the long-term.

    However, I clearly no longer have a handle on what’s appropriate and what’s not. Calling opponents “stupid” or “ugly” puts a would-be politician ahead in the polls these days so what do I know?

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    A popular local business owner complained that the hardest part of his job was to collect from “friends” who bought on credit. He had a double problem, since he held a local elective office. This dishonorable behavior has become so prevalent that most businesses require a deposit before moving a muscle.

    The story of the writer is puzzling, since those dealing with reputable publishers get a healthy advance for the work, and lack of same should have been seen as a red flag. Going bankrupt or not, it would have been fun seeing that outfit trying to stiff either, let alone both, of the Clintons!

    While “caveat emptor” still holds true, so does the later arrival, “caveat vendor.”

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    The situation of the popular local business owner resonates with people selling services such as writing, PR, advertising as well. With retainer business you are paid the creative fee at the beginning of the month yet you are exposed for the out of pocket expenses. If you work on a project, you should be paid a percentage in the beginning and the rest, similar to giving credit, once the project is done, hence the exposure.

    When I worked for someone else’s agency a college friend introduced me to his boss who wanted PR. How did we know that the boss, who lived on 5th Avenue and owned several properties and luxury cars, declared bankruptcy every few years and would open yet another business in a different industry leaving employees and vendors in the lurch? We’d worked for two or three months when he went out of business. The agency didn’t get a penny in creative fee. Because there was a lot of printing and he was a new client we insisted on being paid upfront for out of pocket expenses so at least we, unlike others, weren’t also stiffed for expenses.

    Every publisher is different–for online work, they don’t pay much. The writer in the Facebook example was paid $300–we don’t know how long a piece she’d written or whether she was given all the information and had to cobble together copy or had to research from scratch, interview people etc. Arianna Huffington’s initial model for the Huffington Post was to pay bloggers nothing. Writers were happy for the exposure. I don’t know whether this continues to be true. Bloomberg—that now owns Business Week and TV and radio stations around the globe—just let go 80 journalists right after Labor Day; Gannett has been firing journalists in droves for years and on and on. It’s not an easy time for writers.

  7. C Said:

    “It’s not an easy time for writers” is an understatement. A few months ago I pitched an idea to a media outlet that has been around for a very long time and is a household name. My idea was readily accepted, then I was told that they will provide a byline but no compensation. I moved forward with the article because I was in a slow period, I knew the piece would be easy to write, and I figured that having Company X on my resume might lead to other opportunities. Media companies get away with this because they can.

    Regarding employees/freelancers being fleeced by employers, sometimes it works the other way around. A few years ago when I was running a web site, a former colleague with whom I had worked for many years in a large publishing company tracked me down and said he would like to sell ad space for me on a freelance basis. We’d enjoyed a good relationship so I didn’t hesitate when he asked for a $1,000 advance to cover some business-related travel expenses. The guy promptly disappeared with my money and never did a day of work. I called him at home a gazillion times but my calls always went to voicemail. I finally took him to small claims court, which had to be in his jurisdiction, which was hundreds of miles away from me. On the first court date the judge didn’t have time to hear our case and told us we would have to come back in a few weeks. On the second court date the judge refused to render a decision, simply saying “you two take it outside and settle it.” The deadbeat salesman said he didn’t have the money and would try to pay it back over time. Of course that never happened. What an infuriating experience and spectacular waste of time. Lessons learned: no more advances for anyone, EVER, and small claims court is a joke if you’re the plaintiff.

  8. Donna Boyle Schwartz Said:

    Donna wrote on Facebook: You also DO have legal recourse, even for small amounts. One well-known industry group stiffed us with a bad check…amazing what one call to the NYS Attorney General’s office can do! (Needless to say, I don’t write for them anymore…..)

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:

    C,

    I am overwhelmed with exhaustion reading your unfortunately realistic view of the world for writers and for small companies without legal teams on call who try to defend themselves against thieves.

    The media that got your professional, topnotch work for free should be ashamed. Do the executives “pay” their dentist, gardener or surgeon this way stating that they should be honored to work on them or their property so they’ll tell everyone and not pay the bills?

    That judge would not be so cavalier if he had an entrepreneur in the family or any regard for people’s time. I wonder if you’d represented a large corporation if you’d have been treated the same way. He was clearly loyal to someone in his voting district over you, an outsider. Disgusting.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Donna,

    Great advice though I’m angry thinking such an organization would stiff writers while no doubt cutting big checks for the executive director and staff.

  11. Donna Boyle Schwartz Said:

    Donna wrote on Facebook: Well, that’s one advantage to having your own business–you can STOP doing business with abusive clients!

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Donna,

    It is not something to take lightly but is a welcome option if a customer or client is abusive, either by not paying or being unreasonable or beyond nasty.

  13. JBS Said:

    Debt collectors are outright nasty when you have to deal with them. Several years ago, we paid a hospital bill, but the hospital did not have a record of our payment. Eventually they found the records indicating we had indeed paid what we owed. However, during the period when they thought we hadn’t, the debt collectors, to whom the bill had been assigned, left us horrible messages. If they caught us at home, (in the days before caller ID), they were just plain nasty. As I recall we were involved in a similar mix-up years ago and experienced similar behavior from the collection agency. That being the case, I think people who depend on others for income have a similar right ….although I would hope they’d be a little more polite. The easiest way to spread the word is through social media.

    (It might be a bit too strong, however, to compare them to people who abuse children.)

  14. Jeanne Byington Said:

    JBS,

    I would think being a debt collector would match parachute jumper, high-rise window washer and attendant at an insane asylum as extremely stressful jobs fit for only a few. It’s depressing to think that someone who has completed a project must take on one of those roles to get what’s owed them though I’m sure you’re right that it would be effective. I couldn’t get one person recommended to me by an industry media star to answer my calls when I got the bright idea of using a colleague’s phone. She answered that call and I got some, but not all, of the money owed. I threatened to tell the person who’d recommended me–which I’d never have done. I didn’t want the person to feel “no good deed goes unpunished—I’ll never recommend anyone else to that ungrateful whiner again!”

    What I meant to illustrate, when I related adults abusing children with businesses or individuals that prey on small businesses by not paying them or not giving them the work they’ve paid for, was the bully-cheating-so-what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it similarity. C’s fruitless, time-consuming attempt to retrieve $1,000 through petty claims from an individual who took her money and did nothing is an example of the opposite–an employee taking advantage of a small business employer. It makes me just as angry. There’s a helpless aspect to the dynamic.

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