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Creative Collections
March 26, 2013 - By: - In: In the News / Awards - Comments Off on Creative Collections

What do you do when your client won’t pay?

For programmers, it’s easy.  Hack their website.  That’s what web designer Frank Jonen did to Fitness SF, a San Francisco Bay-area client who wouldn’t pay for the work done on their new website.

On Valentine’s Day this year, visitors to the site in search of a free intro pass were greeted with the kind of letter that every freelancer has dreamed of nailing on the door of their deadbeat clients.

Dear Fitness SF Customer,

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

Do you hear the people sing, who will not be paid again…

I am also writing this on the behalf of the tens of thousands of freelancers and small businesses out there facing larger corporations who can afford to starve them out. In the movie / visual effects business this is already prevalent. Large studios awarding work to smaller studios or freelancers in the hope they won’t stand up to them when it comes to loads and loads of unpaid work.

What Fitness SF is trying here is exactly the same ploy. Give a barren advance, rake up a huge bill and ignore every invoice. Rush fees, heavy overtime and weekend work are expected to be free.

You don’t get to sleep for days on end, but you do get to wait on your money forever.

It’s people like this who cause company after company to go bankrupt.

Oh, sweet revenge. Nothing is more infuriating to a small business owner than a client who won’t pay. Freelance translators, the small fry at the bottom of the localization food chain, are particularly vulnerable when working for overseas clients since international collection is almost impossible.

It’s definitely a feel-good collection strategy, but I doubt it’s the best route to go. Gail, our smoky-voiced collections tiger, does more purring than roaring. It’s the unrelenting stalk and not the angry pounce that pays in the darkness of collection night. Making people feel bad is no way to get their money.

Fitness SF was certainly not amused. They told Adweek, “On Wednesday evening, our domain name Fitness SF was hacked and stolen by an individual named Frank Jonen.  Frank was hired on May 16th, 2012 to develop a functional website for our brand.  A $5,000 payment was made to him on the same date.  In his proposal, he stated that the website would take 10 weeks to complete.  He missed numerous deadlines including our brand launch in September.  In December, he voluntarily passed the incomplete and non-functioning website to our new design firm.

“Now, Frank is attempting to portray himself as the victim when truly the victim is Fitness SF as he attempts to get paid for work he did not complete and has decided that blackmail is the way to accomplish that.”

Clients are apt to get upset when you don’t deliver.  Missing deadlines and not executing deliverables can really complicate the collections picture. Perhaps Jonen is the wrong hero for cheated translators?

I have a little fake stone on my desk given to us by Stew Leonard, Jr.  It is inscribed:

Rule 1 – The customer is always right.

Rule 2 – If the customer is never wrong, reread Rule 1.

That’s my default, much to the frustration of my operations team, so I was quick to throw Jonen under the bus for the high crime of service failure. But you can’t always believe what you read on the Internet. Last week, Jonen posted this joint statement on his blog.

Regarding a recent incident involving the website, Fitness SF and a website designer hired by the company, Frank Jonen, have resolved all disputes between them amicably and to everyone’s mutual satisfaction. Fitness SF and Mr. Jonen regret any inconvenience caused to Fitness SF members, and are pleased the interruption of web service was promptly rectified.

Looks like Jonen’s collection strategy was spot on. I wonder what their next collaboration will look like? I can’t wait.

I hope commenters will post some of their own creative collection stories for the edification of those owed money.

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