I have been working with a client (a music store for whom I designed a very large e-commerce site) for about 6 years. Over that time they have had me change the design a couple of times and I have done ongoing maintenance for which they paid me an hourlyy fee (invoice submitted with a timesheet monthly). This has been working fine for the most part. I've always done their updates on time and even spent evenings and weekends working with one of their employees when the needed to get some new items up for sale quickly (I never charged them extra for weekend or rush work).
Now..about 6 weeks ago I was told (by the employee that I've been working with, not the store owner) that the owner had decided to go with a new company for a totally new look. OK, I understand. They wanted me to keep doing weekly maintenance until the new site was ready. OK. 5 weeks went by and I was told by the employee that they had heard nothing from this new company and he thought the owner might be open to keeping me on as their web designer. OK. I went into the store and sat down face to face with the owner. He said he was very unhappy with the new company, they had shown him nothing and had not even come in or called to pick up their down payment check. The owner and I spoke for about 45 minutes, he said he liked working with me and thought I was always fair. He said he'd like me to design their new site. He said he wanted to see something as soon as possible. I told him I would have something for him in less than a week. OK.
I left there, went to my office and worked solely on their site for the next 5 days - putting aside other clients that I have been working with. At the end of that 5 days (a Saturday afternoon), I sent the owner (and the employee) an email with a link to the work I had done and told them I could meet with him on Monday or Tuesday. I heard nothing back until Tuesday when I emailed the employee and was told that the other company had come in on Monday and picked up their check. The owner at that point decided to go with them.
I created an invoice, with timesheet, for the work that I had done over that 5 days (along with some additional maintenance earlier in the month). I submitted that invoice. I heard nothing for two weeks. Today I got a check for roughly half, with a note that said "Larry (the owner) feels this is fair".
What are my options? I know I could take him to court (I really don't want to go that route). The site that is up right now, is the site I designed and have worked on for the past 6 years. Do I have the right to take it down until I get paid?
Well, I'm going to assume that there was no written contract beyond the original proposal.
So, with no written contract the basis for your ongoing rate is simply that he's been paying that rate for years. The client obviously understands and is accepting of that rate as evidenced by the fact that he's used your work, asked for more work, and continued paying invoices all that time. So, it's certainly fair to expect him to continue paying your invoices at the known rate for work that he requests.
There appears to be no basis, however, for raising your rate because you 'felt they were no longer qualified to receive the reduced rate'. Unless this 'rush rate' was explained to them in some way, I don't think it's appropriate to suddenly raise your rate nor would I expect them to pay it, especially when the relationship is ending.
Do you think that the client noticed that you suddenly increased your rate? I know that I would.
Perhaps he felt insulted, too.
Perhaps you did put aside your other clients for his 'rush' job, but does that mean he would expect to pay more? I'm not sure, but unless he was informed about that increased rush pricing he wouldn't expect it.
Perhaps you could send him another invoice at your regular rate and hope to collect that $200+ so that at least you'll be paid a rate that is consistent with your historical rate.
Ask the owner directly why you only got $x for y billable hours.
I would not advise taking down their site. You were paid for the work you've done for them over the last 6 years (I assume) so they paid for and own that site.
What is in dispute is their partial payment for the work you did on the redesign over the last few days. I can understand how you would want payment in full, but I can also see how a client would think that because they aren't going to use your design then perhaps they don't need to pay in full for it.k You should certainly be paid for your work, though, so it's not all that 'fair' to only pay half.
Maybe you can better make a decision about what to do by considering the following:
What is it that you want to achieve? just the remaining 50% of your invoice?
Have you expressed your feelings to the client?
To what degree are you willing to risk/abandon your relationship with this client to get that money?
How much money are we talking about?
Do you have a written contract?
Was the pricing/charge on your most recent invoice consistent with your pricing in the past?
The client is out of town until Thursday. I think my next step is to go in and talk with him face to face.
I understand what you are saying about the site already being paid for, I was actually thinking the same thing after I posted this.
My normal fee is $35 per hour. When I gave them the original proposal for their site, I agreed to do their work for $25 per hour. When they decided to go with another designer (in effect firing me) I felt that they no longer qualified for the reduced rate. I charged them 29.5 hours at $35 per hour - the exact time I spent working. They paid me $500.
I am hoping that by meeting with him face to face I can explain to him the fact that I did this work as a "rush", that I put aside all of my other clients for the week, and that I did this on his word.
I tried to preserve a working relationship with them, by agreeing to do this work despite the fact that he (out of the blue) decided, 6 weeks ago, to drop me with no notice or reason (in my meeting with him, he actually said that the reason he decided to go with a different company was that he heard Jeff Fisher was fired from the Titans just to "shake things up" and he thought he would do the same). In the email that I sent to him (showing him the work I'd done) I ended the email with: "Thanks for having continued faith in me and giving me this opportunity to continue working with you all." After they insult me with this 1/2 payment, I don't really care to continue.
Always get a written contract. ALWAYS. If you ARE going to raise your rates, you send out a notice to your clients that new rates would take effect at the start of the new business year. You certainly wouldn't change rates mid year.
Why would you only raise rates at the start of the year? That seems arbitrary to me.
Because you won't have clients for long if you continually change your rates throughout the year suddenly. By raising your rates at the start of the year ONCE, everyone knows what to expect. The last thing you want is to be thought of like the big telcos: i.e. you're never too sure of the bill because the pricing structure is in flux several times throughout the year.
Certainly it's wise not to change rates on clients too much, and without notice. I'm just saying that raising the rates at the beginning of the calendar year doesn't seem to be an ordinary business practice, isn't something that clients would expect, nor would they feel that such a raise would be more palatable by clients.
I raise my rates whenever it seems like time to do so, but I'm careful to give clients tons of notice - say 3 or 4 months and bundle the news with some kind of promotion or special. The time of year doesn't seem significant. This is getting off topic now, though!
If the client refuses to pay you, the only way you can force him to pay would be through taking him to small claims court and getting a judgment against him. I would NOT recommend disabling his site- if you take him to court, he might file a counter suit for income lost while the site was down, and if he wins, you'll be out way more money than you are now. It's not worth the risk.
The other route you can take is to contact a collection agency. They will try to collect from the client and will report him to the credit bureaus. The majority do not charge a fee if no payment is received, so there's no risk for you. And if payment is collected, they might take a hefty portion (30%), but it's better than nothing.
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