Getting the money

One of the things I really truly hate about running my own business is having to collect money. I love having it, but the delicate art of extracting it from the slow paying customers’ wallet fills me with dread. Most of my clients pay great, normally to their own schedule but always reliably on time. And if they missed one or I have stuffed up, sorting it out is as much a pleasure with these clients as any other dealings I may have with them. And it is even not so bad when you have had someone go walkabout with a sizable amount. That is a fair fight and notes about lawyers or actual lawyers almost always bring them to the table, although thankfully I have never actually had to go to court.

The ones I can’t stand however are the dollar dazzlers – the ones that owe you a piddling amount and will not pay. They know it is not worth the lawyer’s letter to chase them down and they are counting on you giving up. In the past I have had a fairly uneven success rate with these guys. Some end up paying, but most of the time I have done the maths and the cost of my time getting them to pay was good money after bad. I have written it off, all the while cursing myself for letting another one get past me without paying upfront. But recently I worked out a new strategy and I thought it might be useful to you.

I had one customer who had had not sent me a job in months and who had an outstanding account of $500 or so. I emailed him once a month for a few months reminding him in a friendly way about it. To be honest I was not all that worried over such a small amount and probably would have let it slide. But one day he emailed me back saying the job was crap, he was sure he had paid for part of it anyway, he was not going to pay and I could get stuffed. He was always an ignorant pain in the backside, but it was the unwarranted rudeness that got to me. So I politely emailed him again. And again, this time with a scanned in PDF of his bill attached, all up about six megabytes of email. For a week I sent one email a day. All I got back was an email telling me to get stuffed again. The next week I upped it to two emails a day, one at 7.30am and one at 5.00pm so my reminder was the first and last thing he saw each day.

Nothing. So I escalated. At 9am I sent 5 copies of the email – 30 megabytes. At 10am I sent 10 copies of the email – 60 megabytes. At 11am I sent 15 copies of the email – 90 megabytes. I stopped at 12pm with 20 copies – 240 megabytes. At five o’clock I answered the phone to a burst of expletives that would have made Kevin Rudd blush. For a minute I had forgotten what I had done, but I was pretty quickly reminded. This guy worked out of his garage and had come in at knock off to find 300 megabytes of email downloading ever so slowly, all reminding him politely to pay up. He gave me a full and frank character assessment and insisted he was not paying. I said no worries, I guess you will call again this time tomorrow? That set him off again. So I sent him another copy of the email to remind him.

Surprisingly, the next morning the money had not appeared in my account. He seemed to be of the view that I was not enjoying myself tremendously. So I had another fun day and another fun phone call from him and low and behold, the next day I got all my money – except $20. For some reason he decided to keep this going, and while I was still having  fun, I didn’t think $20 was worth the daily effort, so I cut back to one or two emails a week. One day I sent three in the morning and he sent me my $20 that night. Since then, I’ve used the tactic on a few other similar deadbeats. I scaled the emails back to one missive every hour on the first day, then every half an hour on the second day and by the time I was sending them every fifteen minutes on the third day they were almost all emailing me remittances.

Now I admit this is immature and petty. Take it and use it as you will. But remember it worked and did not cost me a cent – all it took was the willingness to be a major pain in the arse.

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