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I've Seen It All A milliom Times! by Darren Strudwick

It's becoming quite difficult to think of new and original topics for my blog, so just as was the case for my previous website design blog, I am going to re-visit a topic which is particularly close to my heart and that is the topic of payment - or rather late payment, or in some cases no payment!

It always amazes me how with so many customers, the topic of payment is such a sensitive issue. If I ask for payment in advance, they are not happy about that and many take it to be a sign that I don't trust them. Others feel if I am paid in advance, then I simply will not bother doing the job for them as I now have their money - a classic example of this would be a client who I had created many websites for over a period of several years - so it wasn't as if she didn't know me! Website number 4 was almost completed, I'd been working on it for a month, there was probably 1 day's worth of work left to do, but she was going on holiday - (holiday's of course being a classic way to delay payment) - so I requested she pay me before she go away as I had done 99.9 per cent of the job, but she refused to make payment until the other 0.01 per cent of the job was done.

In addition to the question of when payment will be made, we have the issue of how much payment will be made. People are constantly asking me for discounts or to do things as cheap as possible. So, with many jobs (though not all), we end up with a situation where I am working for many hours for a tiny amount of money which will arrive in my bank account as and when the customer feels like paying. I am sure many business owners can relate to this issue, especially website design business owners.

My over-all point is that many customers seem to forget the notion that I do this not just to make money but to make a profit, yet at the same time they never forget the notion of why they themselves are in business which of course is not just to make money but to make a profit!

I have become a little side-tracked from what was to be the main subject matter of this month's website design blog, and that is how to spot the warning signs in advance that a customer is either going to delay payment when it's due or simply not pay at all. These warning signs are not particularly specific to the website design trade, they probably apply right across the board. So if you are not a website designer, but run another type of business, this might be an interesting read for you.

The reason this blog is called "I've seen it all a million times!", is because the warning signs I am about to list are very common and I have indeed probably come across them on a million occasions. Please excuse my French! but when a customer is spouting bullshit with regards to when payment is going to be made, they genuinely believe that what ever lie they are giving is actually fooling me. What is comical is that they really have no idea just how un-original their excuses are and that having been in business for 10 years, I've seen and heard it all a million times.

And so without further ado ....

"I've seen it all a million times!" - Top ten warning signs a customer will be a bad payer.

1. The Customer is Already Wealthy!
This one might come as a surprise, but experience has taught me the richer a client is, the harder it is to get money out of them - to the point I've ended up doing jobs for free for some extremely rich people as the amount of effort involved to extract any amount over £10 out of them would have been too exhausting. Conversely I have customers who really have no money at all, and yet on occasion they have been so happy with the work I have done they have actually given me a small tip and paid me more than I asked for. Perhaps this point is not really business-related and is more a reflection of general attitudes in modern society.

2. Bartering Over the Price
Without wishing to sound racist in any way, bartering is not a practice one would expect to encounter in a Western culture. I would assume that is more common place in the Eastern Hemisphere. In any case, despite my prices being clearly advertised on my website, I get many enquiries from people not willing to accept those prices, and who almost aggresively try and persue a discount. A story I like to tell people is of a guy who phoned me once asking for website design services. I told him the price was £400, he told me his son could do it for £200, so I said ok let your son do it then. He told me his son would not do it very well and he would rather I do it for him. I said ok I am happy to do it but the price is £400. He told me his son could do it for £200, so I said ok let your son do it then. He told me his son would not do it very well and he would rather I do it for him. I said ok I am happy to do it but the price is £400. He told me his son could do it for £200. We went round in circles until I put the phone down on him.

3. Excuses
The classic tell tale sign payment problems are on the horizon is when the customer starts giving excuses. These are some of the most common excuses - I have heard these excuses a million times! If you are a small business owner and you get given one of these excuses then you know if you want paying, you are in for a rocky ride ...

• Death of a Friend or Relative - It's almost spooky the number of deaths that occur every time a website design job is finished and payment is due. As a result of the death, the client is still able to pay for food, electricity and petrol, it seems the trauma is selective and only affects their ability to pay for their website.
• Emails not working properly - For a typical website design job, perhaps as many as 40 or 50 emails can be exchanged between myself and the customer, but it's always the email I send which has my invoice attached that they don't seem to recieve. I've never understood how that one doesn't get through, but after a week of no response, when I phone to ask if my invoice was recieved and the answer is no, then I know fun times are head!
• Can't get to the bank until next week - Whilst I deal with several companies who legitimately do need to visit the bank, for the average person online banking means payment can be made from the comfort of your own home, and credit card payments can be made online. There is no need to visit a bank. I had one customer who every week told me he didn't have a chance to get to the bank. In the end I switched off his website - just at a time when he needed it the most - he phoned me up and payed straight away with a credit card.
• Cheque is in the post - Of course this is the most cliched one of all. When discs and such need to be sent to me in the post, they arrive the next day, but cheques can take a lot longer. And of course a cheque is a blatant way to delay payment for another week.
•Sorry, we're so busy we forgot to pay you! I particulary hate this excuse, as in many instances I wasn't too busy and didn't forget to give up several hours of my time to work for the customer at a rediculously discounted rate, indeed they wouldn't let me forget as the job was urgent, so the fact they would forget to make payment seems wrong. Of course it's a lie, they didn't forget. When you owe someone money, far from forgetting, it probably starts to weigh heavily on your mind.

4. Extreme Fussiness
All customers are fussy! And to a point they are entitled to be as they are paying their hard earned money for a product so they want that product to be perfect, and that is understandable. But there are a minority of customers who take this to a new level and will obsess over every square inch of the website, getting me to make an almost unbearable number of changes which are uneccesary and make no real difference to the overall look and feel of the website. These customers can create a lot of exra hours of work, and yet for some reason - yet to be scientifically explained - these customers are the worst payers both in terms of the amounts they pay and the amount of time I have to wait to be paid. Paradoxically, the customers who pay me more and pay the fastest are the least headache.

5. Rudeness
It's not what you say, it's the way you say it. Courtesy and respect go a long way. I have had several customers in the past and for no reason their tone of voice has been very flippant, bordering on out right rude. Certain keywords such as please and thank you are missing from their emails, and these same people have a way of manipulating me into actually feeling guilty for charging them money. It is ironic, these are the people I wan't to charge the most and yet they have a way about them where I feel awkard to ask for even £1. An occurence that sticks out in my mind is a night where I spent at least 8 or 9 hours working on a design, all night was spent doing this, I was exhausted by the end of it. I then sent an email to the customer with a link in it which she could click on to view my efforts. She replied back with a mere 2 words - "No good". I have no problem she didn't like it, but a more appropriate reply would be something like "We really appreciate all the effort you went to, we're really sorry but we don't like your first draught website design, would it be ok for you to come up with another design, many thanks". Needless to say, when the job was finnished this particular woman delayed payment for nearly 8 weeks.

6. Choice of Payment Dates
This one is not immediately obvious, but I started to pick up on it after about 100 people had said it. Essentially what happens is a customer will give a choice of dates when they will pay as opposed to specifying a single date, so typically they might say something like, "We will pay you EITHER tomorrow OR the day after". 100 per cent on the money every time, when a choice of dates is given, it means no payment will be made at all. So if you say to me "I'll either pay you monday or tuesday", I know that means you are not going to pay me on either of those two days!

7. Take Your Time There's No Rush
I can't tell you how many times I have had this said to me just before I start to design a website. It annoys me for two reasons - firstly you either want the website designed or you don't! You would not go into a McDonalds restaurant, order a hamburger and then tell the person serving you to take their time. If you are not in a rush for the hamburger wait outside the McDonalds, only go in when you are ready to order and you want the food. But second, and more importantly, when a customer says there is no rush, that means they are in no rush to make payment. They do not want the job done quickly because they are not going to be able to pay for it.

8. Discussions About How to Save Pennies
This is a definate warning sign that payment problems are ahead. Countless times, mid way through a job, a customer will phone me up telling me they have found a way to save what might amount to literally pennies on the cost of the job. I have many examples but I will give the most recent. I was designing a website for a customer to help him promote an event. The event was costing him around £30,000 to put on, and if all the tickets were sold, he might have made a profit of £100,000. The stock agency where I was going to purchse a particular image for his website were charging £5 for that image. He discovered that same image could be purchased elsewhere for £4.50. We therefore had a ten-minute discussion about how to save 50p. At the end of the job, despite the price being agreed before hand, he wanted to pay less and used every delay tactic in the book to keep me waiting for my money.

9. Unrealistic Expectations
Often I will agree a price with a customer, and throughout the course of the website design process, they gradually start asking for more and more things that were not included in the original quote - with the expectation of course of paying no extra. The classic example of this would be a customer saying to me something like "Oh and my website will be on page 1 of Google won't it". Always, when that is said to me, I realise I am dealing with a person who has no idea how the internet works, no idea how Google works, and no idea about what things cost. Companies spend thousands of pounds in attempts to get their websites onto the first page of Google, so when someone asks me to provide the same service without even expecting to pay £1 extra, it sets off alarm bells.

10. The Things They Say and The Way They Say Them
I wouldn't claim to be psychic, or a psychologist and I'm probably not in the same league as Freud, but after having spent 10 years, and thousands of hours speaking to hundreds of clients, there is no way that I couldn't have become extremely good at reading peoples true thoughts as they are speaking to me. Often within as little as one minute of speaking to a potential customer I can tell if they are going to be easy or hard to work with, if they are going to be a good payer or a bad payer, etc etc. On every occasion in the last few years, when a customer has not paid, or been a problem payer, I've sensed it was going to happen way in advance.

As the saying goes, experience counts - and in my experience I can't believe how many times all of the above has occurred. It's as if customers who do not wish to pay, or who wish to delay payment, or who wish to pay as little as possible have all been to the same training school to learn the same techniques, but they don't know that I have a copy of the same text book they've been learning from.

I should stress, I have a lot of customers who are genuine, honest, trustworthy, they realise my time has a value and they are only too happy to pay me what is right and proper for my time.