Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Question of Law

I've never been comfortable with confrontation. Thanks to a combination of anxiety and procrastination, I often put off doing things that will result in confrontation, even though I know they need to get handled eventually - and, more often than not, will get worse the longer I ignore them.

I've been debating the idea of formalizing a lot of the aspects of my work as a freelancer for a long time now, and I think I've finally convinced myself that it's time to act: I need to find a lawyer.

Doing my taxes for 2011 (submitted yesterday morning, naturally) was a big kick in the pants, and a reminder of just how much of my work is still informal - I work with a limited number of clients, without contracts, without a dedicated work space, and without much in the way of overhead or startup costs, which is nice.

Of course, it's not nice when there's an issue with a client - say, bills that haven't been paid.

In short, I was doing a small project for a client, writing daily blog posts for a website they managed over the course of a few months. While it was supposed to be an ongoing project, the checks started arriving more slowly, then stopped coming at all. After repeated assurances that they'd "mail out the check today" and such, I finally spoke with someone at the company who told me that they were having trouble getting their own clients to pay them. I offered to send them a list of all the future charges and invoices, which they eagerly accepted, and yet, still no check.

I finally took a deep breath and sent a sternly worded email informing them that, while I understood they were having difficulty in the bad economy, I was still expected to get paid at some point -- and was promptly told they were in the process of going out of business. They would still pay me, of course, but it would take time, and they'd have to spread the payments out over the course of a few months.

This was a month or two ago, and I still haven't seen any of the amount they owe me.

While the whole process has been unpleasant and uncomfortable, it has given me a great incentive to actually find a lawyer, draw up formal contracts, and decide on a set of standard billing practices.

I'm really hoping that a sternly worded letter from a lawyer will have more of an effect than an email from me, but if not, I may end up learning a lot more than I really want to about collections and the small claims court system.

The smartphone/credit card scanner that my banker suggested the other day is starting to look a lot more attractive...

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