Q. What’s the best way to deal with non-paying or late-paying clients?
I’d like to try to avoid lawsuits, and I’d also like to maintain a positive relationship.

A. Here are a few ways to deal with late paying clients:

1. Set up an account on Paypal or Square, or a credit card merchant account, so that they can pay when the service is performed. Or even earlier, e.g., when they book your services.

2. Get a prepayment or a deposit.

3. If you invoice, specify your terms in writing.

4. Call as soon as a payment is overdue. If your term is “net 30” and they haven’t paid by day 31, give them a reminder call. “We didn’t receive your payment. When can I expect that? Can I get a credit card number to handle that?” The one who asks gets paid. The longer you let it go, the harder it is to get paid.

5. Ask if there were any difficulties. Were they unhappy with your work? Was something not complete? How could that be corrected?

If they don’t pay, here’s a sequence a steps you should take:

1st.  Have somebody else besides yourself call, who is friendly but firm, and will not be sidetracked by sad stories and excuses.

2nd. Send a letter.

3rd. Send an attorney letter.

4th. For an ongoing customer, say, “We will be glad to continue our work for you when we receive payment.”

5th. Take them to small claims court. Much easier than filing a lawsuit. Getting a summons to appear in court shakes many old payments loose.

“Maintaining a positive relationship” with somebody who is purposefully withholding money they owe you should not deter you from taking forceful steps.

On the other hand, if they don’t have any money, or you can see you’re not likely to get paid, and it’s not a huge sum, then let it go. Don’t make your life about this issue.

But don’t do business with them again.


Q. Have you used crowdfunding sites to raise money for a business project. Asked on LinkedIn by Brandon Schaefer

I see potential problems with doing this. A business project is meant to make a profit, and earn a return for the investors. If the investors are crowdfunders, how do they ever benefit other than feeling good about supporting a business they like?

I see four ways to view such a contribution:

1. It’s a gift. I don’t expect to get it back. I’m giving it to you because I believe in what you’re doing.

2. It’s a loan, with no recourse. If you do well, I’d like my money back, with interest. If you go belly up, so be it.

3. It’s prepayment for services. I’ll put money into your business in the expectation that when you get going, you’ll provide me with product or services of comparable value. Perhaps a plaque with my name on one of your cafe tables.

4. It’s an equity investment. I expect to own a piece of your business, have a share of the profits as dividends, and to benefit on the upside if you sell it later at a premium. I want oversight on how you’re running the business.

If I’m a crowdfunder for you, several things would really irritate me, perhaps to the point of lawsuits:

1. You squander the money, just out of lousy planning and management

2. You divert the money to other uses, such as fancy offices or expensive travel

3. You make a bundle and ignore me. With my $1k investment (among others) you grow your company and Google buys you out, making you rich, then you won’t take my phone calls.

How are these potential situations handled on crowdfunding sites? What are the obligations of the person receiving the funds? What are the rights and recourse of the contributors? This is why we have contracts. The crowdfunding deals I’ve heard of sound kind of loosey goosey.  Fuzzy agreements now = lawsuits later.

If it’s for a good cause–say, you’re raising money to go plant trees to restore the rain forest–then I view my contribution as a gift, and expect nothing back.

But if I’m investing in a business that expects to make a profit, then I want some contractual accountability.

So when you look at Crowdfunding sites, see how they address all these questions and others



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