Have you ever been stiffed by a client (i.e., failed utterly in all attempts to collect payment)?

It has never happened to me.

Maybe I’ve been lucky. I’ve definitely been smart.

Some of it has to do with selecting clients with care, building in payment phases for large projects, and heeding red flags (and turning down the wrong work). Collecting on invoices has also, at times, required patience,¬†perseverance, and “having a friend in the accounting department” (as Karen Swim so aptly put it on a recent #solopr Twitter chat).

Occasionally, it’s also been about making it clear you’re not the person (or company) to mess with.

For example, I worked as a subcontractor to “Company ABC” for many years. While their payment processing time some years stretched out to 45 or 60 days, they always paid up. The final year was different, and I completed the last couple of projects only because of my commitments to clients.

I did get payment on my last two invoices–because I told the CEO that my clients had paid him with the expectation that I would be paid. In other words, I know what you’re doing and now so do my clients.

While I was prying loose payments at irregular intervals, Company ABC also had a core group of subcontractors working on a separate line of business. They had not been paid for months. Yet for some reason they kept working. When they complained, the company threatened never to pay them if they didn’t keep working. So they kept working. (Really, I’m not making this up.)

I suspect they never got paid.

I raise this issue today because I was reading that the Freelancers Union is trying to draw awareness to the plight of stiffed workers. It’s World’s Longest Invoice project has tallied over $15 million in unpaid invoices–and I suspect they’re nowhere near done.

I applaud the organization for its campaign. But I wish that, instead of focusing so much attention on deadbeat clients, they would educate their members about how to mitigate that risk. Because, as business owners, it’s also our responsibility to be wise about who, where, and how we do business.

Please chime in with your comments below.

Photo by Libby Rosof (Flickr).