Would you ever sue your own client for fees owed?

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I was asked that in an email this morning and it’s a great question. How would you answer it?

I never sued a client for fees. I don’t think I would, but “would you ever?” covers a lot of territory. I suppose it’s possible. But unlikely, at least for me. Bad Karma. Better to focus on getting new clients and especially, better paying clients.

If I considered it, I would think about things like

  • How much was owed and for how long
  • Who the client is (corporate or individual, long-time client or first time client)
  • Why aren’t they paying? Are they dissatisfied with something? Having financial difficulties?
  • What is their attitude? Contrite? Jerk? Are they ignoring me or willing to talk about it?
  • Are they willing to pay anything?
  • Could I collect if I won?

I’d also think about what I might lose if I did sue. Maybe if I cut them some slack they would pay me when they could. Maybe they’ll feel guilty and send some referrals. And maybe they will solve their immediate cash flow problem and become long-time, good paying clients.

One thing is sure, if you ever do sue a client, you can be pretty sure they will never hire you again (although it does happen) or send you any referrals.

Of course the best thing to do is avoid getting into this position. Get paid in advance or at least get big retainers, auto-bill their credit card, and never let the balance get too big (i.e., bill monthly).

At the end of the day, there will always be uncollected fees. As long as it’s a small percentage of gross receipts, I consider it an acceptable cost of doing business. If it’s not a small percentage, I know I’m doing something wrong.

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