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Invoice left unpaid from foreign branch of good national customer: what to do?

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Lucio, guys, you won't ever believe it: I was paid the invoice (that I waived with my last e-mail) today!

I am really at a loss about what happened here and how to interpret it. Is this a good sign, or a bad "go f*** yourself" sign from the supervisor? Why not answer my email yet?

It could be possible that he sent my invoice for payment after my e-mail at the start of December, but before my last e-mail for waiver. Another explanation could be that the supervisor wanted to let me wait for payment like I waited to invoice.

Or that the last e-mail changed things. But in this case: why pay after I waived the invoice?

And finally the most important question: if I wanted to keep maximum power, should I send them the money back on the reasoning that I already waived it and their payment came too late? 🙂

Just joking, but to express a thought that has crossed my mind more than once: I much prefer having a reciprocal respectful relationship with satisfied and happy clients, than working with and being paid by clients who are unhappy or unsatisfied, even if the latter should pay more than the former.

Thought about this, and my best interpretation is that the supervisor ordered payment after the last e-mail.

This would explain why no answer to my e-mails: payment was an afterthought.

So thank you again Lucio, your help really was invaluable. At the same time this whole behavior by this supervisor leaves me with a bad aftertaste, even if I made a mistake by invoicing late.

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

Well, that sounds like good news.

Having the invoice paid was the second-best outcome after a friendly reply to your email -albeit a distant second-.

Difficult to guess at which point the supervisor ordered the payment, albeit you can probably get a solid idea by looking at transfers' timelines.

At this point, I'd avoid any reach-outs or you'd look to chase-y.

If you don't hear from them for a while, you can send some check-in emails in the future -without any question, just saying "hello, I hope all good"-.

Bel has reacted to this post.
Bel
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

I am confident that the supervisor ordered payment of the invoice after he received the e-mail we conceived together: the e-mail was sent on 15 December, payment got to me on 20 December. So it is clear that the e-mail had a positive effect.

And as you said in another thread, payment of an invoice is a positive event. If the supervisor wanted to really disrespect me, it would have been easier at that point to keep things as they were.

Even if the invoice had been put to payment after my push at the start of December, the e-mail I sent thanks to you surely helped me to partially rebalance negative feelings accrued before.

Truth is, in consideration of the relationship with the group, I should have probably simply not issued the invoice and told the supervisor we were good, just since I had not heard from him anymore. But these things can only be learned by experience.

I will avoid any pushes from now on and just limit myself to Christmas wishes by card. In the last year I started to understand that, as a lawyer, avoiding positive pushes with clients (with the exception of Christmas and birthday wishes) seems to make them more amenable to contacting me, especially when they don't know me well.

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

Hi Guys!

Writing here to update this thread in light of my very similar experience with another client, which I wrote about here and here.

The "client goes silent in the middle of a work" situation

I see now a striking similarity in the situation there and in this thread:

  • I do some significant work;
  • Client should give me input on the work to finalize it, but such input does not come;
  • Also, client goes radio silent on every try on my side to contact him (phone, email).

I used to assume I had done something wrong.

What really is (probably) happening

Now, after this thing happened again, I am assuming this situation may be due to the client realizing that the work he had asked of me was unneeded.

So what could have happened in both cases is that:

  • Client asks me to do some work, which I do
  • In the meantime or immediately afterward, client realizes he made a mistake in asking me to do the work (which could be due to a number of situations: in the case of this thread, it was probably due to a lack of coordination with an external entity; in the other case, it could have been due to some contracts the client was hoping to conclude with third parties not coming through)
  • Client is in a double bind: he doesn't want to ask me to waive the fees, but also does not want to pay
  • Client decides to use the silence strategy hoping the problem goes away

The bind of the external consultant

Thus I am now in a bind myself:

  • I can keep pushing for clarification, but it will never come
  • I can push for payment, and in that case I will probably lose the client
  • I can wait, and in that case client will probably never contact me again
  • I can waive fees unilaterally

In fact, I think the more I try contacting the client in a situation like this, the more the client is probably going to backwards rationalize he doesn't want to talk to me.

Solving the bind

If the client is a good client, the latter option (waiving fees) may be the best. Even if I incur a significant contingent "loss".

In fact, at my present level of understanding, it is the only option that has the potential of "saving" the professional relationship for the future.

In the prior case which is detailed in the posts above, the reason why I was ultimately paid could be exactly this: the client was waiting to see if I valued the relationship more than being paid. The client could pay me (in fact I was paid at last when I asked), but was waiting to see for my behavior, and I "failed the test".

So what I did in the new case is directly waiving my fees, without asking if the client wanted me to waive my fees and without asking for payment.

Changing subject line of the email and waiving fees

I changed the subject of the email, as per Lucio's great suggestion to avoid reminding the client of his past behavior, to:

Re: A good [month]! Writing to close this loop

And then I wrote in the email that nothing was due.

Let's see if this new behavior changes the final outcome with respect to the prior result (which was losing the client).

In any case, I expect no immediate feedback will come. If I will hear from him again, it will maybe be after he has had the time to reflect and thus in weeks/months.

On my side, it is done and I will not contact him again, especially because contacting him after this could be interpreted as "asking for something back", and that is not my intention. My only intention here was communicating I valued the relationship more than being paid.

Guys, please feel free to share any comments you may have.

Lucio Buffalmano and John Freeman have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoJohn Freeman

Hello Bel,

you're digging deeper, I like it! Hammering on it until you get the change you want, that's the spirit.

So here I think there are 2 challenges: assertiveness and mindset.

The "client goes silent in the middle of a work" situation

I see now a striking similarity in the situation there and in this thread:

  • I do some significant work;
  • Client should give me input on the work to finalize it, but such input does not come;
  • Also, client goes radio silent on every try on my side to contact him (phone, email).

Here what I think is going on is that you don't know actually why the client does not come back to him.

First, why not just ask what is happening? It's totally fair and normal to enquire. It's also a sign of respect as you show the client that you are concerned about him/her and that you are willing to take into account his/her context in the delay/absence of answer.

If they're on the verge of burnout, you want to know because you (genuinely) care. So here you can use your caring side to your advantage instead of your disadvantage (doormat syndrome/naive people: you give but does not get fair retribution). See Cipolla's theory here. See Lucio's post on doormat syndrome here. You can also check resources on assertiveness here. Or for a shorter reference this article from Lucio. 

From there you can adjust. "I was busy.." -> you address it. "I forgot" -> you adress it.

You can also introspect as why you don't re-initiate communication on an emotional/belief/behavioural pattern level.

Another idea would be to ask for 50% or even 25% of your fees upfront and the rest at the delivery. Here the client already got all the value, they don't have any emotional incentive to pay you at this point (except for honouring the contract, out of respect/fairness/reciprocity or for fear of legal action).

Lastly, one could also wonder: do you provide too much value? It might sound silly but here is the reasoning. If you are at a restaurant and you eat the best gastronomical meal of your life. There are primo piatto, secondo piatto, contorno, salad, dessert, coffee and digestive. These are the best you ever had. The quantity is plenty and you are more than satisfied. The restaurant is beautifully decorated. The staff is nice, funny, warm, competent and respectful. The waitresses are pretty. And then, they ask you for 10 euros for the meal and they don't accept tips.

What will you think? Exactly.

So that's the risk with over-delivering. I cannot judge this part as I don't know well enough your field and situation. However, I would consider that. I'm all about providing as much value as possible. I do as you do. However, I noticed that then parents do not appreciate what they get. It's a tricky subject. Food for thoughts here.

I used to assume I had done something wrong.

Here we go in the mindset problem. This comes back to wrong programming, self-esteem and self-confidence issues. Why in the World would you have done anything wrong? Exactly. Rationally it does not make sense. Emotionally it does if one has the fear of not being good enough, not delivering enough value, being rejected, not accepted, not being love or not being considered. One will do everything in his power to feel good about himself or his work, being accepted, being loved and considered. So if your brain thinks that by contacting the client again there is a risk of pain, it will prevent you from doing that. So it's about reprogramming as well.

I do an excellent work and people appreciate me and the work I deliver.

Or any variation of it. Just repeat it over and over and over and over in your head until it becomes a belief and then it becomes real.

On my side, it is done and I will not contact him again, one because I already did my part, and two because contacting him after this could be interpreted as "asking for something back", and that is not my intention.

I think here there's a faulty reasoning. From my perspective, I just don't understand why that would be the case. For me the situation is simple: client needs your service, you do the work, client pays you. That's the social and legal contract between you 2. Exchange of value. Period. So you are due your part. They OWE this to you. There is no way around it. Yes, you are asking for something: your due payment. When I go to the cinema, I'm not pissed when they ask me to pay. If they are pissed that you ask for payment of the service they asked you, then we have a problem and we are in manipulative territory.

My only intention here was communicating I valued the relationship more than being paid in this case (which is true).

Here, I think we have another faulty reasoning. Man, what you write above says really good things about you. It shows again that you are a caring individual. We need more of those in the World.

Here, we have an "either/or" assumption: either you value the relationship or you get paid. Well, first if they value the relationship they should pay. So by asking them to pay, you allow them to do their part of the relationship. If they don't, then you can still communicate respect for them and the relationship AND ask for the payment. I see absolutely no reason here that the two should be separated.

See Lucio's posts on:

Enlightened collaborator

Enlightened self-interest (lengthy but worthy of your time, a masterpiece)

I think here you have plenty of reading material that should make some "Aha!" moments as you go through them. I'm quite confident, they will trigger new and more empowering thoughts.

As you see again, my feed-back is about the thoughts in your head (totally modifiable) not about you as a person. 🙂

Thanks for sharing your journey! You're going up up up!

Cheers!

John

Bel has reacted to this post.
Bel

Thank you very much John,

I'll think about what you write, it's fair and reasonable.

Here's some more context to put everything in better perspective.

In both these two situations (and in others that preceded it), I had done prior significant work for the client, which was paid.

The work we are speaking about is highly complex and the (hourly) fees are not insignificant; it could even be possible part of the problem was that the client felt he had been paying too much, instead of too little, for my prior work.

Part of the problem could also be that the client is exposed to uncertainty in the final fee, due to the fact that the fees are hourly. It could make sense to always propose a cap on fees before starting the work. Problem with this is that I'm not yet always able, at my current level, to understand the amount of work needed on my side for a certain project.

As to asking "what's happening": it's a great suggestion in theory, but my feeling (at my current level of understanding) is that it would compound the issue if applied to these specific cases.

The situation here is that clients have unilaterally decided to stop responding altogether. So my feeling is that pushing for an explanation might entrench that behavior even more. Because, if the client wanted to express his thoughts, he likely would have done it already.

Also: in past cases (including above in this very thread) I did ask if there was a problem. Maybe the phrasing was not ideal, but still I never got a reply.

In any case what you say makes sense and, if I don't get the hang of this issue that is continuing to repeat itself in my practice and is starting to become a significant problem, I will for sure try every move in the book, including what you say about directly asking "can you explain to me what's happening?".

From your post I also get the idea that proposing to reduce my fees could be better than waiving them altogether, which could be another thing to try.

Since in the two cases I adopted different behaviors (in one case I asked to be paid, now I didn't), it's possible the best course of action will highlight itself in the future if one of these clients contacts me again.

I will for sure try every move in the book, including what you say about directly asking "can you explain to me what's happening?".

I would not recommend this phrasing. I would rather:

Dear Client,

I was going recently through my emails and I noticed it's been since July we haven't been in touch. I'm concerned and hope everything is well on your side.

How are you?

Once they answer, I would ask.

As I was checking my accounting, I noticed that there are still some fees left pending.

Here are my coordinates in case you lost them:

[Coordinates]

Could you please pay the fees until 31st of September?

(optional: As an independent lawyer, I have some upcoming bills, you know how it is.)

That would be great if you could respect/pay within this date.

I'm glad (or I hope depending) that you appreciated my work and look forward to more fruitful collaboration with you.

Sincerely yours,

Bel.

Also, I would always get their phone number or even call them to have this conversation on the phone.

If they keep not answering, I would change the tone.

My proposed answer is one strategy, there are others of course. It's a matter of personal style as well.

As I said, I would focus on addressing the mindset. It's up to you anyway!

Bel has reacted to this post.
Bel
Quote from John Freeman on September 19, 2022, 1:21 pm

I will for sure try every move in the book, including what you say about directly asking "can you explain to me what's happening?".

I would not recommend this phrasing. I would rather:

Dear Client,

I was going recently through my emails and I noticed it's been since July we haven't been in touch. I'm concerned and hope everything is well on your side.

How are you?

That is a great idea, thank you so much for sharing.

I'll try that for sure if this comes up again.

I did do something similar in this case though. I wrote something like:

"Dear ...,

here are some links to what we discussed some time ago that might be interesting to your company.

How did the work we did on [x] ultimately end up, was the contract signed?"

And I never got a reply. And I tried writing a text message and never got a reply.

I understand your reflections on mindset. I know I am entitled to be paid, and in the past I always pushed for payment. But I still (think I) lost all future business with the clients in situations like these.

You may be right I'm going too much in the other direction now. It's something to reflect on.

Also the transition (from "here's the invoice" to "ok, waived") could have been smoother. But it's difficult to smooth out a transition when the other person doesn't want to talk at all.

Quote from Bel on September 19, 2022, 1:34 pm
Quote from John Freeman on September 19, 2022, 1:21 pm

I understand your reflections on mindset. I know I am entitled to be paid, and in the past I always pushed for payment. But I still lost all future business with the clients.

So that is why I would focus on: why do you lose future business with these clients? I would simply ask them. I would get the list of all these clients and write an email or better call them after sending them a text that you're going to call them.

The reason for this could be a "good" reason: they were not honest, good ridance. Or "bad": you're doing something that pushes them away: improvable.

Dear Client,

First, I want to thank you for your business. I enjoyed working with you on this contract/project. (emphasize collaboration and some ego-stroking while at it)

As an independent lawyer, I am committed to continual improvement. (true and you show professionalism)

To do so, the feed-back from great clients like you is invaluable. (compliment on purpose for a nudge)

Would you agree for a short 5 min phone call at your convenience? (minimize time for a nudge and it's honest it's going to be 5 min).

So I can know what you appreciated and what I need to work on. (people love to give advice, makes them feel powerful)

Looking forward to hear from you, (hints that you expect an answer)

Sincerely yours,

Bel

If they don't answer I would call them: you have nothing to lose. There is no business coming from them anymore. What is valuable from them is the feed-back so I would do anything I can to get it, within respectful boundaries of course.

Then you ask them first what they liked and what you can improve. Once you have this info you go for the big bucks: "I could not help but notice that you did not request my services after our last gig. May I ask you what is the reason? As I told you I'm committed to improvement. So all feed-back, especially negative feed-back is useful and welcome". And there you listen and take notes. You don't defend, you thank them very much and go on with your life. You can even send them a little card to thank them.

Whatever is preventing you to go further, I would look for the root cause until I find it.

Bel has reacted to this post.
Bel
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