unpaid invoice

what is the best way to collect payment due for work you’ve done for a VERY big corporation. i sold the designs around december, 2007. it stated on their contract that i would be paid within 45 days (from when I sent the invoice on January 1). it is now april 10, 2008. i have contacted them repeatedly only to either be ignored or told that they were following up with accounts receivables. it’s EXTREMELY inconsiderate.

has this happened to you guys? what have you done in this situation? i am about to call the tomorrow, after having sent them a revised invoice with interest. needless to say, i am very annoyed. but throughout my 8 years as a designer, this is the first time a business has been extremely late in payments so i wasn’t expecting this.

thanks in advance for your advice.

very large corp’s delay any/all payments as long as possible to continue collecting the interest on someone else’s money. 90 day terms are commonplace. keep complaining but don’t expect a quick response.

I use a reputable debt collecting agency to do it for me. We have laws here in Europe meaning we can charge interest and legal fees for overdue balances, not sure howit works for you. In my contract and on the back of all my invoices it state something like -

*Any invoices outstanding beyond this period will be referred to xxxxxx Ltd. And will be subject to a surcharge of 15% plus Vat to cover the collection costs incurred. This surcharge together with all other charges and legal fees incurred wil be the responsibility of the customer and will be legally enforceable.

You will have to check your local laws to see if there is anything you can do to get your money.

In future make sure you put something like this and some payment terms in your contract and on your invoice. I only work on 30 days net terms, I’ve actually stopped working with someone when they insisted on 90 days -I can’t work like that!

Good luck!

If in the USA you can threaten to take them to small claims court.
Don’t know how much money you have unpaid but it can recover a few thousand.

I always make it a point to get a deposit up front for any job or at least a PO from a company so that there is something in writing.

I also make a stipulation that they do not own any designs unless paid for in full…so I can sell it to a competitor or make it myself and sue them for infringement if they sell it.

I do pretty much the same as you - talk about learning the hard way! :laughing:

The thing with desgn - if you do this - nothing is ever wasted - just extra work for your portfolio!

unfortunately i’ve found working as a consultant that more often it is the larger companies that take more time to pay, compared to the smaller ones, as you’d expect.

often i dont think its a case of trying to hold on to your money to make interest $ (most likely the small amount of any contract and interest to be made is nothing compared to the total company revenue), but more likely just a case of bureaucracy (ie. needing to get a payment approved by managers, signed by accounting, routed through a invoice process, etc.).

I always insist on a deposit, usually 50% of the project before starting any work.

when there is a delay on payment (60 days overdue is not unheard of), i usually just press on with emails/calls and if possible try to connect with someone in the accounting dept. if possible in addition to the manager who signed the contract.

you will need to decide for yourself though if it is worth it to pursue a claims collections agency or lawsuit. not only the costs involved (which you may or may not recoup), but also the loss of a client. sometimes the delay is just an honest delay, and if you send a collections agency/lawsuit, there is little chance of any more work coming from the client. just something to consider. you wouldnt want to throw the baby out with the bath water.


Thank you all for your advice.

I had actually given them my own invoice at first. But this particular corporation gives out a form for you to fill and plug in your fees, which I’ve never done with the other corporations I’ve worked with before. So I was like, fine. It says on the invoice that I should have received the check within 45 days, which I still obviously don’t have.

The thing for me is, it’s not so much the money, but the lack of consideration I’ve experienced with this company. I have given them a discount for ordering multiple designs. I’ve given them everything early. In return, not only have they not sent payments yet, they have not replied to me either. And I will continue to hound them, and write a complaint to whomever manages these people about this situation.

Anyway, not only have they lost me as a vendor, they’ve lost me as a long-time customer (they’re one of the top big box retailers of office supplies in the US). And I’m sure they’ll lose more after this is done.

What concerns me is that what if I were a designer who needed the money and relied on their written word that they would be sending me money within that said time? You wouldn’t be doing that to your plumber or lawyer or mechanic. What makes you think that you could do that to your vendors? It’s highly inconsiderate, and I wouldn’t do business with a company like that.

I mean, I’m not trying to overreact here. I think it’s basic courtesy. I’ve been extremely lucky that my other clients have been great about paying invoices on time, if not earlier. And some of these corporations are MUCH bigger than this other one. This experience is, unfortunately, a first for me, and hopefully, the last. I don’t take lateness very lightly. I would rather lose a client than deal with someone who doesn’t take time to answer calls or emails fro people who have worked hard to give them a good product in the first place.

Hi rkuchinsky.

I don’t mind losing money and/or vendor for something I feel should be corrected. It’s not just about me. It’s also about other people, ie designers, who deserve to be paid within a reasonable time, because it’s the right thing to do. Fortunately, I really don’t need that money right now, which was a significant amount. But what if I did, and expected to be paid withing the written time allotted?

I have friends in the industry who aren’t as persistent as I am with demanding things, and it’s painful for me to see them wait and wait for months at a time, if ever. I feel that it’s not proper. I mean, if it’s an honest delay, fine, assure me. Tell me what happened. Don’t ignore me. Because if I were delayed with any of my bills, I’d be called out for it.

Thanks for your feedback too :slight_smile:

I also make a stipulation that they do not own any designs unless paid for in full…so I can sell it to a competitor or make it myself and sue them for infringement if they sell it.

that’s a good idea shoenista!

It also helps to be on good terms with the secretary. For a couple of places I work with, they let me know their internal pay schedule so that I can make sure my invoice gets sent in with the regulars pay. So I have some clients that give me a 1-2 week turnaround. But I have had the occasional 90 day type too, it sucks.

yeah. i think it’s been the secretary who i’ve been dealing with lately. the previous one was a temp they assigned to me who’s no longer with them. i’m probably not in the best terms with her right now because i’ve been hounding them for the longest time. and i definitely won’t stop until i get my money in my hands and make it known to people that being paid extremely late is definitely not good. no excuses for it. it’s all about common courtesy. that’s all i want from a client.

I always find out who the person is in bought ledger who would organise payment of my invoice. I build a rapport with them, if I go into the offices,I would make an effort to go and say hi. If your payment is delayed, it could be as simple as calling that person and they usually then hassle the person who signs it off!

I send an email reminder out a week before the payment is due, if it still hasn’t been paid.

It’s very rare that I have to use the debt collectors, the fact that I mention them on my invoice, seems to make clients pay up on time! They don’t cost me anything because under uk law, they can add their charges and fees on top. If it gets to that point, well,I wouldn’t want to work with that client again.

I used to be such a wuss and as a result I was never paid on time, but I’ve wised up. Theres no reason why any of us should ever have to wait 90 days IMO.

I used to be such a wuss and as a result I was never paid on time, but I’ve wised up. Theres no reason why any of us should ever have to wait 90 days IMO.


also, i sent a follow-up email the days after a month and a half. i didn’t get any emails from them saying where it was. i emailed them and they passed me around because the original person who dealt with me was a temporary worker. so after the runaround, i was given to this person who claimed she was following up with accounts receivables and that they were working on it. i still haven’t gotten anything.

like i said earlier, i expect nothing but common courtesy especially when i’m asked to go above and beyond.

Well, it’s four months, it’s time to write them a letter, enlcose a new paper copy of the outstanding invoice and give them a deadline for payment. State that if the balance remains unpaid after this date you will start legal proceedings.
Perhaps another poster can give you a sample letter to use - all mine are only relevant to EU Law, so theyare unsuitable.

I found,when I started out as a freelancer that the books you can buy - how to run a small business- , that kind of thing, are full of lots of useful advice about getting paid and they provide sample letters for you to use, along with advice about how to go about this.

Emails often get ignored. Even letters can sit round on desks. I note that my debt collectors use a combination of telephone and fax as well as emails when chasing up debtors.

best of luck to you, but i also want to note that often there is also another side to the story. was the project completed in satisfactory terms to both parties? were the deliverables provided on schedule?

the fact that it is a big company, and you seem to really pushing (noting your signature too), makes me think that perhaps there is more info to the story.

if you have that much work and established reputation to kick to the curb a good potential “big” client, good for you. otherwise, i’d suggest to perhaps take another look at the situation from the other side and see if everything really is as one-sided and “unfair” as you make it seem.

obviously i dont know you, the client or the project, but your tone so far and inexperience with a situation like this (or general consultant practices like getting a deposit, etc.) makes me somewhat suspect to the true nature of the full issue.

not pointing fingers, just saying that there is always two sides to any story.


Let’s see, big box office products superstores. Either Office Depot, Office Max or Staples.

I’ve done design work as a private label manufacturer for all three and each one has their own set of problems:

Staples - Glacially slow to make a decision. It takes three signatures to go to the bathroom. Probably the same way about paying bills.

Office Depot - Constant case of musical chairs in key positions. Their stock is tanking. Using a bolted-on consulting group for in-house design.

Office Max - Distant third place runner. Reorganizes annually. Nice design work on the TUL line of pens.

These guys are beating each other to death. It’s a small wonder all three have survived this long.

Good luck getting some cash out of these guys.

right on the money!

I understand what you mean, and have no problems answering your questions.

My “inexperience” or naivite on the matter stems from the fact that throughout my career as a designer, I have been extremely lucky in getting paid within a reasonable time. I’ve had bigger clients than this one, regular ones at that, and have sent my payments within the stated time.

I also sell my work in a different way. Most of my designs are already made, so the buyer picks whatever he/she wants and purchases on the spot. I am usually paid on site if I fly in with my catalogue. I charge extra for revisions if requested, but more often than not, their production designers or whoever, tweak the designs for them. This is why I don’t ask for down payments and whatnot. Payments are sent out as soon as the design is bought.

This particular client has their own forms and agreements as well and as a first-time vendor, had to use theirs first. I thought it was fine because the fine print, which I read, was fair and reasonable. They themselves violated their own terms. Not me. I counted on that “45-day” window, and in this case, they did not come through.

Also, per your statement of “kicking the client to the curb”, yes, I have no problems of dropping a buyer if they have not been reasonable. I’m not a famous designer, but I’ve had my regulars, and I have my way of picking and choosing the clients I want. And yes, I will “push”, or call people out, no matter who they are, if they have been unfair to me. If things aren’t right, it needs to be pointed out. And I’m always very frank and honest with people.

In this case, this client had found me, I’m assuming from having gotten hold of my postcards or link somewhere. They invited me submit my work for them to look at. They liked what they saw, bought multiples with a request to tweak one item to which I obliged. When all was done, they were very happy with what they saw, and purchased all items. I sent the vendor forms, and well, I’ve had to hound them since.

It’s as simple as that. No conflicts. No confusion. No drama. I sold a product they liked. I expect to be paid for that product they liked and bought. Nothing more.

So yeah. Experience has taught me that if you work hard and produce great product, people will buy it and pay you within a reasonable time. This experience has taught me to be more wary.

I did get some satisfying answers today though. After days of being ignored, I had contacted the VP explaining my situation…basically stating the facts of what happened. Later on, I had received a barrage of calls from several directors, as well as the lady who was supposed to be managing my account, apologizing profusely for not tending to my account properly. The lady herself had stated that she acted inappropriately. Surprise of the century, that was.

I can understand a mom n’ pop shops being late. I have a soft heart for small businesses and even when they’ve been late, they’ve always come through, and have been EXTREMELY good to me when their businesses had grown successfully. As for bigger business entities, I do understand the bureaucratic mess that we have to put up with. Fortunately, in my 8 years as a designer, they’ve mostly been good when it comes to payments and honestly, this is a first that I’ve had to hound people all the way to the top in order to get attention. But hey, I’ve decided to learn from it and move on after I get what I rightfully deserve.

In my experience with corporations, its always one person who has neglected to approve, pass on, or communicate that fouls up the whole thing. I dealt with one manager recently at a long term client that simply never paid outside firms, he ignored invoices purposefully just because he didn’t want to deal with it. Thankfully we know many people at the company in question who were more than happy to help. Because in every instance of late payment at a client its always the error or incompetence of a single individual (when its more than one person it really slows things down) I never burn a bridge- being irritated with a secretary or a manager is one thing, shutting down a relationship with a client is going overboard.

Sounds like you did the smart thing, which is contact the highest person you know or can get in touch with. Nothing motivates in a corporate environment like someone who can fire you putting a little heat to your ass. Sometimes its the only thing that motivates sadly.

Glad it looks like you’ll get paid.

hi grimble. thanks for sharing.

i agree with you. the only time i shut a relationship with a client is if they do not admit their mistakes. but otherwise, if all mistakes have been recognized and corrected, then i have no issues with that and i’m willing to continue the relationship, given that they agree to treat me fairly. no grudges. it’s just business. i mean, i don’t think people who don’t choose to pay are evil or anything. i just think they need to be called out when they’re doing something that puts people out.


Sometimes its the only thing that motivates sadly.

This fact distresses me quite a bit. But I do understand why it happens.