Contracts and Con-Artists

The other week I had a bad experience with a customer who refused to pay his bill.

Even though the episode left me with a bitter taste in my mouth, the best thing was to view it as a lesson. The answer is to be totally covered on your side, otherwise there is no chance (or limited chance) of redress.

First, trust your gut reaction. I had a bad feeling from the beginning; I was suspicious that it needed to be done by the end of the week, and then there was the distinct lack of information as to exactly what was wanted. I drove out to Henley to meet them to find out more details, and even then it was still vague and unhelpful – I know that people have trouble in describing what they really want, but when you’re greeted with a dismissive grunt from one and distracted ideas from another, what is a girl to do?

Second, get concrete details from the beginning, in writing, preferably on a contract of agreement. This I failed to do, just relying on my written notes taken at the first meeting. The whole project was a ‘rush job’, with the deadline within six days. This means I would have to work over the weekend, which I am willing to do if necessary.

What I gathered that was needed was: high-class invitations in an art deco style on very good quality paper rolled up and secured with a flower clasp, and tickets on thick card with a specially designed bar code and the back in black with the nightclub’s flower logo placed centrally.

But one thing was not made clear to me – the flower clasp should be made of A REAL FLOWER and secured with a gold pin! (Hang on, I’m a designer, not a florist! When a client mentions a flower clasp, I presume it’s made of card or paper, not organic matter! And wouldn’t the flower rip with the gold pin and wilt over the weekend?)

As the week progressed the demands varied to include corks placed inside each end of the invitation (luckily this couldn’t be sourced in the timespan available) to sealing each invitation flap in wax above and below the flower clasp (this would have taken a further six hours to do, especially without an appropriate seal). I persuaded them to abandon these ideas.

Third, get your customer to accept and sign a contract of agreement, so that all parties understand what is expected of each other for the project concerned. If a deposit is required to cover any production costs, this should be paid before work should continue.

I didn’t do any of these things because of the timeframe. But I did email proofs of the design to them and personally deliver a mock-up of the invitation and ticket so that they had an idea of what would be produced.

The delay caused by their disinterest in replying to my emailed proofs meant that the deadline was extended by a further three days. Without an advance deposit I got the invitations and tickets printed and spent another weekend preparing them. They were delivered by hand on the Monday to an empty nightclub with only bemused cleaning staff to let me in, in spite of a pre-arranged time for collection.

I received a phone call a few hours later to say that no payment would be forthcoming because the products were totally unacceptable. The quality of the printing was inexcusable, the paper and card were of extremely bad quality and not what they were expecting, and the flower clasps were not real flowers (the first time I had heard of that requirement).

As far as I was concerned, the paper was the best quality I could source that would roll up tightly without becoming creased or split, and the card (at 350gsm) was as thick as could be produced without incurring higher printing costs. And as for the flower clasps… (!?!*@%)

Without any contract of agreement, and only an invoice as my paperwork, I was on dicey ground. They were big men and there was only little me. Another thing – I was so upset I failed to collect my work from them immediately. I subsequently heard on the grapevine that some of my tickets were in circulation in spite of me not being paid. I phoned up the nightclub owners who were emphatic that the invites and tickets had been put in the bin. When I then said I was coming over to collect my work, they changed their tune and said my work would be ready to collect (when they had said only minutes earlier that it had been destroyed). When I collected them it was obvious that all the tickets were not present.

If anybody out there can provide me with some help as to what to do next, I would be very grateful. Business Link have been extremely helpful, but their advised me that because of my lack of paperwork, and the nature of these nightclub managers, it would be difficult to get my invoice paid, and taking this matter to the small claims court might be expensive for me without any guarantee of success.

Please contact me through my website:, or through this blog. I look forward to hearing from you.



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