I received the following email from a TechRepublic member:

I am interested to find out what other consultants would do in this circumstance:

I currently have a number of small client sites that I support in a metropolitan area. I recently ran into an issue with one of these clients not paying on time (hardly the first time I’ve seen this). After my second letter regarding the late payment, I received a check that was “accidentally” unsigned. On my third letter, I assessed my standard 10% fee, plus a charge of $35 for the reversed check (I didn’t notice until after deposit).

Following is the response from the accountant:

“Dear Frustrated,

It is our company’s policy not to pay late fees or service charges. I looked at our history of payment, and normally we have paid your company within 30-60 days. I admit this payment went a bit beyond that, but I assure you it won’t happen again. If this continues to be an issue, let me know and we can sit down with the Office Manager next time you’re in the office.”

While less than thrilled, this letter did accompany a check for the original amount, which I deposited. It had been my intention to chalk this up as a one-time issue unless it happened again. HERE is where my question comes in…

Today I received a frantic call from this client and headed into their office (they let their server’s HDD space get down to 220MB). As I was working at, ironically, this accountant’s PC, I noticed her email client was open. Now, admittedly, I should’ve ignored it, but I “perused” a bit, and found an email she had sent to the Office Manager, basically detailing my request for the late fee, and how I wasn’t getting <expletive deleted>. The Office Manager congratulated the accountant on her response to me.

My question is:

Should I drop this client if I am going to be treated like this, or is it my own fault for being nosey? Is it better to bail now (potentially putting me in a position to have to explain myself) or wait for it to happen again so I have a valid reason?

It sounds like the company is either having financial difficulties or has a bean counter in command who likes to string out payables as long as possible. That’s a situation in itself that needs to be dealt with swiftly.

If a client won’t be up-front with me, it’s a good reason for me to fire them. But is that really the case here? The accountant told him that they weren’t willing to pay the late fee. In the message to her boss, she said basically the same thing, though not as politely. She didn’t exactly lie to the consultant, but her tone portrayed a willingness to be helpful that differed decidedly from how she presented it to her boss.

Your options might be restricted by your contract. Hopefully, you haven’t tied yourself into a certain number of hours or a certain level of availability for a long period. If you have, you might have to wait for the current contract to expire before you can institute any new terms, including none at all.

What are your thoughts about the situation?

What do you think about how our hero read the client’s email? I believe that could be construed as illegal eavesdropping (though I’m no lawyer). On the other hand, the client’s accountant left her email available on the same desktop on which they asked the consultant to work. Does that absolve him of liability? Did they intend for him to see it? Are they subtly trying to get rid of him?

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