Thursday, 18 July 2013

A word of warning

It just goes to show – if you are a professional writer or probably a professional anything– you should never abandon the golden rule that must apply with new clients. Be paid at least 50 per cent of the first agreed project before you start. Having discussed the project and agreed a price, with both parties happy with what is to be done, you must insist on a down payment. Don’t even start your real thinking before the money arrives.  

I have been doing this with new clients for more than 25 years but for some reason I let up my guard, for the first time, only recently.

I was asked to write a brochure and a series of film scripts for a company and everything was needed urgently. I had met the client, looked over the factory, saw the value of the products involved, organised access to relevant information to support the first task, the brochure, and soon came back with a price.
I was about to go on holiday for a week and emailed the client to ask whether the deal was sealed. I received two phone calls and one email saying that the deal was indeed sealed, the price agreed and that they were delighted to have me on board.

I wrote the brochure and sent it to the client. I then wrote eleven, one-minute film scripts and was doubly careful that each one could be spoken, instructively and fluidly by a professional presenter, to be hired for the job.

My instincts should have warned me not to send anything before receiving an initial payment. The first fire alert was the quite unbelievable illiteracy of the owner of the factory, clearly someone who insisted on his signature throughout every aspect of the company. I had already noticed in the notes he gave me concerning the product range that he was all but illiterate. And I’d seen his hand on the company’s website where the English is shocking in almost every respect, including spelling where the simplest of words looked foreign. Even the word ‘seen’ was spelt ‘sean’. How, I should have said to myself, is someone who has so little basic understanding of the written language going to appreciate even straightforward prose let alone something confidently and boldly written by a professional?

Having foolishly submitted my brochure and scripts – all written in time to meet what was apparently an urgent need – I awaited a reply. Nothing came. No acknowledgement of receipt, no thanks. After several attempts to call by landline and mobile, and various emails over about a week and a half, I received a version of my ‘scripts’ edited by said company owner. He had turned something clean and clear, written for a professional presenter – into something utterly unintelligible and he asked me to ‘aprove/edit’ (sic) these abominations. With trepidation in my heart, I attempted about four scripts and sent these back to see if we might end up on the right lines. Weeks went by. No responses to my calls and emails. So I sent him a note saying I must charge him for my work to date and stated the amount. Whereupon less than an hour later I received a rude and belligerent stream of consciousness effectively stating that he was not paying me anything although what he was actually saying took some time to decipher.

I shared this email with my partner who told me in no uncertain terms that I was completely mad not to have made sure this particular ‘bottom feeder’ had paid me in advance. She is of course right. I won’t make the same mistake again. I’m now sharing my sense of shame and loss with my blog in the hope that anyone else out there who writes professionally abides by at least one basic rule with all new clients.  Be paid first! And do please pay heed to your gut feelings.

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