Gimme My Money

Recently we’ve seen several SEOs fussing about not getting paid, resorting to outing the offenders. Everyone’s favorite Dutchman-in-Ireland Barry Adams wrote “How I’ve Been Shafted By Darryl Collins from Banjax and Gingerparts” (which sounds so much like a revenge porn title) and the comment section is completely full of people coming forward to say that they’ve either also been shafted by Mr. Collins (that is so hard to type without giggling) or that it’s been a problem for them with someone else. Suffice it to say, it IS a problem. In my Link Club, we’ve recently discussed how to avoid this and let me tell you, it’s definitely a huge problem and I’m still trying to collect on an account for a client who left us years ago and still owes us a small fortune.


When you’re starting out, it’s tough to demand payment upfront because you might not think you have the credentials to back that up. Hell, you might not have them to be honest. However, we’re in an industry where some people feel that if we don’t get them the exact results that they think they deserve, they think they can screw us. The client I mention above signed off on buying links, saw the link report each month, and was happier than a pig in shit as long as he was making money but when he gets slapped by Google? He doesn’t want to pay us because we “got him into trouble” doing what he knew was risky, what he asked us to do, and what he was informed about every single month without fail. Funnily enough, this trouble of his happened 2 years after we stopped working with him and was never mentioned as a reason why he couldn’t pay until Google sent him the warning. Before, he’d just say something about it being hard to pay but he was working on it, but the second Google gets him? He can’t pay because it’s all our fault.

We’ve had other issues with various excuses attached, such as “we didn’t know what you were doing, not REALLY, because we didn’t have time to read all your emails or the actual contract which clearly listed exactly what you’d be doing” and “we were thinking that when we did not say yes please abide by the contract and continue working as we’ve both agreed, you’d know that we didn’t really want you to keep working.” If you went to the dentist and had a tooth filled, would you refuse to pay because you didn’t understand the chemical composition of the filling? Can you get out of a late payment for your mortgage because you didn’t like the color of your roof? Why do SEOs keep getting screwed like this?


Here’s another problem: to get a client, you have to lay out enough strategy and tactics that you plan that they can just take you out of the process, do it themselves, and screw you. If you try to be vague enough to hook them but not give too much away, you might not land them as a client. Do you have any idea how many proposals I’ve had to clarify where I’ve had to list out actual ideas, because the general ones didn’t make the potential client feel comfortable that I could do a good job? Too freaking many, and guess how many of those came through? I can’t think of a single one, and after the last go-round with it, I just walk away if they don’t want to pay me upfront for the ideas that I want to implement, because I do enough work for free. I don’t make money off writing for any site but there’s always the person who comments that I should have given them more information and more tips. There’s always someone adding me on IM or emailing me, asking so many questions that I finally have to point out that I have a company to run and things to do for my own work and that I cannot continue to dig into THEIR problems, and every time I say this, I don’t get an apology. I get a comment about how they thought I was supposed to be a nice person and then they go into the guilt phase of being sorry they wasted my precious time.

I’ve always been against outing sites for doing bad things so logical thinking dictates that I should feel the same way about outing clients that don’t pay, but I’m not. I’ve never personally done it but will I? Who knows. I’d rather spend time brainstorming with my employees than sending the 15th email saying “we still haven’t received a check from you and I’m making a very indignant frowny face due to it.” When I hit my first non-paying-client roadblock, I sought the advice of other people as to how to handle it and the number one response was “threaten to out them somewhere for it.” However, I’m still uneasy with doing what Barry did although I respect him for it, but I’m still uncomfortable with it because with my luck, I’ll out someone who has been in the hospital in an iron lung for 3 months or something. Is it bad karma to do it? It’s certainly bad karma not to pay someone who worked for you in good faith. Some people are crazy though and will do whatever they like whether they’re right or wrong, and since I am Dr. No, all I can imagine is that I’ll pick the true psycho to out and say hey, Mr. Po Pants didn’t pay me for my link audit. Mr. Po Pants will end up burning my house down and since all my vinyl is in storage, he won’t even have any problems from toxic fumes.

In the end I suppose that the way around getting screwed like that is to demand payment upfront and in full. The first time I did that I was slightly embarrassed (thanks Mom) but I laid out my reasoning to the client and to my great surprise, she said “no problem. It’s happened to me too so I respect you for it.” Wowzers. Sometimes when something isn’t going to cost much, I’ll just do it and bill the client later but I’m now chasing payments from two people because I was that stupid. So I’m going to get better about it, and the second someone screws me on my money, I’m shutting them down. If a client felt like I was wasting their money and doing nothing, I’d expect them to shut ME down so I need to do the same right? Right.

So get your money upfront if you can. Get a downpayment if you can’t get the full amount, but don’t let it slide when things start to go wrong, not even for a second, because if people think they can avoid paying you, or that they can pay you very late, they’ll do it. If you’ve never worked with the client before, get at least a percentage of the amount before spending time on it and lay out the contract so that you have legal recourse if they don’t pay. Make a plan for how you’ll handle this if it does become a problem for you, and let clients know as soon as they sign on. Put details about payment expectations on every invoice, even if it’s just that payment is expected within x number of days. If payment isn’t made by the due date, stop working and tell the client you’ve stopped and will continue when the check arrives. It’s actually starting to work well for me, so no outing for me just yet. However, give me a few more months and if I’m still chasing that one client, it might just happen.


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8 Responses to “Gimme My Money”

  1. Barry Adams says:

    Thanks for the shout-out and link, Julie. :) The homo-eroticism is entirely unintentional. :P

    To be honest I wouldn’t recommend anyone do what I did without proper consideration. Especially in the UK it’s very easy to fall afoul of libel laws, so you need to be very careful to stick to the facts (as I did) and not pass value judgements of any kind.

    I have to say though that my post has taken on a life of its own, and it’s way bigger than the few quid I’m owed. I never expected so many people to come forward and relate their stories about how they hadn’t been paid either. The comments became like a group therapy session – Unpaid Freelancers Anonymous.

    I do hope this sends a signal to businesses everywhere; not paying your bills can hurt your reputation, especially if you decide to shaft someone who knows their SEO.

  2. Julie Joyce says:

    It really made me want to watch a Dirk Bogarde movie.

  3. Gerald Weber says:


    I have had this problem in the post once. and I say once because I vowed to never allow myself to get screwed again after that.

    My solution is simple. Clients must pay upfront. If they can’t do that then I am not going to do business with them. Simple.

    I wrote a post about this exact subject a couple of years back F*$# You! Pay Me – How to Handle Client Who Refuse to Pay

    So since I have implemented this policy I have never been not paid again. It’s so beautiful know that you don’t have to worry about the stress of possibly not getting paid.

  4. Tiggerito says:

    I’ve had two clients from outside my city. Both shafted me!

    Meanwhile my local clients have always paid, if sometimes late.

    This has naturally made me reluctant to take on out of staters when I can trust locals a lot more. Local clients seem to be a lot easier to work with anyhow.

    I don’t ask for money up front but I invoice monthly and send the first one as soon as I start. This means I should only get a little shafting if it happens.

    I recently realise what power I have as an SEO after I wrote a blog about some poor service from a local car dealer. After a week or so I was ranking 5th for their business name, with an author photo and review stars. They called and asked if I could remove it!

    I don’t want to be vindictive so I am trying to get it to drop in rankings to page two. But I know I could do more if I wanted to. Like reviews on Google Places, Yelp….

    We SEOs could be a dangerous thing to cross.

  5. Tom Phillips says:

    Thanks for sharing experiences on something most of us hate – chasing people for money. I find that invoicing monthly and then stopping work if the invoice is not paid is the simplest approach. You can lose some money that way but at least you limit your losses.

  6. Lisa Parks says:

    Whoa! Such a bogus client… I have a experiences of not getting paid until I learned my lessons. There was once that upon application the employer asked me to re-write an article to see if my English is good/excellent. Then, after submitting my re-written piece I haven’t heard from them so I assume that they already got what they needed, SIGH!

  7. PabloGV says:

    I learned those kind of problems early of my freelancing “career”. A person I do admire told me at that time: “A work isn’t finished till you get paid completely for it”. Get a thought on it.

    After having a similar experience as you with a client, I started requiring a 20% upfront for the first month bill (when monthly fee used). 6 monther after that I upped that to 50%: I’ve never had that problem again and also bad clients do have less interest on me to work for them, so it’s a double win.

    Bad part is I’m pretty sure sometimes you can lose a nice client, but anyways if he values you and your work, probably he’ll find a way to meet your requirements ;)

  8. Bennie Stander says:

    Can’t agree more – getting paid in advance is the best way. Also since I switched over to a month to month agreement with my clients – no work that month until paid (and they lose the time I would have spent working on their sites) – most of my clients have been paying right on time.

    If you really add value to their business, they will have no problem paying on time.

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