I have a situation that is a bit unique. A colleague of mine approached me to do a website. I was a little reluctant, but I said I could build a website for them via a Wordpress template. So, they agreed.
We originally had agreed on a 6 to 7 page website, and I guesstimated it would take around 11 hours of work (they wanted me to customize the template that they bought, as well as add many features), and I stated that if it took less, I would charge them less. I was charging hourly.
Well, as time went on, they kept on adding more pages and more features. At about 16 hours into it, I let one partner know that we were at 16 hours already, and that did not include the work that I was doing that day. They said OK.
Then the other partner contacted me and said they had heard that we were already at 16 hours, and that they wanted things itemized so they knew what they were paying for. They also had suggestions for doing the project in stages and outlined the stages.
I responded saying that we were at 16 hours when I started the day, and that I had already worked 9 hours that day, which would put the total at 25 hours, which is more than double what the original quote was. They did not respond back. So I assumed things were fine.
I was in constant contact via email with the partner that said OK to the hours. So, they knew how much more time I was spending on the project.
I received 50% of the original quote at the beginning of the project, and the deal was I would receive the other 50% at the end of the project. However, since we had gone way over the original amount of hours forecasted, the second payment didn't even cover the first 50% of the cost of he project.
By the way, the day before I let them know that we were at 16 hours, the one partner that said OK to the hours was constantly asking when we would go live, even though they constantly kept on adding to the project and modifying it.
Near the end of the week, the one partner that said OK to the hours sent me the second payment via an online service early in the morning, even though we had not discussed it, nor had I finished all of changes that needed to be made. That was a red flag to me.
They again asked that day when we would go live, and I stated that I could not go live until I received the final payment. They got upset and acted insulted, even though they had agreed to that policy via email earlier on (who gives the product before they get payment, especially when dealing with a client who is in a different country?). I stood my ground.
I finished the modifications at 7:30 that night, and at 8:50pm the same night, they wanted an invoice. I emailed them the next morning and stated that I needed to know that we were finished with the site before I sent an invoice.
They first sent an email with concerns about the transaction, and then stated that were were finished with the site for now. So, I sent the invoice back along with an email addressing all of their concerns. The site ended up being a 15 page site with many more features than originally agreed upon, and numerous modifications. Because of that, the price that was 5 times the original estimate.
I did not hear back from them right away. This went on for a week and a half. Most likely, this was a money issue. I still had the test site up so they could refer to it and test it. I then got some emails from the test site notifying me that people had signed up for their products/services via the test site.
Some of the features on the site allowed visitors to sign up for things. So, since they kept on prolonging the final payment (even though they had put a lot of pressure on getting the site up asap), I assumed that they were using the site as their site for now and were telling people to check it out and sign up. So, I disabled it and sent them an email telling them why.
They emailed back and said they were insulted, and that they needed more time to look at it. I spoke with a friend, and they suggested that I just put it back up for a certain period of time for them to look at it and test it. I was very reluctant in doing this, but I eventually sent an email to them stating that they had 72 hours to view and test it.
They then wrote back and said they wanted to break up the time, and use half of that time starting now, and the other half sometime during the coming weekend, which was a week away.
I emailed back stating that I usually only give 3 days for final payment, but had given them a much longer grace period. I stated that I could not let it go into the weekend, nor could I break up the time period.
Well, then the person who had OK'd the hours called up and was quite upset. They reiterated that they were not happy at all that the test site had been taken down, and that they needed more time to look at it. Keep in mind that they had already had a week and a half to view and test it, and had already OK'd it the way it was. All they needed to do was test some of the features, which would take no longer than 1 hour, if that.
But they insisted, and even went further than that by saying they were insulted that I would accuse them of doing such a thing, and that there would be "repercussions" (Huh? Repercussions? Are you serious?). I did my best to compose myself, but I did slip a couple of times, as it had been quite a challenge dealing with these people.
They kept on stressing the fact that they wanted the test site back up so they could look at it more and test it (even though they had OK'd it and wanted it up the way it was now). A friend of mine told me to just put it up, as it was quite a bit of money, and both sides wanted to conclude the transaction quickly.
So, reluctantly I put the test site up and let them know they had 72 hours to view and test it. Well, the next day I received an email from the other partner stating that they had looked over the site and that I could disable it. They did not even test the features (I would have received notification).
What they did do was send back the invoice that I had sent them and tore it apart, saying that they thought that it did not take nearly as long as I had stated. They slashed the amount down to 1/3 of what the invoice stated. My invoice was completely accurate. I did not list every single technical move that I made, as that would be tedious and take too long to do.
I emailed the partner that had OK'd the hours and said I would only deal with them, as they were my client. The other partner was just the first partner's romantic partner with some business ties, but this was the first partner's business. I let the first partner know that the invoice was completely accurate, and that if full payment or a partial payment towards the total were not received by a certain time and day towards the end of the week, that legal action would be taken.
The thing is, they are in Canada, and there was no formal contract between us. Only emails back and forth outlining the terms as we went along. I know this is not the way to do business, but we were friends/colleagues, and they got touchy when I first brought up the business side of things.
What happened next really surprised me. On a hunch, I took a look at their domain, and I then realized why they wanted me to put the test site up again. They wanted to get the content so they could put it up on their domain. They had grabbed all of the images and text, changed the template, and put up the content on their domain.
This blew me away. They were insulted that I had accused them of using the test site as their site, yet they then go and steal the content from the test site and put it up on their domain? How is this congruent?
All of the pages are not up on their domain, however, as the navigation bar of the template that they are using does not allow that many. Also, they don't have any of the features that are on the test site.
This gets a bit sticky, because the content consists of text that they wrote and images that they had originally created in an MS program that I captured and made web ready. So, the images were not entirely of my creation.
Basically, they put up most of the pages on their domain, even if the content was taken from my test site, and they have 5 less pages than the test site.
We are now into the next week. I have received 1/5 of what they owe me.
I have not done anything, as I have been contemplating the pros and cons of taking action. We are in another business together, and they had done something that is not allowed in that business.
I could use that knowledge to my advantage, and use it as leverage to have them pay for the site. I could also let them know that if they don't pay, I will let everyone know in the business we are in together how they have acted during this website transaction. Since this website is for a business whose main prospects are in the business we are involved together, that could be quite detrimental to their business.
I could also let another colleague who owns a site that they would use to get business from know that they had done something that is not allowed, and it was done via this colleague's site, which is even worse.
However, I don't really want to go there. It's a fair amount of money, but they may not have it, and it could be seen as borderline blackmail. I'm just not that kind of person unless I really have to be. But this one has me on the fence.
So, the question that I have after this very long post is, what would you truly do if you were in my shoes?
P.S. Thanks for taking the time to read and answer this post.