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Dealing with Problem Client

..badmouthing us on boards and not paying

3:18 am on Dec 14, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I have recently run into problems with a client I have developed a site for. The site has been live for a couple of months now and my client is trading from it and using the email and hosting service I supply. The whole design process has been very costly to us with the client changing the site and design many times, not turning up for meetings and generally giving us problems. We have been fair, honest and patient and done all the work requested at a very reasonable price- actually we run at a loss.

The client has reported to us the company is happy with our work but stated on a business forum we have ripped them off and caused an uproar with members which has made my company look bad.

Our client hasn't paid fully for our work and I've been chasing payment for weeks.

I mailed the client yesterday and gave them till the end of the day to pay stating I would terminate the hosting if payment wasn't made. I admit I lost my temper due to the forum post and told the client to stick the site where the sun doesn't shine. Unprofessional I know, but after so much time and work I was infuriated.

Our contract states we can terminate hosting at anytime if payment for invoices isn't made. Also our contract states all work remains our property until full payment.

Today at lunch time I switched off the site and emails.

I am looking for advice on the quickest legal way to remove this client from my servers. Also legally was I within my rights to terminate the hosting at such short notice. I have obviously closed down the internet side of their business. The client is a still causing problems on the forum and I am expecting a legal case. Any help or advice on the next stage and how to protect my business would be much appreciated.


4:41 am on Dec 14, 2005 (gmt 0)

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For legal advice - find an attorney.

Having said that,

I turned off a customer for non-payment and got a check (for full payment) in my hand within hours. Situations like this dont always turn out to be a disaster.

7:02 pm on Dec 14, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Keep a log of all communications that you have with teh guy when you called and what was said etc, youll need it if you sue him.

Dont worry about losing your temper, use it to your advantage have someone else call on your behalf becuase you have a short temper - see what effect that has on him.

11:32 am on Dec 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Have you contacted the forum owner about the libelous nature of his posts? Someone was making libelous accusations about my business on a forum. I contacted the forum owner, and they removed the thread and reprimanded the poster. No one who runs a forum site wants to get sued for hosting libel.
10:55 am on Dec 21, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I think you should reply his posts on that forum as you mentioned here at least you can stop him on that board for negative reviews, I dont think this is the right time to take legal action against him.
12:35 pm on Dec 21, 2005 (gmt 0)

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If the hosting was a separate deal to the design, and the hosting part of the deal has been paid for, then it could be YOU who ends up in court if you then turn off the hosting/mail facilities when it is the design bill that is outstanding.

I have many clients that I both host and design for.
Providing the client's hosting payments are up to date I could NOT legally ever turn off their site for late payment of design fees, as this would be illegal, and immoral.

Trick is NEVER lose your cool with a client - regardless of how they push you. Word of mouth spreads very fast normally anyway, but spreads a lot faster when it is bad words about your company, and it can take years to undo the damage to your reputation that this would cause.

As for getting late payers to pay up, if you are in Europe the normal period for settlement is 30 days from date of invoice. After that time you can consider a payment late, and you are legally then entitled to charge statutory interest on the outstanding balance. This allows you to charge 8% PLUS the current Bank of England rate, so currently you can charge 12.5%

When you inform the client that you will be charging this rate (and these rates should form part of your T.O.S. and be posted clearly on your site and on any contracts you have with clients) they will usually cough up, as that sort of rate makes it much more expensive to "borrow" from you when they are juggling their bills, than to borrow from their bank or use their overdraft facility.

Many companies do juggle bills this way - imagine if you have 3 major outstanding bills, but only enough cash at hand to pay two of them - which do you pay? You pay the two that will cost you the most if they are late!

So make sure that next time they juggle bills they know that being late with yours would be too expensive.

And as for the client posting in the forum - well, providing that the comments are not true, then you need to take action. You need to inform the client that you consider the post/s libellous, you also need to inform the forum owners that you consider the post libellous and will sue if it is not withdrawn.

But whatever you do - do NOT reply to the post in the forum. You do not need to be seen to be doing your dirty laundry in public. Remember that anything posted in a forum can come back and bite you YEARS later, as search engines DO trawl forums and DO have long memories.

Finally, to help avoid problem clients in future, if you are in Europe there are a number of places where you can get credit reports on prospective clients. Costs less that 20 a time, but can save a lot more in the long term.

At the same time you are waiting for the credit report to arrive, do some serious searching on the client's company and personal names - looking for things such as forum posts where he/she/they badmouth suppliers - if you find such things then you know they make a habit of it and can steer clear.

4:32 pm on Dec 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Since your contract states that the work remains your property until payment is made, then you are within your full rights to shut the site down. The issue is not delinquent hosting fees, it's copyright infringement. If he were hosting the site with another provider, you could still get the site shut down on that basis alone.

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