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How in the world should I go about confronting customers who owe me payments?
I make costumes/fursuits, and I offer payment plans, with a 30% deposit that needs to be paid upfront. My payment plans consisted of weekly and biweekly payments that I originally set up to have no less than 50$ send every 2 weeks. Very generous plan, yes? At least I thought so.

It turns out that I am collectively owed over 700$ from 3 commissioners now, with my deadlines for the suits being only months away. One commissioner flat-out told me that they would pay 30$ biweekly, without discussing it with me. I was a little too stunned to argue, as I did not know how to counter that. Yes, I did give them my full TOS to read through, which includes acceptable prices for my payment plan.
Honestly, money is one of those things I hate talking about. I'd rather just give them a date to pay, have them pay it on time, I can buy my supply, and we would all be happy, but having to hunt down my commissioners to remind them of their late payments? It just makes me so upset and anxious when I have to look like the bad guy. And those are just my commissioners! I still have an auction items that I am awaiting a down payment on!
Honestly, I have no idea how to handle this. I need to pay for more supply, as I have been using my own personal funds to keep the progress going. I do send photos, I do keep in contact with everyone, though I have been slower due to the holiday and wrap-up stuff.

tl;dr version: Basic question- What do I do when people are not making their payments on time when I need to meet their deadline? Should I drop their commission and refund all but the down payment? Should I send reminders, though often ignored or given excuses?
I do understand that life-stuff happens, but, I too, have bills to pay, and to make the deadlines for their suits, I have been paying out-of-pocket for their supply because they cannot keep up with payments.


For the record:
Commissioner 1 paid a deposit Sept. 23, and made one more payment November 2, and has not contacted me since. I wanted to get the suit done by April.
Commissioner 2 paid a down payment on Oct. 1, and has yet to make another payment. Wants the suit delivered in April. 
Commissioner 3 has been very good on payments, but I let one payment slide due to personal reasons, and have not seen a payment since. Last payment was Oct. 27; suit is due February.

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Comments

( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
radcatastrophe
Jan. 9th, 2013 02:28 am (UTC)
Send a cancellation email, explaining if they want the suit done and done by the deadline they have to pay in bulk for the payments missed and then they can get back on the weekly/biweekly payments. OR their commission will be canceled, all but deposit will be refunded (aside from those who you had to pay out of pocket for on materials/supplies) and the parts of the suit made will be auctioned off or re-purposed to your desire (you the suit maker).
tealmoonxiv
Jan. 9th, 2013 03:41 am (UTC)
This.
lem0ntrees
Jan. 9th, 2013 02:02 pm (UTC)
This! Sounds like you'll have to get harsh with these people if you want your money.
radcatastrophe
Jan. 9th, 2013 09:42 pm (UTC)
I'd also like to chime in on what others have said. If these folks aren't the only ones commissioning you halt work on their suits and pushing to the end of your queue accordingly and give your time and resources to actual paying customers.
alisea
Jan. 10th, 2013 06:53 am (UTC)
Said perfectly
jakejynx
Jan. 9th, 2013 02:51 am (UTC)
I personally don't do the "payment plan" thing. I buy the supplies with the downpayment, and then remind them as I get closer to the deadline that they still have X to pay off, so take my advice with a grain of salt.

But the first thing I'd recommend is that you get over your anxieties when it comes to discussing money with your customers. Don't be the bad guy, but you have to be firm and direct with people. If you act like a limp noodle, people are more likely to see your rules as guidelines as opposed to actual, firm rules that need to be followed. It may help you to have a scripted email that you can send out.

Maybe change your TOS to reflect a three strikes rule? After one payment is missed, send a reminder email. Second missed, they get a warning. Third, cancel the commission. To me that seems harsh, but if you are dead set on a strict payment plan, you're going to have to be firm about it.
celestinaketzia
Jan. 10th, 2013 11:42 am (UTC)
What Jake said. You are running a business, and as it stands now, your business isn't profitable and people are taking advantage of you. You're going to have to work through your squeamishness with talking about money. You aren't a bad guy for needing what you are owed for services rendered.
snippetchick
Jan. 9th, 2013 02:58 am (UTC)
I think that it's important to remember that this is a business transaction. How would a bigger business ethically respond in the case of non-payment?
Your clients have entered into a legal contract, so I think it's important to work at really remembering that what your fursuits are a business, not a hobby. Your commissioners may or may not be friends as well, but in this case it might help to depersonalize them a little, at least in your mind. It can be tough sometimes but it's all you can do.

I think if someone misses a payment, you should be in contact and outline your policy on nonpayment. I think missing two payments without contact should lead to either cancellation of the commission or the due date being pushed back of they do contact you after the fact - eg, a month late on payments with no contract or prior agreement -> commission date is extended by a month.
I also think whatever you decide, it's important to put it in your tos, and insist that clients confirm they have read it, understand it, and will abide by it. It's not so much money that is the issue, it's not adhering to your tos.

Cold hearted? No. Artists treating their business like a hobby devalues their work, and encourages commissioners as a whole to not respect that it's a business. You should reliably deliver on promises and contacts, but so should they. I don't know many people who would pull something like this with phone, electricity or even gym memberships and expect the service to continue. Why should you as an artist put up with it?

It can be tough to get into the business headset and its important that you remind yourself that it's a contract issue, not a personal one. Don't get upset about it, don't be rude either, just firm.

Difficulties talking about money is something I've seen a lot from artist friends and family. It's not an issue I've had with my commissions as I always just take all payment upfront. But then I only worked in very small volumes and mostly with friends. My advice doesn't come so much from my art experience as my business experience - I work in consultancy for a publicly listed company and regularly work with legally binding documents. There's room for heart there, but that doesn't mean people have a free pass to ignore contracts!
onesteptwo
Jan. 9th, 2013 03:54 am (UTC)
I was going to suggest the extension, too. If they want it done by a certain time, they need to provide you the money to do the work. That's like buying a seed and planting it, but not watering it and wondering why in a month it hasn't sprouted into anything yet.

If they don't want to do their share, you shouldn't be obligated to do your share and I think it's perfectly reasonable to reflect that in your TOS AND to email the clients who are late and inform them.

Edited at 2013-01-09 03:55 am (UTC)
lovegonnadrown
Jan. 9th, 2013 04:37 am (UTC)
You are a businessperson, and having to "be the bad guy" is one of the parts of doing business sometimes. As long as you are polite and professional there is no reason why you should feel bad for sending a payment reminder or putting your foot down when it comes to payment plans.

I would send each customer an e-mail reminding them of the commitment they made and making it clear that you expect compensation for your work. Be polite, but firm. It could be they got caught up in the holidays, it could be they just completely forgot and need a little reminder.

If they can't meet their payments or are being difficult you have every right to cancel the transaction and refund them (aside from the down payment). There should be some wiggle room imo, but you are trying to make a living here and they need to understand that. You deserve to be compensated for your work fully and on time.

Edited at 2013-01-09 04:38 am (UTC)
marus_puppy
Jan. 10th, 2013 01:10 am (UTC)
I think "don't be the bad guy" was more in reference to the attitude you take with the commissioner. Rather than throwing out an email full of threats, bad attitude, etc., just be firm about it. It's all about the wording! Unfortunately, I'm not very tactful so I can't put down what is in my head as an example for you...
lovegonnadrown
Jan. 10th, 2013 04:05 am (UTC)
Right, that's pretty much what I meant. It's possible to stand your ground without having to "be the bad guy" as long as you're polite and professional! :)
marus_puppy
Jan. 10th, 2013 05:19 am (UTC)
I maybe misread your comment a little. ^^; Glad we're on the same page!
spiffystuff
Jan. 9th, 2013 05:30 am (UTC)
-- there is /nothing/ wrong with expecting money to be paid for services rendered.
-- there is /absolutely/ something wrong with folks expecting it to be okay not to pay you after agreeing to a deal where you are holding up your end! The people not paying you are being disrespectful, you are not the bad guy for demanding they adhere to the deal.

RadCatastrophe and others have it right - don't cancel without warning, but if others are violating their payment plans then tell them they either need to give you the full amount they are behind on by X date (where X is maybe 2 weeks?) or else the commission will be canceled and they will be refunded all but their deposit, and you will repurpose the materials for other projects (be clear they will not get the materials the deposit bought). Furthermore if they are late again the commission will be similarly canceled.

Finally if folks are behind on deadlines for paying you then they should not expect you to keep the original deadline they wanted. Never do work you haven't been paid for! (unless you think you have a good shot at selling off the work you do should the buyer fall through)

Edited at 2013-01-09 05:31 am (UTC)
lironess
Jan. 9th, 2013 05:32 am (UTC)
I get half up front half on delivery...but yeah if they are late I would say the deadline gets moved....one for one....one month late in pay you get an extra month on the deadline...etc....
cat_claw_fever
Jan. 9th, 2013 11:28 am (UTC)
Think about it this way: if they can't pay you in time, why give them their stuff on time?
bladespark
Jan. 9th, 2013 02:41 pm (UTC)
That's pretty much how I work. I actually don't mind if people are irregular with their payments. Life happens. I just shrug, bump them to the back of the list, and carry on. I send reminders now and then, but if they never finish paying, I never do the work. 99% of the time this results in them coming up with the money. That last 1% is the guy who's been bumped to the end of the list every few months for the last two or three years now. Him I'm really not sure what to do with, I keep offering him other options, but he always insists he wants the full suit and will pay eventually, and he does send payments now and them. I'll probably actually start work in another couple of years! :) But most people if there's actual consequences for not paying will cough up. Just don't let them walk all over you.

I know doing that would drive a lot of makers nuts, but everybody's different.
itsamellama
Jan. 10th, 2013 02:56 am (UTC)
Wait, so... he hasn't sent enough money for you to even start the work? 2-3 years, dang. D: And I thought I had a strange commissioner :o

I've had someone come back to me a year after I gave them a quote... I thought they were disinterested after seeing my price (sigh)... but they came back saying they're still interested and will pay the day after (I had to get the bank details of my partner), but then weeks upon weeks of reminders led nowhere and I asked if she was still interested or not... she said 'yes' and she's just too busy to pay. Well... a few more reminders after that and still nothing. She caused me to insert a "dropping" rule in my guidelines because it just stressed me out thinking I had to remind someone now and then who may just not be worth it in the long run. :(
spartanwerewolf
Jan. 10th, 2013 08:53 am (UTC)
That last guy needs to shit or get off the pot, because damn that's weird xD
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( 20 comments — Leave a comment )

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