This week, i had the unpleasant experience of having to fire a client. While the actual firing of the client was actually somewhat of a relief, the circumstances leading up to them are unfortunate, unpleasant, and ultimately avoidable.
I know better than to enter into a working relationship without some sort of written agreement spelling out the terms of the relationship. However, i made the mistake of entering into this particular relationship without said agreement. The client was a non-profit organization operating a summer lunch program and looking to expand into a full fledge soup kitchen. While i am not certain of the exact nature of their affiliation, there clearly was some sort of church involvement with the group. All this, combined with the referral from someone from the church my family and i were attending at the time and the time crunch the client was on led me to the foolish action of not drafting an agreement prior to commencing work. Everything was done on a verbal agreement. Which was subsequently twisted and misrepresented by the client to the point that they were unwilling to pay me for services rendered.
The project was to be executed in two phases: 1] Renovations to the existing building to comply with current building code regulations for the change of use. 2] Renovations to kitchen area to accommodate installation of commercial kitchen equipment. I had given them a price, to which they agreed, to do the first phase as it was the most pressing and they had a potential funding source for it. I proceeded to complete the drawings for that phase and secure them a building permit so they could then approach the funding source with a firm number and a plan. And then things fell apart.
Just days prior to submitting for the permit, they asked me to include the kitchen on the drawings so it would be part of the scope of work for the permit, thus eliminating the need to secure a second permit. Because i did not have all the kitchen information, i just roughed it out knowing there would be several items on the correction letter regarding the kitchen that would need addressed later. In the meantime, the client is seeking prices from contractors to do the work so they have a number to submit for a grant with. It turns out they gave prospective contractors a preliminary set of prints to give a price from. As such, they got a price not reflective of the actual work to be done and secured funding based on that price. They then tried to pin all the overage costs on me, even though a majority of them were covered in the final set of prints.
When i sent them an invoice for the first phase and a price to complete the second phase, things really got ugly. That is when i found out that they were blaming me for all the items the contractor did not include in his price even though they were on the drawings and / or explicitly not included in the proposal the contractor gave them. As such they were holding my payment until: 1] All their conflicts with the contractor were dealt with. 2] Permit for phase 2 was secured (they wanted that included in my price and were not happy that i gave them a price for phase 2 above and beyond that of phase 1). 3] Construction of phase 1 was complete. At this point i realized what a disaster the verbal ‘agreement’ was and sent them a revised invoice for 1/2 my fees with the balance due upon completion of construction and a written agreement for both phases. I have not heard back from them since. That was over a month ago, so i sent them a letter this week officially terminating my services and wishing them the best.
I think i learned my lesson on this one. Regardless of referrals, credentials, and time crunches, take the time to draft a written agreement that clearly spells out the terms of my service.