Try This When a Property Preservation Client Refuses To Pay

 With increased frequency, I have observed many small business owners make a comment at one of the Property Preservation forums, like this:

“I have been working with the XYZ Property Preservation Company for 3 months and they currently owe me $1,300. Does anyone have any ideas how I can get paid?”

Most of the replies were something like, “Good luck getting paid”, or “That’s because the order mills have screwed up this industry”, or “Post the client’s name so we know who they are”. In reviewing all the various “similar sounding” responses, I have found that none of them offer any advice that is truly helpful.
I stopped wasting my time and energy at these forums, quite some time ago. Mostly because all the helpful comments I left in the past got lost in the ocean of negative opinions. But I would also find myself in a debate with someone who had hardly any real knowledge about business and when I would point out the inconsistencies or inaccuracies in their argument, they would resort to name-calling.

Getting back to the topic at hand, here is my advice to anyone who wants to know how a professional business owner takes action, when it appears like the client might not pay for the Property Preservation services that he or she was hired to complete:

First of all, you need to gather more information before deciding what to do. The questions you need to get answered, so you can make an educated decision as to how to proceed next are:

  • Is the reason I have not gotten paid yet, something on my client’s end or is it because of an error I made?
  • If the issue is on my client’s end, is there anything I can do to help them out so they can pay me quicker?
  • If the issue is due to an error on my end, what specifically did I do wrong so that I can avoid making the same mistake in the future?
  • Is this even a real issue or could I be mistakenly perceiving it as one, because I am really low on money which is causing me to be anxious and the forum trolls are making me think that this client should pay me quicker than the 60 days they agreed to pay me within?

You must get control of your emotions if you want to resolve the situation. You won’t always like the answer you get if you learn that you were charged back for a mistake you or your crew made, but you still need to keep your cool. Most contractors are terrible at this because they always “really need the money” and they convince themselves that just because they were physically present at the job site, they are owed money. You will never get paid by badmouthing the client on the internet.

The most professional way to deal with this situation, after the fact, is to gather information in order to understand the reason(s) you didn’t get paid. Once you know the “why”, you can make the necessary changes to avoid a similar outcome in the future. Whether that means implementing a new system into your business or ending your relationship with your client.

The trick to gathering this information is to convince yourself that you need to contact your client, “to enlist their help in providing you with this information”. If you automatically assume that your client “screwed you over”, then you will pretty much lose before you even start because your attitude will immediately put the client on the defensive. You need to be strategic if you want to win this little battle.

So start with the person who sent you the jobs.  If that person beats around the bush then (very nicely) ask to talk to the next supervisor above him (her)… and so on until you end up discussing the situation with someone who will tell you what the deal is.

For god’s sake DO NOT share your financial problems with the person you are talking to. Your inability to manage your finances is not client’s problem and you will not gain anything except for more people who won’t want to deal with you. It is more than likely that the person you are talking to will have similar financial problems so don’t bother using this tactic.

Remember, your goal is to learn why this happened so that you can avoid it in the future. You may not get the money you think you’re owed, but in most circumstances, that’s OK. Why? Because you should really be trying to find out the specific reason(s) that caused this situation in the first place. Armed with this information, you will then know what you have to do in order to make it easy for them to pay you, for each subsequent work order. Just make sure you don’t hang up the phone until you are crystal clear about their particular rules that involve you getting paid.

If you have read and re-read the contract you signed with this client and it is past the date they agreed to pay you and you have attempted to escalate your concerns to the client’s management staff and they fail to explain the situation to you, then your next move is to fight back using the courts.

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