( This is a blast from the past. I’ve sat on this for two years. It made me so angry then and re-reading it makes me angry still. How stupid was I! But, as with all things, there was a lesson here, which I took and I ran with it. This was the assignment, after which, at Naina.co, we decided never to work again without a 100% advance payment. To be fair, this wasn’t the only bad experience, we’d had lots by then. But after this particular one, we drew the line. Enjoy! )
I’m only going to write down the timeline of events. I am not going to disclose any names / brand names / agency names or even what it was that I was going to be doing. It is in my interest to safeguard my client’s identity. But it also in my interest to stay sane. And I would like something like this to not happen again. Ever. Next time someone asks me why the Naina.co policy is to only start with a 100% advance, I’m going to point them to this sequence of events. ( It’s a long one. )
Client calls on my mobile phone to inform me of an upcoming project. I inform them that while this is very short notice, I am interested and will email them a quote alongwith deliverables and how I would like to execute it.
It was an interesting project mainly because it was something I hadn’t done earlier and the possible exposure I would get from doing this, would make it worth it.
Same evening, an email quote alongwith specifics of my deliverables was sent to the client. I also provided two pricing options because the client has not shared their budget.
Client responds to email saying how my pricing was a lot more compared to what I had charged them in the past. ( There was nothing comparable in the assignments that the client was comparing. )
I was also informed that another artist who was doing something else for the upcoming project – something else that was perceived to be more important that what I would be doing – was not getting paid as much as I was asking to be paid.
I immediately responded to the client email saying “X, let’s do it.” because well I wanted to do it and because I really did not want to spend time trying to explain why the pricing on this project was different from the previous one. The project had to be executed within the next four days and I didn’t have the heart to ask for a 100% advance, which is what my “policy” is otherwise. I did ask the client to keep my fee separate from “travel and stay expenses” and was told that this was not possible. Eventually, what I got paid was 30% of what I had quoted.
The client also wrote on email “We can promise payment before Day 18, once we are done with the project.”
I emailed the client to ask them details of the location / venue where the project would be executed, approximate timing of the project on a daily basis as well as details of my travel and stay – it was out of my city of residence.
I was informed that I would have to book my own hotel and travel. ( Which should have been my big WTF moment but I STILL went ahead and did it. Out of pocket. No advance. Now normally this is no big deal, I’m a big girl, I can book my own travel. But from a vendor / professional point of view, this was crap mainly because I hadn’t been informed previously! It was a bolt from the blue. )
I emailed the final invoice to the client ( from here on, the agency was cc’d on all emails ).
All terms and conditions and details of what exactly I would be delivering were mentioned on the invoice.
I asked the client to confirm via email that they were ok with this.
I also informed them that I would be getting my travel and stay booked only after I had received written email confirmation from them on the above invoice.
I was informed on email that I must raise the invoice in the name of the client’s agency. The agency was cc’d on the email and told to coordinate with me ( I never heard from them till much after the project was executed. )
The client approved the invoice and I looked at my travel and stay arrangement.
I travel to the project site.
First day of the assignment.
( The client had not informed relevant parties that I would be present and working – it created some missed opportunities and unnecessary starting-on-wrong-foot. )
Second day of the assignment.
( How I was treated during the assignment is a subject for whole another post. At one point, when I refused to do something that was out of the scope of the contract, I was told “You are spoiling your relationship with us.” Like I said, a whole another level of WTF. )
I emailed the client to ask them what the next steps were and how they would like to see the deliverables.
Day 12 : nothing.
Day 13 : nothing.
I received an email from the client informing me that they were in the process of making a 50% advance payment. ( Well sure, it was only 4 days to go from what they’d promised. )
The client also asked me what deliverables I would be sharing with them and when. ( I was running out of keeping tab on the WTF moments. Did they not read the contract they had approved? Clearly not. )
I responded that the deliverables would be same as mentioned on the contract and that as the contract also mentions, there would be no deliverables till I received the 100% payment.
The email received in response, I am tempted to share as is. Indeed it was SO beautiful.
I was told that the deliverables would be “too less” and that they needed more.
Also this beautiful sentence reproduced as-is from the email :
“As a company we don’t pay till the work is finished and we are satisfied with the JOB. We will be happy to make 50% advance payment and rest immediately after the deliverables are out. For any future assignment, I can assure you we will have mutually agreed terms.”
( Capitalization theirs. )
I was too angry to respond on the same day.
I emailed them a curt & firm response with none of the emotions I had felt the previous day. Always better to wait a day to cool down before sending that angry email you typed.
The client responded with an email asking to schedule a time for a call.
I was on another client’s assignment, not in the same city and I did not want to get on a phone call so close to that email. I was furious mainly because I had been taken for granted and I had allowed it. I always over deliver. I know that and this client knows that having worked with me on previous assignments. And yet, I was being treated – continually – as some sort of pariah. It was deeply unsettling. It conveyed to me that no one at the client’s side really cared about this after all.
I informed the client that I would be available on the phone only after two days.
( I tried to breathe and get some inner peace back. )
( More inner peace. )
I was back in the city and I started working on the deliverables because I was eager to see what I’d produced. And client unprofessionalism be damned, I wasn’t going to let that keep me from producing excellent work.
The client called me up on my phone and while I did not want to take that call, I did. And I expressed my disappointment in as few words as I could. I told the client I was fully prepared to take the hit of travel and stay expenses but that I was disappointed in how I had been treated. I do realize that the issues here were probably organizational and that no one person was responsible for the entire mess ( except me of course – I blamed myself for not sticking to my processes and standard operating procedures. ) But someone at the client’s side needs to have my back too – especially when I have theirs. tThe call didn’t exactly end with any form of resolution of my issues but I did agree to start sending out the deliverables. ( If that isn’t an invitation to “Yes! Screw me over! I’m ok with it!”, I don’t what is. )
Some of the deliverables were presented to the client.
They responded with an email saying the 100% “advance” was being processed and that the agency was working on the vendor registration and that I would receive the payment “by tomorrow or day after for sure”.
By now I knew not to hold the client to their word – I knew what they were saying was not going to happen and I would still be expected to hold up my side of the bargain.
The agency also got in touch with me separately to start the vendor-registration process.
They called me up on my phone 12 times. I couldn’t take the calls. Finally they were asked to email me and the reason they wanted to get in touch with me was because they wanted me to fill in the vendor-form. #LOL
Some more deliverables were presented to the client.
Some more deliverables.
All deliverables completed. Delivered.
I emailed the client to ask about the payment. Yes. Nothing had come in so far. No updates, no payment. No 50%. No 100%. Nothing.
The client responded saying that they had paid the agency two weeks ago and that they were surprised I was asking about the payment.
The client also emailed the agency contact and asked them what was up with the payment.
I emailed the agency contact again to ask for an update as there had been no response to the client’s previous email.
A senior person at the client’s side also emailed the agency contact asking for an update.
I emailed again as the agency contact had not responded to anyone’s emails.
Someone at the client’s side decided to have pity on me I think and they called me up and said they would fix this by the end of the day and they someone from the agency should call me by mid-day.
When no one had called me by mid-day, I got in touch with the client again and within a couple of hours someone from the agency called me up to tell me – get this – that my “50% advance payment was being processed”. I asked them if this was a joke and I was told that it was not.
I was then asked to courier them a hard copy of the “original signed bill”. There was no original signed bill and I told them I’d signed it using a drawing tablet and Photoshop and that the PDF invoice was a digitally signed one.
By the end of the day, the agency had emailed me a scanned copy of the cheque for the “50% advance”.
By the end of the day, the cheque had been hand delivered to my address. I’m now waiting for the balance 50% to be processed.
Day 62 ( May 26th )
After the “promised Day 18 100% payment”, I got paid on Day 62.
This truly is the timeline of a badly processed assignment. It was hard to be accurate with the facts without disclosing any identification.
Till a couple of years ago, I would have gladly written about this or tweeted about this with names of brands and agencies. I don’t want to do it now because I know it will be ONE person from the client / agency side who will have to bear the onslaught of tirades. And it would not be fair because these are organizational issues. One person getting blamed for how unprofessional, archaic and unfair the organization’s processes are, is hardly the right way to deal with it but I know that is exactly what will happen.
I’m not suggesting anyone needs to take my advice on how to do their job but when I put how I do things in a contract that you approve, it’s not open to interpretation.
I hope I can say to the client and the agency some day, “But this is so much more professional than the last assignment!” ( Yes, I do want to work with them because at the rate at which I spot unprofessionalism, there won’t be many people left to work with in India otherwise. I will spot it, I will point it out, I will whoop-ass and I will make it work but I will not accept it as being OK ever. )
My eventual goal is to make it work. Make it work for the client and make it work for me, without giving anyone an aneurysm. Which is why there are contracts and invoices and written emails. To take away the headache. But what does one do when the things written on paper / agreed upon / signed contracts mean nothing to the client?
With small-budget clients, it’s easy to sit with them and tell them how they are screwing you over. But what does one do with large international MNCs where no one person has any autonomy but I have the entire responsibility to not fuck it up with the client, over deliver, deal with unprofessionalism and not give myself a hard time?
This is NOT OK.
Naina.co has never worked with either this particular agency or client ever again – we have received two enquiries from them but both were turned down because we only do 100% advance now and they never will. Good riddance to assholes.
More anecdotes and stories in the #WTFNaina series. ( These are all inspired by true stories. Some written emails, some from face-to-face meetings. They have all been piling up for years now and I’ve decided to put them to use! )