A cautionary tale.

I’d like to take the time to fully detail the most frustrating unpaid invoice scenario I’ve ever had the misfortune of dealing with. I don’t know what this is going to do personally, however it might help someone in the future. The most important thing to note is that two people mentioned in this story, Steven and Chloé, are fantastic people and I hold them in high regard. I look forward to working with both of them again.

In January 2015 I did a shoot for DEPO, a restaurant/bar in Brisbane’s West End. It was for a rebranding of the business and the images were to be used online and in print in various spaces. As a personal favour to Steven Mitchell Wright, who was a manager at DEPO and a long time collaborator, I agreed to do the shoot for a split fee - part cash, and the rest to be paid in services from DEPO (advertising in print, gallery space, credit at the bar etc). This arrangement was made between myself, Steven and Chloé Newby, another manager of the venue at the time. I’d done similar things with Steven before and as a result I didn’t draft a contract for the job.

The shoot went great. It was a 7 hour shoot and I turned the images around in around 48 hours. Everybody was happy. I received my ~30% in cash reasonably promptly.

About two weeks later, the business closed. I’m unaware of the exact circumstances, however it seemed to me that the owners had been considering this eventuality for some time. I emailed Chloé as soon as I had heard the news,  and she requested that I re-issue my invoice, as there was no way for my services to be paid in any other way. I sent the updated amount to her, and that was the last time I spoke to her whilst she was in the employment of DEPO.

A few weeks later, I asked Erik van Genderen, one of the owners, about the updated invoice. He told me he was unaware of the change in the invoice, that it had been paid, and there was nothing else he could do as the business was closed. He repeatedly denied any awareness of the arrangement between Chloé, Steven and myself.

After some back and forth with Erik, I got busy with the upcoming wedding season and left it alone for a while.

Fast forward to June, where nothing had been resolved and I was getting nothing from Erik. Steven suggest I write to Alex Lotersztain, the other owner of DEPO. My first email (unsurprisingly) fell on deaf ears. I tried again, emailing him my correspondence from earlier in the year with Chloé, and after a while I received this:

“who did you agree on services?

unfortunately thats what happens when you do that instead of a straight up deal, the business is closed and you missed out your services. there is nothing i can do now, will happy to shout you a cafe down the road mate but, as far as i know your 400$ invoice was paid, and that all that was presented at the time.

Sorry, but shit happens. 

The emails you’ve exchanged with Chloe are for you to sort out with her, she was at no point the person responsible for paying bills.

Sorry, but shit happens.

I mean, where does one even fucking start with that?

At the time, I politely and professionally replied stating the facts:

1) The arrangement was made between me and somebody who had been employed as a manager of the venue

2) There was no time for me to feasibly use any of the services discussed

3) I had been asked to re-issue the invoice with the updated amount that fully remunerate me for my professional services.

I would have rather said the following:

Don’t blame me for missing out on a deal which was proposed by someone in your employment.

Don’t offer me hospitality when I clearly wouldn’t want to dine with you.

Don’t patronise me with ‘shit happens’ as a summary of why you cannot pay my invoice.

Don’t put the blame on somebody that you employed to manage your venue for you.

As it’s now the 30th of June, I’m going to have to write off the outstanding amount in my books. It’s not a large sum, but I’ve been doing this full time for only three years and it’s an amount that would have made a great many things a lot easier. I don’t believe these people (the owners) understood the true value of my service, which is surprising considering Alex runs an international design firm and regularly employs photographers, stylists and other creatives.

I love my work, but love isn’t a currency, nor is love mutually exclusive to remuneration.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to chase clients with outstanding amounts, and it won’t be the last. It constantly frustrates me, and many in my industry and related fields. We are sick of being taken for a ride, and when the final option is the small claims department, often the fee for that and the time it would take to resolve is way above the amount being disputed.

Let’s hope that in the future there will be more options to help freelancers stand their ground.

I guess the moral of the story is that, regardless of who you’re working for…

Make sure you have a fucking solid contract.