A few years ago, I worked as a contractor for a small agency. While I typically work directly with my corporate clients because the pay is better without the middleman, I made an exception in this case. After all, there’s value in having a project handed to me without a lengthy proposal and sales pitch process. The clients were compelling and the owner seemed like a good guy.
These were fairly small-ticket projects, and we had an agreement that he would invoice the client with the agency’s 30-day payment terms; he would turn around and write my check the day he received his. My payments would usually come at the 35- to 38-day mark. We operated this way for nearly two years without issue. And then, one day, things fell apart.
The 35-day mark came and went. I called. “That’s odd,” he said. “I was expecting the check on Tuesday. I’m sure it will be here any day. Let me call them and get back to you.”
We repeated the above process for weeks. “Gosh, I don’t know where that check is. Let me look into it.” Finally, after more than three months, he forwarded me an email from the company’s accounts payable department. “It’s on its way!” he said.
Good news, right? Maybe, except that the email revealed that he hadn’t even invoiced for my work until my invoice was already 60 days past due. He’d been stringing me along. I had been willing to forgive his issues with a delinquent client, but I wouldn’t forgive – couldn’t forgive – deliberate lies. Had he come to me early on and explained the situation, I wouldn’t have been thrilled, but at least I would have seen his truthfulness as a sign of professional respect.
I discussed the situation with a colleague, and after expressing his outrage at the dishonesty, he boiled down the entire situation into a sound byte: “Small businesses have to be honest. Our reputation is all we’ve got.”
I’ve carried his words with me since that day, and I go out of my way to treat my clients and colleagues in the same way that I’d want to be treated, with honesty and respect.
Do you think that there’s anything more important than your professional reputation? And have you been in a similar situation?