Ghosted by a Client With No Payment for 30 Days — I said a Magic Phrase; 1 Hour Later, He Paid


There was a time in my freelancing business when I trusted people regarding payments; I seldom do that anymore. I was raised based on the concept that it's done if you handshake for it (a blood pact, you might say).

The more international my freelancing became, the more I learned that this seldom works out (There are some rare cases where I would trust clients after building enough rapport with them.)

One of the situations that I am sure I will not forget happened a while back for a very long time.

I am Al, a business consultant in Zurich, Switzerland; I have been freelancing for more than 10 years on various platforms.

It started simple; we agreed to create a few documents and design them. The overall project took around one month, with $3,000 as a project budget.

I had a few meetings with their founder and cofounder. I loved their product and felt very positive about this project.

My freelancing career at that stage was unstable. Hence, I went my guts and agreed on a post-payment.

I know what you are thinking. That is the most naive thing to do. However, I have done this numerous times before on various project sizes bigger than this based on my judgement of character.

So we started. I worked with one of my team members and my designer to get it all in place. We created several documents; and a pretty good amount of modifications based on the client's requests.

It was a month full of communication on many documents and aspects that we worked on.

Then it was over. I delivered the final deliverable and sent an email accordingly.

The client did not reply.

My thought process: Sure, it could be that this person is busy. I will give him a week or so and remind him later.

One week passed & I sent another email.

My thought process: Again, you can't know what is happening in other people's work lives. So let's give him another week. After all, waiting a couple of weeks is not that major.

A second week passed.

My thought process: Okay, this is not reassuring. But it's not like we have any other option. So let's send a third email.

A third week passed

My thought process: Maybe something happened to him health-wise. I should send an email to his cofounder and inquire.

The fourth week passed with no replies from either the founder or the cofounder.

Then I stopped listening to my thoughts and consulted with the team members about this situation. One of the members said, "I think he is just running away from paying."

I immediately said, "Nope, that can't be it. People who do scams or do not pay usually do not talk to you face to face with their cofounders. I have been freelancing for quite a while, and this is unlikely."

Then we started seeking solutions.

We sent them emails. That is our only means of communication with them.
We can't obtain their numbers to give them a call.

Then there was an idea that popped up. It was a bluff, yet worth a try after various discussions.

Now I need to inform you of a little bit about my line of work. This founder worked in a startup seeking investments. They needed our help to create a business plan, a pitch deck, and a financial model.

Hence, they had to inform us of many details about their business, including their legal establishment, team (the founder and the cofounder), the product, the board of advisors, contact information, etc.

Days passed, and I started realizing what had happened.

I worked with my team (whom I paid anyway from my savings regardless of what was going to happen with this project) for a month, with re-assurances of payments from this person. This person asked for various edits, and we worked them out.

It has been a month, and he has not responded to any email. So I have officially been ghosted due to my weaker position in this freelancing agreement.

This acceptance of what happened started to turn into frustration — What this person is doing is not right by any means.

If I am a full-time freelancer (which I am) and solely rely on these projects for a living, this can not happen.

What he is doing is not illegal because we do not have any legal or contractual obligations, but it is certainly not ethical or proper.

So then I resorted to that last card trick.
If this did not work, I would move on and learn from this.
If it did work, I would be very disappointed but happy that it worked out.

I sent another email to the founder one month after his final confirmation that he would pay, stating that I could not reach either him or his cofounder.

I stated that I hoped they were in good health and nothing had happened to them. I also noted that to attempt to reach them, I will send messages of inquiry to their board of advisors via LinkedIn.

Here is what you need to know.

A startup at this stage works hard to get its advisors and reputation in place. A single mistake in a workplace leads to years of scandals (read about Uber's sexual harassment cases).

Hence, reputation matters as they need support and investment from other firms.

The moment I contact an advisor and explain to them that those founders of the startup have been ghosting a freelancer after they asked for multiple services will not lead to anything good for the startup — I knew that.

You see, I have been consulting for over 10 years, and I am aware of how important and delicate startups are at this stage.

Before doing so, I started questioning morality, whether this is moral or not.
I always like to think of myself as a person with a moral compass. If something is wrong, I would not do it and advise against it. Whenever I thought of this, I was uncomfortable with even bluffing about this.

But whenever this sense of discomfort controls me, I remember this guy:

  • Promised payment.
  • Asked for several changes in the process.
  • Is not even responding for more than four weeks.

I would never personally connect with LinkedIn advisors of a startup and inform them of this situation. It is simply a hassle over a certain amount of money that would not be worth the time. However, the founder and cofounder do not know that. Therefore, this was the final bluff.

I sent the final email to the founder stating that I had failed to reach him for quite a while and that as a last resort, I would contact their startup's advisors on LinkedIn to inquire about them whether something significant had happened.

Sending Email… Sent…

Exactly 59 minutes later…

He responded with an email of apology for ghosting and then eventually paid.

At that stage, I learned one of the most valuable lessons of my freelancing career — I shall never blindly trust another person when it comes to working, no matter how I feel confident about this person.

Since then, whoever asks me for work always knows that I only take prepayments for any work milestone.

Was what I did wrong?

Not really; I firmly stand by it. There are right things and wrong things to do. Asking people about others is not a crime.

Would this have affected how he looks in front of the advisors?

Probably, but them knowing that he is not paying his freelancers or employees is a good thing.

Should you do the same?

It depends on the situation. General harm to people and their companies is not right at all.

For instance, if you had the same situation and settled on a smaller portion of the money, a settlement is a settlement. So you don't have to go and harm this startup's workflow after an agreement.

If the client never said he would pay for something, you are not within the right premises to do such an action.

If that client asked you to stop working in the middle of the project and paid for half, then I would think that's fair and that you shouldn't go through with an action like the above, yet it highly depends on the situation at the end of the day.

Most importantly, I believe the crucial element of this story is that such situations could transform a freelancer into one with a different and enhanced mentality.

I'm Al, a business consultant in Zurich, Switzerland. I believe in the power of delivering value to you, the reader. Follow me on various social media platforms if you're interested in the value of my content.

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