Ho Ho Ho…. Pay My Invoice!

Freelancers have all had those clients who seem to conveniently forget to pay their bills after the job is done. After 120 days without getting paid, I decided to take a rather… unconventional approach to getting a former clients’ attention.

This video tells the story:

The following is a copy of the letter I sent as part of my “special delivery”:



Dear ____________,

Wow, time sure flies, doesn’t it? We haven’t spoken in over 120 days now. I think that’s a crying shame. What happened to us, old chum? You used to e-mail me back within the hour – and call me at 8:30 in the morning! Ahhhh, those were the days.

Of course, the reason we haven’t spoken is not for lack of effort. I did e-mail you. Repeatedly. And I know you saw those e-mails, too – my invoicing software tells me so. Still, no responses, and ESPECIALLY no payment. You vanished like the ghost of sketchy client past.

I remember fondly the last time we met in person. You shook my hand, looked me in the eye and told me you would treat me like a professional. Then, you stopped writing back and decided never to pay me for the work you used. That’s enough to land you on my naughty list.

But the holidays are all about togetherness and good cheer – so I thought I’d look past that and send you a little something. You can consider it a thank-you gift.

Remember how you wanted me to learn the ins and outs of your business? I took that seriously. Rewriting your unfortunate attempt at a marketing guide taught me that when someone is ignoring your attempts to contact them, sending them some “3D mail” is a good idea. So I thought,

“What better way to get his attention than to send him a gift-wrapped, four-foot box?”
And so, here we are. You’ve opened my box, and now you’re holding my invoice. The system works! But that’s not all you taught me.

Thanks to you, I learned one of the most important lessons a new freelancer can learn: Always work under a contract. It’s a lesson you’ve taught some of my friends, too. Word gets around.

See, you might do “most of your business on gut feeling”, but from now on, I do mine with paperwork.

As an extra-special thanks for that lesson, I’ve included some condoms as part of your gift, just in case you want to screw some other writers.

Now, just because I got you a present doesn’t mean I want you to feel obligated to get me one – but if you do, I wouldn’t mind the money you owe me. Just a thought.

Merry Christmas!

Your friend,


Answers for the curious:

1. Why waste all that time and money sending a package asking to get paid? That seems pretty stupid/counter-productive.

Because I thought this would be infinitely funnier than small claims court – and I saw this as a chance to turn an invoice I thought was dead into a few new projects and some laughs. It was absolutely over the top – and it worked. Still, It’s not about the money, it’s about the principle. I never believed doing this would actually get me paid; that they responded at all was a bonus. 

Honestly, I mostly did this for my own entertainment. Canadian winters are cold and boring, we have to keep busy somehow.

2.You didn’t have a contract? You totally had this coming!

No argument there – I was an idiot! And  if you work without a contract, you’re an idiot, too. I wasn’t joking when I said I learned valuable lessons from this experience. I was naive and agreed to the job without any paperwork because it was asked for in an urgent rush. I won’t make that mistake again.

That said, contracts aren’t magic cure-alls for getting paid on time (or at all). Choosing the right clients is a big lesson to learn, too.

3. Who is the company/person you dealt with?

I deliberately didn’t name any names and went to great lengths not to expose the business in question. To the business’ credit, they’ve offered an apology and told me they’ll pay the invoice. I believe they’ll follow through (Author’s edit: As of 2 minutes ago, I’m completely paid out!), it’s just a shame it took them so long.

I want this to be a happy ending for both parties and  I don’t have any desire to damage their business or hurt their character – they’ve got a lot of happy clients of their own. We just won’t ever work together again, as they have a rather ugly history of treating writers poorly.

4. Aren’t you worried this will cost you work/give you a bad reputation?

Not really. The type of people I want to work with will find it funny and see the creativity in my approach to solving the problem. They might even relate to the crummy feeling of not being paid for months at a time.

The people I don’t want to work with will think I’m an unprofessional, immature douche-canoe with too much time on his hands – a valid opinion they’re completely entitled to. You can’t please everyone, and I’m not bothering to try.

5. I have some scathing commentary about your big ugly mug/writing ability/filming quality/how much of a stupid idiot moron you are! Care to hear it?

Nope – but I’m terribly sorry you feel that way and invite you to mail me an enormous box full of glitter in protest. It’s vindicating, believe me! 

Merry Christmas – and don’t get taken advantage of.

 Like the cut of my jib? Banter with me on twitter, scope my business site or marvel at my hubris.

46 Responses to “Ho Ho Ho…. Pay My Invoice!”

  1. Tony Dimmock says:

    One word Joel – Brilliant!

  2. Noman Ali says:

    Lol Fascinating, If your client read the last part of the post I will dam sure he will pay you the price LMAO :D

  3. Phillip Dews says:

    Joel that was Epic, I really loved it.
    This post needs it’s own trophy and be displayed in the Clients From Hell websites Trophy cabinet!

    Like you I too am a freelancer specialising in developing websites! And I too have a story to tell that’s similar to this. Back when I first started I had no contracts and I had some awesome clients.

    After a year though I was hired to develop a Hip Hop website where the client could upload his and others music videos as well as have the ability to sell his ‘Merch’ on the site.

    I suggested a CMS like wordpress but he did not want that and the video upload feature needed to be different from the way we normally embed YT vids on website.

    After 2 weeks and having an upload form that integrated with YT API and after scouring the depths of the YT developer section the site was now fully finished and ready for launch I even threw in a SSL on the site for the shop section.

    Alas he refused to pay me citing the the YT upload feature was ‘Too Complicated’ for his users and needed to me made ‘Simpler’ so that a simpleton can understand it! I did try to explain that it could not be made any simpler than what it actually is and I assured him that his visitors would understand this feature!

    Since that day I have used contracts. The kicker for me though was the name of this website ‘Pay Ur Dets’* only a FB page exists now *Shortened the name to protect the identity of the people

    Ironic hey!
    Cheers for an epic share dude I loved it!

    - Phillip

  4. Callis says:

    Daunting thought – I never use contracts for my video work. Usually I am working with people I know/trust anyway. My only safety net is that I don’t sign off the video until payment, but that wouldn’t do anything a client suddenly decides they don’t want the video or to pay me.

  5. Jason Hylan says:

    Funny story. Not sure I would have done the same, but if it worked for you, then kudos.
    I was more fascinated by how much you look like Jim Carrey as The
    Grinch http://www.screencast.com/t/V1KLmO0e

  6. You made my Friday=)

    At first I thought you’d record a video claim naming the client etc…
    But that was smart, funny and very creative.

  7. Once I was working as a freelancer and managed a project with my colleague. Our client didn’t want to pay us, and she lived in the same city where the office was situated.
    So she came to the client’s office with her cat and said her pet is suffering from hunger because they didn’t pay!

  8. Cory says:

    Nice one Joel!!

  9. Nelly says:

    That was amazeballs Kettle boy! AMAZEBALLS AMAZEBALLS!!!!! Loved the special effect with the snow, and the speed at which you managed to get down the road at, despite all that snow, I loved the music playing in the background, and the condoms we’re cool (my favourite brand even though I don’t wear the damn things, because I don’t ever have sex)

    Keep up the good work and I hope you don’t get paid again so that we can watch a slightly different version of this video, but maybe with some rain or even better, some sun!

    Happy Christmas

    Kindest regards

    Nelly Dogman

  10. Jason says:

    Very nice. I had a special smiling reading and watching the video. Maybe Acteva’s clients could all do the same thing. I am glad in the end that you were able to get paid. This is a great lesson and I will be sharing it each time a client is slow to pay their invoice. It shame you could not use the domain name you bought, I would have loved to see what you were going to do with it.

    • Joel says:

      I did use it for awhile, but it seemed totally unnecessary in the end as I didn’t want to name any names. Thanks for watching!

  11. Andrew McGarry says:

    Yup, been there, not nice especially around Christmas. Hope you have a successful 2014!

  12. Absolutely brilliant! I’ll be sharing this with my fellow freelancers who have been burned in the past.

    The glitter was like icing on the cake. I’ll be borrowing that idea.

    Merry Christmas!

  13. Kim says:

    That was AWESOME! :-)
    Nicely done.

  14. I constantly have a problem with getting paid and its absolutely disgusting with no concern as to how it can impact an entire family.

    Great job!

    • Joel says:

      Chris – if you have the problem constantly, maybe it’s time to enlist a lawyer and some tougher client vetting? Hope you get paid!

  15. Jon says:

    Nailed it Joel. Permission to use your letter?

  16. Jakub says:

    Haha, this is awesome. Creativity always win! :)

    Merry Christmas Joel. :)

  17. Creative genius – kudos to you and glad you got paid.
    I have a few clients that need a box!!!
    Happy Christmas.

  18. Cody Baird says:


    Love your open letters. They seem to be very effective. Calling out publishers to lame clients. Funny, creative, effective.

    I recommend auto billing agreements for billing clients. I bill clients monthly, in advance, prior to SEO work, content, or web development. If the card or ACH does not process – we do not start/continue work until paid. We email the client notifying about payment issues. Invioces always end up with you being the bank and the check is always “in the mail”.

    If a prospective client asks to be invoiced – we kindly turn down the business.

    Non payment is almost as annoying as the client talking trash about the work in a lame attempt to renegotiate pricing after the project is completed.

    Auto billing agreements. It is worth the cost of merchant fees to be paid in full, upfront, or worst case senario – on completion

  19. James Ohlmann says:

    Fun times. Do you do freelance revenge contract work for the less imaginative?

  20. Tobi Ulemek says:

    This is why I pay my SEO company. I would not want this unwanted attention. This was very creative and made me chuckle when my seo showed it to me. I am glad it served dull purposes, got you paid and gave everybody a joy this Christmas. I know you could have done this completely differently and it would have been a major nightmare for the unnamed company.

  21. Classic! I’ve had an invoice out with a friend of my brother-in-law who referred me to this guy since August. He doesn’t have a mailing address, so I can’t be clever and send him a big-ass package like this, however, a nice final notice email and threat of small claims court will hopefully do the trick. He is under contract as I, like you, learned the hard way when I started out in 2009. No paperwork. No leverage. Congrats on getting your message out, invoice paid, a cool video created and hopefully some deserved attention to retain you for your creativeness! Happy New Year! – Patrick

  22. Debi Leonard says:

    Brilliant Joel!!!
    Loved every bit of this!
    What a great idea!!

  23. Kay Wilson says:

    Joel, Great idea! Funny and how could they Not get that message!!? I sell nutritional supplements and trusted several people that I thought were friends. one couple has not paid for over 2 years….so I reeealy appreciate this idea.

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