Hey, hey! It's International Freelancers Day*! I wish this meant that people everywhere showered freelancers with high-paying, meaningful work, but I find myself observing this day by launching yet another attempt to get paid by a fellow small-business owner who clearly misunderstood the "free" part in freelancer.

In arrears

We've got a client who's 11 months past due on an invoice. It's not a huge sum, so it's not like her nonpayment is keeping me from paying the mortgage or anything, but, hey, every little bit helps. What sticks in my craw is that the client hasn't made a peep since we delivered the job. Not even a "Got it". Suffice it to say, should the opportunity arise I'd never do business with her again, or anyone she refers to me.

Maybe she didn't like the work, but all along the way her feedback was positive. If she suddenly decided it wasn't what she wanted, all she had to do was tell us.

Not exactly bankrupt

I know people are struggling to stay afloat. And I'd be totally OK with not getting paid if she were in that situation. But I know she's still in business and getting some good contracts because I read about it in the news. I'm tracking her down at this point simply on principle.

We met this client at Detroit's superb business incubator, TechTown, last summer, and I know she's still working with them. So today I'm calling over there to see if they can get a message to her. If that doesn't work, I'm considering telling the incubator director about what's going on. I'm pretty sure a place that exists to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses wouldn't be happy knowing how poorly one of their stars is treating a fellow small business owner.

So here are some rules if you're not going to pay a bill:

  1. Shoot straight. If you aren't happy with the work, say so. Give your vendor a chance to make it right, or at least to apologize. If you don't want to pay, don't. But don't be a coward about it.
  2. Come clean. If you can't meet your obligations because of financial problems, say so. Most other small businesses have been in similar straits (I know I have) and have had to ask for extended terms or for a break. Most of us are pretty understanding about that. But not if you just don't pay and go into hiding. That's bad business.
  3. Remember the Golden Rule. No matter what the situation, common decency should always apply. At its most basic, good business is still about doing unto others as you'd have them do unto you. I'm pretty sure you wouldn't be cool with a client taking your work product and not paying you for it without ever explaining why. So why do that to your vendors?

And here are some tips if you, like me, have a slow-to-pay or non-paying client from an article I wrote for AirTran's inflight magazine: Due Diligience.

Stay tuned!

* Check out this cool thing Elance is doing in observance of the day.