To the Chair of a professional library interest group,
I’m angry, depressed, sad and disappointed that I need to write this open letter to you. You sent a member of your group onto two courses that I ran, and the total cost was £198. I try and keep my costs as cheap as I can because I think making sure we have well trained and informed professionals is important. My fee has been tightly worked out, and as an independent trainer it’s important that I get it right. I have to pay for my own National Insurance, I get no holiday pay, no sick pay and I have to pay for my own pension. That’s not a sob story, it’s just a fact, and I’m happy to pay that in order to live the life that I want. However, it does mean that I have to get paid promptly – particularly because I have to pay out for things in advance of a course – the cost of a venue, travel, administration costs and so on.
My invoices state that I wish to be paid within 30 days, and this is something that almost all of my clients are able to do without issue – sometimes within hours of receiving their invoice I’m paid. However, I also make it clear that if I’m not paid on time I’ll have to charge a late payment fee; not because I want to make more money out of a client, but because very occasionally one is slow in paying.
If I don’t get paid inside my 30 days I’ve then got to decide what to do next. Usually I let things slide for a while; I know what red tape is like, so a few days here and there is to be expected. However, when several months passes and there’s still no payment it’s time to do something about it. I already spent time checking my bank account, working out who had and had not paid, so that takes time, and takes me away from my real job of earning money. I get told that ‘it’s being looked into’. However, when an invoice is sent on September 30th and it still hasn’t been paid by the middle of January, almost FIVE MONTHS late, it’s time to get a bit more involved. The addition of a late payment charge as per my original invoice, and the threat of taking your organisation to the Small Claims Court does the trick inside two days. Except it’s for the original amount.
Let me explain something at this point. Having to ask for money is not nice; I hate it and I don’t know of anyone who does. It puts you in the position of being a supplicant, and it’s also a direct attack (for want of a better word) on your feeling of self worth – if someone can’t be bothered to pay you, what does that say about their attitude towards you? Clearly, since the money is paid very quickly on the threat of legal action it could quite easily have been paid when it was first due. I’m not a large organisation (although that shouldn’t make a difference), and even small sums of money add up and are important. But it seems that you don’t care. That’s pretty disgraceful, and it’s not good morally or ethically. Added to that is the fact that you haven’t even got the good grace to say that you’re sorry. An apology does more than say ‘sorry’ it helps to re-establish self worth, and also – very importantly – return a level of trust. Without it, and by showing a complete disregard to the person your group owes money to, it lessens you, me and the profession as a whole. It means that I have to consider the way in which I work, the price that I charge, and the extent to which I can trust other professionals. That’s a horrible situation to be in, yet it seems that you either don’t care, or even worse, don’t even think about it.
So, what should I do now? Still continue to try and request payment for the outstanding overdue fee? The money itself doesn’t really matter (I’d be quite happy to donate it to charity), if it was 5p, £5 or £500, it’s the principle that matters. The principle that says you recognise the value of the work done by the person who did it, that you owe a debt that needs to be paid, and that you have a level of respect for the person asking. Or do I simply walk away, feeling a little more bitter, a bit more upset and angry and a lot more depressed? You tell me, because I really don’t know.
Of course, there’s also the question of ‘do I tell anyone’? I could quite easily name you, your treasurer and your organisation/group in a public forum like my blog. However, I have my own professional respect and ethics which means that I won’t do this, but it also annoys me that my principles mean that you won’t be called out for the lack of yours, but that’s the way it goes.
Very sadly and disappointedly yours…