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Mind Your Business: Beware of Clients Who Kiss Your Ass

Mark Simon cautions about clients that build you up and let you down.

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This warning comes from decades of experience. Beware a client who goes overboard kissing your ass. You know the type: every comment is a bit too sweet, a bit too glowing. Granted, we all like happy clients and we like compliments…but something is often up when a client blows too much sugar your direction.

I was reminded recently of the dangers of falling for this ploy. Plus, there were other warning signs. Take heed of my story.

We were contracted to design and illustrate concepts for a biblical theme park. Our client approved the contract and all our preliminary talks were going great.

When the deposit check did not arrive on the day it was promised, we ceased work and told the client we would proceed once we received the payment. He apologized for the delay and sent us payment overnight. Since this client hired us long-distance, we had to be cautious.

Our deadline, like most deadlines, was tight. Our client had meetings in Los Angeles the following week. We had six large illustrations of his theme park to design and produce in just a few days.

One of the illustrations we did on this project. © 2009 Animatics & Storyboards Inc. www.Storyboards-East.com.

As we got approvals, our client was sending notes to us like, "You are truly THE BEST!!!" or "WOW! WOW! WOW!" None of those comments concerned me, we had another happy client.

However, he also made comments like, "We will do a lot of business with you guys because of your amazing work! THANKS, THANKS and more THANKS!" and "After this set of illustrations, I have tons more work for you." And "I won't work with anyone BUT YOU GUYS! I see YEARS OF WORK for you on this project!" Since every communication with our client read this way and his emails had too many words in all caps, it raised an eyebrow. Plus, the constant promise of future work is often a con employed by people who want to screw you.

As we were completing the illustrations, we needed to deliver them immediately to the client for his meetings. Standard operating procedure for new clients, and as required per our contract, is to deliver final art once final payment is made. Because the client was being so nice and we were trying to help him, I let my guard down and we delivered the final art with his promise of sending a check right away.

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After our client received the final art and I called him with the final invoice amount, I got really worried when he asked me NOT to send an invoice or email him the final amount. That's a sign of not wanting a paper trail.

You can see what's coming. The payment didn't show at the promised time. Then our client stopped responding to phone calls. We got him on the phone and 2 more promises of payments were made and broken. One voice mail he left for us said, "Mark, there is no way I would ever screw you out of a payment." Then he proceeded to screw us.

All communication from the client then stopped. No response from calls or emails. Then his cell phone was disconnected.

Here's the best part. Our client is a minister. He had also made the initial payment with church funds, which we now think was not authorized.

The amount owed is far greater than Small Claims Court allows, so we hired a collection agency who is suing the client for us. I paid my artists and there is no way I will let this client off the hook.

If you work with a new client and have any weird feelings about it, don't ignore those feelings. Don't get suckered into delivering finals before payment is made, especially if the client is from a different state, no matter how much smoke they blow up your ass.

Mark Simon is an award-winning animation director. He is co-founder of www.SellYourTvConceptNow.com, the ultimate resource for TV show creators. He is offering AWN readers a free month of his TV Pitch Tips Audio Postcards. Go to www.TvPitchTips.com and register for your weekly audio postcards of insider Hollywood pitch tips, tricks and secrets.

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