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Mind Your Business: Bad Economy Brings Out Cheats

This month Mark Simon relays an incident that happened with an invoice that he chalks up as direct result of the recession.

Tank commander, cropped.

Many things happen in a bad economy. People lose jobs. Freelance fees generally go down. And some people CHEAT.

Last month I wrote about a client who offered praise instead of payment. That's a common type of cheating, but one I luckily have not had many issues with. In more than 3,000 jobs, I've only had to go to collections three times, and I always got my money.

This month, I ran into something new, but not altogether unexpected: the changing of an invoice.

The Set Up

I was putting on an event for creatives and like with many events I offered discounts for people who registered early. If you waited until the last 30 days prior to the event, you paid the full standard rate. This is the normal routine to get people to register early and not procrastinate.

One client called my office and asked for a discount, even though the deadlines had passed. We were only a few days from the event, but my office granted him a discount to close the deal. It was a win-win situation -- or so we thought.

My office made up the invoice and e-mailed it to our client. Normally we always send PDF files but protocol was not followed and we sent an Excel file instead. Normally this is not a big deal, but this ended up not being a normal deal.

The Lie

This client calls back the next morning saying the invoice he received had the wrong total on it. He said the invoice showed a larger discount than we had offered him. I apologized and told him my office would send a revised statement right away.

My first thought was, "I can't believe we screwed up the invoice for THIS client."

Minute later, my phone rings again. Same client. Same request. New tactic. I was on the phone with him this time and he said he figured out why the lower amount was on his invoice. He said it had someone else's name on it, that we had sent him someone else's invoice. "I want the same discount he got," he said.

This client had already gotten a discount from my office which I thought was a nice offer. I told him the only way someone paid less was by registering two months early. I was sorry, but I couldn't extend him a bigger discount.

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The Push

He continued to push for the bigger discount, but I wouldn't budge, so he tried something else. He wanted me to let him bring someone for free. I declined that offer as well. However, I told him I would discount an additional person. We went back and forth a couple of times, I stayed at my original offer and he finally accepted my counter-proposal. Instead of getting a bigger discount, he ended up paying us more money for an additional person.

After the phone call, my office sat down to figure out how we could have sent out the wrong invoice. We looked at the copy of the invoice on our computers. It was for the correct amount and it had the proper name. Maybe, we attached the wrong file.

We looked in our Sent fold and opened the Excel attachment. It was also correct. The client never received the wrong invoice. He was lying.

Since we sent him an Excel file, it was easily editable. He was trying to play a fast one on us by changing the information on our original invoice and pretending it was our mistake.

This is why I always (at least I always try) to send invoices as PDF files. Far fewer people are able to edit a PDF file and you are less likely to have problems.

The Moral

The moral of this story, sometimes you can make more money by offering a discount -- but never send editable invoices.

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