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Ask Slashdot: How To Collect Payments From a Multinational Company? 341

Posted by timothy
from the greedy-europeans-all-they-want-is-money dept.
An anonymous reader writes "I run a small dev shop focused on web development, based in Europe. For the past six years we've had lots of successful projects with clients from CEE, Western Europe and the U.S. One of our main clients was based in the U.S. We started working for them in 2008, while they were a 'promising start-up' and everything went smoothly until they were bought by a multinational corp. We couldn't be happier to work for such a big player in the market, andwe even managed to get by with huge payment delays (3-4 months on a monthly contract), but now, after more than two years working for them, I have the feeling we're getting left out. We have six-month-old unpaid invoices and we're getting bounced between the E.U. and U.S. departments every time we try to talk to them. What can a small company do to fight a big corporation that's NASDAQ listed and has an army of lawyers? They've been getting a lot of bad press lately so I don't think that will scare them either."
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Ask Slashdot: How To Collect Payments From a Multinational Company?

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  • Find other clients (Score:5, Informative)

    by rueger (210566) * on Sunday December 16, 2012 @02:12PM (#42307765) Homepage
    The anti-union types will hate this idea, but STOP WORKING FOR THEM!

    If you're essential they'll find a way to pay you.
  • by Neil_Brown (1568845) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @02:26PM (#42307849) Homepage

    Are you still working with them / do you want to continue working with them? If so, the approaches you might take may well be different to those if you were "just" after your money.

    I've not idea where you live, but it's worth being careful that breaching a contract yourself (such as failing to provide services which you are obliged to provide) is not excused on the basis that the other party is not complying with its obligations — unless your contract says that you can stop providing services if you have not been paid, simply ceasing to do so might put yourself in breach. But consider what the risk is to you, if the company really is that far behind in payments to you.

    Depending on where you are, how about a letter before action — that, unless you are paid, you will take legal action? Depending on the sum you are owed, you might have a route through a local small claims procedure, even a money claim online — if it's a case of a project manager causing delays to try and stretch their budget, this approach might just get it before the company's legal team. If you've got as strong a case as your summary suggests (that might be a big "if," of course), it may be in the company's interests just to settle, to avoid litigation; you may just be looking for their legal department to put a boot up the backside of the relevant business unit to stop messing about and get it paid. If no response, go to court seeking default judgment, or perhaps see if local laws support you applying for the company to be wound up on the grounds that it is not able to meet its liabilities as they are due — even if you do not want to wind the company up (you want your money), it can take something as drastic as this to get someone to sit up and take notice.

    Some companies publicise their CEO's details — try looking for those, and writing directly. Else, write a snail mail letter to the CEO's office, or the head of legal, explaining the problem succinctly, and asking that they personally attend to getting the matter fixed.

    If you have no other way in, contacting them via Twitter might work, even if they are already receiving bad press — as long as you are polite and accurate, could it do anything but help at the cost of a few (more minutes) of your time?

    Many lawyers will offer a free / fixed fee initial consultation — if nothing else, find out how much they would charge to take your case. Push for a fixed fee; you'll pay more for the certainty, but you will have certainty rather than billable hours which are harder to control. If the cost of getting a lawyer involved increases the likelihood of recovery sufficiently, you'll get less overall than you were hoping for, but that might be better than nothing.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 16, 2012 @02:30PM (#42307871)

    You need to understand that vendor abuse is the modus operandi of large multinational corporations.

    I used to work for a 30B DJIA company, and during my tenure there, during the 2000's first recession, they started pushing back terms on all of their vendors. First it went from 30 to 45, and when the vendors didn't complain much, they took it to 60... still no major complaints, as the larger vendors were happy to take the business from smaller vendors who couldn't afford to loan us millions for months at a time.

    Then it went to 75.

    Then to 90...

    Then to 115...

    When I left the company in 2010, they had pushed standard vendor terms out to 120 days, with plans to go to 180 by the end of 2015. This is how some VP was making his bonuses - by constantly pushing out due terms and increasing "cash flow."

    The moral of this story is, this big multinational doesn't give a shit about ever paying you. They know there will be zero consequences if they don't. If you sue them, they'd rather pay their lawyers to tie you up in court forever than to pay you what they owe. Their credit rating will not be affected by your lawsuit, or your report to D&B, because as a smaller company, D&B doesn't give a shit about you, either.

    You'd be best to just cease working for them and write off the balance owed as uncollectible debt. You will never see a dime of it once you stop delivering. They will be happy to string you along and dangle carrots on sticks in front of you to keep you working, but seriously, just do yourself a favor and stop it.

  • I dealt with this (Score:5, Informative)

    by DogDude (805747) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @02:34PM (#42307893) Homepage
    I dealt with this, myself. I worked as a hired gun for a very large TV marketing company in the US that decided they didn't want to pay me for my work as a developer. I regular ol' lawyer got me paid in a matter of hours (minus his cut, of course) by contacting their legal department. They were clearly wrong, and didn't want to spend more than a few minutes' of their legal time looking into it, so I was paid the same day my attorney first contacted them. It was for an amount in the low 5-figures.

    Of course, I didn't want to have to pay an attorney every time I wanted to get paid for a job, so I quit working with those kinds of companies.
  • by mattbee (17533) <matthew@bytemark.co.uk> on Sunday December 16, 2012 @02:53PM (#42307983) Homepage

    Step 1, send an invoice with clear payment terms.

    Step 2, send one polite reminder maybe 7 days after the due date.

    Step 3, send a Letter Before Action, with a further 7 day deadline (use a firm like thomashiggins.com to turn the legal wheels very cheaply)

    Step 4, file a claim in the small claims court (again, thomashiggins.com are very good for this). It may take weeks but you can add interest and all the costs you've incurred.

    The few times I've done this (as a consumer) the company has coughed up at some point just before or just after the court papers have gone in. For a truly hopelessly disorganised company this is the only escalation method that works.

    The furthest it ever got was with Enterprise car rentals - I had a bailiff threaten to tow one of their vehicles before they would write a cheque.

    This is all advice for uncontested debts - obviously if the company has a problem with the debt they may choose to represent themselves and argue the point, but if they were going to do that, they'd probably have engaged you first!

  • Re:Step 1... (Score:5, Informative)

    by LordLimecat (1103839) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @03:01PM (#42308011)

    The odds are that if OP didnt give us the name, its because he/she was not authorized to do so by superiors / legal department. Publicly calling someone out like that without being cleared first is a bad idea: for the poster, it could potentially cost their job, and for the company it could start a defamation lawsuit.

  • Re:Name and Shame (Score:5, Informative)

    by mcvos (645701) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @04:06PM (#42308307)

    No, stay professional. If they're not actively contesting the invoices, just neglecting to pay them, get a debt collection agency (no-cure no-ay if necessary) and send them after them. They may get your money for you, and if not, they may sue them for you.

    In any case, don't get advice from random people online, get advice from lawyers and debt collectors who know about this sort of thing. Who know the relevant laws in your and their country, who know relevant treaties, etc.

    But surely if you're a dev shop that has existed for more than a year, you already knew this.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 16, 2012 @04:49PM (#42308531)

    It's not necessarily that it is company policy not to pay. I used to work for a company that billed a LOT of really big companies. One thing they did was raise their rates and then offer a discount if they paid within 30 days. That solved 99% of the problem, all the payments would come rolling in on the last hour of the last day of that 30 days. Some especially big companies would still let huge balances roll over though, and any kind of retaliation would cause them to stop doing business with us. What did we do? Figured out who was in charge of our account, figured out how to get in contact with their boss, and contacted their boss. If it didn't work, we contacted THEIR boss. Eventually someone would care and we'd have to write down a bunch of new names again as people got fired/shuffled around for not paying for 3-6 months at a time.

    The higher ups we talked to in all of the companies seemed really apologetic and did what it took to get shit done.

    I'd surmise most of the time people were either playing solitaire or just ignoring everything until they were told to do it, even if it was on their regular job duties!

  • by kiwimate (458274) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @05:22PM (#42308645) Journal

    Just in case anyone thinks this is a good idea (and evidently some of you do, as this is currently scored +4 Insightful)...

    No. Don't. You'll be sued, and you'll lose.

    It might feel good. It might seem fair. There are plenty of people here who'll say they deserve it. They may even be somewhat correct. Don't do it.

    If they're a large multi-national corporation, however, I doubt an external small vendor would have access to do this, fortunately.

    Lastly, one should always carefully consider if one really wants to take advice from someone who's suggesting quite major actions of high impact and who gets confused between simple homonyms. (Joe_Dragon, you mean "their".)

  • Re:Name and Shame (Score:3, Informative)

    by guevera (2796207) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @05:36PM (#42308691)
    In general standard here in the U.S. is that libel only attaches upon finding of 'absolute malice' -- you knew what you were saying was false and defamatory and said/published it anyway. This is best known as the standard for journalists reporting on public officials or 'public figures,' however courts have consistently found this also applies to non-media defendants. This is a very high bar, and means that most libel cases are non-starters unless you're grossly negligent. Misunderstanding a nuance of contract law will not expose you to a libel suit. The rules are very different when you're discussing a non-public figure, but for purposes of a Fortune 500 company that's not an issue. The rules are also very different in other countries, particularly the UK. Name and shame away...if the company sued you over that, and the facts are as you state them, it would likely get thrown out of court without you even needing to appear (depending on jurisdiction). Of course, IANAL, just a working journalist who has to know the practical state of libel law to keep from getting sued.
  • Re:Name and Shame (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @05:49PM (#42308769) Homepage Journal
    ask to talk to the person's boss, go all the way up to the CEO if necessary

    I wish I dealt with the people you have. Just a few months ago, I was having an issue with some large name super phone company, and after the first transfer and getting nowhere, I asked for another transfer to their supervisor. They told me there isn't one. No amount of negotiating was getting me past this person. I called back. I escalated up to the same person with the same results.

    My point being, the phone is the worst place to asset you mean business. Do it on notarized paper, by certified mail.
  • Re:Nokia? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 16, 2012 @07:41PM (#42309363)

    But Finland is right next to Sweden, which is a US state.

  • Re:Name and Shame (Score:5, Informative)

    by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@ g m a i l.com> on Sunday December 16, 2012 @10:57PM (#42310579) Journal

    Exactly, just look at how many companies have been crushed like a bug by Walmart. A local ice cream vendor got all starry eyed at getting their product in Walmart, the result? after 90 years in business they had to sell the company, Walmart fucked them so bad with late payments they literally couldn't keep the lights on. huffy bikes, Vlassic pickles, all got crushed like bug by Walmart and then later bought out at firesale prices by Walmart itself or one of its friends when they couldn't pay their bills because Walmart stretched out their payments long past due and left them hanging.

    This is why you don't EVER do shit on credit. If they want your services then they can damned well pay for them up front and if they won't? that right there should tell you ALL you need to know. I have NEVER seen a case where a company refused to pay up front for the work where the one doing the work didn't end up getting fucked, hell one of my best customers was a graphics designer and engineer that just sold everything he owned to move out west because the very large local college strung him along for damned near a year on payment for a big job and he ended up going under. I've said it before and I'll say it again, you say "welcome" and they'll say "mat" and walk right over you.

    In a business relationship they have to EARN your trust and the SECOND, the very second, that company was sold you should have treated it like a brand new company and demanded cash on the barrelhead until they proved they could pay their bills on time. if they don't like it? Well then they are just looking for someone to fuck anyway, let 'em hit the bricks.

    Hell it damned near happened to me, I got offered a job to outfit this large business with computers, they said they had heard how I had built several lines for local businesses based on their workloads and they were quite happy with the results so they wanted the same deal but made it clear "all our financial transactions are taken care of on a twice yearly basis" and I told them I don't work like that and walked away. Sure enough one of my rivals took the job, I ended up getting a ton of equipment at auction dirt cheap when he went under because that "twice yearly" turned into 2 and a half years and he was left hanging for around 25k worth of computer builds and laptops.

  • by KMSelf (361) <karsten@linuxmafia.com> on Monday December 17, 2012 @03:05AM (#42311833) Homepage

    You call the switchboard (it can take some digging) and request the office of the CEO, or (better) send an email to the entire executive suite. Frequently email addresses are publicly available or are some variant of first.last@example.com.

    I've utilized both techniques at various times.

    While travelling in Australia with an (I was told at the sales location) International-capable SIM-swappable phone, that I found out was in fact locked, I emailed the CEO of Cingular, copying a good friend of mine who covers the mobile sector for a tech publication, requesting the phone be unlocked (this after several rounds of frustration on long-distance international tech support). My host was awakened at 5am by a call from the US the next morning.

    On discovering significant 419 spam transiting through Microsoft's Hotmail servers, I called the Microsoft switchboard, requested the SVP of the appropriate department, was transferred to him directly, he picked up within two rings, we spoke briefly, he promised that the person responsible would call me within the hour, fifteen minutes later I was talking with the person in charge of Hotmail abuse mitigation, and we worked to resolve the problem over the next several months. I'm no fan of Microsoft, but their response here impressed me immensely.

    Another spam issue turned out to be a service run by a contractor at a southeastern university. After getting the brush off from the guy at his personal account (and tracking down his consulting gig), I sent a round of emails escalating one level up the university org chart, eventually hitting the president's office. By the third or fourth round I'd gotten the resolution I'd hoped for in the first place.

    Issues with delivery through Yahoo (and months of zero useful responsiveness from their help desk and CTO and the self-reporting web tools) led me to finally email the entire executive suite (as far as I could identify -- this was a few CEOs ago) with an email subject line "Gentlemen, you have a problem", containing a brief synopsis and pflogsum extracts comparing delivery rates and times through Yahoo and other major email service providers. Got a response from the "concierge" desk and resolution within a couple of days.

    In another case, an airline's exceptionally poor service led me to write an essay and post it to my website (as I'd promised the CSR I'd do when I requested hotel accomodations to compensate for fouling up both legs of my journey and stranding me at an airport overnight). I didn't get the resolution I'd wanted, but my piece generated a number of emails to me from both other frustrated passengers, and a number of airline employees and investors as the company struggled to stay solvent. It ultimately lost that battle, and I cried very, very little.

    Look up "the art of turboing". Realize that politics and sociology of most businesses makes such embarrassments a very high priority to resolve, especially if they're chump change to the organization in question. http://macwhiz.com/blog/art-of-turboing/ [macwhiz.com]

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