Tuesday, 19 February 2013 13:40

Frank Jonen Plays Hardball With Late Paying Fitness SF

Web designer Frank Jonen has taken extreme action against his late-paying client, San Francisco-based gym chain Fitness SF.

Mr Jonen's web design firm has been working on the new Fitness SF website and brand identity for over six months; but he ultimately took the decision to replace their homepage with a simple text statement.

 The text explained that Fitness SF have paid nothing beyond a "barren advance", ignoring invoices and refusing to cover costs incurred on rush fees, weekend working and overtime.

In forum posts linked from his statement, Mr Jonen outlined some of those extra costs - such as a highly detailed 3D interpretation of the Fitness SF logo.

"That was kind of a raw one," he writes on Luxology. "Site launch, lots of client-side changes (not to mention my own), just a lot of time constraints to juggle. Completion time about 10 days on and off during conception time."

He adds that the digital design process, with software that occasionally crashes during rendering, is "like making out with a supermodel and she keeps passing out - end of the day, you still made out with a supermodel".

Sadly, Fitness SF did not share Mr Jonen's passion for his work, and after refusing to pay for half a year of work carried out and delivered to them, they later backtracked, removing some elements from the website, but failing to replace fundamental design elements like the site's Cascading Style Sheet (CSS), which dictates things like the colour scheme, fonts used and certain visual and layout parameters.

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The Opposing View

As always, there are two sides to every story, and after Fitness SF's website was restored and Mr Jonen's statement removed, the chain took to their Tumblr account to publish a riposte.

Entitled On The Way To Our Website, this accuses Mr Jonen of hacking and theft of the Fitness SF domain name.

It claims that the "barren advance" to which he refers amounted to $5,000, and that the 10-week deadline outlined in his initial proposal was breached by Mr Jonen.

"He missed numerous deadlines, including our brand launch in September," Fitness SF state, adding that Mr Jonen subsequently passed the project voluntarily to a different design firm for completion.

"Frank is attempting to portray himself as the victim ... as he attempts to get paid for work he did not complete," the fitness firm adds.

This is perhaps the most recognisable element of the entire dispute: a client who, after missed deadlines and incomplete work, do not wish to pay their designer, pitted against a designer who could equally cite creative differences as the cause of the delays, and who would undoubtedly argue that payment should be made, at least in part, for the work carried out before the handover.

Chasing Overseas Clients

Chasing Fitness SF for payment could be difficult for Mr Jonen as an individual - as he notes, many small businesses and freelancers face non-payment from "larger corporations who can afford to starve them out".

But he adds: "An injury to one is an injury to all of us," a statement that is not only true of the freelance, small-business and design communities, but of all companies everywhere whose supply chains are interlinked, and who contribute towards the same national economies.

In her recent guest post for Safe Collections, entitled How to Chase Late Payments from Overseas Clients, freelance blogger Claire Broadley noted the different rules that apply within the EU and beyond.

Within the EU, the so-called Late Payments Directive is about to take effect, and makes it theoretically much easier to apply additional fees and charges to overdue invoices in any EU member state.

Further afield, recovering debts can be tricky, but Safe Collections have a good success rate when working internationally, including with debtors based in the US.

We work with international agents, who are able to handle the parts of the case that must be dealt with in the US, while we coordinate the UK-based parts of the process.

Together, this gives you the best possible chance of receiving your funds - even if the client is based in a different country to you.

Final note

Whilst we understand why Frank felt forced into taking drastic action, taking a client website offline can, in our experience, negatively impact on your chances for recovery.  Unless your contract or terms of business explicitly state your company will suspend hosting of a site for non-payment, you could find yourself fighting an avoidable counter-claim and possibly a computer misuse charge.

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