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Thank you all so much for your advice and support – I am really grateful as to date I have not received any proper guidance or “networking” with other owner/operators regarding anything about working for myself.

My little “business” (and I use that term loosely!) does provide a very decent income, but I have always viewed it as a supplementary exercise to my main focus, which is university studies (to complete three degrees within a ten year plan – I am now halfway through).

The client is certainly not hard-up for cash or experiencing financial difficulties in paying – they both have extremely well-paying careers (she is a partner in a law firm, him a financial controller), and have just spent nearly $1m on a new boat….so they’re not finding it tight to pay a measly $150.

There is proof I worked the five hours they are not paying for, as I sent several text messages to them when at the house – questions such as do I need to change the beds, advising them I had to turn the alarm off to enter the home, their response that they would be home later on that afternoon, comments about the weather etc. Also, if need be my mobile phone records would prove I was at their home location for at least 5.5 hours on the day I did the unpaid work.

The fact that they fobbed me off for a week re the online payment then came up with the story about their online payments aren’t “working”, and then asked for their keys back indicates to me they are cancelling my services (although they haven’t come out and said this) and are not willing to pay for the last 5 hour service.

The Law Assist Small Claims website was very useful – thank you. I will start by sending them a letter of demand (is there draft wording for this anywhere?). However, given the client’s extensive legal experience as a law firm partner, I assume she will run rings around me in court.

I’ll send the letter and see what their response is, and take it from there. I do not intend mentioning in writing (either letter or text) that I will only return their keys upon full payment – I suspect the client will use that against me, given their knowledge of the law. I will however drag out the return of their keys as long as possible, knowing it will cost them in excess of $150 to have their front door/security door re-keyed.

At the end of the day I know it’s not a large amount, but I did work very hard on a hot day for five hours! I know now to always get paid in cash – if the money isn’t at the house when I arrive, I won’t do the work.

For the record, I ran a free online ad last week and have already found two new weekly clients, totalling 8 hours, or $240, each week. So replacing a bad, unpaying client has turned out to be much easier than expected. Both the new clients are much closer to home than the unpaying client – so in a roundabout way this experience has turned out for the best (albeit less $150 in my pocket!)

I should have learnt my lesson a few years back when I ran a small home-secretarial service and did a significant amount of work (a PowerPoint presentation) for a friend at half my usual rate. To this day they have never paid me (approx $600) and have since moved to Melbourne. I was too scared to take the matter further due to our so-called “friendship”, something I now regret as this person hasn’t contacted me since they moved to Melbourne.

It pays to never mix friendship with business, and it certainly pays to not confuse “clients” as “friends” – a fine line I will make sure is never crossed again.

Thanks again!!