Living paycheck to paycheck on contract work is nuts
I am 26 and this is my first contracting experience. I was not the first to be late (me being late on deliverable items, my employer being late on invoice payments). Living paycheque to paycheque at the time, and still am, this is a serious issue for me. I was in dire straights at the time...
So you're new to contracting. I get it. The thing about contracting is that the coin seems to be huge compared to being a full-time employee. But this is an illusion. And you have made huge assumptions to the contrary, due to your inexperience.
The very fact that you're using the term "paycheque to paycheque" displays how unequipped you are to live the contractor life. You don't get a paycheck at all. This is a contractor relationship. There are three tiers of contracting:
- Regular employee - lowest salary, highest benefits, low risk of late paychecks, and they handle taxes.
- Contract agency work - mid salary, low benefits, low risk of late or missing paychecks, and they handle taxes.
- Self-contracting. Highest salary, no benefits, high risk of late or missing payments, and taxes are all on you.
Note the middle position of "contract agency". You are an employee of the contract agency, and they take the brunt of the risk in dealing with the company. They can mitigate this in two ways (you cannot): First the agency is watching the business angles and if a company is insolvent, they simply won't send you. Second, the company dare not stiff them, or they'll be blacklisted among all contract agencies.
You're in a perilous position, possibly not by accident: fair chance the company can't work through an agency because their credit's no good. If their company is failing, that's one thing: but if they're a startup, you're being paid all wrong: your compensation should be largely in equity.
When you deal direct, you're a businessman not an employee
"Might I also inquire as to the status of my 01.011 invoice. As you know I unfortunately live paycheque to paycheque, having to sell my car, camera, half of what I own, and a majority of my portfolio when mutual officer of said company did not deliver on their promise of $250,000, and the deal with party mutual officer organised a deal with ran away with $70,000 they owed us..."
The reply was that we should talk about that face-to-face:
Uh, yeah. The officer was trying to save you the humiliation of having something like this captured in writing where it could be seen by all of management, and certainly will be seen as the company high management, strategists and lawyers the moment you threaten litigation, and in actual litigation fully open to discovery and publication.
It's humiliating because your personal finances aren't any of their business. Your rant about the other company says you're bad at business, and selling your possessions says you're bad at life.
I am doing essentially 4 people's job on this project: (1) frontend developer (2) backend developer (3) devops (4) infrastructure/qa/testing for a rate of $70 an hour, one which I am happy with at this stage. I have outstanding invoices of ~$11,000 at this stage, one of which is 2 weeks overdue. It was due on the 1st of this month. I asked why it had not been paid as follows:
$11,000 sounds like 160 hours, or a typical 4-week period. Is this billable hours for December or November? Because it's way too soon for December to be late. Can't bill til the end of the month, and need to give them 30 days to pay, and if they take longer than that, it's a minor infraction. You're a vendor not an employee, so you get paid with the vendors.
In fact, if they're in financial trouble and are slow to pay other vendors, then they must pay you slow also. If they gave you preferential treatment, and subsequently declared bankruptcy, you could have to give the money back for being paid out-of-turn. That actually happened to us.
That there, is another difference between contracting and paychecks.
Your performance is a bigger problem than you know
I have missed almost every milestone on this financial application by a fortnight thus far due to [complex excuse which blame-shifts onto company]... catch-22... I have foolishly given optimistic deadlines... seemingly endless strong arming over me for deliverables...
Well, that paints a somewhat clearer picture. They are not confident in your work. They are asking "What if you fail?" You aren't thinking about this at all; you think the money is yours to keep; you literally call it a paycheck. In their mind it is payment for a deliverable.
No deliverable, no payment. That is their job -- it is literally their fiduciary duty to shareholders. So their correct response, given low confidence in you, is to stall and drag out your payments - so if your project collapses, they haven't paid you the money. Not only is that legal, but --
Oh, I bet that hasn't crossed your mind: If the project fails, you may have to give the money back. By admitting you live "paycheck to paycheck" and have liquidated much of your attachable assets, you've told them "I can't give you the money back, so any more prepayments you give me are unrecoverable". And your boss could have pretended that was a non-issue, but then you gone done left a paper trail. That's why he was facepalm/SMH...
So now, to get any more prepayments, you may face extreme scrutiny about your project progress, so they may assess the probability of you finishing. And now we have
not being paid on time is extremely demotivating and literally forces me to swap tasks
I am due to show a demo of the app tomorrow but still have not been paid, given this is the case should I just tell them I am not demoing it?
*cringe* See how that's just shooting yourself in the foot? Their whole fear is that your project is lost in the weeds and that it will ultimately fail. And there you are... slowing down, canceling demos, and fulfilling all of their fears! You are literally telling them "I can't get it done!"
SMH, of all the things to cancel for not being paid... canceling a code shipment, maybe... canceling a feature request meeting, maybe... but canceling the demo!!!???
All I can think to say is, "Don't quit your day job, kid".
Honestly, the smartest thing is go all-in on this task and Get It Done. Get the milestones back on schedule, spend 16 hours a day fueled by ramen and Mountain Dew, deliver it and call it DONEZZZ.
Maybe the thug life is not for you
A bunch of the things you are vociferously complaining about are actually perfectly normal happenstances and risks for independent contractors.
yet-again late paid invoice, growing friction of past monies unpaid, and seemingly endless strong arming over me for deliverables that I cannot guarantee correctness of before they are tested/developed properly.
Collections is a fifth job you also have, because independent contractors are their own collection agents. And that makes collection an extra challenge, because you need to be diplomatic to stay on the contract. (unless you hire it out or sell the debt).
Selling the debt to a collector is an interesting thought exercise. It nicely "third-parties" the problem; you don't have to be the "heavy". However, it forces you to document the debt: review the contract, make sure the contract is tight, your billable hours are correct, if the company is solvent and collectible, etc. If you missed something important, it'll come up there.
while invoices were routinely weeks or months late. Living paycheque to paycheque at the time, and still am, this is a serious issue for me.
Again, slow pay is normal life for an independent contractor. The reason people are thinking "gold plated yacht" is we can't comprehend how you can be desperate while making $70/hr, unless you have a huge boat mortgage or have a horrible vice. But of course, you're not making $70/hour, are you?
My point is, living paycheck to paycheck is incompatible with the independent contractor life. For 95% of people, "paycheck to paycheck" is a "mental complex" including some very subconscious stuff about wealth and worth: no matter what they do they cannot retain capital. Those people NEED paychecks and cannot function on intermittent income. If that's you, forget being a contractor.
extremely demotivating and literally forces me to
Yeah, that's another deal-breaker for contractors. You have to be a self-starter. You have to push through that. Your view toward "forces me to swap tasks to survive" doesn't work either. You have to have our life in order such that you can do the tasks contracted.
"Going employee" may be your best bet
Because the rules for employee paychecks are completely different than for contract work. Failing to make payroll is VERY serious business; failing to pay a vendor is a joke (as you know).
Well they quite literally have no other person in their entire company who even understands what I am doing let alone able to do it, I know that comes across as arrogant but this is highly domain specific knowledge for which their other devs are not employed or expected to know, if I ceased work they wouldn't be able to move ahead at all.
I don't find that arrogant at all. Lots of companies have poor bus factor. This is their fault, and you get to exploit it.
But "I'm indispensable" only goes so far. "But they need my work so bad!" Quoting: The project is building a financial application, I have restarted it from the ground up. Oh, snap: they didn't need the last guy's work so bad!
Once upon a time I believed I could have a job there, and in-fact was offered once and then another time the senior developer said they should get me on-board but this culture has left a bad taste in my mouth.
You're wrong. The culture didn't leave a bad taste in your mouth, your inexperience with contracting did. And to be blunt, the problems with you as a contractor are your fault, because of your wildly, comically misplaced expectations - which are merely due to inexperience.
Contracting just ... let's just say "is not what you expected". The employee relationship will likely be a happier one by far. Money destroys relationships, and that's the crux of the problem here.
I need this money, and I am going to be seeking employment elsewhere. If they offer me a job I'll have strict terms but that's not on my mind at the moment.
No, if you want to succeed, you'll take a contrite internal attitude, clean up your external attitude, present your amazing work as your resume, and admit to your boss, somewhat contritely, that contracting isn't what you expected and hiring on as an employee may be the better way to go. I.E. frame it as "you were right". And then smile when the boss says "I told ya so", coz that's the sound of you winning.