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I live in India and along with my full-time job (in which I'm earning a good salary), I have been doing freelancing for my previous manager (who launched his startup with some guys, last year). I have been doing this work since December 2020 till now. Below mentioned are the problems which I encountered in this work:

  1. Amount of Money Received: I worked very hard and devoted a lot of time for creating the web application from scratch and preparing major documents associated with this app. I calculated that the total cost of my work amounts to approx $1200-1300. But till now, I have received only $200 and that too in three installments. I told him about this matter and he replied that they can give full amount only when the application gets live on production.

  2. Never Ending Requirements: He told me in Jan 2021 that whole work will be completed by the end of January or in mid-Feb (in worst case). But he and his management guys keeps adding new requirements and hence, this project is just going on and on and on. I'm quite fed up of this never-ending work, which is leading to delay in the payment of my full amount.

  3. Unskilled Colleague: The other person, who is a fresher and his relative, is also working with me on the same project, makes a lot of mistakes because of never testing his code, thus, leading to high amount of rework and wastage of my time.

  4. No planning and unexpected urgency: This manager calls me on any day (including weekends) randomly and tells that he needs me to finish a new requirement (given on the same day) urgently on that day itself. One day, I had a lot of office work and he called me that he needs a new feature on that day itself. I told him about my office work but he kept irritating me by messaging after every 10 minutes, asking - what's the progress of my office work? I frustratingly told him the very next day itself that I don't want to do this work. Then he called me and said emotionally, "Please do this work. I'm requesting you. I'm not well physically. I won't irritate you from now on. But you cannot say NO right now because I've given your name to my higher management and they will even give you a full time position in my organization without any interview. You can also earn some extra money from this. If you don't have time, then I will do your work..(which of course, never happens)"

  5. Priorities Changed: Right now, my priority is to get a job in a big product-based company (FAANG or similar) and I want to prepare for that in the best way possible. I'm not able to find time and focus on the preparation because of the freelancing work. Also, because of this bad experience, my motivation to freelance has been vanished and I'm thinking never to freelance again as it seems like I am working under two bosses (one in my office and other this one).

  6. Mental Health: Also, in these pandemic times, situation is very tensed in my country. Many acquaintance of mine are suffering from COVID and some have lost their lives. I noticed that this situation along with lack of time for self is affecting my mental health and I want to give as much attention as possible for this along with the preparation.

Last year, he wanted me to join his startup as full-time, but I declined his offer for some specific reasons (listed here). But I seriously want to permanently get rid of him and this work ASAP so that I can focus on what I want to do rather than just wasting my time here and there. I want to convey this to him in a professional and diplomatic manner with a SOLID REASON because he starts convincing me with his arguments and emotional stuff whenever I tried something similar in past. Can anyone here please help me by suggesting something?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Kilisi May 3 at 6:16

11 Answers 11

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You've kind of broken one of the first rules of freelancing. There is an old consultant's rhyme that goes:

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

Pay me.

You've given this person free work long enough that now they expect it. It's time to put a stop to that. I would recommend finishing what is on your plate and telling them that you can't continue until your account is settled. There needs to be direct compensation for work completed. This may damage your friendship/relationship with this person, and that's all part of business.

If you're not interested in compensation for past work and just want to move on, then do that. Assuming you don't have a written contract (an assumption I'm comfortable making since lack of payment would put this person in breach), tell them point blank you won't be able to participate anymore due to other commitments in your personal or professional life.

You don't need to tell this person what the reasons are. The reasons are your own, and they are not for them to know. The fact of the matter is that you don't want to continue this arrangement and will be ceasing this arrangement immediately.

If they go into "emotional" arguments, who cares? This isn't about friendship, this is about business. If he had a contract with a paid consultant, do you feel his emotional arguments would have impact? Of course not. Nor should they for you. If this person is emotional in any way about this, there is absolutely nothing you can say that is going to prevent this bridge from burning. They're using emotional blackmail to keep you "indebted" to them.

Treat it as a business decision. Make the separation professionally and dispassionately. Then stick to your word.

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    Roses are Red. Violets are Blue. If you violate any of the terms of our agreement, I'll sue – Sharpenologist Apr 29 at 19:24
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    No, don't finish what's on your plate. If he does that they'll just ditch him and OP will have a lengthy court battle to see any money (which he wont do because its not worth it). Stop all work immediately until you have a contract detailing the amount of money you will receive with a fixed timetable. If they want to pay you when the app launches, demand equity in the company (because thats how that works. If you only get something on success, get equity) – Hobbamok Apr 30 at 7:59
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    Right now OP has the upper hand in negotiations: the do not sound like they could finish on their own. If he finishes his current tasks he looses that leverage – Hobbamok Apr 30 at 8:00
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    Don't get equity. It's worthless unless the product succeeds and if the product is already built by a guy who doesn't get paid for building it, the odds of that are probably less than zero. – Erik Apr 30 at 8:06
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    Haha, I agree with @Erik here and I was also thinking that if he treats a freelancer in this manner, then how would he treat his employees? – WarWithSelf Apr 30 at 8:07
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As long as you think that you need good reasons to turn down underpaid freelance work you don't enjoy doing, you will be stuck doing this forever. Your reasons need only be good enough for you.

Next time he asks you to make a change or to do something, tell him "My apologies, but that will not be possible." If he starts to argue or tell you why it is so important to him, you can say "I see. I wish I could help."

You do not tell him that you need to be paid, that he can't call you on the weekend, that your day job is your priority, that you have done too much for him already, or any of that. Each of those invites a contradiction or a dismissal that it isn't a valid reason. Do not share your reasons. Just keep saying "that will not be possible" and if necessary, stop answering emails or texts that are going in circles. On the phone, you can say "sorry, but I have to go now. Good luck with your project."

This former boss may be in a desperate position. People in such positions clutch at other people, hoping to be rescued, but perhaps pulling the other into the same dire straits. It's not your obligation to make someone else's startup succeed for the vague promise of future money someday. You can say No. You can say "No thankyou." You can say "Sorry, but no." These are all complete sentences.

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    That sounds like solid advice. – Frank Apr 30 at 5:05
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    This! Don't open the door, nothing and just walk away. Cut down your loss. – Al rl Apr 30 at 21:35
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This is what you should email:

You need to pay me all the money you owe me. I need to be paid in full.

Until you can make this happen, I'm indefinitely suspending this contract. This has gone long enough.

When he starts calling you, you repeat yourself like a broken record, and you say something like:

I need to be paid in full now.

Do you have my payment information? So you know where to send the payment to?

Good, because I don't want to repeat myself. I'm going to hang up the phone now, and since I don't want to have this conversation every 10 minutes, and I'm going to block your number. Please do not try to contact me until you've actually paid me and the payment has actually gone through.

Now, this is important. Do not explain yourself any more than that. Do not give excuses. And if he does have additional conditions he wants you to meet before actually paying you. Do not accept them. This is not a discussion. You can even tell him that, "This is not a discussion." You're not asking for his approval. You tell him what's going to happen and you make it happen.

Then, the ball in his court. He might pay you what he owes you, or he might not. Either way, what he does is outside of your control. If he does pay you, great. If he doesn't, you've cut your losses.

With that said, even if he does pay you, you should still quit, but whatever you do, do not tell him you plan to quit before receiving the money. As a poorly-paid freelancer, most of your leverage is the fact that you do good work and that he wants to continue to work with you, if you tell him you're quitting, I guarantee you that you will never see the money he owes you.

Of course, this is assuming that you're a contractor without an actual written contract (unfortunately, from your question, this is what it sounds like). If you did sign an actual contract, you need to go back to that document and carefully read it to see what it says before taking any of our advice.

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  • Yeah, I didn't have any actual written contract. – WarWithSelf Apr 30 at 7:57
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    @WarWithSelf You don't need a contract. I've done loads of projects on just a handshake and you can still reliably get money out of the clients. The important point is to email them and point out that you agreed to x for $y and x has repeatedly changed. Tell them they need to pay $y immediately before any more work happens. Don't negotiate. You can tell them something like "I need to make rent", people advise against this, but I've used it successfully, then the client knows you're serious and won't budge. Don't compromise. Once they pay, you can work hourly. – Rastilin Apr 30 at 11:26
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    I think part of this needs to be stressed even more. It's the first thing I thought of, and while you mention it, imo not hard enough. It is likely that eventually, remuneration will occur for the work that has been done, and that, in and of itself, will be viewed something like "see, we paid, now you HAVE to keep working." ... No... they will have paid you, what they already "owed" you for work you've ALREADY accomplished. That brought you to a zero state. You did work. You were paid. At that point, nothing further needs occur. If they want more work.. more pay, and a contract. Or no work. – CGCampbell Apr 30 at 13:24
  • @WarWithSelf: A contract requires two congruent declarations of intent, offer and acceptance. Nothing more. It does not require any specific form. It does not require words. If you point at a piece of fruit, the vendor holds up 4 fingers, you give him ₹40, and he hands you the fruit, you have just entered and executed a sales contract without saying a word. The second your previous manager asked you for help and you accepted, you had a contract. This contract is as valid as any written contract. The main problem will be proving the contents, but that applies to both sides! – Jörg W Mittag May 1 at 16:56
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In the United States, at least, professionalism usually means you don't give a valid reason.

Employers don't give you the actual reason for terminations because, among other things, it could:

  1. open them up to lawsuits for possible wrongful termination
  2. may disclose sensitive company information (eg. the company isn't doing so great, financially)
  3. can give the employee being terminated the opportunity to dispute your reasons.

Similarly, employees ought not do that:

  1. Doing so can give the employer the chance to argue with you
  2. It could potentially burn bridges if your criticism is scathing enough or your employer is insecure enough.

If you need a reason to leave I'd say just tell them that you want to try new things. The way I always explain it is: you learn a lot on your first year at any job. You learn a lot your second year, as well, but not as much as your first year. And each successive year you learn less and less. To maximize what you learn throughout your career it is incumbent upon you to switch it up every so often. As a justification that doesn't really risk burning bridges.

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  • @StephanBranczyk - from the OP's post: "I want to convey this to him in a professional and diplomatic manner with a SOLID REASON because he starts convincing me with his arguments and emotional stuff whenever I tried something similar in past.". I was disputing the notion that a "SOLID REASON" need to be provided – neubert Apr 29 at 20:49
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    Ah ok, this is clearer, you may want to include that quote in the answer itself to show this is what you're replying to. Also, you may want to change "employee" to "freelancer", because that's what he is to this guy, he's a freelancer providing a service to him, he's not an employee of his. – Stephan Branczyk Apr 30 at 3:16
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I want to convey this to him in a professional and diplomatic manner with a SOLID REASON

You don't need to convey anything but a bill.

One solution which I always use is fairly simple. Whatever eventuates you win.

Email him an invoice and request payment politely, then ignore anything that doesn't include payment of it.

Do not get into a dialogue about anything until you're paid, that just creates opportunity for more of his games. He's already aware he owes money, and aware of your issues with the work, so there's no point in discussing anything.

If he wants the work finished he'll pay. That doesn't obligate you to actually finish it though. Not having a contract works both ways. You can just take what's owed and leave him to it. You won't owe them anything.

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    Yes, agreed completely. With this type of client, there is no discussion to be had. And, they'll likely try to start many. Get paid, and get out. – user1234567890abcdef May 1 at 5:06
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I think you should always put yourself first. Your employer comes second. If the money or the job isn't right, then you do what you want by leaving. He promises you payment which is empty because if he was genuinely going to pay you, he would've done so BEFORE you actually did the work. You ALWAYS get paid first, then implement. No payment, no work.

My advice is stop the work with him, get the money you're owed, and just leave. Write an email, a long one where you explain that you've resigned, you want the money you're owed and that things are over. No going back on your words. Don't call him because he'll have an opportunity to convince you. He'll get all emotional and guilt trip you. It's easier to write an email, hit send, and not read his reply. He would of course beg you in the reply.

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  • "Your employer comes second." Yes. Employer. The person who pays you for work. And then also don't forget your friends, and your family and your hobbies. And once all that is settled, if you still have free time, then maybe that one guy that gets free work from you. – Alexander Apr 30 at 10:14
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    "You ALWAYS get paid first, then implement. No payment, no work.", usually payment follows work, but it follows closely. – Mark Rotteveel Apr 30 at 10:52
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    @MarkRotteveel: Depending on the industry, the work, and the complexity, it is quite normal to have a fee associated with even starting the work. We have the beautiful German word "Kostenvoranschlag" (cost estimate), and typically, you already charge a fee for creating the cost estimate, which is then sometimes fully or partially refunded against the payments if you actually get hired. (Although you might argue that creating the cost estimate is already performing work.) – Jörg W Mittag May 1 at 17:01
  • @JörgWMittag That sounds more like bespoke work (build product X according to requirements Y), than working as an hourly contractor (which seems more to resemble the OPs situation). – Mark Rotteveel May 1 at 17:05
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The main and most convincing reason is that your work has not been paid.

Why would you continue spend your time for something that only waste your time and resources.

My suggestion would be demand all the outstanding money that you are owed and then resign.

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It doesn't sound like this person thinks code is worth paying for. It's highly unlikely that you'll ever get paid properly, even when it's live, so every minute you spend on it is a big liability.

You said:

I seriously want to permanently get rid of him

Refusing to do any more work until you're paid for the time you've spent so far should do the trick.

Right now you feel like you need to end things in a way where he won't complain about it or think ill of you, and that makes you easy to manipulate, because he can simply withhold that happy ending. If you can instead accept that he won't be happy, then when he acts upset, or accuses you of having misled him (you haven't), then you'll have freedom to act in a way that's fair to you. Besides, explaining that you don't work for free in a way is diplomatic, provided that you're brief and polite.

And you shouldn't need to be anything other than brief or polite, because it's entirely your decision who you work for, and you don't need to sell him on your leaving, either by giving a sob story or by being angry. Also, you're not ruining him; he can just hire someone else, or find someone else to bully into working for free.

Alternatively, you can continue doing the work. Eventually the application will be done. In that case, at least be honest about your motivations: avoiding brief interpersonal conflict is worth potentially thousands of dollars to you. It's not what I would choose, and it doesn't bode well for your being treated well in other relationships, but you're certainly not alone in your disposition, and I see it as no great sin, provided that you're honest with yourself.

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To directly answer your specific question,

"I want to convey this to him in a professional and diplomatic manner with a SOLID REASON because he starts convincing me with his arguments and emotional stuff whenever I tried something similar in past."

Tell him this,

Namaste Darsh, unfortunately I am not able to do any freelance, as my full-time job has become very busy.

That's the whole thing.

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    Namaste! Nice touch. – Sourav Ghosh Apr 29 at 18:50
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    I do not see where this approach would help. It won't make his employer send the money, and again will open up for discussion (they can just go "ok! please tell me as soon as your full-time job is not busy anymore" or "ok! I'll call you back next week then"). OP needs to clearly state what he wants, and clearly put up a border, and most importantly not lie or hit around the bush... – AnoE Apr 30 at 6:42
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    That's illogical. Anything you say, the other party will respond with "OK, but .." and then they will keep gum-flapping. – Fattie Apr 30 at 12:40
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    @Fattie you're so close to the insight! Yes, if you say "I can't do that because X" then no matter what X is (including your suggestion of "my full-time job has become very busy") opens you up to either arguing with you or checking in with you to see if that is still the case. Only by declining to take on future work and not providing any explanation can you avoid the "gum flapping". – Kate Gregory May 1 at 0:12
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    I feel its worth nothing that many have pointed out the OP should demand his money. sadly he will never get one paisa. So, that is pointless. – Fattie May 1 at 0:34
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I'm gonna focus on just one part of the question:

because he starts convincing me with his arguments and emotional stuff whenever I tried something similar in past

My guess is that he does this on the phone, and not with text messages, i.e. email.

The solution is simple, don't talk to him on the phone. Block him. If you want you can send an email saying that he should only contact you on email in the future, or that he shouldn't contact you at all in the future.

If he can convince you on email block him there as well. Or at least don't read the full email. If the email doesn't start with "I've now payed you in full" the content isn't important. And even if it starts that way the rest of the email isn't important, don't read it.

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  • It's fine but won't blocking him on phone sounds like extremely rude? – WarWithSelf Apr 30 at 7:33
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    Isn't it extremely rude of him to call you every 10 minutes? To demand that you should ignore your job to do unpayed work for him? To blackmail you emotionally when you want to get out? You don't block him to be rude, you block him to make it harder for him to be rude to you. – Polygorial Apr 30 at 7:42
  • Yeah, it was rude that time and I was extremely frustrated that day. I think I will talk about this to him in a professional manner (for the last time) and if he still do this emotional blackmail then I will block him. – WarWithSelf Apr 30 at 7:48
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    @WarWithSelf: "won't blocking him on phone sounds like extremely rude" – This manager stole $1000 from you. Don't you think stealing is rude as well? – Jörg W Mittag May 1 at 17:05
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In the situation that you have to cope with someone who has all kinds of good arguments why they shouldn’t pay and frankly they are better with arguments than you are: It’s simple. Any argument why they shouldn’t have to pay, your answer is: You must pay me. Don’t even try giving a reason. “You must pay me” is the complete, polite, professional answer. If his grandmother died, your answer is “You must pay me”. If his business doesn’t do well, your answer is “You must pay me”. You don’t need to win any argument. He needs to pay you. If he asks “Why do I need to pay now” your answer is “Tou must pay me”.

If you worry about being rude: There is nothing nearly as rude as not paying you.

And not giving any reason beyond “You must pay me” means you don’t give him anything he can use for reasoning with you.

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