Last August I took on re-doing an e-commerce website. At first she only wanted a re-design, but it ended up being completely redone. Since I'm a student, I didn't charge her a whole lot for it, but we've been going back and forth on this major project for almost a year now. Small fix here, big fix here, it's exhausting! She's very demanding, and I recently got a full-time internship for the summer, so I can't answer her every beckon call. I also have a family, so it's difficult to find time to work out the kinks. I have someone else lined up that can help her, and she still owes me for the work I've done. But should I refund her any money because I'm quitting? What should I do? The website is functional and she's been selling products, there are just a few bugs here and there that pop up.
she still owes me for the work I've done
How long has she owed you and how much? If she's past due on a payment, or owes you thousands, that could be enough reason to stop right there.
But should I refund her any money because I'm quitting?
Not unless you had a formal agreement to do work that you haven't already done, or she paid you for work you haven't done yet. If you aren't leaving her in an extremely bad position, probably don't worry about it.
What should I do?
Tell her you appreciate working with her and are glad you were able to help her build her site while growing in your own experience, but now you are moving on to bigger things and unfortunately don't have time for this side project. If she knew you were a student she should have been expecting you to eventually leave for a real job.
She sounds like the type who loves to exploit college students and she'll probably try to pressure you into doing more work for her at the same rate. Just say no. It will be very easy after you get your first paycheck from your internship!
I might have done following (I do it till date as well):
I maintain a Google Sheet for all Tasks + share it with Client - Update it at slightest change (Remember Google has Document/Sheet versioning) so any change/work gets recorded - and versioning stands as proof of that we did and keeps track of all changes.
In that Google Sheet, have the following columns:
- Work (Create a separate sheet in same document and have client approve it before you work)
- Hours needed (Create a separate sheet and link it here for every hour worked)
- Client Notes
But apparently you are past through that stage.
For now key is communication and setting expectations right - Tell her truth - It may/ might hurt both parties(You and that female) - But eventually if she considers you worth the bang - she will retain you.
Further - If bugs pop up because of your work - you might be responsible for them - If not - Tell her upfront what it may cost to fix things in long run.
Depending on how much the client owes you, sometimes it's worth just getting out of a project and forgetting about the money if you're already spending more time than it's worth, and if it takes away better opportunities from you.
No, you don't refund the money, you worked for it.
But try to get paid. There are some options, some "nice" and some more "assertive".
1) You simply ask to be paid and you can include all the hours you've worked on the project and send you client an invoice.
When you do this, make sure to make it clear that you want to keep helping her but that it's time for the client to fill her part of the deal. Tell her in order to finalize the projects, she needs to pay what she owes you. In your message, don't forget to nicely and respectfully (no passive-aggressive) remind her how the site has been successful and generating nice sales and how things are going well.
You don't need to tell her you want to get out of the project but you can tell her that you are strongly considering quitting because you don't feel she's appreciating your work and the fact she doesn't pay is making you feel very uncomfortable, anxious, and confuse about where this is heading.
2) You tell her you quit and keep this experience as something to remember for the next projects. And go enjoy life and your freedom again!
3) Remove your files hosted on her account. Technically, if you haven't been paid, this is your intellectual property. You should keep all this work in backup because she will probably want to have it back. Make sure to not touch what's belong to her (ex. paid plugins, theme).
Don't do this if she paid a big part of the project already.
Now, this is a very rude way to get things done but any business would do the same. If she would bring her fur coat to the local cleaner and not pay for the storage/cleaning, the owner there would certainly not let her leave the building with the fur coat and wait for her to pay "when she feels like it".
I strongly suggest you to try #1 first and then #2 OR #3.
That's why your first message needs to not be rude or desperate or complaining. You should first write to her to see if she has any intention of paying you or not. That's also why you need to mention the situation makes you uncomfortable and anxious. If that doesn't get her to have a professional response and attitude, you can decide if it's better to get out or take back your code.
Only you knows what she owes you and what is the best option for you. One thing for sure, if you want to get out of a project and don't care about the money, just make it clear and say goodbye. You don't need to tell excuses or feel like justifying your choice. The simple fact you are not paid is already a very reasonable reason. Don't argue, don't send a 3 pages email, don't respond to the following emails if she harasses you. Block her if you need to. Don't be scared to hurt her feelings, it's just business and you're both adults.
Personally, I'm more the type of person to do #1 and #2 but I never really faced a situation like yours. I always had the luck to be able to finish the projects and simply stop working for the undesirable clients who are slow to pay. But I have seen many websites with a big JPG as homepage instead of a working ecommerce, some even had a "pay your invoice" on it. So if you do this, you wouldn't be the first for sure ;)