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The (in)voice of dissent

By February 19, 20154 Comments

Due to Jon’s affable nature, he’s managed to book two full days of meetings in Wellington, leaving the Whiteboard marker in my ill-tempered and hung-over mitts once again.

The Labour (remember them?) leader Andrew Little made the headlines this week by neglecting to pay an NBR journalist working on his behalf for over four months. His excuse, as politicians are wont to make, was one of an administrative error, and that the invoice had sat unnoticed on a desk. The same desk no doubt that many of our invoices are currently gathering dust.  Kinetic Recruitment had a particularly dusty desk it would seem, having previously owed us money for over six months. For the removal of doubt, the use of the words “previously” and “owed” is intentional.  The invoice was subsequently paid in full….but you can imagine how many quality recruiters we now push in their direction…

As we at Rice Towers eagerly push into the contracting space, the pain of unpaid invoices burns deep. Before I went grey and started using words like “trendy”, I remember my first boss at a car dealership (yes, I’m one of those) asking me to chase payments from our corporate clients. I went at it with all the gusto of a hungover twenty two year old chasing other people’s money for other people’s cars. A quick call. A single email. “Sorry boss. I tried”.

Now it’s my business. And my God is it personal. When paying contractors fortnightly or monthly, as many of us do, these “lost” invoices can cost even a well-run recruitment business their livelihood – especially when working with large corporates, where payment terms always seem to be the 20th of the following month. Little do our clients care or realise that we’ve been payrolling their latest brand ambassador for two months without a sniff of payment ourselves.

So now I chase invoices. I would love to say that, like a crusading knight, I storm the lobby of Localist, my trusty Subaru Legacy screeched to a park on the pavement, thrusting a scrolled piece of paper at the Receptionist; “Here Mr Accounts Payable! Pay my invoice from July or you’ll have another Constantinople on your hands”. But alas, no…we don’t do that.

We are subservient and thankful for the scraps of business that our clients throw our way. Like a grubby-faced Oliver Twist in a lunch queue, we creep towards our paymasters. Furtively. Our eyes to the floor, raising them only to make apologising glances side-to-side. “Please sir, can you pay our invoice?” we email. Always an email.



We hit send and cower. Now, please never expect a response to this email, or at least a prompt one. Our stove pipe be-hatted Victorian paymasters know better than that. Be prepared for terms like “PO number” and “vendor”. Also be prepared to send a fax. That’s short for facsimile apparently, and it’s what was invented before email. In person, they’re beige and hang out in accounts payable. Much like accounts payable clerks.


We do so with a sense of guilt. We say things like “Sorry to chase…”. We neglect to follow this with “…the money you’ve owed us for three f**king months”. We then celebrate when we get paid late.

Now I should say that as a rule, the large corporates are the worst offenders. Many of our agency clients pay on time every time, and we’re hugely appreciative. Without perhaps realising it, they get a better level of service and candidate from us. And ignoring the commercial aspect, it’s so nice to work in true partnership with a client. A partnership based on mutual respect and recognition for a job well done.

So given the win-win of both paying and being paid on time, maybe it’s time to shrug off the invoice guilt. Like a modern Germany, we have nothing to be ashamed of. It was our Granddads not us. I’m getting confused but you get the point. Be bold. Demand payment. Use the phone instead of email. Do as I did yesterday, and ask to be paid in person, preferably over a glass of wine or beer with a client.

Being paid on time is what we’re worth. And paying on time is not only good for the soul, it makes sound commercial sense. Enjoy your Friday, I’m off to check if Localist have paid.


Jonathan Rice

MD at New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice Consulting and co-founder of on-demand recruiter offering Joyn. Recruitment agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.


  • honest and controversial as always Sean. Naming and shaming is an interesting tactic. As a large corporate I accept that those processes can be occasionally clunky – usually frustrates internal recruitment teams as well who have mostly been in your shoes. Helps to understand that your service levels and quality of candidates have caveats attached. hope this isn’t your Gerald Ratner moment…

    • Sean Walters says:

      Hi Keith,

      Thanks for posting – always good to get a comment from the internal side. To clarify, I have no issue with the payment terms of large corporates. They are what they are, and as a business we need to be financially savvy enough to live by their terms. Constant missed pay runs and follow-up emails disappearing into the abyss is another matter…
      In terms of naming and shaming, neither businesses are clients, nor would we want them as such. 7 months is a long time to chase payment, and as you highlight, my inclination to be honest sometimes strays into Ratner territory! It’s territory I’m familiar with.
      Service levels in recruitment have caveats attached. If you retain me, I’ll spend longer on a search. This isn’t to say my level of client or customer care changes. My point is that we can be much more proactive brand ambassadors for your business if you treat us with respect. And that means respecting agreed payment terms. If we are treated without this respect, we’re most likely to talk to great candidates about other opportunities.

  • “Due to Jon’s affable nature…” AKA superior consulting skills ^JR

  • Sam says:

    I wouldn’t say that expecting to be paid for a service is a caveat, it’s the terms of business!

    As a side note, the fax was invented even before the phone. The more you know..