Well, the an of an era for me. I lost a customer I have had for over four years over this past weekend. I hosted her web sites (6 or 7 of them), designed one web site and did a lot of web programming for her.

She is a real estate investor and very successful. About three years ago I discovered that she had developed a curious negotiating tactic which I am convinced she was completely unaware of. I think she used it in complicated real estate deals and have received some confirmation of that over the years. She would dispute her bills to delay payment or to get a price reduction.

She would often pay her programming and webmaster bills more than 30 days after I sent the invoice (using Freshbooks). She took almost a year to pay one of them from August, 2007. She often disputed the charges on some bills. I set a bad precedence because I sometimes caved in and gave her a credit on her invoices.

Earlier this year I started charging a 30 day finance charge on outstanding invoices and charged her a whopping $4.88 on the balance from her August invoice. She paid the invoice, but disputed the charges and the finance charge.

Her dispute was credible. She complained that I had not carried out her wishes and that she shouldn’t have to pay because I had misunderstood her instructions. The problem is that she gave the instructions by phone and we had nothing written down to confirm what she needed done.

In my defense, I have written several emails to her over the years of our relationship stating that I would act on verbal instructions, but that they were much more prone to being misunderstood than written instructions. I even opened a Basecamp site for her to make written instruction as painless as possible.

I had billed her for just over 6 hours of work and by Sunday, I had spent just under 4 hours justifying the charges via email. Since I don’t charge for email support, I effectively dropped my hourly fee from $50 per hour to $30 per hour. And the problem was still not resolved.

In her final email response she gave me two choices. The first included a $150 refund and some free work and the second included asking her to take her business elsewhere. It took me about 3 seconds to respond, asking her please take her business elsewhere.

I am surprised by how much I wanted out of the relationship. Until she gave me the ultimatum, I didn’t realize how much stress the relationship produced.