I am a serial Entrepreneur and your story is not uncommon. In the excitement to win new business from a client and the potential revenue and credibility it would generate for the business, it is usually a hard decision to make at that moment. Of the many reasons, one reason is that it is assumed that since they are a big company, they would of course honour their commitment and the other is usually the client is under a time pressure to get the project going and asks to start the work promising that the paperwork will follow. Eric has outlined very well the precautions you should take for the future. Remember that every stumble is a lesson learnt to not repeat in the future. It is good that you learnt this early in your business rather than with a bigger client with a job worth a lot more in the future. There are some actions you could take which depends on many factors mainly with your confidence and comfort to take that action. I am listing a few of them that have got me fast results and there are many more which could be exercised if more details are known.
1. Since you dealt with an executive of the company, you could always escalate the matter higher all the way up to the top management. This usually works since the management would never want their company to be known as one who does not pay their vendors.
2. You could be cheeky and reach the head of the company and politely ask if he needed a loan and you are happy to arrange it for them since it seems they are in financial trouble as your invoices are not paid for months. This would embarrass them into paying and in the least get their attention. This has worked for me a few times.
3. You could use a bit of intimidation like I did in the email example below that got me a response in 5 mins and the payment in 3 days! Names withheld for confidentiality reasons.
You have made us work to meet a crunch deadline where my team worked relentlessly and had a sleepless night to ensure that your time commitments weren’t altered. After the entire job was done and was delivered to you, you have decided to cancel it. This certainly is in bad taste. Further, your company has also refused to pay us for the time and effort spent. As a last resort, I would request you to make the payments towards the services rendered. In the event the payment is not made, I would have no option, but to seek other means of redressal. I hope wiser counsel shall prevail.
Please note that if we do not receive a resolution to this, this will be escalated to:
Managing Director Mr. XXXXX
Head of marketing Mr. XXXX
CEO : Mr. XXXX
Of course you will also have to be wise about it and it depends on the value of your outstanding invoice. If the value is small, then it may be cheaper to let it go rather than waste many of your hours which would otherwise have been used productively to generate income from other clients. In this case, you would have to swallow your pride and live with the bad taste which I assure you will eventually be forgotten.
Also note that if you have confirmation of them giving you the go ahead over email, even in the absence of a contract, it is normally enough to prove that they are in breach of contract. However, the legal approach is expensive and lengthy and does more damage to you than to a larger company.
There are many other ways to approach this to your satisfaction and am happy to share more with you.