A Lannister always pays his debts. Donald Trump isn't a Lannister.

One of the hardest parts about owning your own business — any business — is figuring out how to get paid.  Not just what to charge, although that’s an ongoing struggle for most of us, but when to get paid.  Do you require a deposit?  Will you accept credit cards?  Are you going to offer terms (extend the due date for payment 30 days or more after the invoice is sent).

Whatever you decide, payment terms must be detailed from the very beginning in a client agreement so that everyone involved in the assignment knows when to expect revenue.

I’ve always had one rule of thumb:  make it easy for clients pay.

I’ve never required deposits, even on significant projects.  I almost always extend terms to N/30, or 30 days after invoicing.  I take all credit cards; I swallow all associated fees.

That was the case until one day, a few years back, and a meet and greet with Donald Trump.


Mike Gatty, Photographer,” I answered the phone, my standard greeting.

“Hi, Mr. Gatty this is Jeff (name changed) from Trump Enterprises, and you come highly recommended.  We have a meet and greet in Washington, DC with Mr. Trump and select participants as part of Trump Enterprises, and we’d like to arrange for photos and instant prints….”

A standard call for me, though I often don’t know who the high profile celebrity is, in this case, Trump’s name was offered up freely.

You know how gmail keeps track of the number of conversations in a given email chain?  Literally hundreds of email exchanges later, countless hours of planning, and the day of the meet and greet arrived.

I remember Matthew and I leaving six hours ahead to arrive at the shoot location — the Washington, DC Convention Center — three hours before the meet and greet.  Mom and her assistant were meeting us there, so there was a total of four of us for a simple meet and greet.  Three more on the team than I typically utilize.

Plus the minions.

Why so many?  What are minions?

So many because in those hundreds of Gmail and phone conversations, Trump Enterprises required the full monty, or what Mom calls the Dog and Pony Show.   An assistant to hand out prints.  An assistant to help pose the group.  An assistant to form the line.  An assistant to wipe my brow.  An assistant, I am not making this up, to open and close the door.

The shoot progressed.  The minions hovered.  Minions are people who think they are in charge of the shoot.  They arrive, mysteriously appointed (are not the client!) and lurk to the side and critique everything.  Typically they demand significant changes at the last minute to the photo set, while simultaneously typing on their iPhone and text messaging for a triple half -caf latte.  While they immediately start to bark orders — you have no idea who they are or where their authority (if any) rests.  When you question them, they become irritated at being questioned.


They appear out of nowhere, usually while the client’s point of contact isn’t available, and immediately (try to) take over the shoot.  Usually this happens with politicians, like the President of the United States.  That you can understand — the Secret Service have a say in how things run, the POTUS press team needs to make sure everything is just right.  There are 100 chiefs.  I get it.

Usually for a POTUS Meet and Greet there are two minions:  one from the press office and one from the Secret Service.  Usually they are easy to deal with; however, if things aren’t going well with an administration, things can get ugly fast.

For Donald Trump, there were FOUR minions, including one to open and close the door.  Each had an opinion and changes, about 10 minutes before Trump’s scheduled arrival.  Remember, we are set and ready two hours in advance, so waiting until 10 minutes before start to “tweak” is…. Problematic.  Any prior approvals from minions from earlier in the day go out the window.   Remember, you — as the photographer in charge — aren’t even quite sure who these people are, Or if they are speaking with the client’s voice.

Finally we get past the minions, and everything is in place.  Donald Trump walks in, charms the group for a few minutes, and the meet and greet proceeds without a hitch.

Donald joked about his hair, complimented our photo execution saying it was smooth as silk, and evaporated.  He was charming and easy going.

We broke the set, the team traveled home, and I sent out the invoice.

And thirty days past.

And sixty.  Resend the invoice.  Send a reminder email.  Silence.

And ninety.  On day ninety, I called Trump Enterprises.  Emails went unanswered.  For a group with hundreds of emails prior to the shoot, I couldn’t get hold of anyone.

I sent another copy of the invoice.  I called accounting.  I left messages.  Nothing.

Finally, my main contact called me back.  There was no apology for the delay in payment, which was completely against our contract terms.  There was no explanation.  Except this:

“Oh, yes.  Well, you’ll get paid when our stock rises.  Things have been down lately, and, this must wait.”

“WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?  What does your stock price have to do with payment of a vendor?”


“You’ll get paid.” (Nastily said.)

Now silence on my part.  The silence stretched until I cut off the call.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do or say.  This was Trump Enterprises, one of Donald Trump’s businesses.  He is known to be one of the richest men in the world.  I’ve stayed at the Trump Taj Majhol in Atlantic City, in a room I called the “Hooker Suite” on my birthday.  (There were mirrors on the ceiling above the bed.)  Of all the groups, of all the people in the world, I was not expecting to be stiffed by the Donald.  (Hooker suite jokes aside, please.)

I did what I always do when I have any issue with bill payment:  I turned the entire thing over to Matthew.

You do not want to get a call from Matthew asking about payment of an invoice.  Trust me.  It’s not pretty.

He’s my personal Al Capone.

And, apparently, he scared the crap out of someone.  I won’t discuss his methods, but suffice it to say a check was Fedexed to us the next day.  It was almost 100 days past due.


I run a small business.  I pay vendors that work hard on our behalf.  I pay team members that work diligently to make US Event Photos successful.  Typically, I pay everything in advance.  For team members, I wire the money directly to their bank accounts.   My idea of a late bill is one that’s due in a few days.

I can not imagine paying something more than 100 days late.  It is the opposite of what I stand for as a business person.  I believe, for people to be successful — for business to be successful– everyone needs to make money.  US Event Photos.  The client.  The other vendors.  Everyone.

I can not imagine paying something more than 100 days late.  It is the opposite of what I stand for as a business person.  I believe, for people to be successful — for business to be successful– everyone needs to make money.  US Event Photos.  The client.  The other vendors.  Everyone.  

Success in business is a direct result of how you treat others.  Your team.  Your clients.  Your participants.  Your vendors.  The bellman who moves your equipment from curb to ballroom.  The skycap that meets the car at airport curbside.  All those people who work hard to make sure the event is a success.  The web guy optimizing our web site.  The supplier ensuring materials are received and in place.  The airline staff accommodating bizarre luggage.  The hotel desk agent who checks you in.  The rental car company that upgrades your car, even when none are in the Executive Aisle.   The accountant who handles the books.


And to not pay a bill means hurting everyone in that chain.  For no reason.  No reason, except to hold onto money and eek out one more dime in an investment somewhere.  To decide what you agreed to, in an advance contract, isn’t important.  To break your word.  It’s that simple.

Today, my accounting is different, as a direct result of this experience.  Now, I collect money from most clients — even large — when the team enters the event.  The result is a much better cash flow for our company, and ensures my team is protected.  All of them.  But I wish it didn’t need to be this way.

I wish I could just trust everyone held great business values.  I wish everyone followed their word and their commitment.

But, unfortunately,  that trust is naive.  A Lannister may always pay his debts, but some clients will not.

From the meet and greet with Donald Trump.  

Because we are fair and balanced, here’s Hillary Clinton meeting Lech Walesa, the former President of Poland, in her US Senate Office.  By the way, Clinton hung this photo above her sofa.  She had her share of minions, too, but that’s typical at a US Senator’s office.  The photo was paid for by a news outlet.

Former President George W. Bush is now king of the corporate meet and greet — he always has two minions paving his way.