Dear Client: Stop Asking For A Ballpark Estimate

I like you, client, you’re what makes it possible to do what I love for a living. But I also respect you; you either own a business or occupy a high-enough managerial position within a business to have the authority to hire my team and I, which means you’re all grown up and are way past the point of needing to be handled with kid gloves. So, allow me to indulge in some tough love:

Please, for the sake of your business, stop asking me to give you a ballpark estimate.

It happens to consultants just like me, every day – at some point during a (usually light-on-details) conversation with a very excited client like you, about a new website or custom software that you’ve dreamed up to help you run your business, you’ll ask The Question.

“So, what’s a ballpark estimate of what that would cost?”

I understand why this seems like a perfectly reasonable question, I really do. You have a business to run, and getting a broad sense of what something costs is probably a handy proxy for quickly deciding if it’s something you can handle, or not. I get that – business life often boils down to making decisions quickly, based on broad or even vague information.  Remember, I run a small business, too, so I share a lot of the same concerns you do. Keep Reading…

Do You Need to Be a Really Good Programmer to Make a Living Freelancing?

It’s a valid question – how good do your programming skills need to be (and how much does that matter) in the world of freelancing?

The Question:

Do you need to be a really good programmer to make a living freelancing?
How advanced does a programmer need to be in order to make a living as a freelancer taking jobs from freelancing sites like Odesk or Elance? What kind of technical skills need to accomplish beforehand?

The Answer:

When it comes to raw coding ability, everyone will argue as to what “really good” means, so I’ll say this: you should be at least at the “Consciously Incompetence” stage on the Four Stages Of Programming Competence scale. It is here that you have some fundamentals down, but your eyes and your mind are open to what you don’t know. In this stage, you are actively working toward improvement and understand the necessary elements of doing so. This, I think, is the absolute minimum price of entry into programming for money. Keep Reading…

A Client Did Not Pay Me For Software Work. What Should I Do?

It’s a hazard of the profession – sometimes a client will try to weasel out of payment.

The Question

A client did not pay me for software work. What should I do?
I created a tax website for a client of mine recently. He used my server for all his customers work but after tax season he refused to pay me my commission. I still have his customers data on my server. Shall I email them and let them know that their accountant is a scum bag? Can I be sued for that?

My Answer

Sorry to hear you’re in a bind with this client. I’ve been there and I know it feels awful.a client did not pay me - non-responding

I’m curious about this:

after tax season he refused to pay me my commission

Your question began with “a client did not pay me”, but…did the client ever explicitly agree to pay your commission in the first place? If not by an actual contract, then even by text or e-mail? If so, you *might* have a contract that is enforceable, depending on the law where you live. I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, but it’s worth looking into. Keep Reading…

How To Turn Down Freelance Work Gracefully

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: freelancing and consulting work are like sunlight; there’s enough for all of us to get a tan.

That said, in the coin flip of life, some days don’t feel like you’re operating in a world of abundance. This freelancing game can be brutal.  Sometimes things look bleak, and you wonder if you’re going to make it.

The minute you start radiating struggle or desperation, a predatory (at worst) or clueless (at best) potential client will appear, sensing your weakness and enticing you with a fat – or so they say – check, if only you can accommodate their abusiveness, idiocy, or micro-managing.

You begin to wonder how critical is it that you close this job? Ask yourself if you’re willing to be married to a client who is throwing up red flags before you’ve even done any business together?  Can you tolerate their behavior once there are stakes?  Sometimes you’ll decide that things just aren’t bad enough to willingly subject yourself to frustration.

The other side of the coin flip of life is that sometimes things are going like gangbusters.  Sometimes the freelancing game opens up and gives you the goodies you’ve been working so hard to acquire. Keep Reading…

How To Launch A Product, Lose A Contest, And End Up A Winner Anyway

It was only Day 2 of the Gumroad Small Product Lab when I decided not to bother participating.

No, it was late on Day 2, even!  After signing up on Day 1, I hadn’t really decided to launch a product; signing up was driven more by curiosity than anything else. My hope was that  Gumroad would be offering some secret marketing info that I could use to promote my podcast. I had no idea how close that hope would be to what actually transpired.

Chatting with friends on Day 2, I deliberated over whether or not to do this, and what kind of a product I could do. In typical form, I had a hard time thinking truly small – a hallmark of my career is my tendency to over-engineer everything I do. Usually, this works in my favor; on a 10-day time-span, over-engineering would yield the same result as not starting at all; a no-finish. Keep Reading…

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