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Doing free work - a pitfall of freelancing

The lengthy thread about "working for assholes" inspires me to finally post this account here.

This is the flip side/"evil mirror universe" version of Siobhan's rant about wanting the perfect candidate.

A couple of months ago I ran across a request for a freelancer that fit my skills perfectly. The reality was "bitter gall" and a complete waste of time.

Have a look...

http://it-proletariat.com/RemoteWorkWithTest.html

Bored Bystander
Saturday, August 14, 2004

Wow. What a rotten experience. I don't know that I would have gone as far as you did. 

The hard part is when someone comes along who has been burned before. They paid someone else upfront, but the work didn't get done. They want to hire me but want to see some work before they pay.

Here's my solution. I won't put in a lot of hours without money upfront.  But I am willing to work >5 hrs upfront. I pick a part of the job I can do in that time, develop it on my server and show them. If they approve, they pay 75% of that part and then I move it to their server. Then we go on with benchmarks of where I get paid next. So far this has worked for me with a good number of clients.

GeekforHire
Saturday, August 14, 2004

I've found it's always best to specify the rate (or rough total estimate) up front, because often it's the potential customer's first time having custom software made and they just have no frame of cost reference other than shrink-wrapped stuff they see on the shelves 

When I first started on my own, I don't know how many specs and proposals I put together after a lot of in-depth discussion with a potential customer, only to never hear from them again. Finally I found out from a couple of them they were thinking a couple hundred, when I was thinking $50K... doh!

Rob
Saturday, August 14, 2004

Bored, to be honest, I thought you were more experienced than that. I would never even apply to an entity that did not verify its legitimacy in some way first.

Inside Job
Saturday, August 14, 2004

I agree with Inside. If the company is legit you should be able to talk with them first. Address and phone should be real. Otherwise you may get burnt.

I agree about specifying the total upfront too. But also feature creep happens. You have to note if features get added that price might change.

Ques: What is acceptable hourly rate in your opinion? I see Indians and Russians saying $15-$20/hr. I charge $65. I get work but not enough. Should I lower the rate? Are people taking the offshore cheapos serious?

Neo
Saturday, August 14, 2004

Obviously people are taking the offshore cheapos VERY seriously.  Also, you should try to work for companies who have graphic artists who look like Maxx Headroom, as often as possible.

muppet
Saturday, August 14, 2004

What's up your butt Muppet?

Neo
Saturday, August 14, 2004

Bored Bystander, I actually read this article before, haven't we discussed this before on JOS? You are right though, it ties right into the previous discussion. It's a wild world out there, and as long as the people you work for are just small mom and pops, there's is just too much headache (and for many--too little reward) for the average IT wonk to stomach.

Li-fan Chen
Saturday, August 14, 2004

Maybe thats why the good programmers all have full time jobs.

Nobody's Child
Saturday, August 14, 2004

I'll make a few things clearer.

On the "I thought you were more experienced" comment: yeah, I am. I have, however, seen these types of "challenges" intermittently through the years. So I decided that I would let one run its course. Kind of the same thing as the reporters who have done stories about responding to every SPAM they got in a certain time period just to see who was behind the stuff.

About my depth of involvement before flipping the bozo bit: ever hear the analogy about boiling a frog? The same applies here.

The work that I did was in response to a "test challenge". It was described as not being deliverable code, and I believe that it really wasn't. It just seems too trivial.

Initially I saw the challenge as a modest hurdle to be cleared before the prospect would reveal themselves (and open themselves up to spam, tons of offshore shops doing the "pick meeeee" thing, etc.)

IOW, I was doing just as everyone defending Ms. Web Shop was doing in the other thread: putting myself in the prospects's shoes and justifying rude, lacking or rough behavior. After all the client has the money so they absolutely MUST be morally correct at all times, huh? :/

The point at which I flipped the bozo bit was after repeated exchanges and not being told what this guys' line of business was; followed by extinction.

Finally, with no responses after making a bona fide attempt to comply with all of their conditions, I decided that the best revenge was to simply post the exchange in its entirely and allow the magic of Google to do its work.

Bored Bystander
Saturday, August 14, 2004

The good programmers don't all have full-time jobs. Some have too much self-respect for that, and enjoy mixing business savvy with coding prowess to run an ISV.

Part of it is commonsense:

Never gamble more than you are prepared to lose.

Invoice early. Invoice often.

Never go to Nevada in any way, size, shape or form unless you want to get screwed.  (Did anyone mention China?)

trollop
Saturday, August 14, 2004

Why not Nevada??

Rob
Saturday, August 14, 2004

Add Bahamas, Lichstenstein, Russia, the Channel Islands and anywhere else where business anonymity is valued above probity. I mentioned Nevada because Bored metioned Nevada in the material linked to in his original posting.

Bored has done us all a favour with this cautionary case and I suggest you read it. Yes, you should all go after new opportunities and be prepared to deal hard, but throwing good time or money after bad in unbridled enthusiasm can lead to loss or loss following litigation - suing the bastards only makes lawyers grin. 

And don't think this is confined to "business".  Employers may screw or defraud employees as hard as they can, so permanent employment is no defense.

trollop
Saturday, August 14, 2004

Neo, muppet has picked you as belonging to place trying to hire a Cold Fusion programmer. (See recent thread.)

Feel free to read. Your company might learn something. But don't try to treat us as stupid.

.
Saturday, August 14, 2004

"belonging to" ? Im going to do one job for them. Not exactly belonging is it?

Neo
Saturday, August 14, 2004

The scoop on Nevada:

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&ie=UTF-8&q=Nevada+corporation+owners+disclosure&btnG=Google+Search

Some people forming corporations find it tempting to base the corp in Nevada because (in theory) Nevada will not tell the IRS who owns the corporation. IE, it could be used as a tax dodge.

Also, think about the general abuse potential of a corporation with essentially anonymous ownership.

I'm not stating that all corps. based in Nevada are questionable. Just that attributes of an NV corporation are compatible with questionable activities.

Bored Bystander
Saturday, August 14, 2004

Nevada huh? Use to be Delaware corps right? Now Nevada. I did a project once for a guy in Vegas. His check bounced. I tried finding him but he was up 'n gone. Figures.

Neo
Saturday, August 14, 2004

Good post, Bored!

I'm always suspect of a client wanting a "test". It's not really so much that I think that they are trying to scam me and get free work, but rather that my experience has been most companies that need to "test" their contractors this way prove to be major pains in the ass.

This might sound smug, but if I can't convince a client that I'm their guy with my resume, work experience and a phone call then I really don't want the job.

And I sure as hell wouldn't do anything for a company that was completely anonymous. I wouldn't even waste 5 seconds of time for them because 99.99999999999% of the time, it's not going to work out. Why even bother?

Stalin
Sunday, August 15, 2004

If the company was bonafide (i.e., verifiable address, phone number, corporation, etc.) and would be willing to sign a contract and let you develop on your own server, would you be willing to devote a few hours (less than 3) without pay upfront?  Stalin?  Anyone?

muppet
Sunday, August 15, 2004

Less than three hours sounds like a charity job, not work. So there are sort of two questions there.

1. For a job that I considered to be work - for a business that makes money, pays its staff, etc, I would never do work on spec. The business can evaluate different people but, having chosen someone, they must then pay me to spend time on their work.

2. If a friend or non-profit business wanted something done for free, and it didn't take too long, yes I would do that for free.

.
Sunday, August 15, 2004

The thing that puzzles me is the motivation in this.  Having reeled in someone that can do a job why burn them?

I can understand the '$60 an hour is too high' but don't understand them not coming back with an hourly rate they would pay.

I've never got involved in 'solve this problem for free' to get a job but then none have interested me enough to do it for the hell of it, and I guess this one did pique your interest enough to do it.

Your motivations I understand and being pissed off I understand, theirs are completely opaque to me. 

Simon Lucy
Sunday, August 15, 2004

muppet,

I routinely do that now. I'll have a meeting with a client to understand their needs then come back with a proposal of what I am offering and what I will do. I'll easily invest 3-10 hours doing this for no guarantee of work.

But my clients aren't spec work. I shy away from that kind of stuff typically. I much prefer to go into an engagement where I can help the client understand what it is they need. This allows me to make myself more valuable to the client, and of course, gets me more work.

After all, it's easier to get work out of existing clients than find new ones.

Stalin
Sunday, August 15, 2004

"I can understand the '$60 an hour is too high' but don't understand them not coming back with an hourly rate they would pay."

I can't.

Where is $60/hour too high a rate? Sheboygan, Wisconsin?

X
Sunday, August 15, 2004

"Where is $60/hour too high a rate?"

It's too high for a $10 an hour retail employee with a dream and a scheme to find some programmer on the internet to make his killer app for him, and make everyone rich.


Sunday, August 15, 2004



Hey, I have family in Sheboygan Wisconsin (well, in-laws) and one of them is a developer who steadily makes $40-50/hour, so $60 isn't too far off.

KC
Sunday, August 15, 2004

This "get work by doing test" methodology partially inspired my other thread (now trashed by imitation Muppets) on recruiting requiring investment of effort.

The "stiff entrance fee" sounded plausible when I thought about it. I think requirements like that are fairly effective with geeks because geeks love a challenge and will plunge in and do a lot of work in an effort to "prove themselves" while not thinking about the reality of the situation.

I think "Chen" lost interest for some internal reason or change of direction and it was simply easier to stop acknowledging me.

Based upon what I've read about his refund policies, products, etc, I wouldn't have expected to be paid easily.

Bored Bystander
Sunday, August 15, 2004

Rate: I peg $60 per hour because this kind of work is my bread and butter, I have a lengthy track record and references, yet I also know that many so called clients are looking on development as a commodity buy. I would go a lot higher but I also know that the offshore shops are begging for work at cheap rates.

It's a compromise between what I would 'prefer' to bill and the softness of the market.

Bored Bystander
Sunday, August 15, 2004

There is no other way to view this as "you got screwed".

In one way or another, we all have been. We should all always listen to those alarm bells rining in the back of our minds.

For anyone looking to contract, may I recommend Robert Ringer's classic text "Winning Through Intimidation".

Patrick FitzGerald
Sunday, August 15, 2004

I dont know how you can just start working based on an hourly rate. Every client needs some idea how long it will take. No one I ever spoke to will just hire you hourly indefinitely unless its onsite contracting position. For project work there has to be a spec and a fixed price. IMHO

Neo
Sunday, August 15, 2004

Neo, it was described similarly to that of your new contract situation.

"Chen" claimed that he had an ongoing pipeline of Delphi and PHP work that he needed to delegate. So it was described as being an open purchase order.

So I pegged a rate that I was comfortable at which to work and which was intended to be competitive.

Bored Bystander
Sunday, August 15, 2004

And anyway, the work I did (all ~3 hours of it) was a TEST to qualify for consideration for further billable work. It was NOT deliverable work for which I ever expected to be paid.

I want to make that clear. This was a speculation. What pissed me off was the brush off after I delivered exactly what they asked for in the way of a test.

Bored Bystander
Sunday, August 15, 2004

> I dont know how you can just start working based on an hourly rate. Every client needs some idea how long it will take. No one I ever spoke to will just hire you hourly indefinitely unless its onsite contracting position. For project work there has to be a spec and a fixed price.

Neo, you really do come across as a simpleton with little or no experience. For serious programming, the employer will have their own rough estimation of the time involved, and that time will be well beyond trivial periods. By serious programming, I don't mean some cheesy Flash animation.

Since almost all serious programming involves incompletely specified tasks, the final price will be undefined, unless the project is being done by a high charging accounting firm that just charges about ten times the expected real cost, so they have a lot of slack in their pricing.


Sunday, August 15, 2004

Bored I was actually talking to Stalin who shys away from spec work.

I do a lot of web work for small to med size clients. They dont have a clue what it will cost and need a job quote and spec. It works well for me.

Neo
Sunday, August 15, 2004

Anony-mous-y person who doesnt give name

you probably dont think web programming is "serious" enough but thats what I do and how I made my living. I do okay at it most of the time.

Neo
Sunday, August 15, 2004

Neo your head is totally up your ass.

muppet
Sunday, August 15, 2004

When I said that I can understand the '$60 an hour is too high' , I was not implying that _I_ thought it too high, I can't actually judge I'm in a different country with different market conditions.

I meant I can understand them saying it was too high, because that is simply negotiating. 

I never give an hourly rate on initial contact, nor if I'm planning to do it for a fixed amount which I usually do.  Naming a rate is just an opportunity for them to name a lower rate, then its a question of how low do you want to go.

That can also happen with a fixed price but at least I know the parameters ahead of time.

Simon Lucy
Monday, August 16, 2004

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