Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

Challenge:Being contacted by prospect sight-unseen

Here is the scenario.

I have a resume posted online at a (free) site that is specifically for Delphi developers.  A company has been in contact with me for the past week after seeing this posted resume.

The company sells a certain type of data analysis application suite, written in Delphi.

I first got a call from (I guess) a lead engineer at this place last week. Basically, the gist appears to be that they lost their Delphi developer, and they need some user interface work done on contract. He asked my rate, and I quoted it.

I am operating at a "slight" disadvantage in terms of pricing structure, because unlike many contract developers I actually have a healthy sense of self esteem and I know what real ability to do the work is worth. So I quoted a modest but realistic hourly rate.

I then get contacted by an executive from the place. He says the owner is balking at my rate, as they have in hand multiple offers (from offshore people, natch) to work at 1/2 to 1/3 my quoted rate.

So today I speak with the lead engineer again. He is wanting examples of my past UI work in Delphi. (Delphi, btw, is 1/20 of my career; being an EE, having done copious amounts of realtime, C++, etc etc).

So wearily I give him: two references for past Delphi work, each a client of 5+ years; copies of letters of reference from these guys; and a pile of screen shots.

It seems to me that they have no in-house development expertise to assess a candidate's technical skill. I strongly suggested today that they release a small pilot project to me if they were uncertain.

This just feels like the client is totally cheap and they are also clueless enough to try to "weigh" an intangible quality, that is, worth of a contract person, by asking for as much "hard evidence" as possible. My guess is that they see the screen shots I supplied and then they demand more.

I don't even know if I want this work. I am thinking not, if cost of a piddly amount of work is a major driver.

Can anyone suggest a tactic for moving these people off of dead center, or do you think it's even worth doing?

Bored Bystander
Friday, July 23, 2004

My tactic with jobs that seem like they might be a pain in the ass is to charge a premium, explain why, and not move. Eiither they go with you, in which case they might be a pain (first impressions like this are often right), but at east your getting a decent rate to compensate. Alternatively they walk away, and you've not lost anything because you didn't really want the work.

I've never regeretted doing this, and quite often a far better job has turned up 23.5 seconds after the other lot finally shoot themselves in the foot.

Friday, July 23, 2004

If you don't want the job, lowering your rate is clearly not an option.  I like the pilot project idea: give them an estimate to do their most-needed change at your standard rate, come in right on the nose, and let them figure out how much easier it is to work with you than to try to communicate with someone offshore.  If they don't get it, you don't need to waste any more time on them.

At least, not until they call you six months from now.  Then you can quote them a higher rate.  ;>

Sam Livingston-Gray
Friday, July 23, 2004

Obviously, they would prefer you to do the work than the offshore groups or they would not have called back.  To get them off the dime you could offer a discount if they decide in the next day or so (Limited time offer, Buy Now!!!!). But I agree with the other poster, tell them a rate you would be happy to do the work for and let them know that they can take it or leave it. 

Friday, July 23, 2004

Look, the y told you right off that they don't want to pay even 1/2 to 1/3 a fair rate. There is NO room for negotiation when you are THAT far off. I wouldn't waste ten seconds gathering work examples for them because there is NO chance of getting a contract. Tell them good luck with the offshore grunts and if they ever decide to grow up you'll be happy to talk to them, but from now on your rate for THEM is twice what you quoted because you don't like to be insulted and have your time wasted.

Dennis Atkins
Friday, July 23, 2004

Here's a rule that will serve you well ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of the time. Ready for it? Here goes...

Any potential client who is shopping on price is NOT worth it.

I am not kidding. Really. If price becomes a big problem when selling consulting services or contract work, move on. In the case of contracts, most of the time you won't make a penny.

Do NOT take on bargain shoppers for clients. DON'T. Listen to me here, I am not shitting you my man, you don't want these people for clients.

The least important criteria in hiring a developer is price.

Dennis Atkins
Friday, July 23, 2004

Bored, my reading of this situation is that you might have a good opportunity. As Jihn points out, they called you back. They obviously like you, but they're trying to reconcile your "high" price.

What you have to do is arrange a meeting where you effectively reassure them that they're going to get fantastic work from you, and none of the problems they would get from offshored. I think you will kill it in.

Regarding them being a cheapskate, what typically happens is that once they get over the initial shock, the system flows, and you get paid, and you've helped educate another company into what quality is all about.

Inside Job
Friday, July 23, 2004

Never drop your rate (pants). You'll lose more than money.

If you *are* getting hungry, consider taking a lower rate, but from someone else.

Stare back. They'll either blink or walk away.

Friday, July 23, 2004

I'm with Dennis on this one. Taking a job from someone who is desperate to hire the cheapest possible resource is bound to turn out bad.

Probably many of us have been there (I have), and most will have regretted it (I did).

Friday, July 23, 2004

> Any potential client who is shopping on price is NOT worth it

Next time you think of buying a car please let me know. I'll get you exactly what you want. It will just cost you twice what you could get away with paying.

Friday, July 23, 2004

So you always buy a Yugo or a Prabst or whatever that Russian car is called? Really?

Dennis Atkins
Friday, July 23, 2004

"Next time you think of buying a car please let me know. I'll get you exactly what you want. It will just cost you twice what you could get away with paying. "

I bet the salesman would rather have a customer that is going to pay the asking price and not just for money reasons either.  The customer is likely to be easier to deal with.  Not too much of a deal when you're selling cars I guess.  However, when it's working with the customer then it does make a difference. 

A certain amount of negotiation is fine, but if price point is the main concern then they're never going to be happy.  They will always feel ripped off.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Exactly. I negotiate on new cars and used. Although price is a factor, say between dealer a and dealer b, it is not the main thing I am looking at - I am mainly looking at the car that fits my needs best.

The employer in the described scenario is directly comparing work that he would do on site with an alleged price of some guys overseas. Who knows what additional costs are involved or even if the numbers are correct or represent a real deal he has going (unlikely). Fact is his only concern is price. If I go to the Porche dealer and look at 911s, and then tell the dealer that I can get a Trabant for $2000, he is not going to suffer me for long. He is not going to spend time to put together charts to show  that Porche has better quality than Trabant. Such a buyer shows himself a fool and is not worth bothering with. It would be a different matter if I am negotiating on price and package with his dealership vs the one across the street.

If the employer wants to hire overseas people at 1/3 a normal rate, let him do so by all means. But he can not possibly expect you to show up on site and talk to him in english face to face for the same amount.

Tell him you'll take the job but you'll send him emails in broken english, you'll be completely unavailable for site visits or phone calls, and that if you steal his secrets, he will have no legal recourse because you live overseas. These things are all risks that he takes when he chooses to go overseas and that is fine, you save some money by being willing to take these risks. To compare it to an on site worker though is ridiculous and insulting.

Dennis Atkins
Friday, July 23, 2004

I'm curious - can you say at least where this company is located?  I know of a company going through these iterations but the chances it's yours are pretty minute.

Unfocused Focused
Friday, July 23, 2004

Its not uncommon.

One of the problems is that they are stuck but they refuse to revalue the work, or the result of delay in not getting the work done and at the same time don't seem to understand amortising development over the life of the product.

If they do go with you, you'll likely have to manage them hard, both in terms of the project and in contractual terms.

They can work out well, but if they start out with the attitude they've been shafted (and of course they aren't being), the slightest blockage will assume leviathan proportions.

Simon Lucy
Friday, July 23, 2004

Don't budge an inch.  If they really have these cut rate offers, and they're really more concerned about price than quality, they wouldn't have talked to you at all. You've got them by the balls and they know it. They mention the lower prices at all because they're trying to get you to release your grip. If you release your grip it's a given that they'll put you in a harder grip with a lower price.

You're working from a position of strength. Squeezing harder would be a bad idea, but if you let it be known that your rates are firm, and they should call you if they want to go with your services, you have a pretty decent chance of getting the contract.  The very important thing to remember is not to compromise your position of strength. Negotiating tells them that your position isn't so firm.

Clay Dowling
Friday, July 23, 2004

If they were convinced you :

1. Could deliver the work on time, on budget, etc.
2. Are easy to work with.
3. Will be around for future work.

Would price still be an option?

The problem is that, from a resume and a web page, all developers look the same.

As an employer, I really have nothing to go on but price. The trick is to convince me of the above 3.

The pilot project sounds like a great way to do it.

Mr. Analogy
Friday, July 23, 2004

1) Stop competing on price per hour - start competing on (or at least, selling) delivered value for total price.

For offshore, you have no way of _verifying_ that the work took as long as billed.  So they could be double or triple billing, and total price would be more than you.  Seriously.

So you sell them on delivered value for total cost. If management can't  get this, then they have a problem.  More likely, they are just trying to get you to decrease the cost for leverage.

2) Give concessions that don't cost you much.

Offer to sell your time in blocks for a 10% discount - if they pay up front.  Offer a 2% discount if check they send you is dated within 10 days of your invoice.  Say "I give a two net ten discount." 

3) Read a couplea books on negotiation and percieved-value pricing.

I would recommend "The mcgraw-hill 36 hour negotiation course" and "Million Dollar Consulting" by Alan Weiss.  Weiss is awesome.

Regards, (Formerly Matt H.)
Friday, July 23, 2004


First of all, I've been contracting for 11+ years and I don't intend to give one inch on my rate. FWIW, it's north of $50/hr corp to corp and much less than $100. It's quite reasonable for someone with a track record of released commercial applications.

Absolutely agreed that the price shopping up front as a centerpiece of their selection criteria indicates a bad client.

In fact, I think one could make a valid point that if they lost their only Delphi developer and nobody at the place has enough technical background to evaluate me in a phone screen, they are probably too clueless to bother with.

Also, "the company left high and dry because one key technical guy left so we need his replacement for this instance" profile fits ALL of the worst clients I've had. You have to ask what drove him out. They aren't saying, but I get the vibe of "!@%&* back stabbing self serving programmer who just looks out for himself found another job" - boo hoo. :-)

A face to face meeting for a 10-20 hour pilot project is out of the question.  The company is about 400 mi from my home.

I just think they will never arrive at a point where they have enough info in hand that they will indicate any confidence in my abilities that result in money changing hands. I bet it comes back to price.

If they're reading this... heh heh... well, I'm screwed, or maybe not.

So be it. I will check in with further results.

Bored Bystander
Friday, July 23, 2004

  Much less than $100/hr for quality Delphi?  Especially with these risks?  You're giving them a break, not being expensive. 

Unfocused Focused
Friday, July 23, 2004

Bored says its 1/20 of his experience and he has 11 years experience, so maybe he is saying he has 6 months delphi experience. Probably someone with a bit more would be better, but they are beggars and they can't be choosers. Even so, Bored's rate, especially for such a short term contract, is extremely reasonable.

Another factor is that there is no chance whatsoever that they found a overseas shop with Delphi expertise that charges a total of $16/hr for top guys. In fact, I would say that the best thing bored could do is congratulate them for finding such a deal overseas and tell them that you think that's a fantastic rate and they should go with it. A week later, he'll get a call saying that it didn't quite work out with the phantom body shop. At that tmie he sholud say he's got a stable year long contract about to be signed for $120/hr but if they want to offer him $160 given that it's short term, he'd consider it.

Dennis Atkins
Friday, July 23, 2004

Actually, I have almost 25 yrs industry experience, 11 of it contracting, and about 8 of the total around Delphi. My "1/20th" proportion is exaggerated in the downward direction just to emphasize the non-professionalism of someone carping on one language when I can show just as many accomplishments in many other tools.... kind of like treating Stephen Hawking like a 7th grade algebra teacher.

Re: rate:

I pegged the rate in the range stated knowing the rate pressure prevalent in contracting. At some level (probably $70-80) many clients automatically disqualify candidates.

I should be asking more but it's a compromise in order to reel in the work. Any less than what I am asking and I would feel ripped off. Any more and I know companies will not even bother.

Bored Bystander
Friday, July 23, 2004

Yeah i totally agree with the rate you are asking as a sort of sweet spot, particularly for online stuff where there may be trepidation on their part. If it's a case where they heard of you through the grapevine the initial rate can be higher. The $120 and up I am just saying if you decide to walk away and be done with them and if it turns out that they come back and want you  si nsce their $16 connection is having some problems with followthrough, I would punish and toy with them by insisting on a dramatically higher rate. The purpose of this would be to train them not to screw with professional contractors in the future. Many professionals do this. If you irritate an attorney, architect or famous painter, the next time you seek his services, his rate is going to be much higher. That's how the game of life works.

Dennis Atkins
Saturday, July 24, 2004

Looks to me like there's somebody at the company who knows outsourcing is risky, and he's got to try and persuade somebody who's higher up.

Stick to the price. You're not in competition with the outsourcers. You go down to $50 you still seem expensive.

Stephen Jones
Sunday, July 25, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home