tunnel rat posted on October 2, 2007 18:44
If you’ve ever been a freelance I.T. consultant, you may have had the misfortune of getting stiffed. It’s the nature of the business.

Some people, especially those of a certain ethnic or geographic persuasion, never pay retail. That means every invoice is subject to negotiation.

If you start work for a client on a time and material basis, there is a good chance that they may not pay you for it. After, what is the material you are delivering? A web site? An accounting application?

Most non-technical folks want a website, and they want one that looks and works like Amazon. Or Ebay. Or MySpace. They see it on their computer screen and think “What’s the big deal? That looks easy. Look, I can update My Yahoo page instantly, I don’t even know how to code. This whole programming thing is a con.”

Of course, they would never say to an architect “I have a plot of land and $5,000. Build me a replica of the Hearst Mansion. After all, I built a dog house/added a room to my den/put some shelves in the closet. I’ll only pay $5,000.”

But you as an I.T. professional are just offering a service, right? So why can’t you charge a fixed price, and accept that price, regardless of how many times the client changes their mind?

The truth is most non-I.T. folks are absolute fucking idiots when it comes to software.

And they will waste your time and not pay you if they can.

There are a few things you can do:

  • Never get behind on your billings. At worst, you are out a week’s work, not six months.

  • Give away some work. Let the client know you did some stuff off the clock. They’ll think you are a cool guy. Make it up somewhere else. Perception is reality.

  • Work through an agency as a W-2 employee. Trust me, you will get paid.

  • Never, ever, take on work as a 1099 independent contractor. Few clients will pay for your database model, your class diagrams, or your time and effort that you spent trying to create a solid application. All they will pay for is a site like Amazon.com or a billing application like Quicken. Anything less and they will feel raped. Violated. Taken advantage of. And in their little reptilian, non-I.T. brains, they will fuck you, the only way they can. Forget about that last check. “Sue me!” they’ll scream over the phone. Good luck in Small Claims Court -- that is where plumbers go to get compensated.

That gets me to me to the topic at hand – how to get paid.

After getting stiffed for about three grand in freelance work, I vowed to never get screwed again. At first, I took the logical route and had a lawyer put together a solid T&M contract. For a mere $2,000.

No mom-and-pop/ entrepreneur /self-made-business-man/bimbo-working-out-of-her-house/dipshit-doctor/travel-agent-in-a-strip-mall/kid-with-a-dream/wanna-be-Donald Trump/CEO-of-a-startup/next-big-thing-on-the-web-visionary/Joe-Shit-The-Ragman would sign it.

And this was the kind of client that tries to hire a freelance programmer. They can’t afford the rates that recruiting firms charge (plus, they never get past their credit checks), and they are too small-fry for big, medium or even tiny consulting shops.

They have one price in their mind – CHEAP, or better yet, FREE.

After getting burnt by these types a couple of times, and seeing my employers burnt by their ilk, I steered clear of such crap work.

So when I really wanted to get some Internet work, I jumped at the chance to build an E-Commerce site for a catering company. Not just any catering company, but one that delivered from restaurants to corporate clients. And it was W-2 through an agency, so I was covered.

I answered the recruiting company’s ad and met the client at a sports bar.

“We have a good data-model, and we just need someone to come and build the front-end,” the guy sitting across from me said. He was moonlighting on this gig. His day job was working for an high-end I.T. consulting firm, on a long-term engagement for Buy.com.

“Sure! No problem.” I was desperate to get some ASP work under my belt. The desktop VB applications I was working on were making me obsolete.

“Ok, the client wants to launch in six month,” Brad said. “We have graphics, a DBA, and I’ll be the project lead. My brother-in-law is the engagement manager.” He was dorky, very much a WASP. I would find out later he went to Penn State.

No alarm bells went off. Sounded good to me.

A week later, I met him at the client site. I walked into a shabby call center buried in an industrial park.

Brad greeted me, and introduced to the two brothers that ran the operation. It looked like a boiler room. People on the phones, some guys running around, trying to get the orders straight, delivery guys dashing out with paper work and to-go bags.

“Welcome to the jungle,” said Brad. “Your laptop is here.”

He walked me over to a cube in a corner of the call center. It was maybe four feet wide. And that was pushing it.

He shoved an office chair under me. One of the arms was missing. These were my new digs.

“Let me show you what we got,” Brad told me as he fired up the laptop.

Six months later, I had their web site ready for launch. There was one big problem.

Brad and his brother-and-law had forgotten to manage the scope of the project. So while they were out working their day jobs (Brad doing I.T. consulting and the schmuck brother-in-law doing sub-prime-mortgages), I was racking up huge billable hours building whatever the client wanted.

So I’m billing 12 large a month, once you add the agency’s cut, for six months, and the dipshits are looking at $72,000, and tacking on their twenty-percent. Since I was W-2, I always got paid, as long as I sent in my signed timesheets.

Mind you, the client was from New York, and his gray-haired uncle Vinnie would show up every week and survey the operation. From what I heard, the whole deal was funded with, let’s say, “family money.”

Needless to say, one day in the call center I overhead Vinnie saying to the client, “Wus wid dis shit? You don’ hav’ ta pay dis. Tell tha mudafucka’ to take a hike. Bring in a new crew!” The old fart was waving an invoice in the air.

It all ended badly. Big meetings, a lot of shouting. Then one day, a pack of consultants in suits barged in to the call center. The client came up to me and asked for the password to the server.

Next thing I know, my contract was up. Brad and his brother-in-law were out $50,000. Somehow, someway, these dipshits had gotten behind on their payables, and the client said to himself, fuck it, they said it was going to be about 35 large, and that’s all I’m paying.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Like most businesses in the late 90’s, there was a lot of shady shit going on. For one, Brad and his partner had violated the contracting agreement I had with the agency and hired me direct to work on another project. It was a website for the brother-in-law’s sub-prime company. What did I care? It was all gravy. Everybody was in sub-prime in SoCal in those days.

So after the big blow up with the catering company, I did some billable work for those clowns. I even talked them into letting me set up the site with my ISP, and I took a cut of the hosting costs. Residuals. The vig, as the Sopranos say.

I moved on. Picked up another contract. But I had one last timesheet from the catering company gig that wasn’t signed or paid. I had faxed it to the two dipshits, and never got it back. This went on for a few months.

So one day I check out the website for this sub-prime mortgage company. Nice. Clean. And I was getting $17 a month to host it. I dropped the boys an email.

“I was just wondering if you guys had a chance to look over that timesheet from the last contract. The agency won’t pay me until I send a signed timesheet to them.”

No reply, as had been the case for months. I decided to play hardball.

I fired up my FTP client and logged into the mortgage company’s site. After all, I was the designated admin contact.

I added a one line of code.

I had redirected their home page to nastiest, foulest, most disgusting website in the world.

Without a login, it showed thumbnails of bestiality…

…golden showers …

... pearl necklaces...

... a dirty sanchez or two...

… the fattest naked chicks in the world…

… and even trannys.

I got that signed timesheet in one hour.

You see, I will always get paid.

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