A recent experience brings me to write this, partly to remind myself to not do it again, but also, potentially, as a learning device for you, dear reader (or someone you know). Having been self-employed for over 20 years you’d think I’d have learned most lessons, but apparently not. And this one really is one that we all know, that our peers warn us against every time, one that we too often kick ourselves about after the fact.
A friend from years ago, someone I’d worked with and who I trusted, reached out to me from the blue. “Their” website needed rescuing, having disappeared from their server, and I’d been suggested to help (gave me a warm glow, at least). And being a helpful sort, of course I was going to offer to do what I could. At mates’ rates too, because I liked this friend and felt like a favour would be a nice thing to offer. And without securing a deposit. Because it was urgent, needed within a couple of days. They were desperate. Without even thinking, I got stuck in.
And it was an odd one – some of the WordPress files had been removed, that was it. There were vague hints of falling out with previous developers but I forged ahead – those were not my monkeys. We had the hosts restore from the oldest backup available but it was still a mess. So then I turned to the trusty, invaluable (when we need it, it is there) Wayback Machine – and there was a basic (very basic) website stored from last summer. One look at it and I was a bit confused as the site owner needed the site live within a couple of days because multi-million pound investors were due to visit. The site I could see from last summer did not really match with this. So I offered to run up a quick but very professional looking website, using the content from that archived site. Still at the mates’ rates. And I did it, with the assistance of Joseph – we got that site live overnight using a Genesis theme (which I know well) – and lo, one much sharper website (in my opinion, but really, the old one was truly dreadful).
And then I sent over the invoice. And waited. Waited. Gently nudged. Another gentle nudge. Reminder sent using the invoicing system. Nothing. So then I emailed over a suggestion that I remove the new website because they obviously were not happy with it. My wording was not the most business-like, and may have come across as a bit passive-aggressive – I don’t know and don’t really care, quite frankly. I’m a very small business, I sell my time and the time of people I pay. I’d even paid for the SSL certificate because I recommended this would be a “good thing” if wanting to attract vast sums of investment. One month on and no payment. So that website is now “not available”. I could, of course, be more direct but I cannot be bothered and I am still a nice person.
And no, I will never name this “client” but did want to use this as a lesson for other small business people, at whatever stage – starting out or long in the tooth, like me!
We can spot a number of points where I allowed things to go wrong:
- Mates’ rates – no, don’t do that. I can recall a number of months where I was only doing mates’ rates work, and I cannot sustain that, none of us can. So, while a discount might be an option later, when quoting, quote the rate you need to charge in order to stay afloat. No, not just afloat, you are allowed to make a profit.
- Aside from the cheap rate, for such urgency, when we drop everything in order to fly to the rescue – that’s premium! Time and a half, if not double the rate. We know that is sensible, because all the while you are doing your Superperson impression, something else is not getting done. In this instance, new services launching and blog posts to support.
- Check who is paying the bill. In this case it was not actually my old friend but his boss. Someone for whom mates rates does not even apply!
- Deposit! Even if you’re doing work at an hourly rate, that’s not the norm, so get some kind of deposit up-front, especially if you do not know the bill-payer (or where they live). I did not. I trusted that the friend held enough influence and I still feel he would have paid me if it was him holding the bank card.
- I made a website. A fully-functioning website, with all the images, styled for their “brand”, the usual array of sensible plugins, activated and set up to secure everything, take backups – you know, the usual good stuff. I don’t do websites under £600 these days (and those are the discounted rates for non-profits). Yes it was a simple site, but it was turned around overnight and looked good enough for the potential investors. The client was happy with it (in case that was not clear already).
Enough now. After several calm and friendly emails, hearing about banking woes in one response, and even offering instalments – the website is no longer live and won’t be unless the bill is paid in full. I did one thing right and kept myself as the only admin level user so the site is not directly available to them. I’m sure there’s actually a self-destruct plugin for such instances, mind. And I am tempted to leave a note for the next “mug” they call on to rescue them, but have paying work to do…
So, the lessons from this? No more mates’ rates for anyone, and never even lift the mouse without a deposit. It is sad that I no longer trust that old friend and I hate that a few hundred £ makes a difference to me (though that is not the point, anyway), but I’ve learned, again, and maybe someone else will be more cautious too. I do my fair share of supporting others (and already host more sites than is sensible at no charge, for friends) but enough now. I should probably review just what percentage of my hosted sites are non-paying, but I’m kinda afraid to… Onwards!