The Complications of Week Three

Into my third week, billables are kicking out. I have my regular gig and a new gig as a Drupal developer for a local tech manufacturing company. The gigs alone won’t get me more than two-thirds of the way to the June Spring goal of $10,000. The side work could close the gap, but that’s where the complication comes in. My current model lets in too much squeakiness and that squeakiness means I won’t be able to earn up to what I could.

Businesses have been putting their ventures on the Internet for over 20 years. That’s 20 years of relationships with developers who run the gamut from skilled and professional all the way to giggly hipsters. Last week’s web developer is this week’s Starbucks barista. Last month’s gas pump guy is this week’s web developer.

They don’t keep track of records. They don’t respond to emails. They don’t do anything to allow for a continuity of service. In some cases, the developer you’re working with doesn’t have the skills to carry out things like setting up web hosting or managing domain names. They relied on a friend who likely got tired of being asked for favours.

For businesses, going to these developers isn’t a mistake. There are three levels of developers: the basement folk (I have to admit that I am one of those); the small shops (a half dozen guys in an office with lots of exposed brick and bare wood), and the big corporations. While I do my work out of my home, I have worked with all three environments. The big difference between the three models is price. Professionalism either exists or it doesn’t. It’s still the Wild West and there are no set standards of conduct: just good etiquette or the lack thereof.

That’s the world I work in.

Whenever I get a web project these days, it’s an inherited project. Last month, I did a new website for a client who was establishing a new web presence. It took two hours from “let’s have a website” to “there’s your basic website.” The other projects are inherited from clients who have had a falling out with their previous developer; or their developer is not in the business; or their developer doesn’t know how to pull off anything remotely complex.

To get past those obstacles, I have to get into a long cycle of educating people and reaching out to former developers or the web hosts. That adds anything from a day to a month into the mix. When I load up projects to execute, I am ready to move at 100 miles/hour. Instead, I have to slow down and move at a mile an hour. Goodbye productivity. Goodbye billing velocity. Goodbye income.

An inexpensive transaction can be profitable if the time and cost of execution is even smaller. If the time to execution becomes too huge, no amount of money will make a project profitable. Forget waiting for Godot: try waiting for receivables.

There are changes in the practices that I could implement. I do not often ask for 50% up front, which is a standard practice in my field. My jobs have been numerous but small enough and incremental to justify being billed after the fact. Asking for fifty percent in advance would jam up some projects as they hum, hah and try to get some advance work done. Some clients would just go to someone else who doesn’t need money up front. Asking for a deposit would turn more leads into dead prospects, but it would free me up as I would have more money coming with work, as opposed to hoping for money after the work is done.

So the stop-and-start of billing is my big source of jeopardy. The remedy around this isn’t hard: it amounts to either changing my billing and intake practices; or changing what I sell. Doing one of these could clear the way to making more money and frequently getting above the $10k mark everyone month.