Don’t Let Them Undervalue Your Work

In spite of many programming jobs being sent overseas it remains relatively painless to get work as a programmer in the United States even though a lot of it is more in the context of freelancing.

Over the years different sites have come (and some gone) that provide a method for connecting companies who need programmers with the programmers who have the necessary skills.

I have never personally gotten work through these services, but I have friends who have and still do and find them to work relatively well. I do, however, have my email address on a list with from which I receive daily updates of new freelance job listings on the site. When I get the messages, I just quickly glance through the list to see the type of work people are interested in. This, I think helps me keep my thumb on the pulse of the market–what are the types of skills I need to stay up on, etc. The problem I’ve seen though is that what employers are looking for more than anything is a free lunch and here is why I say that.

Just today I received an email listing a job and toward the end of the message decscribing the job were the following seemingly inocuous words:

“This should be pretty simple for an expert.”

I say seemingly inocuous because I think it has much deeper meaning and I take issue with its very sentiment. If I were to paraphrase, I would interpret the words this way, “I don’t know how to do this, but I believe that if there is an expert out there, she/he should be able to handle this with ease. And since it’s easy for you, it shouldn’t cost me much.” I’ve seen others with the same sentiment. They all say something to the affect, “This shouldn’t take somone who knows what they’re doing very long”.

By this statement, the poster is initially admitting that they have no idea how to do what they want, but in the same sentence somehow they have become an expert in knowing how long this thing they know nothing about will take to finish? That’s just crazy. Even the “experts” themselves often don’t know exactly how long something will take. It is clearly a way to say, I need help, but I don’t want to pay for it.

If you are a freelance developer and you find yourself responding to these types of freelance posts on the freelance sites, stop trying to provide these people with bids. Read between the lines and see what they are really wanting–your experience and knowledge for free. Did you get to where you are by someone just giving you a free lunch? No. You know what you know and are an expert becase you worked hard to get there. You probably taught yourself or went to school, took the initiative and deepened your understanding and now you are willing to give that away for free? People should be paying for your skills and these skills are not simply the ability to write code, but also the knowledge and experience of the particular field that they know nothing about. They are saving money by asking for your advice alone. That should be valued.

If they can find someone overseas with the same skills who will work for next to nothing, there’s nothing you can do about it, but don’t try to sell yourself short because these people are not bright enough to see value in paying for good people who have the ability to provide for them what will make their business successful.

Don’t misunderstand what I am saying here. I have no need to get freelance work through these sites and I don’t even try, so this is not an attempt to just get everyone to raise their standards so I’ll have a better chance getting the rate I want. I don’t even know what rates people are getting on average through these sites these days. What I am saying is stop giving away your hard earned abilities and knowledge (real “intellectual property”) for nothing. Charge what you want to be competitive. That’s fine. Just don’t let anyone convince you that your expertise should come cheap because they figure it’s easy for you.

And in as much as you are able to, make sure any contract you take on, you explain that software development estimation is not an exact science and that you will be billing according to the hours you work. Don’t work for free. I see guys letting people take advantage of them all the time. Let your customer know from the start what kind of time frames are possible and make sure they understand that your work is valuable to them and they wouldn’t want this kind of work done on the cheap.

When I’ve bid contracts, I normally figure out what I think it will take to complete the job. Then I double the hours and sometimes add another 20% when there are some unknown aspects to the job. This may sound high to some people out there, but if you’ve ever had to eat some hours for innacurate estimation on your part, you’ll understand why. If you explain to your customer that you bill for the hours worked and assure them you will only be billing for those, they will have a greater confidence that you’re not just jacking the price up on them for no reason. Being honest in business is the best policy. The honesty needs to start up front with the estimate. If you have a bad gut feeling about an estimate you’ve given, it’s better to go back and renegotiate before starting than to get into it a ways and realize just how big of a mistake your estimate was.

I’ve worked on jobs that by time it was all said and done, I was working for a ridiculously low rate for the kind of skills and knowledge I was providing. All that does is make you bitter and frustrated with the job to where you wish you had never done it in the first place. Bid it correctly from the start and you’ll be better for it in the long run. Even if it means you lose the contract, it’s a better way to go. Other contracts will come. The bottom line is that if you don’t value the work you do, no one else will either.

3 thoughts on “Don’t Let Them Undervalue Your Work”

  1. I know this blog entry is very old, but I can’t help but respond. I’ve seen these sorts of help wanted ads before and it makes me laugh. Some other common types of “help wanted” ads I see that amuse/irritate me:

    1. “I paid my brother-in-law/friend/neighbour to build me a website, cuz he said he knew how to do it. Now it’s half done and it doesn’t work, and he took off to Mexico. I need to hire a programmer to fix and the problems with the site. Oh, but the other guy blew my budget, so I only have a little bit of money left”.

    2. “I have a great idea for a business, and I just know it will be worth $10 quazillion in five years. But I need a programmer to build the entire website first. Oh, and of course I have no money right now, so I need you to build it up front for free, then when (if) the business succeeds I’ll give you a cut.”

    3. “How much to have you build a website exactly like [Amazon/Ebay/Google/Facebook/Insert major website here] .

    It’s hard, especially early on, but it’s important not to reply or encourage these types of “clients” as they are only taking advantage of the desperate and undermining the industry as a whole.

  2. Hey Gary. I have experienced all of these scenarios as well. I just laugh any more. Had a guy who was promising me a bazillion dollars. I told him that sounded great, but I still needed paid up front. He gave me the first two payments and then realized he didn’t have enough cash to realize his bazillion dollar dreams. He stopped paying. I stopped working. I could have gone after him, but I’m pretty sure he was truly already over spent. Wasn’t worth it. At least I got paid something out of the deal.

    Thanks for your comments even though it’s an old post. ;-)

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