Pissing In The Well

You might recall my mentioning a guy who’d been trying to get onto my client list since April of 2012 but who went cheap and lived to regret it. He finally made it, or, more accurately, is about to make it. I don’t foresee him staying there for long.

20 months or so ago I spent several hours talking to this <span accent=”Bronx”>fuckin’ guy about his gig, and more importantly, my business and my market. I’ve been doing this here technology thing for 33 years now and have been in my current (self employed, custom software) gig for about half of it. I know my business and the niche I inhabit. I explained the bits of it that he most needed to know to the fuckin’ guy</span>, but he then disregarded everything I said. He remembered it, though, and that’s why he came back around after the world proved to him that I wasn’t just making shit up as I went along.

One of the most important things I told the <span accent=”Bronx”>fuckin’ guy</span> was that in my line of work, those who deliver professional results charge professional rates not only because they can, but, more importantly, because they must. In a nutshell: The lower you set your billing rate, the greater the disparity between actual and billable hours and the harder it is to actually make a living at it. Many, many things are exponentially proportional to your billing rate. Being the bold bastard that I am, I told him what I tell most potential clients when it comes time to talk about money: If I’m going to go broke I’m not going to work to do it. I’m going to go fishing so at least I’ll have something to eat at the end of the day. After hearing the full version of this, and many other things, my presumably (now) new client bolted right back to the internet from which he came, found some cut rate hacks, and learned the hard way that I was not just making shit up as I went along. He paid the cut rate hacks several thousands of dollars over the span of several months and has literally nothing to show for it but a lighter wallet.

I’m not one of those ignorant fucks who insist upon using the word literally as an amplified form of the word figuratively. The guy quite literally has nothing to show for the time and money. The code I’m starting with is the very same legacy code that the hacks started with. The work they did only broke previously functional code, and every byte of it was abandoned. The only somewhat surprising part of the whole affair is that it’s a guy who is or will shortly be 70 years old who’s still learning this shit the hard way. How the hell does a man go seven decades on Earth without learning the easy lessons? It’s not a closely guarded secret that what you get is directly proportional to what you pay for.

Being the bold bastard that I am, I told the <span accent=”Bronx”>fuckin’ guy</span> 20 months ago that if he came back around after paying for a rectum stretching I’d cheerfully tell him “I told you so”, and that’s precisely what I did. I also told him 20 months ago that if he came back around I would not consider the results of his bad decision to be my problem. The tuition is high at the school of hard knocks and the only ones who graduate are those who pay their own tuition. I’ve got my PhD from there and I’m a regular guest lecturer. The topic of today’s lecture is The Difference Between Unpleasant Consequences And True Emergencies.

Most important for today’s lecture is the key fact that I told the <span accent=”Bronx”>fuckin’ guy that I rarely make promises, will not be coerced into making a promise that I cannot make in good conscience, will always honor the few promises that I do make, and will not be harangued for not meeting an arbitrarily established unreasonable deadline. After assuring me repeatedly that he’s not interested in fixed deadlines and is well satisfied by reasonable, observable progress, on Monday he emailed me a cute little form that he created and asked me to fill in the blanks for estimated start and end dates for each pending task. He followed that up with a telephone call to impress upon me just how vital it is that all of these things be done quickly so he can start making money with them after having just spent several months and several thousand dollars for nothing more than a well stretched rectum. On his cute little form he pre-populated the start dates with “1/1/14”, which was a full week before he even made a verbal commitment to me.

He’s awfully demanding for a guy who hasn’t yet paid me one red cent. I sent him a couple of invoices on the 9th, and on Monday (the 20th) he said that they usually cut checks on the 1st and 15th but he doesn’t know what happened this month. He said that the check had just gone out that day — I didn’t bother to point out that with it being MLK day “out” was a relative thing.

I know what happened this month. This month he put off the psychic pain of making a commitment, of writing the check that creates that commitment, because he’s already assumed that I’m going to screw him as he’s been screwed by others in the past. This month he believes that he’s overpaying for an inevitable rectum stretching. This month he only wrote the check to get it over with. This month he’s begun vigilantly watching for signs that will confirm to his satisfaction that his anal fissures are about to be ruptured again, and he’s prepared to indulge himself with self righteous vindication and to impose unreasonable demands upon me as my penance for enabling him to imagine that he’s seeing one or more of those signs. This month he was a friendly, easy-going guy in his dealings with me right up until he wrote that check, then he became fearful and distrusting and has been reacting to it ever since. This month he has signed up for Asshole Tax, and I will charge him asshole taxes until I get tired of dealing with him and tell him to go seek out one of Vonnegut’s rolling donuts.

A guy who’s 70 years old ought to know that every business relationship that’s based upon fear and distrust is destroyed by fear and distrust. There’s no way around it. He has pissed into his own well and the time is coming soon enough when he’ll blame me for the flavor of it. No matter how saintly I might prove myself to be, the fear and distrust will not be assuaged sufficiently to provide for any other outcome. There is a rolling donut in the guy’s future.

I hate, hate, hate knowing so early on what to expect. I feel like I’ve paid the retainer for the divorce lawyer on the way to the courthouse to pick up the marriage license. I know every trick the guy’s got up his sleeve and believes are unique to him, and even the order in which he’ll perform them. It will start with late payments, and end with a series of requests for quotes that he will reject as being “not in the current budget”. Then I’ll roll a donut in his direction, and that will be that.

Wouldn’t ya know it? He just called. I let it go to voicemail. That’s one of the hallmarks of an asshole client: Lots and lots of telephone time and no willingness to pay for that time. They convey information verbally but demand that responses be in writing, and so reserve deniability for themselves while demanding full accountability from you. He says that he wants to discuss the goofy fucking form I returned to him yesterday in which I wrote “Let’s not bullshit ourselves” next to his “1/1/14″ start date for a task. He didn’t even create the goofy fucking form until the 20th, and saved it at 4:36PM Pacific Standard Time, three minutes before sending it to me. Maybe he doesn’t know that when Microsoft Access spews out a form to Microsoft Word for printing it records all of that stuff, including the database file path, right in the document.

I ought to call the <span accent=”Bronx”>fuckin’ guy back now. I wonder if he’s about to find out that I wasn’t bullshitting when I told him that I’m only as nice as I’m allowed to be.

[UPDATE:] I just got off the phone. Though I don’t expect it to last, he’s on the good foot for the time being, and now fully aware of what not bullshitting ourselves means, and what ARO means. 😀

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11 thoughts on “Pissing In The Well

  1. girlforgetful

    Yep, this one is going to be a pain in the neck. I wouldn’t give him anything without payment up front because he’s probably blown his budget. At the very least he’s trying to set it up so that he can claim you failed to meet the terms when he finally refuses to pay. I can smell his bullshit from here. Good luck.

    Reply
    1. happierheathen Post author

      Indeed, that’s his game. I know it well and won’t take any significant loss. He might get me for a small sum if he files bankruptcy at the end of it, but otherwise it’ll end on the square.

      Reply
  2. digitalgranny

    Money up front, and not until after the check is cashed to make sure it does”t bounce or have stop payment on it.

    Reply
    1. happierheathen Post author

      I’ll get 50% up front, and another of my clients is a collections attorney. He doesn’t practice in Colorado but he’s got colleagues who do and they’re just a few keystrokes away — the application that makes it so runs on the server I administer for the law office. 🙂

      Reply
  3. whyzat

    I hear my husband say much the same thing about some of his company’s clients. Then again, their clients have been told by salesmen that whatever they want, they can get when they want it. And the engineers are left holding the bag.

    Reply
    1. happierheathen Post author

      I HATED that when I was working for wages! I used to annoy salesdroids by bouncing their spec sheets to executive management for review and approval, which had a nasty habit of eroding their commissions. 😀

      Reply
  4. Roadkill Spatula

    Once a client relationship goes bad, it’s very hard to resurrect it.

    I had a client, one of many middle-aged women who used my handyman service in Dallas, who had very poor boundaries. She called me one Sunday (the time I spent with my kids) to see if I was “going to be anywhere near her house” that afternoon because she had bought a laminate floor at Costco and needed help unloading it from her car. I said no, I wasn’t going to be anywhere near her, and hung up. She then called me back and asked me specifically to come unload it for her, and I said no, I was with my kids. It turned out that the kids had to go back home early that day, so later I grudgingly went over and unloaded her car, but told her I wouldn’t lay the floor for her because I had spent hours repairing the parquet floor she already had. Then she asked if she could borrow my saw! I said, “No. You can buy a table saw or miter saw at Home Depot for just $100.” Sheesh!

    This was just one in a series of annoyances I had had with her that very week, so we had further words, and I never worked for her again. She wrote me a seven-page letter that she sent with her final check. I opened it, found the check, and threw the letter away without reading it. I couldn’t imagine her saying anything that I would benefit from reading.

    Reply
    1. happierheathen Post author

      I haven’t, not in this business anyway, ever managed to resurrect a soured client relationship. I’ve tried, and often put entirely too much effort into it, but it has never worked. So these days I don’t try so hard — I address problems during their formative stages, give fair warning once the problem is fully in evidence, and after a short yet reasonable time without resolution I just roll the donut. I don’t have to jump off of the cliff to know how it will end.

      I’ve never even heard of, let alone observed, anyone writing seven pages of praise. 😀

      Reply
      1. Roadkill Spatula

        Having a clientele of middle-aged single ladies had its drawbacks. After this incident, I made it a policy never to work for more than three weeks at any jobsite. Instead I would do a few projects, move on to other clients, and then return a month or two later. It helped reduce the weirdness and maintain my sanity.

        Reply
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