Re: Estimating Projects

Subject: Re: Estimating Projects
From: Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: Techwrl-l <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 4 Oct 2000 12:15:59 -0700 (PDT)

--Elna Tymes wrote--
> I repeat what I said about no industry standards re: how technical writing
> contractors bill for their services. It is *more common* for time-and-
> materials contracts, but that is by no means an "industry standard."

That is because many tech writers don't set themselves up like a service
organization. They don't understand the basics of running a service firm and
the "standards" for doing so.

--Elna Tymes wrote--
> A lot of it has to do with what kind of first-meeting impression both sides
> come away with. Which can be almost 100% wrong, by the way. I don't have
> the kind of prescience you seem to have - some people who came across as
> utterly stable and believable have turned out to be some of the worst
> backbiting cheats I've ever encountered. If you have a 100% record in
> presorting the cheats from the good guys, I'm sure us "normal" folks would
> like to know your formula.

There is no formula other than knowing how to conduct business. Sure there are

1) Ask about the budget for the project. What do they intend on spending?
2) Check out the company, particularly their stock value.
3) Ask to understand the project hierarchy. Who is in charge? Who are the
bosses. How far removed are you from an executive?
4) Ask about other tech writers. What has been their experience.

But those are just things to make you feel better. The most important part is
to have a rock solid contract. That way, the client knows you're serious about
this and if they try to screw you they'll be in trouble.

Furthermore, suing deadbeat clients is usually not necessary. 95% of the
disagreements I had with clients were solved with good old fashion diplomacy.
Most of the time, they just wanted the work done.

But, if you come to an impasse - you have to be prepared to bring out the

--Elna Tymes wrote--
> As for clients trusting my company, we have a 30-year track record and a long
> list of highly satisfied clients we can refer people to. Unfortunately it
> doesn't work the other way for new clients - most of the time we have no way
> of verifying how they treated their other contractors.

Sure you do, pay attention to details. If a client talks about screwing one
agency, there is a good chance they will do so again. If you gloss over the
business aspect and obsess over which font they are using or if they have the
right FrameMaker templates - then you're just setting yourself up for trouble.

I've worked for scumbags too. But I always recovered my money because I did my
homework and have solid contracts. Most cheaters prey upon people who don't
know how to defend themselves in business. As such, my firm tends to drive
cheaters away because I make it clear that I expect things to be very

--Elna Tymes wrote--
> As for writing up a detailed estimate stating what you'll do and what it will
> cost, I have yet to write a contract that has covered *all* the wonderful
> little things that can screw up a contractual relationship.

No, you cannot account for everything. But you can build a structure that can
handle disagreements. (Geez, isn't that what the process fanatics are always
yelling about?) If somebody signs a contract and does not live up to their end
of the bargain, the other party has the right to sue for breech. It's a
fundamental principle of our legal system.

You can also watch for warning signs. I won't work for stock. I've had numerous
dot.coms offer me stock in exchange for payment on an invoice. Flip that, I
work for real money not "play money."

--Elna Tymes wrote--
> Andrew, sheesh - do the math!!! Most lawyers who take a little case like
> either want somewhere between $5000 and $10,000 just to take it to court or
> are willing to take it on a contingency basis for somewhere between 1/3 and
> 1/2 of the total settlement. If you bid the contract on a time and materials
> basis, you obviously have a bottom-line hourly amount you have in mind. That
> means that IF YOU WIN, you will get paid some 2-3 years later an amount
> approximately half of what the fair market value of the contract was. And
> that's just plain poor business practices.

No it isn't.

A) Most cases NEVER see court. When you sue somebody, you really want to settle
out of court.

B) My lawyer starts out small and bills me along the way. I've settled all my
payment disputes by paying my lawyer $150 to write a letter on his stationary.
Once a scummy client sees that law firm stationary - they know what is next.

C) Any *decent* services contract should include a stipulation that if the
parties must go to court to resolve a dispute, the winning party can tack on
legal fees to the lawsuit. Therefore, if you did have to sue somebody, your
lawyer should add his fee to the lawsuit as such you get your portion and he
gets his.

D) It also helps to have the fax number of ever business news paper in your
city...Once you threaten a large firm by going public with your lawsuit --
they'll settle in a flash.

As I have said 1000 times before, business is a game. You either play the game
or the game plays you.

--Elna Tymes wrote--
> Sure, getting burned occasionally is part of the learning process of being a
> contractor. One of the benefits of being on this list is that we can learn
> from each others' experiences.

And if people listened to your point of view they would walk into negotiations
with an absurd amount of fear and terror. As such they would propose payment
arrangements that were not standard for service organizations and
instantaneously demonstrate their amateur status.

One of the benefits of working like a large service organization is that you
demonstrate your professionalism.

--Elna Tymes wrote--
> To tell someone who disagrees with you "if you can't
> take the heat, get out of the kitchen" is disrespectful of their experience
> and downright rude. Of course, you've been told that before, I guess. So
> much for talking to a closed mind.

It isn't rude. Your experience has obviously been pretty bad. You have
apparently been screwed more than once. That's too bad.

I don't know what you do to beckon such scummy deals, but telling people to be
terrified and blaming every high-tech company is absurd. You're angry because
some companies have screwed you and you want to frighten everybody into
thinking the whole world is out to get technical writers.

The reality is - nobody is out to get tech writers. There are thousands of
independents who have had successful, relatively problem free relationships
with clients (new and old). I suspect the reason people have problems is
because they don't have very strong business acumen. They have lame contracts
or they try to force weird payment arrangements on clients.

Maybe you had a run of bad luck. Whatever the case, overreacting and making
weird payment demands on clients is not a way to solve that problem. It is
preferable to operate like a standard service organization, have solid
contracts, and deal with problems when the arise in a professional, reasonable

Of the problems I had, most were solved with diplomacy and not overreacting and
making weird payment demands. I am here to help them and get the job done. I am
not a parking meter.

All I am saying is that treating all your new clients like thieves is not a
very professional way to develop business relationships.

Andrew Plato

Do You Yahoo!?
Yahoo! Photos - 35mm Quality Prints, Now Get 15 Free!

Previous by Author: Re: Estimating Projects
Next by Author: Foreigners (was: How do I break into tech writing)
Previous by Thread: Re: Estimating Projects
Next by Thread: Re: Estimating Projects

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads