A Weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch





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March 8, 2002

The Independent

© 2002, Douglas E. Welch

Working as an independent computer consultant certainly has its benefits. I get to make my own hours, pick my clients (to some extent) and generally have more control over my career than your average Joe/Jane in the corporate IS department. Sure, I have to worry about health care, taxes and other assorted business issues, but I find it preferable to working in a 9-5 (or more likely 9-9, without overtime) office environment.

That said, there are many small issues that can drive you to distraction, if only because they occur so frequently. Over time these minor irritants can be enough to make you think that a cubicle wouldn’t be such a bad idea. I can tell you, though, that even these minor irritants pass away if you know how to handle them correctly.

The Friend, Brother, Cousin Factor

One personal peeve of mine is the client who always seems to have a ready supply of "experts" to give them conflicting or just plain wrong advice about their computer. I have several clients who have called after someone, usually a friend or family member has come over and "optimized", "cleaned up" or otherwise "messed with their computer." While I certainly don’t mind the income brought in by such repairs, my own integrity forces me to explain what happened and how they might prevent it from happening again.

Good clients will take this advice to heart, placing passwords or otherwise preventing others from fiddling with the computers. Others will take the advice but fall victim to another family member or friend at a later date. The worst clients are those that continue to allow others to muck about with their system and then tell you what the other person thinks about your computer skills and advice. Thankfully, I have the ability to leave this last group behind since dealing with the frustration and the futility of the situation only takes energy away from helping the clients that understand the problems they are facing.

Slow pay/No pay

I can honestly say that I have had few problems with clients that don’t pay at all. In some cases clients may pay very slowly, but I usually end up getting my payment. Of course, it may have taken as many hours of work to get the check as to perform the original task. One way to reduce your problems with clients such as this is to require payment at the end of each work session. If I go to a client’s home and train them for 2 hours, I walk out the door with a check in hand. This is the second best possible solution. The best solution is to walk out the door with actual cash, but few people regularly keep that much cash around the home these days.

I have found that payment problems arise when I break my own rules. I once offered to bill a client who was referred by my sister’s firm. This resulted in months of phone calls and waiting. Maybe they finally got tired of hearing my voice, but they finally did pay.

For those of you who are building larger projects, develop a payment schedule that is tied to various "deliverables" throughout the life of the project. For a web site this might include payments when you start the project, deliver the rough design, setup the web hosting space and one final payment before your make the site "live." Each project will be slightly different, but some sort of payment schedule is a must. However you design it, having clear guidelines about your payment can help to reduce your collection issues to almost nil.

Doctor, I got this pain in my …

Consultants of all ilk have run into the typical party scenario. Upon finding out that you understand computers a fellow party guest is sure to have questions. To be honest, I am open, to a fault, in situations like these. I will tell people more than they probably want to know, sometimes. That said, if I set an appointment to work with them, I always charge. The truth is, I want people to have a good experience with their computers, so I give away information all the time, but without some sort of payment, people don’t respect the work I do for them. You will need to draw your own line in the sand on this issue, but you must address it in some way.

Hopefully, your consulting life is happy and fruitful. If you face these consulting peeves, though, you are now armed with a few ways of mitigating their impact on your working mood and your career.


about this column.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at:

He can reached via email at

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