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Working after quitting, when should you ask to get paid?
October 4, 2012 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Quitting my job and I know they will be calling me after I'm gone. Nobody is left here to do the work and they have products to ship. Where do you draw the line on friendly help vs paid subcontracting?

So long story short I'm a software engineer in a small startup. There used to be two of us, but one was let go and I've been the only coder in the room for the last year and a half.

I've stepped up and managed to do my job as well as the other guy's. That went a long way to keep the company going and keeping customers happy. So much so that a plan to replace the first guy never went anywhere.

Well now I'm leaving for greener pastures, leaving nobody to write and finish the projects currently running. I'm preparing as much information as I can to show where things are and how to build them. But I'm 99% sure I will get phone calls after I'm gone, asking where X is or how to make Y work.

It's the professional thing to help. But there's a point where my time is worth money and if it comes down to "hey can you just fix up XYZ for us that would help a lot", what's the professional way to draw the line? I don't want to just say "the $50/hr clock starts ticking as of...NOW" when I pick up the phone. Has anyone else been in this situation? Thanks.
posted by JoeZydeco to Work & Money (39 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Always paid contracting. NEVER do it for free, or you'll still be getting calls in the middle of the night ten years from now. Make it a cost point so they have incentive to pay someone else to replace you.

A place I worked at had a $50 minimum on help requests. So any "just a quick question" costs them $50 even if it only takes you a minute to answer. Anything else is at an hourly rate that should be at least double your hourly rate under contract (standard as you have to pay your own health etc.)
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 9:11 AM on October 4, 2012 [16 favorites]


I know some people will say "when you're gone, you're gone." I personally think it's reasonable professional courtesy to answer questions that have to do with your transition out (ie, where do we find x thing you were in charge of?) but nothing else. "How do we make x work?" is over that line, for sure.

Another way to think about it - if they had hired someone new, is this a reasonable question that person might have? If so, then answer it. If not, don't.
posted by lunasol at 9:12 AM on October 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


I don't want to just say "the $50/hr clock starts ticking as of...NOW" when I pick up the phone

Why not? Also, you are pricing yourself too low.

But assuming you want to be helpful for free, I'd say a half hour per day for a week is reasonable. If they try to get more out of you just say "Whoa, you are asking X,Y,Z. I can answer one of those today but beyond that I'm willing to do a few freelance hours for you while you transition."

If they have a problem with that, problem solved - stopping answering their calls.
posted by mikepop at 9:12 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yep. And charge them a lot. Maybe double what you think is a fair price.
posted by RustyBrooks at 9:12 AM on October 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


And make it clear you don't work for them. You will help them when you can/want to, for as long as you can/want to. Buy yourself something nice with the proceeds, imo. (This is what I did)
posted by RustyBrooks at 9:13 AM on October 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you want to help them -- which I think is probably a good idea -- you can offer to help them for x hours afterwards, or up to an hour a week for the next 2 months, or 15 minutes per question free for the next 2 months, or whatever numbers seem reasonable, with your consulting rate after that. (The more time you gave them before you left, the less you have to offer, because the more able they were to find someone else.)
posted by jeather at 9:14 AM on October 4, 2012


I have never been in this position personally, but if you think it would be a few phone calls/emails, I'd suggest telling them that you are available to answer any quick questions for the first week or two after you are gone. If they contact you after that, I'd ask for compensation.
posted by emilynoa at 9:14 AM on October 4, 2012


Another thought - you might want to drop them a line before you leave saying something like "hey, I know it might be a while before you replace me - feel free to call me for contract work. My hourly fee is x." That sets up the expectation right away.
posted by lunasol at 9:14 AM on October 4, 2012 [18 favorites]


Yeah, I draw the line at exactly "zero free labor." I mean, I wouldn't be rude! Or uncourteous! And also you know "Oh yeah hey I left that in my Github, let me send you a link" is free. Getting paid for consultant followup is fairly common in your field. (Also I really hope you accrued equity when you were doing two people's jobs there!)

Also, you are pricing yourself too low.

That is, unfortunately, correct!
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:15 AM on October 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Where's the X" or "what's the password for Y": free.

"How do you Z" or "Can you fix W": paid.

Basically if it's going to take more than thirty seconds' thought, the answer is "I'm happy to do that on a contract basis, my rate is $foo." (If you are, in fact, happy to do that. If you're not, it is perfectly reasonable for you to tell them that they probably need to hire someone to cover the two jobs you were doing for them now that you are not doing them any more.)
posted by ook at 9:15 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's good practice to leave behind solid documentation and notes on where to find everything. If you can answer their questions with, "Hey, it's in the documentation," I wouldn't charge for that. If it's anything more complex than that, charge. Even on day one. I'd say 1/1000th of your current salary per hour. So if you make 90K now, charge 90/hour.
posted by mochapickle at 9:17 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's the professional thing to help.

No, not really. They weren't being professional in the first place by not hiring another software engineer. If you don't want to help them, then thats totally acceptable. If you help them after hours, who's to say that they still won't hire another engineer? You've already gone above an beyond most engineers by documenting everything. In my professional work experience as a software engineer, most people won't even do that. Most quit at the drop of a hat and move on.

If still decide to help them, you should be training a replacement, not still doing the work for them. Otherwise, they will keep calling you up for help.

Wait a minute, are you still working there? Why haven't you told your boss that he needs to hire another engineer? You can nip all of this in the bud. Do the professional thing and tell your boss that he needs to hire another engineer, for the better of his company.
posted by nikkorizz at 9:24 AM on October 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'd put this in my resignation letter:

I understand that although I've documented my processes, that additional support may be necessary during the transition. I will be available to consult on small projects and customer issues at the rate of $$$ per hour.

Create a small document that they sign and scan back to you for every request that they make. Naturally, if it's something really standard, and it can be answered off the top of your head, in about ten seconds, then you can do that. But if it crosses over, just say, "I'll send you my paperwork, when you get it back to me, I'll be happy to help with that."

Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:26 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you expect to charge them, ever, then structure it from the beginning. I will, of course, be available for some courtesy consulting. The 1st hour is free, after that, I'll be charging $XXX. The 1st hour may be used in smaller increments. Substitute any time unit you prefer for 1st hour free.

3rd-ing Don't undervalue your time. Since consultants don't get benefits, build that in to your hourly rate. Benefits and overhead at my employer are estimated to be an additional 45%. Consultants also have to deal with billing being a royal pain, and consultants don't get overtime or bonuses. 7 times your current hourly rate would be a minimum, in my opinion. If you make 75K, that's about 36/hr. times 7 is @250/hour. If you make 50K, that's about 24/hr. times 7 is @170/hour. Your rate should also serve to discourage your previous employer from calling you.

Your new employer should agree to any consulting you do after, say, 2 weeks. Once you give notice, your current employer should be asking you to spend your time documenting, and you're smart enough to do that anyway. I'd charge extra for answering easy questions that are in the documentation. Good luck in your new job!
posted by theora55 at 9:29 AM on October 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't want to just say "the $50/hr clock starts ticking as of...NOW" when I pick up the phone

Yes you do, except you want to (at least) triple that rate. I am a freelancer - not in the tech industry - and let me tell you from experience that you want to set this boundary early. Do not let it get murky about what is a favor and what isn't. Be courteous about it of course (they're now your client!) but spell it out in writing from the beginning that you are available for contract work and it'll cost $X/hour.

What I've done with clients in the past is that I will answer simple questions over email for free (no free phone calls, if I can't answer it in 2 seconds from my phone while standing in line somewhere it's not a simple question) but everything else is billed hourly.
posted by bradbane at 9:35 AM on October 4, 2012


Yes, set this up beforehand, so they know what they are getting into. Let them know how much time you can give them free, and then offer them consulting work at xx/hr., with a maximum amount of hours if you think they will be calling you more than you can handle. It will help make things much less awkward for everyone.
posted by Vaike at 9:36 AM on October 4, 2012


Assuming you're leaving on good terms (not 'quit before we fire you!' or some such), I'd give them a couple freebie quickie phone calls, during daytime hours only!, and only during the first week or so.

You've been doing two jobs for one paycheck for a year and a half, you've documented and prepared everything you can to ease your departure; and I'm gonna assume you've given them enough notice to post your job and hire a replacement before you're gone, so you can give that replacement as much info as you can.

I'd suggest you tell them NOW that you'll give them those few free calls the first week only (and specify exactly HOW MANY free calls you'll accept!), then starting on the dot of week two, every call starts the clock --- and a basic minimum of $50, even for 'just got a quick question!' doesn't sound at all out of line. Then it's $x per hour: mochapickle's 1/1000th of your current salary as the hourly minimum sounds quite reasonable.
posted by easily confused at 9:37 AM on October 4, 2012


With a small startup whose people I like, I'd make myself available for a few hours a month to talk on the phone / meet with my replacement. For free. That's assuming the replacement overlapped me and already was trained up and just needs to answer occasional questions. I'd charge for any actual hands-on-keyboard work or if the meetings start getting annoying.

I'd like to highlight you're the only coder, the product isn't finished, and you're leaving. It sounds like that startup is about to have a very, very big problem on their hands. The professional thing is to give them as much notice as you can and politely entertain their offer to keep you there. And have a frank discussion with the founders about the state of their product. It's not your fault they don't have other engineers, but you should ,ale it clear to them how screwed they're about to be if they don't realize it already.

If they really need help, you should consider whether you're willing to work for them as a part time consultant. If they're smart they will make that offer.
posted by Nelson at 9:38 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the advice so far. A few things: 1) Yes, they know they needed another coder for a while. But out of sight, out of mind, right? We're not that big a shop. I've expressed my own unhappiness with the state of affairs WHILE getting acknowledgement that we needed another programmer.

2) The $50/h was just a number I pulled out of my ass while typing. Of course I would go way higher to a pain point.

3) No equity or anything special was offered to me while I was here, which is one of the reasons I'm leaving. Lesson learned, I guess.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:44 AM on October 4, 2012


I've gathered a couple of things from your post:

1) You're way too nice. You took on the work of 2 people and didn't fight it. You documented *everything* before your departure. You're so willing to work for the same company even after quitting.

2) You don't like confrontation. You let your boss forget about hiring another software engineer, even though you never forgot. Additionally, based on your post, it never seemed to have crossed your mind to say "no" to these people when they come asking for help after you quit.

I'm willing to bet that this company took advantage of you, which most certainly burnt you out. My two cents? Learn to stick up for yourself and say "no. "Otherwise this same thing may happen again at your new job.
posted by nikkorizz at 9:52 AM on October 4, 2012


ook: ""Where's the X" or "what's the password for Y": free.

"How do you Z" or "Can you fix W": paid.
"

This is not necessarily a bad approach, but it can be, if they are calling you every 15 minutes asking "free" questions, rather than making any effort to figure things out for themselves. You'll have a better read for how likely this is.

If you find yourself in this situation, say "look, I think I've documented all this stuff pretty well, but if you'd like me to come in for a half-day orientation or something, we can discuss that." Then charge your regular rate.
posted by adamrice at 9:55 AM on October 4, 2012


It's the professional thing to help.

It's also the professional thing to pay the people who help. Don't work for free.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 9:59 AM on October 4, 2012


Wait, when you started doing the work of two full-time employees, did you receive a raise commensurate with your increase in duties? Was anything even remotely like a raise ever even mentioned? If the answer to either of those questions is no, then seriously, wtf. You owe these people nothing, so do not do any more free work for them.
posted by elizardbits at 9:59 AM on October 4, 2012


Yes, they know they needed another coder for a while. But out of sight, out of mind, right?

It's your job to speak up. Your boss isn't a super human, and neither are you. You shouldn't be doing the job of 2 people. Likewise, your boss may not remember everything 100%. If you don't speak up, then I say that you both are equally at fault for the position you are currently in.

If you care a lot about professionalism, as your post suggests, then you should know that inaction is also a form of not being professional. Please take some responsibility.
posted by nikkorizz at 10:04 AM on October 4, 2012


Nikkorizz: I get what you're saying. Yes, I was taken advantage of and no, I don't plan to let it continue. That's why I'm asking the question in the first place. For the record, I was given a bonus as an incentive when Thing 1 quit and I was left alone to pick up his mess.

I plan to make any requests for help cost them dearly, but it's a small world where I am and I don't need to make any waves in the industry where I work.
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:11 AM on October 4, 2012


Nth-ing that you need to establish very early on that you will be charging them for help, and not to low-ball yourself when it comes to an hourly rate. Don't gouge them, but charge enough to make the extra work worth your time, and to keep them from bothering you unless they really need you.

I would also stay away from the "freebie" versus "billable" calculus for the reason adamrice mentions; it's too easy for things to wind up in a churning grey area where you get peppered with questions that you have to evaluate one-by-one, and possibly negotiate the freeness of with your former company. If they know sending you a "hey what's that password again" e-mail is going to cost them a quarter of an hour minimum every time they send it, it will encourage them to look it up in the documentation you left behind instead of being lazy and asking you.
posted by usonian at 10:23 AM on October 4, 2012


The way to avoid making waves is to be really clear, in advance, what you are offering and for how much. I honestly think that zero free help is too little, but I would probably not be giving them more than 8-10 hours of work free total, and not all at once (splitting it up over 2 months or so, with more than two hours a week paid for, or something like that).

What helps is to find one place to be really flexible -- you'll help on weekends or on evenings or whatever it is, or any other thing to be flexible about -- and to stand your ground on other issues (payment). You don't want to think about whether question x is free or not, you want to offer 15 minutes per question to a max of 2 hours a week for no longer than 6 weeks (eg) free, and the rest is at your consulting rate of 120/h. It doesn't really matter what the numbers are, just be clear about them and be clear when your ex-employer has used some amount of time.
posted by jeather at 10:29 AM on October 4, 2012


Tell them that, as a rule of thumb, if it's a question you can answer over the phone, you'll answer it, but if you'll need to turn on your computer or theirs, you will bill them.

Also, if you have a friend with some expertise in the field, ask whether he or she would be willing to act as your "agent" for a couple of weeks. All calls from your old company go to that person, and that person gets to exercise judgment over whether it's a valid free call (e.g. What's the password to X?) or needs to be billed (e.g. Fix this module.). Your agent passes this all along to you (generally with a few hours delay), then you call your old company back and fix the problem (after getting a written agreement to pay your invoice, as necessary). That ups the pain threshold for them even more and takes away your having to say "No" to people you like.

Then take your friend out to a really good restaurant each week until the company stops calling.
posted by Etrigan at 10:52 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is not necessarily a bad approach, but it can be, if they are calling you every 15 minutes asking "free" questions, rather than making any effort to figure things out for themselves.

Oh totally. Once they cross the line of you feeling like "oh no not again" when the phone rings, it's time to start saying no.

it's a small world where I am and I don't need to make any waves in the industry where I work.

Expecting compensation for work is not "making waves". It's "not being a doormat."

Just be clear up front about your expectations, and stick to them. It is totally unreasonable for an employer to expect you to continue working for them for free after you leave their employ. And I guarantee you that they know this.
posted by ook at 10:57 AM on October 4, 2012


Where do you draw the line on friendly help vs paid subcontracting?

"If you're good at something, never do it for free."
posted by mhoye at 11:30 AM on October 4, 2012


I would respond to a few brief phone calls (say 3, max) if they only take up a few minutes of your time. E.g., someone calling to ask "where did you leave the documentation for foo, I'm having trouble finding it" is something I'd respond to — assuming I knew where the documentation was off the top of my head. I'm not going to try to bill someone for a few minutes of my time; maintaining a friendly professional relationship is worth more to me than that.

And I wouldn't answer calls from a former employer after business hours or on the weekends just in general, ever. That just starts the conversation off in a very unprofessional way.

However, after the 2nd or 3rd quick phone call, or any requests that take more than a few minutes, I'd emphasize that you have other things to do and won't be able to help in the future unless they're interested in having you subcontract. Suggest they email you if they're interested in such an arrangement, and stop taking their calls.

I suspect that will be the end of that. But you never know, maybe they'll really get in a bind and would be interested in subcontracting. If so, you can negotiate a rate that's agreeable to everyone.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:47 AM on October 4, 2012


I would answer questions that take no more than about 5 minutes maybe once or twice a month for free. More than that and I'd be asking for $150/hour, half-hour minimum.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:56 AM on October 4, 2012


But there's a point where my time is worth money and if it comes down to "hey can you just fix up XYZ for us that would help a lot", what's the professional way to draw the line?

The line is that there is no line. If they want to know where X stored procedure is or how to make Y work with Z, the time to do that is the period of time between when you submit your resignation and your stated last day. Any and all information sharing occurs during that time, and if they dont take advantage of that, its on them.

This is, of course, assuming that you are giving them two-ish weeks of notice, and that they dont show you do the door when they get your resignation. And if they do THAT, your obligation to them is over and your conscience is clear.

Then if they REALLY need to know something, charge out the wazoo.
posted by Billiken at 12:34 PM on October 4, 2012


Thanks everyone (and thanks for the reality check, nikkorizz)
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:49 PM on October 4, 2012


Your soon-to-be former employer will pay someone to fill your shoes. It's not your responsibility to manage their operations/fulfillment after you have moved on. I wouldn't even answer their calls: you have done your time, and if they don't have a plan, why is that your problem? Unless you're a major stock-holder or something... move on.
posted by brownrd at 3:21 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think there's a difference between helping them find things and helping them do things.

If the question is 'What's the password for the staging server?' then answer it.

If the question is 'The staging server went down, can you reboot it?' then the answer is 'For $150 an hour, billable in 15 minute increments, plus 2 hours travel time if I have to be on site, sure, no problem.'
posted by jacquilynne at 3:36 PM on October 4, 2012


And I wouldn't answer calls from a former employer after business hours or on the weekends just in general, ever. That just starts the conversation off in a very unprofessional way.

I see your point, but ... I wouldn't answer calls from a former employer while on the clock for my new employer.
posted by shiny blue object at 5:07 PM on October 4, 2012


Perhaps offer a discount off your "normal" rate for invoices paid as per your standard net 15 terms, and a penalty if not paid in 60 days.
posted by anon4now at 6:08 PM on October 4, 2012


No equity or anything special was offered to me while I was here
Talk to friends, or ask on MeFi, but once you're employed, esp. in a small shop with no HR, no annual review/ bonus/ compensation plan, no market salary comparison, etc., you don't get offered much. So you ask. In my experience, asking for more compensation also gets you more respect.
posted by theora55 at 4:56 PM on October 5, 2012


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