You're doing it wrong.
March 21, 2013 1:22 PM   Subscribe

I make websites. I have an old client whose new vendor is, to be blunt, not a competent web designer and not a developer at all. She has been coming to me for help, and it's putting me in quite an awkward situation. How can I remove myself at all gracefully?

While I was out of my area for a couple of years, an old client hired a new designer to redesign the website I built for them with WordPress in 2006.

A year ago, this designer came to me with questions that suggested she had no business building a website for anyone. I suggested at the time that perhaps she would like to design the look and feel, and I could write the front-end code. She wasn't into it.

In the intervening year, the few contacts I had with her simply reinforced my initial impression. Here was a person who did not have the skills or interests to adequately do the job she'd been hired to do. I've tried to be as helpful as I could. I've certainly felt helpless.

We are closing in on launch, and the final product of a year's worth of efforts is, in a word, awful. I personally think the visual design is underwhelming, but my subjective view there is irrelevant. Not in the realm of opinion though, is the sloppy, hackish, inefficient, and ugly code sitting under the surface. It pains me.

Now I am being asked for help again – this time to take the monstrosity live. I definitely won't do it, but I feel the need to justify, to this designer and to my old client, why I refuse to be involved.

My feelings are no doubt colored by disappointment that my work is being retired. Were it being replaced by something as good or better however, I would have no problem. But it is being replaced by something terrible and broken.

I care about this profession, and I definitely resent that there are so many people out there doing it poorly. It's depressing that most small website owners can't tell the difference between good work and bad. My own work is surely not perfect, but I go to great lengths to stay current and understand what I'm doing – including what I'm doing wrong.

I want to yell at this designer for ripping off my old client, people I care about, and for learning on their dime without apparently learning anything. I want to run to the client and warn them about the shoddy product they're being sold. The whole thing makes me sad and angry, and want to behave like a sad, angry person.

But I'm a grown-up, and I still have to live and do business in this small world.

I'm just having a hard time figuring out the grown-up thing to do.

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Now I am being asked for help again – this time to take the monstrosity live. I definitely won't do it, but I feel the need to justify, to this designer and to my old client, why I refuse to be involved.

If you aren't contractually obligated to do the work, you have nothing to justify. "I'm sorry, that won't be possible.'
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:26 PM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

You're a professional, running a business. A simple 'no' should suffice. If you are pressed as to why, let them know your honest professional opinion - not wanting to be associated with something you did not have control over is totally fine. It's also fine to let the client know that you don't think it's good work.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:28 PM on March 21, 2013 [8 favorites]

Refer her to a professional colleague who can help without being emotionally invested.
posted by steinwald at 1:29 PM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

The grown-up thing to do is say "Sorry, no," and not get into why. It's understandable that you feel proprietary about the situation, but if I'm reading the facts correctly, this is a former client of yours trying to hire you to do something their currently retained web person should be able to do. That's always a nightmare.

The slightly more pointed way to do it would be to quote a very high price and say something along the lines of "due to the current state of the code, this is likely to be a complex launch." If they're willing to pay you for the hassle, then so be it. Just make sure it's an amount of money you would cheerfully get involved for.

Because really, the odds of an outcome that truly makes you happy - they scrap the site-in-progress and hire you to fix everything - isn't likely to happen, for a variety of reasons. So you have to pick the second-best option that you can live with.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:30 PM on March 21, 2013

We are closing in on launch

Where is the "we" in all of this? From your description you weren't even paid for the "few" contacts you've had with them. Give them a referral like steinwald suggests.
posted by rhizome at 1:31 PM on March 21, 2013 [15 favorites]

If you wanted to help them I'd recommend telling the client something along the lines of "I'd love to help, here's my estimate, a proposed timeline, and a contract for you to sign" and charge them a lot of money so that your help is worth it.

Since you don't want to help them, and I don't blame you, a simple "sorry, but I'm not able to at this time" is sufficient.
posted by rhapsodie at 1:41 PM on March 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

If you wanted to help them I'd recommend telling the client something along the lines of "I'd love to help, here's my estimate, a proposed timeline, and a contract for you to sign" and charge them a lot of money so that your help is worth it.

Bingo. Don't be a subcontractor here - the middleman just eats up money and prime contractors ALWAYS blame subcontractors when the shit hits the fan. If you're going to be involved at all, clearly documenting the boundary between your responsibilities and others' responsibilities will allow you to discourage any inference that your work is/was the problem.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:46 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's unclear what your relationship to the new designer and the client is. Are you being paid by either of them? If not, start charging, now. Don't give advice for free.

And start backing out, telling them you have a full plate as it is and unfortunately can't give their project the attention it deserves right now. This is a totally understandable reason.

As far as your resentment that not everyone performs up to your standard: that feeling won't help you personally or professionally, and there will always be terrible design and sloppy code out there. If you really care so much about your line of work, consider starting a blog or series of tutorials aimed at beginners or clients. More knowledge is always a good thing, and it'll make you even more attractive to future clients.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:53 PM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Absolutely DO NOT choose these people off in the way you want to, no matter how validated and vindicated you think you'll feel were you to do so. Yes, this sucks, but it's not personal, so stop making it like it is.

So the other designer sucks. That's not your business to fix.

So your clients aren't super smart and have hired a dumbass (yes, your former clients are stupid too; accept that and move on). That's also not your business to fix.

Don't want any part of it anymore? You just have to say, "I am not available for this kind of work. Thank you for thinking of me."

Desperate to fix that which is none of your business to fix? "I would be willing to take this project on for $X and with the following stipulations" where X = your going rate * 1.5 or whatever amount will make this headache worth your while. Only then are you setting the right boundaries by making sure you are fairly compensated and that you have adequate control over the execution of this sticky situation.

If they expect you to help them for free... Well, it's possible you've trained them to think that by (I presume) not charging them for any and all phone time you've supplied them with since the project's inception. That's on you. Then you have to say, "I am not available for this kind of work without compensation at the rate I quoted. Thank you for thinking of me; good luck with your project."

Ultimately I think this needs to end by you not answering their calls anymore as you reconsider the balance of reality here. Don't let yourself get so emotionally invested in something that you aren't being compensated for ever again.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:56 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I know how you feel, about "your baby" so to speak.. but there's the cold hard truth that unless you're contracted and being paid, it's not your problem anymore. You're under no obligation.

From reading, it's not even the client that's coming to you with problems - it's the designer that *they're paying* to do the job. If they hired someone that's not able to do the job, that's not your fault nor your problem. Don't do anything for free; this is a business relationship.

Just let it go. Sometimes we have to let projects go, and sometimes we have to look at them later and say "Wow, the people that came along after me really fucked that up!".
posted by mrbill at 2:03 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Why? If you like the client and really want to help, you can tell them in gentle terms that the quality of the code does not inspire confidence, and you don't want to get involved. Otherwise, a polite "The site developer should be managing this" will do.
posted by theora55 at 2:58 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just make sure they take your name off it, and if you link to the site yourself as a reference, remove that as well. Cut the apron-strings on this one. If you get the feeling you want to help, remind yourself that people will look at this site and erroneously judge your work by it if you do.

This is one of those cases where, even if you may have given the wrong impression, you need to get out now rather than throwing more of your time (good money) into this turkey (bad money).
posted by Sunburnt at 4:33 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

"[name], I understand that you're having difficulty with your current web developer, and I've tried to help here and there as much as I was able as a favor to you, but I'm booked solid with paid work going forward, so I can't handhold [dev name] any longer. I recommend you consider delaying the launch, regrouping, and figuring out how to get the site fixed correctly by someone who understands what needs to be done and how to do it."
posted by davejay at 4:45 PM on March 21, 2013 [9 favorites]

"I'm too busy with other projects to do this kind of work right now."
posted by cupcake1337 at 5:06 PM on March 21, 2013

Fuck You. Pay Me. Don't let the title scare you, it's also about how to maintain client relationships.
posted by Agitpropnik at 6:03 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I appreciate your thinking of me but my style of programming is not copasetic with your new designers style. Good luck with your new site! If you decide to go in a different direction than the one you are currently heading in, I would be happy to renew our old relationship, as I do value our history together.

And to follow up:
Please be informed that my advice is not free and any future questions from your current designer will be billed. The question is, do I send the bill to you or to her?
posted by myselfasme at 6:39 PM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

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