Never mix friends and business! Lesson learned.
December 15, 2014 12:08 AM   Subscribe

On my recommendation, my husband hired an old friend of mine to design his website last year. She behaved quite unprofessionally, and I haven't talked to her since both because of that and because of physical distance (we'd had only sporadic contact since university). But I'd like to at least get in touch with her for the holidays, because I do miss her. Should I break the ice? If so, how?

My husband needed to get a website developed for his business about 2 years ago.

After a horrible experience with the first freelancer he found, and with the clock running, I suggested a friend of mine who is a professional web developer and graphic designer. We had been talking only about once a year, but we hung out a lot in high school and university. I knew her to be a good designer and reliable person, so I made an exception to my normal "don't mix business and friends" rule, and suggested her to my husband.

They Skyped (she lives in another country), my husband seemed satisfied with what she stated she would do, they wrote up a contract, and she started working.

Long story short, she did a fairly decent job, but there were quite a lot of problems along the way. I'll leave out the specifics (I'll update if they turn out to be relevant somehow), but I'll just summarize it as: severe lack of communication from her side, resulting in a 12-week project turning into a 20+ week project (as yet, over a year later, technically unfinished, according to the contract). Problem could have been my husband too, but due to lack of communication, it was unclear.

In any case, I felt quite queasy after the entire thing... embarrassed to have recommended her (I was surprised at how things turned out), angry on behalf of my husband, sad to have put my friend and ourselves in this awkward position, disappointed that I don't feel right recommending her professionally anymore.

I didn't really feel comfortable reaching out in the months after she, uh, "finished" the website, especially since she stopped responding to ANY of my husband's emails - even for things that she herself promised. This year, as she always does, she sent me a very kind video-birthday card, and for better or worse I didn't really respond (normally we Skype, but I didn't feel ready to confront her, so I thanked her via email and sent her well-wishes). So in essence, I've cut off contact, what little contact we'd had.

On one hand, this old friendship had been more or less withering away anyway due to distance, and I could just continue to let it go. On the other hand, when I really think about it, that's not what I really want. Before this incident, we always had a fun friendship, and although I don't agree with her professional behavior whatsoever, I think she is a lovely, generous, intelligent, and kind person (if quite flaky at times).

I think for the holidays, I'd like to re-establish contact, because I do care about her and miss her... (and I know better now than to hire her for anything).
But I don't feel right concealing my opinion about her work and her lack of response to my husband's requests.
So, if you Mefites were me in this situation, how would you proceed? The option "not at all" is also okay too, although it would gnaw at me a bit.
Thanks for reading!
posted by Pieprz to Human Relations (13 answers total)
Friendships are not such a common commodity that they should be thrown away casually.

Things didn't work out with your business arrangement with this person. Don't do business with them again.

But if you want to save the friendship (and I personally think friendships are usually worth saving) just let it drop. It doesn't sound like she did anything deliberately to hurt you and you're not even sure how much of the blame to assign her. Let it go.
posted by Nerd of the North at 12:19 AM on December 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

I've seen small-scale web development jobs go poorly in just about every way you can imagine. If the site is basically working (even decent?), that's not really a project failure, and you've probably been too hard on her. You should try to pretend the awkward stuff never happened and enjoy the warmth of renewing an old acquaintance. Send her the happiest message you can. Even if you're completely right about the past, it's the nice thing to do, and you'll probably feel better for trying.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:43 AM on December 15, 2014 [11 favorites]

It would be helpful if you post an update with the specifics of the professional issues. Without details, for all we know, she might have thought that your husband was overly demanding and asked for too many changes. It's a common occurrence that the client asked for what they consider "just a few tiny changes" but would actually require massive rewrites.
posted by vienna at 12:54 AM on December 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm biased because I live with a web developer who does a few small/personal/portfolio sites...

I wonder if she considers the site finished for all intents and purposes. If the timeline stretched from 12 to 20 weeks (not all that unusual or alarming) and she was billing you for time, then she may have been wary of stretching it out further and costing you money. If she was billing you for the site, then she may have started working at a loss. Maybe she hasn't delivered what she promised, but maybe your husband didn't give her sufficient information or content to develop it further, or maybe he gave her too much overly intricate feedback that undermined her expertise and stretched the boundaries of however many rounds of revisions that were built into the contract. Or maybe she completely dropped the ball; freelance client work is exhausting at the best of times, and if she became overwhelmed and let some people down she'd hardly be the first.

What I'm saying is that I would never employ a friend because of these issues. If you do reach out to her (and I for one hope you do) then your friendship needs to progress completely, utterly separately from your previous professional entanglement. Think of your friend who sends lovely video messages as a different person to that contractor who did a bodged job on your husband's website.
posted by dumdidumdum at 12:59 AM on December 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Regarding how to break the ice, I think I'd start by sending her something that signals your intent to reinitiate the friendship. Calling her out of the blue could be tough. Maybe a tiny gift with a card, nothing too expensive or too deep, but something personal? Or at least a personal email following a "gift" like a cool e-card or something. "These socks reminded me of that shirt you bought on that road trip we took to Vegas -- remember that? [Or "This gif reminded me of your high school crush on Nicholas Cage --remember that?"] I hope all is well with you and Sam. I imagine you guys must be freezing in Poland this time of year, but then again, it's probably warmer than the crazy winter we're having here in Chicago. Anyway, I'm sorry to have lost touch with you for a bit last year and hope we can be more in touch this year. Maybe we can find a time for a Skype session after the New Year? In the meantime, stay warm and give my best to Sam."

Re: not being able to hide your opinion, just don't ever bring it up. If she does, say something honest but neutral like "yeah, that situation didn't work out very well, did it? It seems like it was a bummer for all of us. But the front page really does look nice now [or some other compliments you can honestly say]." Maybe suss out whether she's bringing it up to implicitly apologize (in which case say soothing things) or to express frustration with your husband (in which case maybe say "yeah, that sounds tough. it sounds like a lot of misunderstandings happened all around. with Bob as my husband, I heard more about his side of things, but I know there's a lot I don't know, and I'm glad that it's over so we can hopefully put it behind us").

And do try to put it behind you. Just write off the value of that last bit of the contract; if it were worth more than the value of this longstanding friendship, you wouldn't be wanting to get in touch now.
posted by salvia at 1:01 AM on December 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

You've already decided that you want to reestablish the contact/friendship. But I don't think you can do it without ignoring the whole "unprofessional job" incident at least to some degree. The situation is probably not black and white, and you only have information from one side, your husband. If you give her your opinion on the job she did (or didn't do), she may start giving you counterarguments and then you end up quarreling and you're both angry at each other and you're basically back to square one.

I wouldn't read too much into her video message. She may be doing it for everyone, like some people send everyone gorgeous hand-made cards - it's what they do, and if you're on their list, you'll get it too.

I wouldn't send her a gift to re-establish contact. Gifts create an obligation and send a "heavier" message than "reaching out, let me know if you want to get back in touch". (But then, it may be a cultural thing - YMMV, obviously.) Just a friendly, casual email which gives her the option to ignore it or reply and continue the conversation. Actually, that's all that takes: an email, a Facebook message, anything that doesn't require an immediate reply, so she isn't put on the spot.
posted by gakiko at 1:58 AM on December 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

This kind of thing is VERY normal for little web design projects. There are a lot of web design firms who know web design very well but have to learn business and customer relationships "on the job". There are a lot of clients who don't know the first thing about web design - and why should they? But managing a web design project from the client end is also a skill. Working for clients who don't know how it goes is a challenging exercise in managing expectations. Handling the customer relationship well is something you should expect (but might not get) out of a big firm doing big projects, but if you hire a small company to do a website for your small company, this can really be par for the course.

Thus, her opinion of how it went may be very different from yours, and she may very well think that your husband dropped the ball seriously on his end as well, irrespective of the actual truth of the matter.

The lesson to learn here is probably not "my friend is a flake" so much as "web design projects are harder than I thought" and "don't get into business relationships with friends".
posted by emilyw at 2:04 AM on December 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

It is unclear to me how your relationship has changed. You say you spoke once a year ... and that she sent you a birthday greeting this year which you responded to graciously. I wonder if she even knows that you "in essence, cut off contact."

What are you proposing that would be different than any other college friend who is now a once-a-year-check-in friend? You live in different countries and had largely fallen out of touch naturally. What are you trying to salvage?

A bigger question in my mind is how this would affect your husband. Did he and your friend also know each other socially? Was she in your wedding? Would he be expected to be gracious to her as well? Will she stay at your home on visits to your country? Did he lose money on the deal? Lose sales because of the absence of certain functions on the site?

If this were a very close friend who was going to be part of your/your husband's lives over the long haul, by all means endure the drama of everyone reaching resolution and moving forward together. But for a Christmas-card friend? Send a Christmas card but skip the drama.
posted by headnsouth at 4:58 AM on December 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

I agree with @headnsouth's take on this. Send her a light holiday greeting but keep your opinion to yourself. You already "know better now than to hire her for anything." At the end of the day, the person she failed was your husband, not you. My answer would perhaps be somewhat different if you had been her client.

especially since she stopped responding to ANY of my husband's emails - even for things that she herself promised.

Oy. That behavior would make me conclude someone is "flaky" and "unprofessional," too. Even if hers is the arguably the world's most challenging profession ever, you're still not wrong. Never responding to client emails for stuff she herself over-promised and under-delivered on? Not ok.

OP, I understand you "don't feel right concealing my opinion about her work and her lack of response to my husband's requests," BUT -- that is exactly what is going to be required of you as a member of Polite Society and in the context of the old friend who lives abroad to whom you send an email or card once a year, and, crucially, you really aren't close friends with anymore.

What would you hope to gain by bringing up bygones? That's a recipe for drama. Be the bigger person and never bring it up.
posted by hush at 5:27 AM on December 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your responses! Lots of great points to think about.

After trying to write out more of the details of the situation for a bit, I've decided to leave them out. It is just our side of the story, which makes it of course a bit boring and unfair, and honestly I think most people would have found her behavior exasperating (even with good reasons). What's gnawing at me is rather how to deal with friend-disappointment-by-proxy, distance edition.

I definitely understand the impulse to defend her and other web developers - my husband is himself a freelancer in a separate but related creative industry, so he (and myself as a witness) really can understand many of the difficulties of working with clients and their sometimes crazy expectations. I don't think that this is a case of that, but who knows, it's absolutely possible! He was and is curious about it. Maybe we'll find out some day.

It's a good point that I don't have much to gain or lose here at our present level of contact. But I think what I'm worried about the future - times when we're in the same location again, as we have a somewhat overlapping social circle. We may even live in the same place again in the not-too-distant future. Before this situation I would have just been happy about the idea, but now it feels awkward!

I agree with all of you who say kindness is the way - drama sucks! I guess being honest can come later, if we find ourselves spending more time together and it comes up again.
I'll definitely consider completely dropping it forever, and just stick to not recommending her to anyone (silently of course).
These posts give me good perspective and some frameworks about how to proceed. I especially like Salvia's answer and script, so I marked it as best so far, but I appreciate all answers. So thank you! I'll send her a holiday greeting sometime in the next week or two and just see what happens.
posted by Pieprz at 6:31 AM on December 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Frankly, with or without the details, it sounds like the website development 'situation' is still a Big Thing to you. I think that your friendship with this person is going to have to wait until a time when you truly consider the website incident "no big deal".
posted by doctor tough love at 8:40 AM on December 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

> I definitely understand the impulse to defend her and other web developers

Part of that might be due to the nature of the venue: there are probably a lot more people here with website development experience than, say, birthday party clowns.

I did a lot of web dev back in the '90s. In the interest of possibly helping you process the incident with your husband's site, I'll mention a couple of things I noticed:

1. Building a site tended to involve obtaining content from the client.

2. Building a site was the developer's #1 job. But for the client, it was often job #7 or #10.

These two factors tended to contribute to a work dynamic where the website took longer to finish than was anticipated, usually because the developer was waiting on content from the client (and I've seen enough other developers discussing this to know that it's a common situation). But please note that I am not trying to blame one party or the other - this is basically the natural fallout that comes from two people who have differing priorities, trying to work with each other. I mean, the client has to put their day-to-day business first. And some developers don't quite understand why the client isn't totally focused on getting the site up and finished.

This may or may not match what happened in your case. But I've seen it happen often enough, to me and to others, that I can't help but wonder if it at least partially applies. To some extent, this kind of delay situation is often the "mother" of all manner of other problems.

I hope this helps a bit. I guess I'm just trying to make a case for how this kind of situation can happen, and nobody (or both parties, if you prefer) are to blame.
posted by doctor tough love at 9:34 AM on December 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

There's this beating around the bush, and avoidance in stating what the issues and how you all were really feeling that I can only imagine may have found its way into the working process. From the other end, I find that really exhausting and difficult to work with.

If the client isn't totally happy with the process, the outcome, specifics, I need to know! Don't shield my feelings, it's the projects where there is this pronounced "quiet" that make me the most uneasy and make me want to get them off my plate. Because you have this vague sense that they're somehow upset, but they won't come out and say why. And that hangs over the project like a rainy day. The best project are honest projects, where everyone is talking, problems are discussed, plans are made and adjusted throughout the project as seen fit. Web projects aren't tidy and are difficult to list all of the tasks that are needed up front. I'm not letting the developer off the hook of course, if your husband was being too demanding based on allotted hours, or rate, or whatever the agreement, the developer should speak up as well. This all seems like poor communicating on both ends.

I do think that if the friendship is to continue, a seriously honest conversation needs to happen. I've been your friend, where you could just tell the project, while finished, wasn't a home run, for whatever reason. But nothing was ever said, the project just...ended, and things were quiet. It hangs over the friendship, it needs to be out in the open, they need to be honest with you, and vice versa. Until then, elephant in the room.
posted by Sreiny at 4:53 AM on December 16, 2014

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