IT contracting: gracefully refusing runner-up opportunities?
May 5, 2007 9:32 AM   Subscribe

If you are a programmer who works on contract, how do you gracefully deal with an excess of opportunity?

I have just moved back to an area where I knew a lot of people. I left a good reputation behind, it's internet bubble 2.0 here, and as a result I have lots of potential work going on. I'm not used to having more than one or two new gigs to choose from. Because this same area where I now live is a small world where word gets around quickly, I could use some advice on how to ethically and politely negotiate with several parties without pissing off those whom I turn down. I'd like to exploit this chance to pick the best option, but I'm worried about stringing potential employers along while I get down the details about deliverables, hours and rates.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You need to raise your rates to reflect the demand. Your only inventory is your time, and you can't make more of it. Setting your rates high enough will automatically weed out at least some potential clients. I don't think you need to worry about pissing anyone off. Just make sure they know how busy you are. They don't need to know who your other clients are. Just say "I wish I could work with you, but I am totally booked right now. But can I let you know when I have an opening?" Then follow up when you slow down.

Also, you are NOT stringing them along while waiting for details. You can't possibly agree to do the work UNTIL you have that information. With any design work I do for a new client, I tell them to get all the info to me, then I write up a proposal and estimate. There is no obligation on either party until the proposal is accepted. I have also turned down work, because I have been too busy, or I had more interesting work to do. No one ever got mad at me. Just don't be a jerk about it. Someone who can't afford you now may very well be thrilled to hire you when they can.

Another option: could you take on an apprentice or gather several sub-contractors? You pay them less than you charge the client, but you oversee the work, and the quality is still up to your standards.

You have a good problem! :)
posted by The Deej at 10:02 AM on May 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

If it's work you actually want to do, always say "yes." Realistically this means saying "Yes, and..."
"Yes, and I'm available in 8 weeks..."
"Yes and my rate is..."
"Yes, let's work out the details so we have enough information to work up a contract..."
"Yes and I have two other commitments to wrap up first..."

Then you negotiate. Negotiation is two-way and everyone can end up whole in many different scenarios.

If it's work you have no interest in, a simple "I'm sorry, but I have other commitments now that need my attention" is enough, but you can also help them move their work forward by suggesting someone else who could help them. This way you're still helpful even if you don't do the work.

Also, make sure you keep the contact information for these folks. They're people you can circle back to when you do need the work.
posted by cocoagirl at 10:25 AM on May 5, 2007

On preview: What The Deej and cocoagirl said.

The first step is: raise your rate.

If you're still too busy, consider getting into management and subcontracting it out.

But there is no reason to worry about pissing anyone off. You're a contractor. Anyone hiring a contractor knows (or should know) that you are not exclusive to them and do other work for other clients. (Unless you are signing some wacky exclusivity contracts. And if you are, stop.)

The key is to make it clear that you're just fact gathering at the beginning. That you're in on a meeting etc, doesn't mean you're in on the project. I've used the Scotty Principle (under promise, over deliver) to good effect here. When someone calls and asks if you can work on a project you say "I have other things going on, it depends on the scope and timeline of the project. But I would be more than happy to come in and talk to you about it."

After you hear about Project A you say something like "That sounds like a really exciting project. Let me go and work the numbers and see if I can find the time to help you out. Can I let you know by end of day Wednesday?" This is where they will give you incentives like a higher rate, a more flexible timeline, or put pressure on you to decide sooner. Be polite and say you'll take these things into consideration.

Tuesday you have a meeting about Project B, and Wednesday you have one about Project C. Then you get to choose the best.

If by "exploit this chance" you want to use them as leverage against the others in the "Well, gee Company X is paying $XXXXX, so you'd have to do better than that." style, don't do it. It sends off a bad vibe. The closest I would get is saying "Well... that's lower than my usual rate of $xxxxx."

And the last bit of advice is that sometimes you don't get to choose the best. Timing can be a bitch and you accept a good project only to have to turn down a better project the next week. Don't let it bother you. That's life. And clients want a contractor who is reliable and can commit to a project. If you were any part of the contractor's life in the original web boom you know that these contracting opportunities can all disappear overnight.
posted by Ookseer at 10:36 AM on May 5, 2007

Subcontract. Believe it or not, the top-rated people on sites like Rentacoder do good work, even. You could more than likely make a mint by taking on second-tier work and throwing it over to them.
posted by reklaw at 4:33 PM on May 5, 2007

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