Dear John

August 20, 2014 § 4 Comments

Dear John*

I really thought you were different. That you were The One.

You see, I told my friends about you. I said you were reliable, reasonable, that you had never let me down. I sang your praises to anyone who would listen. And now, here I am, waiting for the day when you finally walk out of my life.

Because my building, you see, is still incomplete. It was meant to be be finished weeks ago, and it’s not. The small renovation that was going to take two to three weeks at most, has now dragged on for five weeks. I think I could probably have done it in less time myself, and I have no clue what I’m doing.

And here’s the thing – the work is good. The work that has been done has been done well. And you’re a nice guy, a good guy at heart. You’re just really screwed up and not very good at taking care of the business side of your business.

Now, I’m no expert, but I’ve been a freelancer for longer than I care to think about, so here’s some free advice, because our ways are working are not dissimilar; it’s the nature of the work we do that differs.

1. Decide how long you think it’s going to take and then double it: It always takes much, much longer than you think it will. I know that in my job, and it’s particularly true of builders. You guys are just crap at setting time frames and deadlines for yourself. And you will make your client far happier if you finish early. Trust me on this.

2. Itemise your quote accurately: Builders have this habit of estimating what certain finishes like cupboards, tiles or doors and windows might cost. Cut that out. Because you don’t know what your client likes, so you can never ever get it right, and you usually underestimate by 50% at least to make your quote look good. Tell me how much you estimate for labour and bricks and tiling cement and the like, because those are quantifiable, and then leave a list of finishes that will be required without adding a price. That would be the honest, more accurate way to do it – that way I, the client, can go and look at what I would like and work out whether it will suit my budget or not.

3. Be punctual: Really, I should not have to tell you this. It’s disrespectful enough to arrive five or ten minutes late. Today, you’re two hours late and counting, and it’s been like this every single day of the build so far. I also have things to do and places to go, and clients I need to meet on time. Get your shit together and learn how long it takes to get to my place, and then leave on time in the mornings. It’s not rocket science.

4. Be honest: That includes pitching up when you say you will. There have been at least five days where you didn’t arrive at all or left, promising to return, and never came back. That’s unprofessional at best, and rude and dishonest at worst. It’s lying, pure and simple – as is having a conversation on your phone with another client, in my presence, and explaining that you’re on the other side of town to where you actually are, which is at my house. How much confidence do you think that instilled in me? Just tell the truth, for crying out loud.

5. Communicate: On the days when you simply didn’t pitch, a phone call or a text of explanation would have caused my anger to simmer at an acceptable level. And I might have been more tolerant of your tardiness if you’d bothered to call and tell me you were running late. Talk to me, that’s all. Just pick up the phone.

6. Compartmentalise: You cannot let your personal life get in the way of your business life. Do that, and you will have no business left. I am not your friend – I am your client. If you’re sick or injured, that’s one thing, but the fight you had with your girlfriend, your dwindling finances, your need to pay your workers, your homelessness: none of these things are my problem or my business. The quickest way to sort many of those things out is to finish your job, do it well, and collect your money so you can move on to the next thing and collect your money there. All you have to do is show up, on time, do the work, and do it properly. It’s really not that difficult.

7. Guard your reputation: Word of mouth is how you get work. No-one hires a builder because they saw an ad in the paper, or they looked up people in the Yellow Pages. People talk to their friends and colleagues and that’s how we end up phoning you and asking you to quote on our building requirements. Right now, if anyone asks me about you I’ll have this to say: he did a good job on the building itself, but he took more than twice as long as he estimated, didn’t pitch on several days, was late every day, left early every day, hardly communicated, constantly needed extra money for personal costs he couldn’t cover and I had to project manage every tiny little detail. Would you hire you with that assessment?

So, dear John, all I can say is I’ll be glad to see the back of you. It’s not me, it’s you.

* Names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent

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