So, like many of you, I was doing the Christmas thing this morning with my family. It was a tight year so we agreed just to give presents to the three year old and take pictures of her to email to everyone. And while this is going on, my phone rings. I don’t know about you but I have never felt the need to turn my phone off or leave it at home on this occasion, particularly since you want relatives to be able to call you. I called relatives. It’s a phone-appropriate situation.

And just as I was helping the three year old get her mom’s laptop to display fewer ads on (ironic as my wife works for Nickelodeon, right?), my phone rings, the text to speech loudly announcing that it was the old man in charge of one of the organizations I’ve done a fair amount of consulting for this year (started with Google Apps and evolved). Had to take the call. And you know why he called me? He called me, all agitated too, uninterested in how engaged in family Christmas things I might have been because he couldn’t get into his eBay account, that the system screwed up his password again, and he needed to get in to bid on something.

So I started explaining to him, not the first time, that I only have control over the company system his company hired me to create, not his eBay account, and that I was powerless over those other systems he uses, suggesting he hit any Forgot password link or emailing the site’s account people. He wasn’t buying it, that I wasn’t involved in this plot to ruin his Christmas morning. He even said during the call he’s had the eBay account longer than I’ve been around, but couldn’t make the connection that that would absolve me of responsibility over the eBay account and capability to manipulate it.

You see, he’s one of those men who got into computers in his eighties, has almost ten different accounts on various sites he relies on daily, all of which have different passwords, none of which he’ll give to people who will keep track of them for him; and when he forgets them, he blames the system and the guy who set it up, even if that guy whom he’s paid claims he did set the system in question up in the first place, and so he gets furious. You know the type? I hope you don’t. Really, even if you need money, this is the kind of client you try to unload on someone else you want to punish.

I stayed cool and tried to get myself off the hook without burning my bridge with him and his company so I could get back to my family, a rare moment of most of us being together. Though he relies still on his AOL account (another recurring nightmare, don’t get me started) more than the Google setup, his company’s been pretty good to me and it’s his signature on the checks. But for Pete’s sake, can any of you think of a more sacred time not to call someone with crap like this? Even if it were my fault, an eBay bidding crisis? Christmas morning? Really?

I kept trying, gently, to end the call with some success for him (walking him through password recovery), but then his Internet connection drops so he gets even more pissed. Told him to pop the cable, put it back in and reboot, reminded him maybe a fifth time about my administrative limitations over his eBay account. Start playing with my little niece, begin forgetting this extraordinarily rude incident, then the phone rings, it’s him. I instinctively drop the F-bomb I’m afraid within audible range of the child and her mom, which made me more incensed about this, because not only is that a bad thing to do, I managed to fail to restrain myself from doing that in one of the least appropriate contexts you can come up with to drop that word. That is not cool. Chased it fast with an apology, and another apology that I was taking these calls in the first place.

Just needed to vent. Thank you. Back to more family stuff, phone off this time. Merry Christmas everybody and use discretion when taking on new clients especially if they’re in their seventies or worse. You know what? On my next invoice I’m going to list this so that it’s on the record but with a $0/hour rate out of my form of innocuous spite.

Doug Simmons


  1. Gotta say, the old codger’s got balls. And you definitely have more patience than me. With a previous employer, who I gave 80 hours a week to 49 weeks a year and got paid for about 50, started making a habit of calling me while I was in the air or just on the ground for my annual Xmas trip to Florida which always got my blood boiling. The calls were never of a critical nature. Just something to take off his todo list and put on mine. After the second year I told him I would be happy to field emails on “my time” but senseless calls were off limits. That ended that. I stayed there 13.5 years till they went belly up. Some people just don’t get it.

  2. I think you should bill the time at double your normal rate, that’s MY Holiday rate.(weekends 1.5X’s) People who don’t value your time will misuse it constantly and without end. Things are never really worth more to most people than what they’ve paid for them.

    I still service a number of computerized industrial control systems, some of which I designed, built & programmed starting back when the 386DX40 was a hot little number! I normally do not leave my driveway without a retainer that covers at a minimum, mileage, travel time, 4 hours minimum service time(@ $130 an hour), expected expenses, etc. with any overages/replacement parts to be billed on the spot with a 5% discount for immediate payment. I recently violated that policy for the first time in years for a client that had been a great payer under that system and waited 9 weeks to get paid cent one -while out travel, meal and hotel expenses on a $3K bill! No more. Policy is policy from now on. No more Mr. Nice Whiz.

    OTOH, you need to sack up and either get him to keep a password list or present him with a shiny new application designed to do so and make sure he enters each website, logon and password needed to prevent future episodes. Sell the idea as a security measure, not a memory aid. You’re consolodating his information in case any of his accounts are misused, etc. so he can quickly contact the appropriate parties, etc. You might include credit, banking info, etc. Part of what he’s paying you for is your ability to anticipate his needs and solve his problems as you’re in a position to better see them coming. Solving them pre-emptorily makes everyone happier even if a bit more foggy about why they’re paying you, since everything is going so well… ;)

    Further, a brief email/text prior to a holiday outlining your rates/availability for said timely services might help in future by preparing your clients. Most people can wait once they see you’re serious and see your rates for the equally serious!

    Best of Luck!

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