7

Situation: Year 2013. There is this small-medium size manufacture company "C" who has a malfunctional website, infected with malware and viruses, if you seach the company name you get thousands results with online pharmacy etc. C is very unhappy and the original developers are ignoring C's requests to solve problems, so they started to look for some other solution, then they knew about me because C's owners are somehow my wife's relatives.

I was not very happy at first because is always a problem to work for friends and relatives but they insisted so I wanted to see and get a better idea.

We met and they told me somewhat like "I would like that you will become like an internal freelance in our company so that you will be able to know us better and advise us better to what is best for us and for the C's success. You shall, with time, be able to operate on the site and socials in autonomy once you will know better the company from the inside".

Year 2014-15. In this time I took C's website, moved host, domain and email, set-up top-level hosting services which worked great, I spent several hours at their offices for set-ups and configurations. Rebuilt a new responsive fully-functional multi-language CMS with impact design and lot of features for clients, reserved areas for dealers, custom PHP web apps (back-end and front-end). We made production videos, photos and other interesting materials. Set-up newsletter system, facebook, twitter and instagram accounts, managed posts and blogs, eventually made remote and on-site technical assistance, etc.

The result was very good and satisfactory, I made a lot of effort and C's has now a well launched website and social presence. The visits increased a lot and they built a good number of registered users.

Everyone is satisfied, web and social are working very good, regular payments, and so on.

Year 2016 first months: C's communications with me became strangely silent all of a sudden, my proposals by email were unanswered, very little were asked to me to do. Spring 2016: They asked me if I could send them the original photos and videos we made before, they asked me administration rights to edit social channels, etc. I understood that there was something strange going on.

So I requested a meeting with them to clear the situation. After about 10 days we met and what they told me is that: one of the biggest C's supplier provided a "service pack" to C that includes, togheter with various trade fairs services, a 6 months consultancy service for print, social and web marketing provided by the supplier's favourite web agency ("W") consisting in about 10 employees doing various specialized tasks, and C took advantage of this "service pack".

I found myself in the unpleasant situation to be downgraded from main consultant and project manager to simple executor of other's requests. In fact shortly after the meeting I started to receive emails by someone from W with very demanding requests asking me for complex tasks in short time, sending me pdf mockups of web pages to reproduce exactly in an already existing CMS with high-quality responsive well running template, newsletter mockups with complex print-style format graphics to make as responsive newsletters (unsupported by most clients), and so on. W is never happy and ask me always for "fixing" this and that by email to me and with CC to the C's CEO.

W even started to ask me for things that are objectively and technically wrong and counter-productive (I started to think that W wants to put me intentionally in a bad light so they can steal the client to me with the reasons that I do "wrong things" since C's CEO has no technical knowledge).

When that happened I stopped to do anything and requested a new meeting with C's CEO before doing anything else, I proved to him why W's requests were wrong with facts, examples and techical documentation, we agreed to finish some tasks in certain (proper) ways as I explained to him and I did so. I also told him that surely, being a single freelance, I can't physically do what 10 employees can, and if he needs another kind of service he is free to obtain it and this also OK for me, but if he wants me to work for him, I want to work as I know and as I think is best (having 20+ years of experience) without other people to instruct me or giving me orders out of the blue.

Meanwhile I found out that when W started to manage C's social channels, W bought thousands of fake likes to show that their work produce results, that question was faced with C's CEO at the beginning and he did not want fake likes, he wanted genuine likes. In the meantime Google Analytics shows that the site is losing traffic by 15%/month for the last 3-4 months (when W started to work for C).

Now we are in a suspended situation, C is still making W work for them while none of C or W are asking for new tasks or jobs or contacting me for anything.

I don't know exactly how to go on with C, I feel frustrated and demotivated, they called me when the ship was sinking, then with two years of work I made it beautiful, functional and going, and then someone (without even asking me anything) told me to go to do the laundry while someone else will pilot the ship.

Also the fact that C's CEO is my wife's relative is a big complication for family/work relationships.

What whould you do in my situation? Any suggestion is greatly appreciated.

Edit: just to clear a few things, this is not my only client. I have many clients with long term work relationships. C is one of my clients. Losing it won't cause me a big problem. Also I was very collaborative, kind and professional at my best with W, I gave all the info, materials and hours of my work days to make W comfortable with everything.

6

Sounds like you have 2 problems:

  1. Work environment changed suddenly and dramatically for the worse.
  2. Client began considering looking elsewhere for your services.

For me, the second problem is the real problem. And the easiest for you to effectively change. Any way you address the first problem, I suggest keeping the second one in mind.

Clients will often consider looking elsewhere. They do that. It isn't a bad thing if a) you are good at your job, and b) you are good at communicating that you are good at your job. Most people don't want to make change for change's sake, but will also wonder if the grass really is greener on the other side. A relationship of trust helps a lot with that, but hiccups like this do occur.

As a freelancer, you should have a plan in place for loss of client. If you only have one client (not clear from question), and don't have a plan, it is easier to panic, and make things worse. I suggest to take some time (an hour, a week, I don't know your situation), and imagine life without this income. You need to be in control of your situation, and know how far you are willing to bend in order to keep that paycheck.

Once you know what you are willing to do, then look at the situation from your client's view: they have 6 months of 10 workers. It has already been paid for. If they don't use them, that is lost opportunity and money. How would this client feel if they were paying 10 people in cubicals to sit around and do nothing for 6 months? As such, your goal here is not to convince them that you are better, or that they make mistakes. Instead, your goals might be along the lines of:

  • Convince him that letting them do anything is worse than than having them do nothing. (Sounds like you have some ammunition, but probably not enough yet.)

  • Convince him to change the dynamic, and that you manage the relationship, and still use those resources. (I am sure that W also sold PM services as part of this, so there is some uphill to this argument, but probably not as much as you might think.)

  • End the relationship gracefully so you might still could get a call back with the thing blows up, and still be able to use this client as a reference in the meantime.

  • Convince him to not hire them in exclusion of you when the 6 months are up. (maybe you need the paycheck now, and are willing to be humiliated for 6 months or longer in order to get it. You wouldn't be the first man, think about the guy who dresses in a hot dog suit and dances in front of the restaurant. That man is a hero for his family, not the loser society makes him to be. Different scale, but same principle here)

No matter what you do, you still have to deal with the fact that you have already made it clear that you don't like their favorite W. That isn't bad, adults don't like everyone, and don't have to. This fact becomes a problem if (when?) W decides that you are the final obstacle to landing the contract, and decide that the easiest way to land it is to show that they are more professional. This is probably path of least resistance for them, because someone with the job title of CEO will naturally think that a company is more professional than a freelancer, that more people are more professional than a single person, and that a stranger who pays a salesman is more professional than his weird aunt's cousin's (or little niece's, or whatever) husband. But you already have results, time, and trust on your side. The one thing you have to be most careful of, in this situation, I think, is to be painted as the "You guys are mean, I'm taking my ball and going home!" child, who won't cooperate when they ask for info about what you have already built.

So, what do you do? Save your business first. Anyone can work with idiots and humiliate themselves for 6 months. Not everyone needs to, and that has to be your decision, but anyone can. You need to figure out how best to save your company, and whether that involves this client or not.

Forget the family relationship. You can't do anything about it, and at this point it can only work against you, so don't bring it up. You have 3 years of results that (should) mean more than a distant family relationship.

If it were me, I might say something like this:

If you have got this amount of work to keep 10 people busy, and are willing to pay for it, then let's get started. Who better to manage it than me? I can manage people you hire, or, you know, I can take charge of finding managing temporary resources myself. What? You didn't know I could do that? I'm sorry, I must not have mentioned that I have (managed x people doing y thing at z company) and have (certificate in whatever) with (so many years of experience) and am a member of (board/club/association/website with so many members) that I can call on to assist me/us. And frankly, with my help, W could probably be turned around, and, together, we could save the free labor they already offered you. Why don't we take this opportunity of the free labor, as well as the work you have already done with them looking at the big picture, and really take your business to the next level? What do you say?

But no matter which strategy you choose, be a professional, and attack the second problem first. We all need this reminder sometimes, but employee or business owner, we need to be, and can be, in charge of our own actions and own decisions. Situations are transient, and can best be controlled through our own actions and decisions, and are really less dependent on other's actions and decisions than we often believe. Take a deep breath, it sucks, but it probably isn't really as bad as it feels to be right now.

  • @Mario Thanks for the question edit, and I am glad to hear it. I think the answer still stands when you or someone has multiple clients, and I also think I will leave that bit in, for future readers who may be in a similar situation but with one or few clients. – CWilson Jul 12 '16 at 18:00
  • Thanks for your wise suggestions, they help me to focus more on the future perspectives instead of thinking much about the actual situation. – Mario Jul 12 '16 at 19:51
  • That is kind of you to say. I am sure that my perspective isn't the only valid one here, and hopefully others chime in too? – CWilson Jul 13 '16 at 14:51
  • If there come a point at which you are no longer in the same relationship, it might be time to break it off. You don't owe anyone free work, nor should you have to compromise. Hand it over and let them work it out. – mckenzm Sep 6 '16 at 5:08
  • 1
    This is a great answer to @Mario question. "Ending the relationship gracefully" is excellent advice in this context. Customers often try the competition on for size and more often than not come back provided you maintain a professional demeanor and do quality work. Often it's not that they are unhappy with your work, but some slick salesman has convinced them that they are getting a bargain. Once the true cost sinks in, They'll be back on bended knee. – Elder Geek Mar 7 '17 at 14:02

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.