Collaboration

The worst client of all

Consultants, how do you deal with your IT needs? Do you schedule time for yourself, as if you were a client? Let us know in the discussion.

TechRepublic member Bob Eisenhardt (reisen55) sent me an email in which he complained about his worst client EVER. This client demands a lot of time and immediate attention on urgent problems, yet never pays a bill. Bob would gladly drop them if he could, but he can't. Why? Because that client is himself.

Bob had a problem with his own network that prevented him from working for his clients. That means he had to drop everything and do some unbillable work instead.

I sympathize with Bob's frustration. It really hurts when I couldn't see it coming. For example, when a software update suddenly breaks things, and I have to figure out what's wrong with that before I can get back to real work.

I'll take that back -- it hurts even more when I did see it coming, and I told myself that I should do some preventative work "when I get a free hour or two," which never arrived. That piece of hardware that had been in service for far too long finally drops off the grid and forces me to do something about it right now. I should learn my lesson and schedule that kind of work just as any good consultant would schedule maintenance for their clients. Perhaps I wouldn't be my own worst client if I treated myself like a client, instead of like someone who will never have a problem except when it's convenient.

The funny thing is that I do allocate time for self-improvement: learning new languages and frameworks, for example. I understand the importance of getting around to that so I can stay relevant. It's just too easy to put off the little nits until they become urgent.

How do you deal with your own IT needs? Do you schedule time for yourself, just as if you were a client? Or do you deal with things as they come up?

They say that doctors make the worst patients. What kind of client are you to your vendors? I like to think that I'm a pretty nice guy, but I have to admit that when, for example, my Internet connection is down for more than 30 minutes, I can get pretty testy with my Service Provider. I find myself saying the same things that the most aggravated clients say:

  • How can you run a business like this?!
  • Is there anyone there who knows what the hell they're doing?!
  • I should bill you for my lost business!

Of course, I could afford to be nicer if I had a backup plan for Internet outages. Back in the days when Internet access speed was less than a megabit, I kept a dial-up account for such emergencies. These days, that wouldn't help much. So I don't know what I could do to lessen the impact of that. ISPs must frequently find themselves on the critical path these days. How do you go about backing up that link, and any others on which your business depends?

About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

11 comments
JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew like.author.displayName 1 Like

...like your office or any other physical aspect of your business. Not only that, but I consider problems that arise with my home network as a warning sign and reminder of what I'll be facing with clients. (I try to maintain similar configurations to what my clients have in order to test software & hardware) If an update goes south, or the proxy server does something weird, I know I can expect a call from clients, or better yet, head off the problem before they even notice. Just as I expect to devote several hours a day to tasks such as accounting and education, I expect to have to spend a certain amount of time and expense dealing with hardware or software failures within my own office. Doesn't mean I enjoy it when the hard drive in a sever starts making that clicking noise or when my desktop goes blue-screen and then doesn't reboot like it did recently, sucking up the better part of a day. In IT, we have to expect to endure a certain amount of the pain & expense that our clients do. It's probably a good thing as it keeps us humble.

jkameleon
jkameleon like.author.displayName 1 Like

An old saying of ours.

heuristic
heuristic like.author.displayName 1 Like

The cobbler's children go barefoot.

newcreationxavier
newcreationxavier like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

It's true that in human psychology we give ourselves the utmost priorities, but never really act it out in giving oneself a good service delivery. There is a rule of thumb in money management that says Pay Yourself First. I think this rule also applies. If I give myself a good ROI and regular Premium Support, it might save me a lot of unnecessary lost hours that someone else could be paying for. The pain is, I can say this theoretically, and it always seems doable, implementation is always the problem. The tendency is to do it on a FAIT (fix as it comes)...

mjd420nova
mjd420nova like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

They expect immediate attention and complain loudest of all when things don't progress to their satisfaction, and they expect it for FREE. I have remained free of the all encompassing draw of facebook, twitter and a dozen other social networks. This allows me to place myself at the bottom of the list when things aren't as they should be. Of course, the home office stuff is always at the top but seldom is needed. Few clients follow any guidelines, they ask for buying advices but never heed it. The resulting delays in getting the proper parts for some custom built unit from China drives them up a tree and forces me to stop answering their calls about status. I can only avoid them for so long.

valherum
valherum like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

While this may not be a solution for everyone, I have a cellular "Mifi" device that I use often while I'm traveling and it works great as a backup internet connection when my cable connection goes down. While fairly expensive at ~$50/mo with a 5GB monthly data cap, it has saved my behind several times when my cable connection went down while remotely troubleshooting an issue for a client.

layer4down
layer4down like.author.displayName 1 Like

I agree with others here that these days, I think most of us can find a pretty reasonable backup internet connection within our own cell phones. I have a company owned BB curve over the Verizon Wireless network which I occasionally use to tether to my laptop while I'm on the go. While I may only get a few hundred Kbps at best, this is actually enough to provide me with limited e-mail and internet access and sustain a CIsco VPN connection, all while I'm on the road (not driving myself of course :-) Now as a network engineer I of course expected to easily be able to use services such as telnet and ssh, but I was pretty surprised to see that I am actually able to sustain a few RDP sessions over this connection with reasonable enough performance to get all of my work done!

Scott Burrell
Scott Burrell like.author.displayName 1 Like

I agree, in a pinch or when traveling the Mifi is a useful tool. We can easily cover 200 miles of almost empty space in a somewhat normal day so the ability to connect and troubleshoot at nearly any time/place is key. I have even used a Mifi and my MacBook Pro to give a few machines on a customers network internet for payroll while we worked on the down connection.

Scott Burrell
Scott Burrell like.author.displayName 1 Like

For us this is only possible after hours and on weekends. If an internal device like a backup server, web server, or e-mail server go down during normal hours we drop what we are doing and restore service as quickly as possible. Generally we give priority to incidents both internal and external keeping the following in mind. 1. Loss of revenue 2. Number of users A Public Safety entity like a PD of FD always get priority no matter when or what else is going on when the device or service relates to life safety. Then we evaluate what type of agreement we have in place, if any. Internet from two independent service providers allows us to keep usable connectivity during ISP outages. Take your local ISP techs and managers out to lunch, help them for no charge within reason and get on a first name basis with as many of them as you can. This relationship will pay off when you need immediate assistance for yourself or a client.

rhonin
rhonin like.author.displayName 1 Like

I do set up time with myself as a client based on a more general heading: Intended for my "IT" personal use. If I find I do not need the time for IT purposes, I will use it for something else, on a personl basis first, then a paying client basis next.