Why I don’t like freebies

A thought occurred to me last night in relation to yesterday’s post, in which I wrote:

I went to a known supplier and asked them for a quote to conduct a site visit and prepare a full scope of work document. They would be paid for their efforts, and the document would be used for the competitive tender of the job proper.

There’s another good reason for doing this, aside from treating contractors fairly.

Earlier in my career I was involved in some rather specific work for which we needed the input of a specialist contractor. One of the managers above me contacted an American company that fit the bill and we engaged in a series of meetings or, as people in my industry like to call them, workshops (Alexei Sayle got this right).

The American company sent their sales people to the meetings and we sent our engineers. The Americans thought it was a sales pitch and so were working pro-bono. We thought it was a design meeting and believed the Americans were working for free because they wanted to please us. After a few meetings we found the Americans were getting less cooperative. Specifically, they were not producing the abundance of technical deliverables our engineers were asking for, and instead kept giving us generic information and brochures. It was not difficult for me to figure out what was going on here, but I was the only one. When I tried to point out that Americans are generally not people who work for free I was shouted down by engineers with no commercial or business experience whatsoever:

“But they have said they want to work with us!” I was told. “So they need to give us what we are asking for.”

At which point I sat back to enjoy the show. Things came to a head when a load of documents arrived from the American company and they did not meet the expectations of our engineers. We all gathered for a meeting to discuss how we would convey our disappointment, and by now I knew enough to stay silent. Had I thought anyone would listen I’d have said:

“How the fuck are we going to complain about the quality of something we’ve been given for free?”

The reason why I insist on contractors not doing things for free when I’m in charge is because it gives you no opportunity to set expectations and quality standards, and no leverage if what you are given is rubbish (which, being free, it always is). I would much rather pay somebody to do a job and set out exactly what I want than to accept freebies or favours and end up with something I don’t.

Somebody really ought to coin a phrase for this sort of thing, maybe using lunch as an analogy.


11 thoughts on “Why I don’t like freebies

  1. Random consultant rings and at the end of a discuss the question comes; ‘Can you send a P&ID’.
    My answer; No, I can send an outline flow diagram.
    Consultant; ‘We really need a P&ID’.
    Me; Please send a PO with a large number written on it.
    End of conversation, almost weekly occurrence for years…

  2. The other saying being money talks and bullshit walks.

    And with payment you can further incentivise to increase value. I settled a fairly big stoush with a big rough and tumble contractor yesterday with one outstanding condition that they certify a future payment as well. The certification wasn’t due until today, they sent it through a few hours ago and to my utmost surprise they certified the payment for a value 30% higher than my invoiced value. They didn’t have to do this, it was a peace offering and they will be rewarded by us for doing this.

  3. I’m a contrator in a niche IT technology and have spent the best part of the last 20 years building up kowledge and experience in said niche technology. I consider this to be a valuable saleable asset.

    This week the company has requested that I share my knowledge and experience with a bunch of new hires that have no experience of the software tools we use. This is in addition to the development work I have been hired to do. Effectively they are asking me to give away my asset free of charge. If they want me to run a training course and pay me the going rate, then fine. But they won’t. I can see this not ending well.

  4. @Henry, are you saying that they expect you to clock off when you finish your development work and start your training work?

  5. If they want me to run a training course and pay me the going rate, then fine.

    I wouldn’t even do that: if you have the niche expertise, why would you train others?

  6. Tim, there is a dearth of people with my expertise in the IT industry as it is. I’m always happy to help others who are willing to learn and indeed have a number of ad-hoc support contracts where I assist the users with where they have gone wrong so they can avoid such in the future. Advice is always free, training not so much.

    Bardon, that’s not the point. They are asking me to pass on my asset to others at much less than the going rate I would normally charge for running a training course.

  7. Random consultant rings and at the end of a discuss the question comes; ‘Can you send a P&ID’.

    Heh! HAZOP-ed too, of course. 🙂

  8. @Henry Crun

    What do you specialise in? Idle interest only. I’m also a software developer / architect.

  9. Somebody really ought to coin a phrase for this sort of thing, maybe using lunch as an analogy.


  10. Plenty of ad agencies now charge for pitches. Not a lot but enough to stop this sort of thing. Back in my day we never – not ever – left designs or copy with prospective clients as it had a bad habit of turning up in their next campaign.

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