|What to tell clients requiring support if I'm on vacation?|
I'm a one man band.
As a one man band, I'm just starting the process of going part-time in my current full time job, so that I'm able to build and market websites, and I'm finalising my first proper contract with an organisation.
They have asked me to make clear what will happen if I'm away on vacation, or not available as far as support and maintenance on the website is concerned.
As far as technical issues relating to hosting are concerned I can set up a system so that they can email the support team that hosts all of my websites. So that should be ok.
I'm a bit stuck on what to do if they come across a non-hosting related error or problem with the website. If I can't be contacted and I'm a one man band what do I do? What do others do in this situation?
Would you outsource support?
I always take a laptop with me on holiday so that I can be contacted via email. This has always been good enough for my clients.
Yes I can understand that. But there will be times when internet access is not available, or it may not be desirable to carry a laptop. Is there anyone who does something more substantial? Maybe there will be times when I need a break from it all. Or is this a luxury you give up as a freelancer?
[edited by: The_Cricketer at 7:49 pm (utc) on May 25, 2009]
with the usual maintainance work, a week off shouldn't be a problem, if you tell them beforehand. but just assume there's a bug in your code that prohibits the site from working, maybe prohibiting the client from making money. you cannot possibly leave the client at that. if you outsource support, you need a technician to take support calls - and he needs to make decisions in your name. if the bug is hidden and someone who is not involved in the project goes hunting for it ... who'll pay him? you certainly don't want to and you can't really bill the client.
In a team, and may it be just two people, you can always involve the other one so that he knows the basics of stuff you worked on, but as a single freelancer, you're the one and only.
If you can afford to tell clients that you're off for a week without contact possibilities, great. I can't. I'm on call during working hours and beyond, because you'll never know when things happen. granted, that's in theory, usually, clients don't discover problems while they're at home having dinner, but whenever I leave town, be it business or personal, I take my cell and laptop and make sure I have an internet connection whereever I'm going.
Interesting, you present the issues well there. I may need to invest in a decent smartphone that allows me to receive email etc while on the move.
I guess that taking a laptop would solve a lot of problems. I'm trying to picture a few senarios such as a day off at a cricket match (having quite a few drinks!) or walking around the pyramids in Egypt and somehow receiving an email or call that says something strange has happened with the website. I can imagine that it could be quite a tricky situation to solve where you're in a situation that you can't sit down with a laptop. Maybe such issues need to wait until I can sit down with a laptop in the evening, or the next day. Tricky!
|Or is this a luxury you give up as a freelancer? |
In my case yes, although I an gradually reducing the time spent online while away. I was away for a week earlier this month and I spent a total of about two hours of it online. Actually it's easier for me because I have no clients that pay me for this sort of commitment or support. I really just need to check up on enquiries.
Or is this a luxury you give up as a freelancer?- Yes you grab time off when you can.
I have been a freelancer for 5 years and during that time I even took a 2 week vacation to Italy and was completely and totally unreachable (by design). I think it just takes some decent planning.
First, starting about 1 month out I start email my regular clients explaining I will out of town during a certain date range. I explain that I will be unreachable at all. I ask that all updates they want finished be sent to me a week before I leave. I send a couple of reminder emails during this time.
Second, I have another freelance programmer that I have been working with for almost the same amount of time set up as my backup. While he doesn't have total access to my accounts and computers he has enough to be able to fix small problems and emergencies. My clients have his contact information and know to only call during critical emergencies. I trust him completely to solve the immediate issue and be fair about it later when I pay him for work done. So far he has never been called in on the job while I have been gone.
Last I use some basic common sense and don't launch major sites 30 days or so before I leave on a trip. I work my schedule so launches happen 30 or more days before I leave or after I return. This allows me to stop most major issues that might explode while I am gone from happening.
I have taken a laptop with me before, but never used it. I just walk away and let my planning do its job. So far it hasn't come back to bite me. I guess the day can come where that will happen, but so far it has been manageable and I have never come back to a disaster or pissed customer. However I also don't discount the luck factor where I have simply been lucky that no major issues have occurred while I have been gone. Hopefully that part continues.
I am leaving again this week and have put the same planning in place we will see if I am lucky again. I figure 5 years and running is a pretty good track record though.
I wouldn't enjoy my holiday without my laptop.
You are in biz. You have a job. You get to take vacations (get in writing). But you also have to be available if things go south even on vacation.
Of course you have done your job and things won't go south so enjoy the vacation, but if it does...
That's the rub.
$10,000/yr site, no worries. "See you when I get back." $100,000/yr site, call your backup (you have one in place, right?). $1,000,000/yr site "I'll catch the next flight back. See you tomorrow."
Or... have a laptop, good (and secure) internet access wherever you go and get it done. And charge 4x for the service.
You know which clients might ring, give your prime contracts your mobile number or if possible call them midweek just to check they are OK.
Give the others a local number, plan your hols well in advance and employ a temp to take 1st line support.
If any of my vendors took off for a week without providing cover they would be sacked and sued (pro-rata)
|If any of my vendors took off for a week without providing cover they would be sacked and sued |
If I build a site for you and it has been up and running for 3 months with no trouble, but you aren't paying me for maintenance or anything and I leave and something does happens then what? Most of my work is warrantied for 30 days after go live. If something occurs after that I fix it and charge or don't charge on a case by case basis depending on what exactly went wrong. I know the argument can be made if there is an error in code, that doesn't for whatever reason, show up for 3 months then I should be obligated to fix it, which I would, but I still don't think that means I must be one phone call away and on the next flight home kind of thing. When working with code sometimes issues take a long time to show up, just look at Microsoft, some of their crap still has errors years later!
The point is it depends on what you are obligated to do as the vendor and how long you warranty your work for. I just believe that every project no matter how big or valuable to the client has limits. Just because I once did business with someone however long ago doesn't obligate me to be available 24/7 forever, no matter what. On the other hand if I have a contract to provide some type of service for a set amount of time or every month and I disappear without making arrangements now they have a legitimate issue.
I don't like announcing vacations due to the possibility of someone taking that as an invitation for a break in. That might sound a little tinfoil hatty but there are people with drug and gambling habits that need cash.
That being said, there are some options depending on where you are travelling. Here are some random thoughts.
1. look into a world phone and set up call forwarding or a good voicemail system for your phone.
2. I picked up a samsung saga. My carrier allows you to get overseas data packages by the week. The cost is high (2 bucks a minute) but you can use the phone as a tethered modem.
3. If you are US based, there was a lot of talk that the TSA and other gummint types could sieze your laptop if they didn't like the color of your shirt. Also, in Philly, the TSA guy was helping himself to laptops in luggage. SO - I would make sure that you do not have any passwords on your machine or other sensitive data.
4. You could do something like go2mypc. Leave a machine running at home that you can get to with all of your sensitive client info. If you need to access it, then you have some vulnerability but I think it is a lot less of a vulnerability.
For the most part, I would think that for web design stuff, you could probably be pretty much able to do whatever you could do from home.
If your clients are in the US and you are, then check out the hotel and your cellular carrier. I prefer a cellular aircard for my laptop because I **Feel** that is more secure than hotel wireless. I was in Hot springs Va and found that my aircard was only getting 128kbs at the Homestead. I am not complaining though because that is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. There were no internet cafes in the immediate are. Great sporting clays ranges, but no internet cafes. If I needed additional speed, then I wwould have to use the hotel wireless.
One final ramble.. I try to get all of my clients to use my home office number which is set to notify my cell phone when I get a call. I could go away and most of them would not have a clue that I was 700 miles away
/rambling old fart
You don't have to justify anything. Any human is allowed vacation time. Just give warning in advance and exact date and take your vacation without hogging off with your work. The point of a vacation is not to work. If client doesn't understand that, then client needs to rethink their own priorities. If the work you do is that critical, why didn't they hire a larger company with back ups and more redundancy?
Take your vacation and stop feeling guilty about allowing yourself to live a bit.
|The point of a vacation is not to work. If client doesn't understand that, then client needs to rethink their own priorities. |
Clients will already have thought about their priorities and decided that they need service. When you think about it they are not interested in your well being and why should they be when they have a business of their own to run?
The point is that they have not hired a larger company. They have hired you and you must put in place arrangements to service their requirements whan you are on holiday IF they are paying for this level of service.
What really pisses me off is when people call me at 10.30pm asking me to do something for them as happened last night.