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A potential client has raised the issue of what would happen if I became unavailable for any reason, i.e. ill. They have a fixed timetable. Clearly my portfolio is based on my own work, which would not necessarily be of such quality if I had to effectively arrange a subcontractor.
Does anyone have any suggestions?
My only real solution is to recommend a few other people (I probably do know enough people that could do the work) if I fell ill, who could pick up the work, assuming I had sufficiently documented what I was doing as I went along.
Also, if so, should I therefore accept payment on completion only, or still insist on 25% upfront (which I have already indicated is my standard practice).
If, alternatively, I subcontracted, should I therefore accept the risk when signing a contract, i.e. state that the payment goes to me directly, and that if I have to subcontract that's a matter I need to deal with internally?
I can very much understand the client's dilemma. I believe they prefer my work to a rival company's work, but feel that the latter would be safer even if it is probably more expensive.
If I get sick or can't deliver the competitor will take over. I will subsequently make no money on the project if the worst happens but the client will get the final product and my business' reputation won't be tarnished.
One: As mentioned, you need a contractor who can step in if necessary. I have several people who usually only work as subcontractors as needed but a couple of whom are capable of fulfilling a contract if necessary. We have mutual "complete as required" contracts between ourselves. Never been needed (knock on my wooden head) but nice insurance for self-employed types.
Two: Actual disability, contract fulfilment insurance. Yes real insurance. Never been needed (knock again) but a business expense I am pleased to pay.
The two together have calmed clients fears about using a "one-man shop" for years now.
Note of advice... Don't write the technical documentation for free. That comes at the same hourly rate as the rest of your work. You'll find this very time consuming. Some of it you should already have from your original implementation. Are you modeling any use cases before building?
Solid documentation can very long to do, I have directed many projects where I saw that developers don't even know how to document: they just repeat the code in plain english instead of making a synthesis of it :).
And unfortunately client doesn't want to pay this part of time generally that's why I would rather recommand to team with somebody; of course some documentation won't hurt but for a small project of only one person informal communication is much more fruitful - in the examples above where I had once 6 java developpers to manage then sure not enough documentation would be harmful.
And how many developpers master UML for that? Because if you really want to document things properly that's the formalism today. And unfortunately using tools like Rational Rose is not very productive because of lack of integration between IDE tool and the UML tool although it depends on the langage (java is rather well integrated but php hmm).