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I am a freelancer providing service to a small company. Let's call the boss John. Alice and Bob are two of his employees. I am not a part of John's company nor management team, I am simply an external party providing service.


Below are some extracts of email communication:

John: Alice has some problems. Can you go and take a look?

Alice: We have an error in Component Y of System X.

(I fixed the error and informed Alice to check it.)

Alice: Thanks, the fix is working.

(days later) John: Hi, what is the progress of Alice's problem?

About two weeks later, on the agreed work cutoff date, I sent John an invoice:

Error analysis and fix on Component Y, System X. Charge is $xxx.

John replied asking what the charge is for.


Here is another example:

John: Bob needs some help on System Z.

Me: My charge is $xxx. My availability on the coming days is (...)

(Days passed. I got no email. I assume either my charge is too high, they've resolved the problem themselves, or they found somebody else)

John: Did Bob contact you about his problem?


It is apparent to me that John is unaware of what his employees (who work in John's company office) are doing. As a deal between me and his company, I would have expected the company's employees to report the status of work to their boss; it is an internal affair does not relate to me. Every time John asks me these questions, I simply reply the fact to him (e.g. "Bob did not contact me"). However these replies are slowly building up to consume communication time, time which I am not paid for.

I am looking for a way to remind him that he should check with his employees first, without sounding harsh or lecturing him (it is his company, not mine). How should I proceed?

closed as off-topic by T. Sar, scaaahu, JakeGould, Rory Alsop, gnat Mar 12 '18 at 20:49

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  • 7
    Do you have a standard contract you use with clients? Or if they provide the contract, do you have items you require to be included in their contract? Do any of those items cover the communication time you are spending? – Kent A. Mar 9 '18 at 11:53
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    As for your first example Error analysis and fix on Component Y, System X. Charge is $xxx. -> This has a date, right? and your second example My charge is $xxx. My ... --> Is that in writing ? Please update your question. – Jan Doggen Mar 9 '18 at 14:17
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    Use CC on your emails. Send him copies of every email chain with a resolution. – user53651 Mar 9 '18 at 22:14
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    What im doing these days is CC the boss in every email sent to her employees – Lynob Mar 10 '18 at 0:21
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    It reads more to me like John doesn't know what John is doing. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 10 '18 at 20:49
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This first paragraph is in accord with Kate Gregory's answer. In the first case, not informing the person who is actually able to authorize billing seems like a good way to set yourself up for disagreements. In the second case, why would you let billable work go for want of a few proactive emails/calls on your part?!

To answer your explicit question: In the short-term, get clarification from John on how he'd like the interactions to go and notify him if people on his end aren't meeting his expectations. It's quite possible you and John have different ideas of who is responsible for what in the communication. If needing to remind/prompt people is getting to be too much of a hassle, adjust your rates to compensate in the long-term.

To elaborate on the first point, instead of accusing John or his employees of failing to communicate, ask John how he would like you to interact with his employees. You can perhaps present some options. It is very unlikely that the situation where John doesn't know what work you are or are not doing for (and billing against) him except by constantly polling his employees is what John wants. You should be making it easy for him to give you work and know what work you are doing in the way that he wants. If John does want something that would be particularly arduous on your part, it may be a window to renegotiate the rate/hours/what is billable. If John does expect to be kept informed by his employees, then would be the time to inform him of any seeming failures of employees to do so. Even then, it should be asking for clarification: "You mentioned that Bob had some work for me, but Bob never contacted me. What would you like me to do if a similar situation arises in the future?" Again, you can provide options if you want.

  • "why would you let billable work go for want" - If OP is hard up for work, then sure you gotta take what you can get. But if OP is sending the potential client their availability because they already have other work lined up, then taking on a problematic client could be a net loss. – industry7 Mar 11 '18 at 15:40
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    @industry7 Bob isn't a new client. Bob is just a person that works for the existing client John. If there is a problematic client in the situation, then it is John and that shipped has sailed. In the long-term, you can adjust rates up until it is worthwhile or you price yourself out of John's interest. In this case, the contract already exists and Bob can call at any time to drop a pile of work on the OP. The OP needs to have capacity when it comes. It makes a lot more sense to write a two line email to get a handle on the schedule. – Derek Elkins Mar 11 '18 at 22:09
  • It seems like you're assuming that John is OP's only client. If OP has plenty of other clients lined up, then it might not be worth taking on any new work from John. I mean OP said that John regularly requests work to be done, agrees to the hourly rate, and then after the work is done questions why he's being charged. Seems like a bad client. – industry7 Mar 14 '18 at 16:38
  • @industry7 I'm not assuming that. Indeed, my previous comment only makes sense if John isn't the OP's only client, otherwise the OP will have no trouble having capacity. The situation is akin to an auto mechanic. If you bring your car to a mechanic to repair some overt issue whose cause is unknown to you, you don't expect the mechanic to repair that issue and every other issue they can find only informing you via a $3,000 invoice. You expect the mechanic to notify you and give you a chance to refuse any additional work. – Derek Elkins Mar 14 '18 at 19:39
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If John asks you to go and deal with something for Alice, when you succeed you don't just walk away and assume Alice will tell John, especially if you're going to be invoicing for that item separately. Once it's settled, send John an email that says "I took care of the problem you told me about. It turned out to be X and it took Y hours; you'll see it on this month's invoice as ABC." Close the loop yourself.

When someone asks you to help another and you feel it's important to remind them of your rate and availability, don't forget to ask for the work. Just say "should I work out a good time with Bob?" The boss may say "I will have Bob email you" or "yes" or "no" or anything else. You need to know. It's fine to ask.

You seem to assume that because Alice and Bob work for John, they will communicate about you. And in some companies they might. But as you've seen, if they don't, it's you who is irritated or hurt by it, not them. So take on the task of these communications yourself. Keep John aware of what's going on, ask for things you need, let the person who signs the cheques know how useful and helpful you are every chance you get.

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    Good answer. One way to ease this communication problem might be to funnel all these problems through ticket or project management software, which can be configured to send notices when things happen. This also creates a paper trail of what's been done if there are ever questions. – jpmc26 Mar 9 '18 at 20:34
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    This also seems like the ideal scenario for which the "CC" feature was invented. For example, after John tells you about Alice, I would CC at least a couple of emails to make sure that both John and Alice know what is going on. Keep John in the loop. – Fixed Point Mar 9 '18 at 20:35
  • this is just a perfect answer really. – bharal Mar 9 '18 at 22:09
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    "So take on the task of these communications yourself." ...and don't forget to include that in the hours you bill them for. – zzzzBov Mar 9 '18 at 22:59
  • @zzzzBov well sure. Because its part of your job. Alice and Bob ain't billing for it. – DonQuiKong Mar 11 '18 at 17:58
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In my experience you should always reply to the email so that John and the person in question get the email. Always keep John in the email chain, so that both you, he and the other party have a record and it's recorded.

In the case of you replying to an email requesting help and you giving them your rate, without a response, I've had this happen many times. The sender expects you to action the request, they don't expect you to inform them of the costs and they don't consider that they have to agree to it in the first place.

You should revise your contract with the company to make it state that any request of work must be agreed on by both yourself and the company in terms of renumeration for the job performed. It protects you and the company. You know you'll get paid properly, and they know they won't be hit with a nasty bill they wouldn't be expecting.

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    +1 it takes 10 seconds to include someone on the CC line – Richard U Mar 9 '18 at 14:44
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit How long then? Please quantify – Richard U Mar 11 '18 at 1:26
  • @RichardU: Let's say 3.14 – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 11 '18 at 11:47
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit that's rather ablist, don't you think? Anyone with a tremor might not be able to do it that quickly. – Richard U Mar 11 '18 at 13:40
  • @RichardU: You're right! In that case, we should settle on 24 hours, to allow anyone who may be in a coma some time to come out of it first. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 11 '18 at 13:54
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By working on (chargeable) problems coming from various sources, you're laying yourself open to a couple of different issues; That you might end up working on something that's not been authorised by the boss and that other users might not be aware that you've issued a fix.

The simplest way around this is by generating a list of those who're authorised to request changes (Alice, Bob and Tony) and having them fill out a standard change request form, then CC'ing all of the authorised people into any communications so that they're in the loop on both the fact that you're working on it, and the cost implications.

These simple actions prevent any accusations that you did work that wasn't confirmed by an officer of the company and making absolutely certain that your efforts won't result in a "being out of the loop" moment for the senior manager.

  • "One single point of contact with their company" preferably someone who is technical. – Criggie Mar 10 '18 at 3:45
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    @criggie - A single PoC isn't particularly necessary or desirable. It lays you open to a far higher risk of losing the client if/when that person leaves. Far better to have multiple contacts and basically become part of their technical ecosystem – Richard Mar 10 '18 at 8:27
  • fair point - now you remind me that has happened to a company I worked for - out inputs to the customer were all hidden behind one staffer. When he left, customer management simply wasn't aware of us. – Criggie Mar 10 '18 at 9:14
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    @Criggie - Yup. Best customer to "who the hell are you and why are we giving you £x a year?" in a heartbeat. – Richard Mar 10 '18 at 9:39
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This is not how consulting works. The problem seems to be on your end, not John's.

First, always know clearly who the official contact is that is authorized to have you do work. It sounds like that is John in your case. That's fine, but make sure this is completely clear to John. That should have been taken care of in whatever engagement agreement you have.

You are making unreasonable assumptions about Bob or Alice reporting to John that you did something. That's not their job. Ultimately that falls on you. John does know what his employees are doing, which is that they are sometimes working with you. You can't expect him to know all the details, and in particular, how much time you spent on each task.

The easiest way to ensure this is to CC John in relevant emails where Bob or Alice ask you to do something, or you explain how you've done it. If necessary, send John a message about completing each task, and how many hours it took. Ask him what level of detail he wants in these status reports, and what should trigger them.

You should have also agreed previously who gets your invoices and what level of detail you need to include. It sounds like you send your invoice to John. That's fine again, but he should never be blind-sided by something on the invoice. If he is, then you screwed up, not John nor Bob nor Alice.

Stop blaming John for your incompetent customer management.

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It sounds like you need a daily sync-up with John. Try to get included in their scrum/stand-up meeting if they have one. E-mail communication is clearly not effectively wrapping up the loose ends between you, John, and his employees. If what you should be working on and what you are working on is not consistent on a daily basis, John will be upset and in the worst case may not pay you for work you have done. However, he may be too busy with other meetings and clients to keep case-by-case tabs on you, so the responsibility falls on you.

You cannot force him to communicate with his employees, nor can you force his employees to communicate with him. If your e-mails are not doing the job, the only way to make sure that all parties are on the same page with what work needs to be done is verbal correspondence on a daily basis.

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    OP wants less communication, and you suggest much more? – bharal Mar 9 '18 at 22:10
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    @bharal OP wants less communication time, not less communication. And believe it or not, communicating verbally and often can help reduce the overall amount of time you spend communicating. – Rainbolt Mar 9 '18 at 22:36
  • OPs example is a handful of tiny emails. You suggest a daily standup, each one of which will take longer than reading and writing several emails. In a daily basis this is much more time. Agile doesn't solve everything! – bharal Mar 10 '18 at 0:10
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    @bharal Daily stand-ups in itself does not imply agile. If you are holding daily stand-ups for the sake of daily stand-ups, or when they wouldn't make sense, that is the opposite of agile. – Mark Rotteveel Mar 10 '18 at 12:04

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