I run a business where sometimes I'll go into a client's premises and install network infrastructure. Most of my clients are small business firms which have no IT staff. Nearly in every case they don't have the equipment they need (from routers and switches to server racks and UPS).
Usually I buy the equipment, or have someone from my staff buy them from local suppliers (after the client had approved the budget). One day my father scolded me for doing so. He says that since I'm doing the listing, price analysis and the buying, he would have reasons to believe I may be inflating the prices of the parts and materials, so as to collect the difference between what's in the budget and the actual price as profit, while masquerading my actual profit and labor costs to make them seem smaller. Or, in the case of some parts that we buy from local makers (i.e.: wires), it could be that I'm being paid off by the manufacturers. He said the honorable thing to do is to give the shopping list to the contractees, and let them buy everything on their own.
I always take what he says seriously because:
- I learned my job from him;
- He used to be my main client for a long time;
- He is my father, after all.
But I've done as he says before. Before having a firm I worked alone, and I once told a client that I need a router with some capacities. The client just bought the cheapest he could find in 10 minutes, which lacked the feature I planned to use. I wrote down the features I needed to complete the project, as well as a list of complying models, but that only led to a whole night having to explain to a laysperson why the cheapest options don't always do what we want them to do.
With another client, I just gave a list of parts I'd need for a few machines, and he said:
That's why I pay you the big bucks. I don't understand a f*** of what you've written here, and I don't want to. No one in my staff speaks tech language, so do your job and bring these parts here yourself.
So in one hand I see what I am doing as part of the service - if my clients were knowledgeable in IT they wouldn't need to hire me in the first place. On the other hand I understand my father's point of view. For the very same reason that I'm an expert and my clients are layspeople, the only thing keeping me from buying a $10 device and billing it as a $1,000 cost is my honesty.
What is the ethical way to go? Keep doing it as I'm doing? Giving the shopping list to the client and let them deal with it? Are there laws about this kind of practice in places like the US or EU?