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I'm in quite a quandary and could use some advice...

To start, 'client' is not entirely accurate. I started as a contractor for this company 7 years ago, before being employed full-time a few years later, attending company social events, etc. It's not a software development company—I was/am the sole developer, responsible for all aspects of their various software projects (large, highly-bespoke business web applications).

Since about 9 months ago, no new development was needed and therefore no full-time developer was needed, so I'm now independent again, with a 1-year SLA in place (expiring in a few months) to support existing projects.

Although I sometimes fix things, add features, and support users, communication between myself and the company has become minimal. So it's unclear what their plans are for these projects going forward (whether or not they have it in mind to eventually phase out and retire them). I did receive an email the other day asking how difficult it would be for another developer to "take on" the various projects, so, options are likely being considered, and they're also trying to safeguard themselves I'd assume.

However, with all that I know about these projects, I feel quite certain that they need me around in some capacity for another few years at least. The systems generate a lot of revenue, and I'm the only person qualified to maintain them.

I'll be emailing the CEO soon to share with her my thoughts and ideas about the way forward. Having never been in a situation like this before, my question is this: is it reasonable to say that if I hand things over to anyone, I'd want to completely remove the environments and project histories from my machine? I.e. I'm going to suggest either a maintenance SLA (another 1-year contract with the same terms, or a longer term one with lower rates), or a complete handover—not anything in between where I'd be reachable "just in case".

It's an honest and legitimate request—I'd want to put things behind me if there is anything like a handover—but it does give an impression of holding them ransom in some way, which is causing me some distress. The relationship is still a good one, with mutual goodwill, and I'd want to keep it that way.

I'd welcome any advice, because this predicament is quite draining.

tl;dr: Is it reasonable to suggest either an SLA with a fixed monthly amount to support existing projects, or otherwise a complete handover—and nothing in between. Or, am I being unreasonable and/or do I need to change my mindset.

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  • It's not high school. Make them a business offer, forget about it and move on. – Fattie Feb 12 at 1:07
  • @Fattie, agree 100%. I'm not usually very business-minded so it's nice to hear it out loud. Thank you. (This idea of workplace/colleagues being 'like a family' has caused needless issues for me. Live and learn...) – user982119 Feb 12 at 7:07
  • Best of luck to you! – Fattie Feb 12 at 12:19
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I don't understand why you think you'd be "holding them for ransom". You seem to be having some kind of moral quandary regarding the business relationship you have with them. You owe them nothing other than to perform the work they pay you for.

If they terminate the relationship with you then delete/destroy any and all copies of their intellectual property in your possession. It's their responsibility to make sure they have a copy of said IP.

If they want to continue a business relationship with you then draw up the terms of that relationship and send them a contract to sign.

Why would you lower your rate? Your rate is your rate. If they want your expertise they should pay you what everybody else pays for it. If you want to give them a discount in exchange for a long term contract or commitment that's fine, but I'm not in the habit of giving discounts just for the privilege of doing work for a client.

You should feel no moral or ethical allegiance or obligation to them. They feel none for you. This is business. Your allegiance and obligation should be to yourself.

Building and maintaining goodwill is important, but not at the cost of your livelihood. You shouldn't be in the habit of giving your services away. Your time and expertise is valuable. They're in business to benefit the company. You need to be in business to benefit yourself. While you may have a personal friendship with the owner or CEO, your business relationship is not a friendship, it's a business relationship. Never forget that.

As for taking an "all or nothing" approach, I never do that. If a client wants to call me in the future I'm more than happy to work with them. If they don't call me that's fine as well.

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  • Thanks for the reply. I suppose I'm just wondering how common it is to want all or nothing. I'm not a freelancer—I'm either a regular full-time staffer, or a contractor with a single client—so I wouldn't want anything to do with previous/past clients/employers. I'm concerned that it might be perceived as disingenuous if I suggest this, hence "holding them for random". – user982119 Feb 11 at 16:56
  • A contractor with a singled client is... a freelancer. You can choose to do business with whomever you like, but I never turn away potential income. I always leave the door open to future work with any/every client. If they call me and I'm not interested I tell them I'm not interested or I'm unavailable. – joeqwerty Feb 11 at 17:00
  • When I started as a self-employed contractor I had just one client for several years. That didn't mean I wasn't a freelancer. That meant I was a freelancer with one client. – joeqwerty Feb 11 at 17:01
  • @joeqwerty, I would only remark that if your commitment to the one employer is effectively full-time and indefinite, then the idea that your 'lance' is at all 'free' becomes somewhat of a pretense. – Steve Feb 12 at 11:49
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Don't email the CEO with "your thoughts". It's too easy to ignore a difficult conversation by email.

DO email the CEO with a request for a meeting to discuss the future of the project. Go and see them in person, and talk about the challenges, the communication, where they see the project going. You'll be able to read their body language, head off any problems, and (more importantly) become a real person to them, instead of 'that person who handles the issues'. From that meeting, you should know your future path.

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