OK, shame on me twice.

My expertise is in a narrow field that found me rather than I found it. But it pays the bills. In my field I deal with large complex systems.

Not once, but twice, an (ex) friend of mine with a small company asked my to bid a project in my field. I met with him, broke down his requirements, and created an implementation plan and preliminary design – tasks that in my regular contracts I am paid to do, but as a favor did for free. I quoted a small number to implement with no back charges for analysis performed. I later found out from another person he used my bid, word for word, to get other bids for the work.

How should I have protected myself?

I did learn something, though. At a Christmas party, a VP-level person was asking about a problem in my field and I responded with next step. He told me I did not understand his problem and I just said OK.

How do you engage in opportunities without giving away work for free?

  • You may find this talk helpful. Edit: The tl;dr is that everything needs to be under contract. Dec 18, 2014 at 21:24
  • The other solution some vendors use is to provide a proposal so specific that only their services/products will meet the stated requirements. Personally I consider that borderline unethical, but anyone who tries to get someone else to write the requirements for them for free, and who doesn't make an effort to review and adjust those requirements, is sorta asking for it.
    – keshlam
    Dec 18, 2014 at 22:12

2 Answers 2


This is fairly common in a number of industries.

In mine there are a limited number of established "players". We can usually tell which company was the initial (or even favored) contact with the potential client based on the RFP that is produced. Basically there are certain keywords that each of us use to differentiate our products and when those show up in the RFP itself then we know who wrote it.

Is it ethical? No. It's even borderline illegal in certain markets - ours falls in that category. Is there anything that can actually be done about it? Not really. I mean we could certainly sue the potential clients (some of our competitors have) but that is really not beneficial in the long run.

In your particular case I'd make sure I didn't give the implementation plan and design away for free. The requestor should provide a list of requirements that are good enough for you to give a non-binding ball park figure. The next step would be for you to have the client pay you a certain amount to spend time building the analysis, implementation plan and initial design.

From that you give them the price for completion. At which point it's up to them to continue with you or to find someone else to implement your design. When I was doing contract programming there were many times where I did the initial engagement while a different company performed the actual implementation. Sometimes this was even understood before the initial engagement even started.

If you come to terms that this will sometimes happen and properly plan for it then you'll be happier.

  • 1
    I am with you. Some times you get caught in help get the project funded thing and then they bid you out. Shame on me. I let the same guy do it to me twice. I really like the keyword thing.
    – paparazzo
    Dec 19, 2014 at 0:31

The key to not having all your work effectively stolen comes down to what you do before actually starting to get paid and what you provide the potential client.

How much before hand

Until you've got some kind of binding agreement don't invest huge amounts of your time for free. Simply put you'll get screwed as they can now take your planning and pass it off to cheap labor to follow it.

Typically I'll get a rough estimate of what I expect and just give them that.

  • Create replacement interface
  • Migrate Database to new system
  • Setup reporting services rough estimate 56 hours.

Clearly this is an incomplete list that is probably off by 10 - 15% time wise. since you're taking a quick glance and not digging into the nitty gritty.

Negotiate the research process

You're detailed break down itself is worth a decent chunk of change. You've effectively finished hours of admin work for free. In the future you should provide a birds eye outline only (like I did above) if they want something of detail you need to be paid, in the event they make the offer for you to do the work you'll credit that cost against the total price.

(IE if they take your outline to someone else you get paid your fee for the outline, if they hire you to do the work then you just eat the cost of the outline as a bargaining tool)

Fire clients

Even with all this sometimes you'll have the person who doesn't pay, bounces a check, or otherwise does something cringe worthy. Firing clients is both your right and necessary. If someone is unreasonable, takes advantage of you, etc. It's perfectly fair to professionally decline any future work from a client due to past issues. The last thing you want is someone who won't pay you to be eating up time you could use on a paying client.

  • Note, typically I never put in more than 2 - 3 hours "for free" after that someone's paying or I'll just stop the task and explain for me to finish there needs to be money on the table. Dec 18, 2014 at 19:28
  • "OK shame on me twice"
    – paparazzo
    Dec 18, 2014 at 20:54
  • I really like this answer but you have 5 up votes and giving the check mark to Chis for keywords comments.
    – paparazzo
    Dec 19, 2014 at 0:33

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .