I charged $18,000 for a Static HTML Page

... and got away with it.

Not too long ago, I made a living working as a contractor where I would hop from project to project. Some were short term where I would work for a week and quickly deliver my service. Others lasted a couple months where I would make enough money to take some time off. I preferred the short ones because they allowed me to charge a much higher rate for a quick job. Not only I felt like my own boss, but I also felt like I didn't have to work too hard to make a decent living. My highest rates were still reasonable, and I always delivered high quality service. That was until I landed a gig with a large company.

This company contacted me in urgency and the manager told me they needed someone right away. Someone who required minimum training for maximum performance. For better or worse, that was my motto. This project was exactly the type of work I liked. It was short, fast, and it paid well.

After negotiating a decent rate, I received an email with the instructions. They gave me more context for the urgency. Their developer left without prior warning and never updated anyone on the status of his project.

We need your full undivided attention to complete this project. For the duration of the contract, you will work exclusively with us to deliver result in a timely manner. We plan to compensate you for the trouble.

The instructions were simple: Read the requirements then come up with an estimate of how long it would take to complete the project. This was one of the easier projects I have encountered in my career. It was an HTML page with some minor animations and a few embedded videos. I spent the evening studying the requirements and simulating the implementation in my head. Over the years, I've learned not to write any code for a client until I have a guarantee of pay.

I determined that this project would be a day's worth of work. But to be cautious, I quoted 20 hours with a rough total of $1500. It was a single HTML page after all, and I can only charge them so much. They asked me to come on site to their satellite office 25 miles away. I would have to drive there for the 3 days I would be working for them.

The next day, I arrived at the satellite office. It was in a shopping center where a secret door led to a secret world where a few workers where churning quietly in their cubicles. The receptionist presented me with a brand new MacBook Pro that I had to set up from scratch. I do prefer using a company's laptop because they often require contractors to install suspicious software.

I spent the day downloading my toolkit, setting up email, ssh keys, and requesting invites to services. In other words, I got nothing done. This is why I quoted 20 hours, I lost 8 hours of my estimated time doing busy work.

The next day, I was ready to get down to business. Armed with the MacBook Pro, I sent an email to the manager. I told him that I was ready to work and that I was waiting for the aforementioned assets. That day, I stayed in my cubicle under a softly buzzing light, twiddling my fingers until the sun went down.

I did the math again. According to my estimate, I had 4 hours left to do the job, which was not so unrealistic for a single HTML page. But needless to say, the next day, I spent those remaining 4 hours in a company sponsored lunch where I ate very well and mingled with other employees.

When the time expired, I made sure to send the manager another email, to let him know that I had been present in the company only I had not received the assets I needed to do the job. That email, of course, was ignored.

The following Monday, I hesitantly drove the 25 miles. To my surprise, the manager had come down to the satellite office where he enthusiastically greeted me. He was a nice easy-going guy in his mid thirties. I was confused. He didn't have the urgency tone he had on the phone when he hired me. We had a friendly conversation where no work was mentioned. Later, we went down to lunch where he paid for my meal. It was a good day. No work was done.

Call me a creature of habit, but if you feed me and pamper me everyday, I get used to it. It turned into a routine. I'd come to work, spend some time online reading and watching videos. I'd send one email a day, so they know I am around. Then I'd go get lunch and hangout with whomever had an interesting story to share. At the end of the day, I'd stand up, stretch, let out a well deserved yawn, then drive home.

I got used to it. In fact, I was expecting it. It was a little disappointing when I finally got an email with a link that pointed to the assets I needed for the job. I came back down to earth, and put on my working face. Only, after spending a few minutes looking through the zip file, I noticed that it was missing the bulk of what I needed. The designer had sent me some Adobe Illustrator files, and I couldn't open it on the MacBook.

I replied to the email explaining my concerns and bundled a few other questions to save time. At that point, my quoted 20 hours time had long expired. I wanted to get this job over with already. Shortly after I clicked on send, I received an email. All it said was: "Adding Alex to the thread," and Alex was CC'd to the email. Then Alex replied where he added Steve to the thread. Steve replied saying that Michelle was a designer and she would know more about this. Michelle auto responded saying that she was on vacation and that all inquiries should be directed to her manager. Her manager replied asking "Who is Ibrahim?" My manager replied excusing himself for not introducing me.

As a contractor, I am usually in and out of a company before people notice that I work there. Here, I received a flood of emails welcoming me aboard. The chain of emails continued for a while and I was forced to answer to those awfully nice messages. Some people were eager to meet me in person. They got a little disappointed when I said that I was all the way down in California. And jealous, they said they were jealous of the beautiful weather.

They used courtesy to ignore my emails. They used CC to deflect my questions. They used spam to dismiss anything I asked. I spent my days like an archaeologist digging through the deep trenches of emails, hoping to find answers to my questions. You can imagine the level of impostor syndrome I felt every time I remembered that my only task was to build a single static HTML page. The overestimated 20 hours project turned into a 7 weeks adventure where I enjoyed free lunches, drove 50 miles everyday, and dug through emails.

When I finally completed the project, I sent it to the team on github. All great adventures must come to an end. But shortly after, I received an invitation to have my code reviewed by the whole team on Google Hangout. I had spent more than a month building a single static HTML page and now the entire team would have to critique my work? In my defense, there was also some JavaScript interactions, and it was responsive, and it also had CSS animations... Impostor.

Of course, the video meeting was rescheduled a few times. When it finally happened, my work and I were not the subject of the meeting. They were all sitting in the same room somewhere in New York and talked for a while like a tight knit group. In fact, all they ever said about the project was:

Person 1: Hey is anyone working on that sponsored page?
Person 2: Yeah, I think it's done.
Person 1: Great, I'll merge it tonight.

When I went home that night, I realized that I was facing another challenge. I had been working at this company for 7 weeks, and my original quote was for $1,500. That's roughly the equivalent of $11,100 a year or $214 a week. Or even better, it was $5.35 an hour.

This barely covered my transportation. So, I sent them an invoice where I quoted them for 7 weeks of work at the original hourly rate. The total amounted to $18,000. I was ashamed of course, but what else was I supposed to do?

Just like I expected, I got no reply. If there is something that all large companies have in common, it's that they are not very eager to pay their bills on time. I felt like a cheat charging so much for such a simple job, but this was not a charity. I had been driving 50 miles everyday to do the job, if the job was not getting done it was not for my lack of trying. It was for their slow responses.

I got an answer the following week. It was a cold email from the manager where he broke down every day I worked into hourly blocks. Then he highlighted those I worked on and marked a one hour lunch break each day. At the end he made some calculations with our agreed upon hourly rate.

Apparently, I was wrong. I had miscalculated the total. After adjustment, the total amount they owed me was $21,000.

Please confirm the readjusted hours so accounting can write you a check.

I quickly confirmed these hours.


The Machine Fired me - The Book

I am writing a book! Join me in my journey.


Comments(54)

grammar :

I had spent more than a month building a single static HTML page and now the entire team would have to critic my work?

critique

Ibrahim :

Thanks Grammar. Fixed.

Someone :

This post made my day! (I feel you lol)

Anonix :

Ibrahim, thanks for a great story. I believe it requires a lot of courage to talk about this aloud.

P.S. I loved the audio version of the article, it's like an actual audiobook :)

pi piper :

fuck you, that is unreal, : )

Jeff :

You must have Allah on your side or something.

Ibrahim :

Thanks @Anonix.

I always wanted to try audio but was too lazy. So I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Michael :

... and got away with it.

I suggest avoiding the "... and got away with it" lingo if this site is your professional presence. It makes sense after hearing the story, I have similar stories of charging more for reasons beyond my control, but the tone sounds a bit unprofessional to me.

I love the story itself!

OmegaMan :

They paid you to warm a chair....

Happens all the time in the tech industry. Next time put in your contract that it is for a set project amount of $XX,XXX or Time and Materials at $XX(X?) per hour for being onsite/worked past the project estimated hours of initial project estimate; whichever is more.

Ibrahim :

@OmegaMan and I warmed that chair pretty well. For good measures I threw in a free HTML page with it ;)

elif :

Someone who required minimum training for maximum performance.

The designer had sent me some Adobe Illustrator files, and I couldn't open it on the MacBook.

one of these does not belong :)

Alex :

Are these the same people running the government?

"Let us charge you 1 billion to build a window in this wooden shed."

Contractor4Life :

I'm surprised you went from contractor to working for a company. I went the opposite direction, there's no way I'd ever go back.

Aadil :

This is hilarious! Great story man I really enjoyed it!

Donald Nguyen :

I’d like to know which company this is. I have some services I’d like to offer them.

Jack Cox :

This was unethical. You should not be spending that kind of "nothing" time and extra contract time without a written approval from management for the overage.

Kris :

This was not unethical. He did exactly what was requested and was agreed on.

"We need your full undivided attention to complete this project. For the duration of the contract, you will work exclusively with us to deliver result in a timely manner. We plan to compensate you for the trouble."

Jodie :

I'm with Donald....love to know what company this was and see if they need anything!

Anonymouse :

Okay, I have to come out clean. I've been doing something rather similar for 2.5 years, at a US$1,200 day rate...

At a large consumer goods company... global presence, global brands...

And I do all my work remotely, from home. I've travelled only once to meet them, and all the rest, conference calls, emails and thats really it.

Tim :

For starters, good for you. I did all sorts of freelance jobs and the occasional super-creampuff gig was always welcome. You ALMOST feel guilty about the work-pay ratio, but get over it quickly.

It walks a fine line of ethics.

In defense of the author, he did what the cpmpany asked him to do. However, when this project went longer than 1 week, then 2 weeks, and so on, did he make any considerable effort beyond his occasional email to remind the company he was there? And if at that time he said "and the bill is adding up" the company may have acted more quickly?

Do you feel the author would have had any recourse if the company refused to pay beyond the $1500 agreed amount since the scope of the time was never re-negotiated as the weeks dragged on? Yes, the company did the "right" thing by paying the full amount (and beyond!), but did they have to?

It certainly would have completely crossed the line in the ethics debate if the author worked on other side projects while on company time.

The misleading (though truthful) aspect to the article is the "gotcha" headline. Yes, the author was paid a large amount of money for a very small project. But also took up a great deal of the author's exclusive time and travel. The final rate worked out to $75 per hour ($21k for 280 hrs, not counting mileage, etc.) And that is before taxes, as the IRS still needs their cut. And it's not like the company reported you as an employee and offered a benefits package, etc. It was a relative deal for the company.

The pay rate is fair and reasonable for the TIME, but not so much for the WORK.

Another IT contractor :

I once got brought on for a project that the organization wasn't ready to start yet. Still, they had me send an invoice for $20K "so we have something to bill against."

Time passed. Six months, to be precise. Then I got a check for $20K, having done no work. I called to report that there'd been a mistake.

"Oh, no mistake, we'll be starting the work shortly. Go ahead and cash the check." Well, you don't need to tell me THAT twice.

It was three months before they started giving me work. The work took about $5K worth of time.

Somewhere, someone probably got some grief for that...

Billal BEGUERADJ :

So you are proud of this and you sleep well at night ?

I wonder what you would be capable to do as a banker or a politician ?

Billal BEGUERADJ

MassiveAttack :

I can assure you that this type of thing happens CONSTANTLY at large companies. Perhaps not to this extent. The current very large company I work at never has employee/contractor computer on their first day. Once you get your computer, it is not fully loaded with the necessary software for developers. This process typically accounts for 3+ days. People frequently hide behind emails and don't respond for project artifacts and questions. Then you follow-up with them face-to-face and they want you to repeat the email content to them. That often leads to them requesting a meeting, for which everyone invited are not available for multiple days. Meanwhile people just sit around warming a seat and eating free food. I could go on and on about how much money is wasted.

Kendrick Von Ledet :

Nice, now get some stock options, BTC and ETH!!!

I hate reading and I get bored very easily, but somehow you got me hooked till the end! I am only starting and one of the things I'm not looking forward is working anywhere else other than the comfort of my home, I mean, that's why I left my 9-5 after all. I don't even drive FFS! But wow, that experience sounds like the kind of thing I would get used to! Large companies (especially those not struggling financially) don't really need to control what their employees are doing most of the time, money is there so they must be doing something right even if their employees are delaying a process that should be completed in one day by 7 weeks! Do you have many projects where you have to work from their offices? Or do you work most of the time from home?

MC :

And yet I keep hearing that the business world is more efficient than the government. Weird.

Shivbhadrasinh Gohil :

Very interesting read. I wonder how much they have charged the client 🤔 for that single page HTML website!

Vlad :

When you received those .ai files, using the "I have a MacBook" excuse isn't "high performance" behavior.

With a $75 per hour fee, I would expect you to make everything possible to get the task done as soon as you can. At that point, you could have found someone to export those files for you by any means, even if that could've meant that you would have had to contact one of your designer friends.

But, oh well, you chose to enjoy your free meal while doing nothing. It's not that you don't deserve that money. You certainly worked for them. They hired you per hour and they haven't used you at your capacity. It's their problem. You were there ready to solve any given task. What I'm saying is that you could have saved them some money at that point. My 2 cents.

Ibrahim :

@ShivbhadrasinhGohil the final client paid over 100k for this sponsored page. I only know because I was in the chain of email :)

marcia wilbur :

That was an awesome story. As a consultant, I feel ya. This ftw: "spent my days like an archaeologist digging through the deep trenches of emails, hoping to find answers to my questions."

Albert F :

Your story left me speechless. Initially I assumed you lacked the integrity to do the right thing but reading through, it was clear that you were more than fair.

ShivbhadrasinhGohil left a comment that was chilling--the ending of a film noir where the bad guys walk off and the good guys are left with just the clothes on their back, albeit a nice $18000 shirt.

Thank you for sharing.

Ibrahim :

@Albert F. Thank you.

Mathias Arlund :

Great story! And thanks for putting it to audio. Medium should have that too! i get much more out out of the story when i hear the author read it out loud

Ibrahim :

@Mathias glad you enjoyed it. I'm gonna try to make more of those.

Niraj Shakya :

felt good after reading your story

Stefan Smiljkovic :

That's cool. If the client paid overall $100k for the whole project, why not getting peace of cake as well?

I had something like $8k charged for a static landing page in the past, and that was a good amount as well IMO.

Daio :

Back in the early to mid naughties most freelance "web designers" were paid large amounts to create shitty banners.

Was not uncommon for an agency to have a 20k budget for a banner campaign. Reasoning being, this was left over in the massive budget for that campaign and had to be spent as it was part of the quote. So they just used it on hiring a banner designer. Fun times, easy money.

Ian Thurston :

Two lessons I learned from a professional gambler that are useful to consultants:

Have a "stop-loss" point beyond which you down tools, and Have a "stop-gain" point, also beyond which you down tools.

The first prevents you from letting your good nature run away with your life.

The second marks you as a wise predator, willing to leave some breeding stop on the table.

The ethics of this situation are actually pretty clear, and it doesn't look as if anybody in your client's company was paying attention to them. Whether you were is a moot point only you can decide.

FrenchSam :

Very interesting article !

I'm French, working for a local authority (French administration) in Normandy, and before reading your testimony, i thought this sort of problem was exclusevely french, but now, i'm "happy" to see that other countries, what is more USA, have same inconsistancies...

In France, we have en expression : "Brasser de l'air" which can be translated (thx Google) by "Stir up the Air".

We use this expression when someone seems to be overbooked, but produce near nothing at the end of his workday.

nice :

呵呵

Daniel :

If his work brings in $100k, then the value he brought was 5 times the price he charged. It is not unethical, immoral, illegal, or even questionable to charge for the value you are providing, and that value is only really known by the client.

If your project takes you 300 hours of intense work to complete but only gives your client $2000 worth of value, do they care how much work you put into it? Will they pay for your time? They don't care how much effort you put into it, only how much value it brings them.

The biggest trap we fall into is failing to charge what our product is worth. Does not matter how much time it took to produce, only how much value it brings to our client. Any other basis for charging would be unethical.

Samia :

This made my day. I'm so glad it was a positive story.

Ibrahim :

@Daniel You are definitely right. Plus, in this case, they were glad to readjust my invoice to a higher value.

Ibrahim :

@Samia I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

Ben :

For those who find this unethical: this is sometimes what you have to go through when freelancing for big corporations. I had a 6 month contract once at a famous computer brand. Took them 6 weeks to get my security access and computer set up. The other contractors and perm staff had similar experiences. Everyone knew this and the costs involved. A year later they got me working within 4 weeks though.

Ibrahim :

@Ben It's one of those things the general public doesn't hear much about. The larger a company gets, the more complex some of it's part becomes, and as a result lots of inefficiencies are created.

Bill :

Has been published on the Chinese website

http://www.sohu.com/a/...

Ibrahim :

Thanks for the chinese link @Bill

CZ :

What an O.Henry's ending! By the way, may I reprint this article on my blog site and translate it?

Ibrahim :

Thanks @CZ I linked translations to French, Russian and Chinese. If you have any other translations feel free to share and I'll update the links.

Tom Jaycocks :

Amazing read!! Saw this linked from a social platform and I loved it all! You have so much talent when it comes to telling a story.

Ibrahim :

Thanks @Tom. I appreciate it and am glad you enjoyed it.

Anon :

I've had this happen as a contractor except the company tried to stiff me every time.

Gaurav Jain :

I'm surprised

Let's hear your thoughts

For my eyes only