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  1. #1
    Not now, I'm kinda busy. pdxi's Avatar
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    Question Almost overwhelmed with work... what to do next?

    Hello, SitePointers!

    I guess I'm doing pretty well for myself... In November, I was afraid of not getting enough work. Now, it's March, I'm afraid of getting too much work!

    Every Monday morning, I write a long list of things that I need to accomplish, and when they need to be accomplished. I open up my planner (Palm Pilots are for fools!), and schedule out my week. Everything gets scheduled out so that I'm spending about the same amount of time, each day, to tackle my workload.

    But then... the calls come in. "Jeff, can you fix this?" "Can you do a quick job for me?" "Do you think you'll have 20 hours to spend on this in the next two weeks?". It's a tight squeeze to make sure that everyone is taken care of, and my work days grow from 7 hours to 12 hours. On top of that, I'm either on the phone, running to Kinko's, at the post office, or going to Office Depot for half of the day, so it seems like I'm getting less and less time to get everything done.

    I'm thinking that I might need to hire sub-contractors soon. People are still calling me with lucrative work offers, and I've got the entire month of March booked to about 90% capacity. I'm a little scared, though, because: 1) I'm not sure how I will split up my workload for myself and a sub-contractor, and 2) I have an ego about the work I do, and I'm afraid that my sub-contractor will not produce work that is up to my standards.

    (Yikes. I just received another email, adding three more mid-sized projects to my work load. How appropriate. Eek!)

    So, anyway. As my posts typically go, I've written a lengthy, over-explained scenario, and now it's time to ask a few questions

    1. When did you decide to hire sub-contractors?
    2. How did you divide your workload among yourself and your subcontractors?
    3. How do you keep track of your sub-contractors?
    4. Where did you find your sub-contractors?
    5. Did you hire locally? Out of town? From another country?
    6. How has your role changed, now that you're outsourcing work to sub-contractors?
    7. Are you pleased with how things have been, working with your sub-contractors?

    I'm positive that I'm smart enough to figure this out on my own, with few mistakes, but I'm hoping to learn from other peoples' mistakes and successes

    And, not to be rude, but please don't email me if you're a programmer looking for work. Thanks!
    Jeffrey Hunt, freelance PHP & MySQL developer
    Resume: http://www.jeffreyhunt.org/resume/

  2. #2
    Intoxicated with the madness petertdavis's Avatar
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    Absolutely start getting sub-contractors lined up. That's the easiest and quickest thing to do. You may wish to start thinking about employees if this is going so well for you. Where you hire out the work really depends on the nature of the work and your comfort level working with people you've never met face to face.

    To answer your question seven, I'm thrilled to be able to have other people working for me, it's really too much to have a successful business when you're the only employee.
    Peter T Davis

    I buy forums - PM me if you're selling.

  3. #3
    Not now, I'm kinda busy. pdxi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by petertdavis
    Absolutely start getting sub-contractors lined up. That's the easiest and quickest thing to do. You may wish to start thinking about employees if this is going so well for you. Where you hire out the work really depends on the nature of the work and your comfort level working with people you've never met face to face.
    I don't want to hire employees at this point. It's a financial and legal responsibility/liability that I don't want to take on right now. I like the "per project" nature of contracting out work, because if I don't have enough work, or enough work to give out, I won't be in the hot seat.

    Oh, and thanks for the reply
    Jeffrey Hunt, freelance PHP & MySQL developer
    Resume: http://www.jeffreyhunt.org/resume/

  4. #4
    Webwellwisher Robert Warren's Avatar
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    Here are my immediate thoughts..

    First, congratulations on even having to face this problem. A lot of small businesses never reach this point - you should be looking at this as a rite of passage!

    Second, don't hand work off to someone you don't trust or aren't sure about.. that little nagging voice that's worried about work quality is right. You're getting all this work because your clients trust you and trust the quality of work you provide - if suddenly that quality drops hard because you're outsourcing to lowest bid, your business is going to take a bullet. Consider getting to know some of your competitors; spreading the wealth can be very profitable for everyone involved.

    Third, outsource based on specialty and not workload. Take a look at what you're doing and ask: what specific tasks can be better handled by someone else on a specialty basis? I'm a copywriter, but I produce the full marketing spread; I could never do all that by myself. That's what my graphic designer is there for. Don't outsource what you're best at doing - and when asked about it by clients, tell them that you're doing it to further improve service quality, rather than just doing it to get work off your back.

    The last thing that comes to mind is that a lot of what you're describing - trips to Kinkos, phone jockey work, etc. - are clerical tasks that can be handled by an assistant. Consider putting up an ad at your local college for a part-time assistant to take over those duties; that'll relieve a lot of the problem right there.

  5. #5
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    The other thing that a lot of business owners in this situation forget is that they have as a method of controlling demand: price. It may be time to raise your prices.

    Basic supply and demand in your situation have shown up with higher demand. You should definitely look at increasing your supply (with subcontractors), but should also look to limit demand a bit by raising your prices.

    One of the good methods for price raising that I've seen is to do each increase in increments of 6-7%. It's small enough that people aren't going to freak out (most sales taxes are about this much and people are OK with prices inflating by this much, so something at $50 becomes $53). If, after a 6% bump, demand stays high, bump it again ($53 to $56). Do this until you can handle the workload, either with your existing supply (available time) or augmented supply (with the subcontractors). You may be surprised at how far you may have to go to see a difference in demand.

    I've watched swamped businesses surviving on a thin margin blossom and be able to better keep up with demand as their prices soared using this method. In some of these businesses, it took tripling their prices before there was even a dent in the demand, much less an appreciable drop. Turns out they were underpriced for the value they were delivering. After the triple, they raised a few more times and settled into a comfort zone, now making far more than before, yet still busy with work.

    Since you're already measuring your workday length, that may be a good indicator of whether demand is falling or not. Raise your prices until your days are closer to the length you want. The great thing about cutting down on work this way is you actually make more money doing it. It's pretty likely that the increase in revenue will cover any work you do lose.

    However, again, do it in small increments. We don't want you to go from overworked and flooded with work to end up staring out the window wondering where the customers are. This also works better with prices that aren't already nice round numbers. It's much easier to do with fixed price bidding, hourly rates, etc. than with packages at nice, even price points like $100.
    J Wynia
    Myriad Intellect, Inc.
    www.myriadintellect.com
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  6. #6
    SitePoint Co-founder Matt Mickiewicz's Avatar
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    Another idea would be to put a 20-25% premium on "rush" work from some of the phone calls you're getting if they need it done quickly.

    Other than that, maybe turn off your phone during the day and return calls during one set time. Your voice mail message could be: "Please provide me with your name, phone number and what you are calling about and I will get back to you between 2 and 3PM"
    Matt Mickiewicz - Co-Founder
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  7. #7
    SitePoint Addict orion_joel's Avatar
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    If only had such a problem, i think that as some other members have suggested is a small price increase if nothing else it will make the work you are doing a little more profitable.

    If you are very particular about the work that you do then you may want to just consider hiring contractors to do programming on the back end which as long as the code works is going to be not noticable to the customer.
    Joel Brown - Orion Networks
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  8. #8
    SitePoint Enthusiast
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    As you're planning for success, I'd suggest you read (When you have time) "The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It" by Michael Gerber. Helps you make the transition from the guy doing all the work to the delegation of tasks (once your staff grows)

  9. #9
    Not now, I'm kinda busy. pdxi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by orion_joel
    If only had such a problem, i think that as some other members have suggested is a small price increase if nothing else it will make the work you are doing a little more profitable.

    If you are very particular about the work that you do then you may want to just consider hiring contractors to do programming on the back end which as long as the code works is going to be not noticable to the customer.
    Well, one thing that I forgot to mention is that almost all of the work I do is back-end work. Web development companies and contractors hire me to do the nuts-and-bolts parts of their projects.

    What has happened is that I have become fairly good at finding work for myself. I've advertised myself - and the services that I do - and companies have picked up on this. The services that I provide focus around database application development and user interface design/development, and this is the majority of the work that I get.

    I'm thinking of a particular analogy here. In the Tour de France, there are many personalities that race - Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich, etc. Each one of these "stars" has their own team that helps them succeed, and they all do the same thing, practically: they all ride bikes. Each team member helps the team gain ground and keep its speed, but it's all focused around keeping one person in the front - your Lance Armstrongs or Jan Ullrichs or whatever.

    Basically, I'm hoping to find people that will do a lot of what I do, in a way that will subtract from my workload and complement my work in the finished project.

    Maybe I explained this too much, but do you understand what I mean?
    Jeffrey Hunt, freelance PHP & MySQL developer
    Resume: http://www.jeffreyhunt.org/resume/

  10. #10
    SitePoint Wizard silver trophy someonewhois's Avatar
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    I would outsource, and make sure you only outsuorce to people you know and trust. Then you can't really go wrong. I rarely outsource, but when I do it's definately to people who I trust enough to deliver professionally and on time.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by pdxi
    Hello, SitePointers!

    I guess I'm doing pretty well for myself... In November, I was afraid of not getting enough work. Now, it's March, I'm afraid of getting too much work!
    Congratulations on your success.
    I would always look to grow, which means you will have to start taking on more of a managerial position and manage your subcontractors.
    Alof of people can't grow their business because they enjoy doing the actual work and won't let go of that instead of moving into management.
    I hope you don't fall into that trap as it really does limit your growth in a crippling way. And managing a business is pretty cool and there is so much interesting stuff to learn.

    Just a quick question tho - do you mind if I ask exactly what work you do, and also how you found so much work so quickly?

    Regards,
    Eli

  12. #12
    Not now, I'm kinda busy. pdxi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lazy_yogi
    Congratulations on your success.
    I would always look to grow, which means you will have to start taking on more of a managerial position and manage your subcontractors.
    Alof of people can't grow their business because they enjoy doing the actual work and won't let go of that instead of moving into management.
    I hope you don't fall into that trap as it really does limit your growth in a crippling way. And managing a business is pretty cool and there is so much interesting stuff to learn.

    Just a quick question tho - do you mind if I ask exactly what work you do, and also how you found so much work so quickly?

    Regards,
    Eli
    Hi Eli,

    Thanks for taking interest in my situation, and for offering valuable advice.

    My primary business is providing sub-contracting services for web development shops that create data management systems for their clients. This includes e-commerce applications, customer databases, knowledge base management systems, and custom business applications. Typically, my clients are web development companies that either don't have enough help on hand, specialize in one area of web development, or can't afford the costs of building and managing a development staff.

    I found work quickly because I leveraged my existing network of contacts and I increased my visibility to my target market. The latter was done by placing my resume on different community bulletin boards.

    The ability to find good work comes from having done good work in the past, knowing who your best assets are, outlining the benefits of the service you provide, and knowing where to market yourself.
    Jeffrey Hunt, freelance PHP & MySQL developer
    Resume: http://www.jeffreyhunt.org/resume/

  13. #13
    Not now, I'm kinda busy. pdxi's Avatar
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    Here's an update: I've posted a job posting on my local craigslist site. Here's the text of the ad:

    PHP/ASP sub-contractor sought

    I'm a web development contractor, and I work primarily with web development companies who create database-driven applications and web sites for professional clients. My workload has increased substantially, and I soon won't be able to handle all of it by myself.

    Who I'm seeking to employ:

    I'm looking for someone that has experience with designing, building, modifying, and trouble-shooting small to large applications written in PHP and ASP. This person must take direction well, provide creative input when necessary, and be able to manage his/her own work load. A thorough understanding of ASP and PHP is necessary, as is demonstrated proficiency with using PHP and MySQL together, and using ASP and MS SQL together. Preference will be given to strong PHP progammers, since I only occasionally have projects that require ASP experience.

    Compensation:

    Payment will be provided upon project completion, once I have received payment from my clients. Specific dollar amounts will be discussed privately, and I aim to provide fair market-rate compensation for whomever I choose to work with me.

    To be considered, please submit the following in an email:

    * A cover letter with a brief explanation of yourself and your background.
    * Your resume in text, PDF, or rich text format, or a hyperlink to your resume.
    * Four code samples - two in PHP, two in ASP
    * Three professional references
    * Links to web sites that you have worked on, and an explanation of the work performed. This may be included in your resume... whichever works best for you.

    You MUST be located in the Portland, Oregon area, and be able to meet face-to-face when needed. Please do not inquire about this position if you are not located in the Portland metro area.

    I'm great to work with, if I may say so myself, and I'm looking forward to finding another great person to work with.
    Does it look like I've got all of my bases covered? What do you guys think?
    Jeffrey Hunt, freelance PHP & MySQL developer
    Resume: http://www.jeffreyhunt.org/resume/

  14. #14
    SitePoint Wizard LiquidReflex's Avatar
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    A couple things that may cause some issues:

    1. Must be provicient in PHP and ASP ... I'm not sure how many programmers have taken the time to learn both PHP and ASP (usually it's one or the other). I may be wrong, but finding someone with both skills and is only looking to be a sub-contractor could be a stretch. Maybe list that you are looking for a PHP programmer, additional ASP programming knowledge is a plus as well.

    2. Payment will be made after project completion and once you receive payment from client ... this will be a big problem. Just about every sub-contractor I know will require some sort of payment up front. Even if they don't do that (because of a trust with you), I'm not sure they are going to want to hand over their work to you and then wait to get paid until the client pays you. The sub-contractor's client is YOU, not your client. I don't know many that will wait until the client pays you before they get compensated (what if the client doesn't pay on time, or only pays part now, part next month ... does the contractor have to wait that long as well?). If the programmer were an "employee", it would be different, but if it's a contracted job, this payment process probably won't intice many applicants.

    3. Must be located in the Portland, Oregon area ... if the first 2 didn't narrow down your applicants, this one will too. The beauty of sub-contract work is that you wouldn't need to be in the same city/state. Phones, IM, e-mail, all work just as well as face to face. There may be plenty of prospects in your area, but if you opened up the radius, you'll probably have a better chance of finding the perfect person. Just a suggestion.

    Obviously these are all ifs ... but (as a programmer) these are the things that stuck in my head when reading it. Good luck!
    Kevin Hauge : Modern Leaf Design : Follow Us on Facebook
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  15. #15
    Not now, I'm kinda busy. pdxi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LiquidReflex
    A couple things that may cause some issues:

    1. Must be provicient in PHP and ASP ... I'm not sure how many programmers have taken the time to learn both PHP and ASP (usually it's one or the other). I may be wrong, but finding someone with both skills and is only looking to be a sub-contractor could be a stretch. Maybe list that you are looking for a PHP programmer, additional ASP programming knowledge is a plus as well.
    The unfortunate reality of this is that I need someone who knows PHP and ASP, not someone who "sort of" knows both. It's a hindrance to my search, but I'm looking out for The Right Person (tm).

    Quote Originally Posted by LiquidReflex
    2. Payment will be made after project completion and once you receive payment from client ... this will be a big problem. Just about every sub-contractor I know will require some sort of payment up front. Even if they don't do that (because of a trust with you), I'm not sure they are going to want to hand over their work to you and then wait to get paid until the client pays you. The sub-contractor's client is YOU, not your client. I don't know many that will wait until the client pays you before they get compensated (what if the client doesn't pay on time, or only pays part now, part next month ... does the contractor have to wait that long as well?). If the programmer were an "employee", it would be different, but if it's a contracted job, this payment process probably won't intice many applicants.
    Yeah, this kinda sucks. Payment won't be so much of an issue in a month or so, when my cashflow is a little better. I'm looking for someone that can be a little patient for the first six weeks. I need to figure out a way to write this elegantly into the ad. All things considered, though, I don't think this is terribly unreasonable. It's how I work on a good number of my projects, unless I've set up a Net (n) agreement in the contract.

    Quote Originally Posted by LiquidReflex
    3. Must be located in the Portland, Oregon area ... if the first 2 didn't narrow down your applicants, this one will too. The beauty of sub-contract work is that you wouldn't need to be in the same city/state. Phones, IM, e-mail, all work just as well as face to face. There may be plenty of prospects in your area, but if you opened up the radius, you'll probably have a better chance of finding the perfect person. Just a suggestion.
    I've spent some time debating this with myself in my head, because as you point out, there are many reasons why telecommuting works. Heck, I telecommute for practically all of my work, and I've never run into a problem aside from timezone differences. However, the work that I have sub-contracted out until now has been doled out to my friends, whom I can trust. Since I'm reaching out of my comfort zone by recruiting someone I've never met before, the fact that this person will live in Portland gives me a certain level of comfort and security. Perhaps I'll grow past that at some point.

    I'm also ethically bound to hiring within the United States for reasons that I care not to discuss here. And, as my business continues to grow, I might segue these contract positions into payrolled employee positions, and the locality issue will start to factor in heavily.

    Quote Originally Posted by LiquidReflex
    Obviously these are all ifs ... but (as a programmer) these are the things that stuck in my head when reading it. Good luck!
    Thanks for your input - I really appreciate it!
    Jeffrey Hunt, freelance PHP & MySQL developer
    Resume: http://www.jeffreyhunt.org/resume/

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by WebMomentum
    As you're planning for success, I'd suggest you read (When you have time) "The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It" by Michael Gerber. Helps you make the transition from the guy doing all the work to the delegation of tasks (once your staff grows)
    ^ Absolutely support it...!

  17. #17
    SitePoint Wizard bronze trophy
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    Payment will be provided upon project completion, once I have received payment from my clients.
    No contractor is going to go for that - they are contracted with you and you only. What happens if your client takes several months to pay you (it happens) - that would be your problem for not handling the financial side of your business correctly and certainily not an issue your contractor should be even vaguely concerned about. Once he's done his work, he'll want paying (and rightly so).

  18. #18
    Not now, I'm kinda busy. pdxi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by shadowbox
    No contractor is going to go for that - they are contracted with you and you only. What happens if your client takes several months to pay you (it happens) - that would be your problem for not handling the financial side of your business correctly and certainily not an issue your contractor should be even vaguely concerned about. Once he's done his work, he'll want paying (and rightly so).
    Yeah, you're right. There really isn't an easy way out of this problem.

    I think I'll have to continue working myself stupid until I have a good enough cashflow to bring someone in. Bleh.
    Jeffrey Hunt, freelance PHP & MySQL developer
    Resume: http://www.jeffreyhunt.org/resume/

  19. #19
    SitePoint Wizard cranial-bore's Avatar
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    I'm a bit lazy, so I don't know if this has already been suggested in any of the posts above, but it seems to me that an assistant could be of some use to use as well.

    You mentioned all the other non-web stuff that eats into your day, and that you are protective of the quality of your work. IMO you should definitely look at getting a non-technical worker to do all of the things that don't require the knowledge of a web designer.

    You may well need subcontractors as well, but this it seems would free up some of your time. The guy I work for has someone come in and do the invoices for 4 hours a week because it would not be the best use of his time to do it himself.

  20. #20
    Not now, I'm kinda busy. pdxi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cranial-bore
    I'm a bit lazy, so I don't know if this has already been suggested in any of the posts above, but it seems to me that an assistant could be of some use to use as well.

    You mentioned all the other non-web stuff that eats into your day, and that you are protective of the quality of your work. IMO you should definitely look at getting a non-technical worker to do all of the things that don't require the knowledge of a web designer.

    You may well need subcontractors as well, but this it seems would free up some of your time. The guy I work for has someone come in and do the invoices for 4 hours a week because it would not be the best use of his time to do it himself.
    All things considered, there aren't that many things that an assistant could be helpful for. I'll have to spend a lot less time running around once I get a print/scan/copy/fax multi-function and a business phone package from Vonage. I won't have to go to Kinko's all the time.

    And I think I'd be able to do a better job of invoicing, etc, once I figure out how to use Quicken a little better.
    Jeffrey Hunt, freelance PHP & MySQL developer
    Resume: http://www.jeffreyhunt.org/resume/

  21. #21
    SitePoint Enthusiast awrowe's Avatar
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    To be honest, thats what your assistant is for. Basic invoicing and administration tasks should be handled by the assistant. I'm sure if you had a look around, you could find someone (perhaps a mum with a small child) who would leap at the chance to work for four or five hours during schooltime, three or four days a week with this sort of stuff.

    On top of that, there's a good chance she will be a hell of a lot better with Quicken than you will ever have time to be.

    I'm not sure how things go in the US, but in both the UK and Australia, there are different laws regarding casual and part time employment. You might find setting someone up as a casual employee would be a lot easier and cheaper than you think.

  22. #22
    SitePoint Evangelist altyfc's Avatar
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    > 1. When did you decide to hire sub-contractors?

    As soon as my workload was becoming too great.

    > 2. How did you divide your workload among yourself and your subcontractors?

    I did what I could, and just passed on the rest.

    > 3. How do you keep track of your sub-contractors?

    I ask them to give an estimated amount of time for a job, and badger them when the deadline is looming.

    > 4. Where did you find your sub-contractors?

    Online.

    > 5. Did you hire locally? Out of town? From another country?

    Out of town. Same country.

    > 6. How has your role changed, now that you're outsourcing work to sub-contractors?

    I'm increasingly acting as project manager, I suppose, rather than doing the projects.

    > 7. Are you pleased with how things have been, working with your sub-contractors?

    Initially, no. But now I've found a sub-contractor that I'm happy to work with, things are great.

    Aaron


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