When to draw a line

Didn’t know what to call this one.

A small charity that I am a user of had been waiting for the “web design course” they advertised (on their pinboard) to start ever since I joined last year.

Finally they said that it wasn’t happening after all unless they could find a new teacher as the guy who was going to teach it is too busy (this was actually the position way back when, and I said I could do it but they weren’t sure about whether that was going to be allowed). Anyway, I said “well I can do that no problem” and said I will teach them how to do it in html (maybe some css for the keen) in notepad, with no WYSIWYG (which is what was going to happen before).

Well anyway they checked if that was allowed and we are going ahead, and I get properly paid (yippee!).

The problem is that there is some kind of SCOPE CREEP going on and it is giving me the creeps already. This is now something I have to tackle before things get too much.

They put a notice up saying they were offering subdomains to their members for free to use for a year if they join the class. It’s ALL free, by the way. These are people who are not very well and need to get out of the house for a bit. I kind of freaked out a bit when I walked in and saw it (don’t know how long it had been up) because the wording was too specific and I felt it might be getting them into something that would be a nightmare of extra costs. Turned out they had been quoted VERY high prices by local companies that they had asked for quotes for their hosting. (I gather this has been the plan from the beginning).

First time I saw that notice I went home and checked what exactly sub-domains were (versus parked, add-on, etc) and found that this was something you normally get for free with a good host. I sent them relevant info I found. Anyway, then they just kept delaying and delaying and eventually they made it clear that they need me to recommend a host. So OK then, I say X is good. We looked together and saw “free subdomains”. I made it really, really clear that he HAD to check the small print about it himself. There’s no way I was going to do it for them. It’s not my job.

I repeated myself a few times, I told them it was imperative in a way they couldn’t (or shouldn’t) just ignore.

Well you can guess that every time I go for my weekly session (remember as a member) they have done no more and at every step I have to either do things or hold their hand. They started saying things like “I won’t need to phone the hosting company, ever, that’s what YOU are for” and not sounding like it’s a joke. Or not a very good one from my perspective.

Now I have had a bit of a scare with my hosting company over a similar (but not identical) issue. It’s been cleared up as it was a misunderstanding anyway but it took up 2 days of my time on the phone and a lot of emails and stress. Remember I’m not well and also I am busy and trying to work. PAID WORK. That is now 2 days behind. The trouble is with this OTHER lot, where in various small ways they are more and more edging me towards being their webmaster/site admin/goto everything person.

Even the other day we called the hosting company and the guy wouldn’t even DIAL the number.

I showed him how to put up index.html, and typed a little bit with a phone number. He wanted me to put my copyright link on it or something (did NOT ask for clarity, I simply REFUSED. No way, if they wanted me to design the site, they would have to arrange that with me. I put up index.html because he hadn’t done that before, and he said he’d rather watch how I did it. That’s all).

I am now in a position where I probably should do some checking on whether they have the right hosting plan, etc etc etc. Well fine, these things happen. But already little things have been said where they are obviously prepared to shift all blame on to me if anything isn’t right. I already was getting a VERY bad feeling about it BEFORE I had this problem of my own and realised that they really REALLY needed to read that small print. THEMSELVES. As a matter of fact I encouraged them to phone first and ASK QUESTIONS.

Did they? Did they heck.

I’m now feeling like I’m going to have to put my foot down and say that if they want me to take responsibility for anything to do with the running of THEIR website that they need to PAY me and have a CONTRACT which limits my responsibilities, liabilities, whatever. I am already run off my feet, stressed and exhausted. I have people who pay me to do things on their websites, and really to be honest I’m realising that a monthly charge of a fairly reasonable amount would be what it would really take to compensate me for my time. It’s WORK.

The guy in charge has a computer science degree, which means in theory he can get on top of it all himself. I just feel like I’m being hid behind/pushed forward.

I am also a MEMBER of their support group. They have never tried having a member teach a class before. I can handle the teaching, I have done quite a lot of lecturing etc. But I was not and ideally AM NOT prepared to take on responsibility for their website, its general maintenance, dealing with the hosting company and definitely NOT for their not reading any small print or asking any questions when I advised them to.

I must point out that I’d be happy to play fair and just be helpful and tell him generally how to use cPanel and stuff like that, and I’m prepared to go and tell him he maybe needs to double check and perhaps rethink the plan for how members use the website. What I’m not prepared to do is take any blame, implied or actual, from him, the organisation, the hosting company. ANYONE.

Seriously, I am expecting to be getting into the legal nitty-gritty of my own hosting account with their [my host’s] legal team soon (nicely, just so I understand all the clauses as I’m trying to run a business on my website etc). Do I really have to take on THAT much responsibility for the next however-long (they signed up for 2 years with their host). If I do I want MONEY and to be honest I don’t even want the bloody problem. I’ve been getting more and more irritated by the “scope creep” thing and attitude shift anyway.

I put my name forward at the same time they were considering other applications for the post of “web design teacher” for a short course (I got to say how many lessons, so I said 8-10 so they get their money’s worth at £80 per lesson - I know how much my time is worth as a teacher, and that is 2 hours).

I don’t even know what to think, as it seems that it’s normal for organisations and companies to have subdomains, that can be specific to one individual in an organisation. I’m wondering if this is actually not a problem at all really. On the other hand the terms of the hosting agreement go on about “third parties” a lot. I’m wondering if members of the organisation whose account it is are normally “third parties”.

I suspect that they used the term “client” to describe their members when looking for hosting before and that’s why they got these huge quotes - they have been quoted for reseller accounts with 10 domains, or for dedicated servers, something like that. Something they have been saying has been spooking people and I wish they had asked me before they advertised to their members the “subdomain” thing. There are free hosting accounts you can have, or they could have had FOLDERS. He didn’t actually KNOW what subdomains were at all and he just phoned and said he needed an account with 10 of them (for his clients???) and got quoted really high prices.

Is this normal? Sorry to be vague. And I know you will want me to clarify my actual questions so here:

  • am I right in thinking I should say “no way, I am not prepared to be responsible for managing your domain/website/hosting that’s not the deal”

(I am guessing yes)

  • am I right in thinking if I DID take that on they should pay me properly and have a contract?

(oh good god and what about retrospective liability - for the fine print he didn’t read?)

  • and last, is it really normal that if an organisation or company has more than one member that needs to use the website, upload stuff, have their own bit of folder or subdomain or whatnot that they really would normally have to pay loads extra for that? If so, why do web hosting companies advertise free subdomains? Who uses them? What is normal? I had to look up what they were, because I have never used one. I did know really, I just wasn’t sure.

I don’t want to get into the specific details of this or that web host’s policy. Remember I’m doing all that myself anyway and each one will presumably be a bit different. Just got NO info to go on.

Personally, I think it would be easier to just rethink the whole thing at our end, and let them make web pages that one admin uploads for them or something. Sure they can have a folder with their name, but making it clear on the website that the organisation is its members and this is a showcase of “our work” or something.

GRR. Any thoughts appreciated. I tried and tried to prompt the guy to do things on his own but every week he has done nothing and is waiting for me to tell him what to do at every step. I feel a sense of impending doom.

(oh and NB if I was not a member myself I would not be there to be involved with all this set-up-the-account stuff. It’s cos I’m there every week for my session. The lessons haven’t started yet. Starting to wonder if the other teacher just got fed up with waiting for them to get a website and that’s what “too busy” really means).


The simple answer is that if you had a contract, and you allowed the scope of the work to exceed what was defined in the contract, then you have to share in the responsibility for this problem. It is not your client who caused the scope creep any more than it is you that allowed it.

That said, you need to decide for yourself what you are willing to do to make this right, and then stick to that. The range is quite wide, from doing the minimal execution of what is defined in the agreement, to going far beyond that to try and make it work out well. That is up to you and only you, and if you don’t take complete control over it the situation will likely get worse.

Are you willing to do in order to resolve this?

Can you write that up in a concise and unemotional written statement and present it to the organization?

What do you mean by retrospective liability?

hi, thanks for getting back to me.

It did just gradually develop over the last couple of weeks (literally). I did originally think about a contract, even though when I have done small amounts of teaching before that’s not usually part of the process. I think once again I got blindsided by not thinking ahead enough, as I know that it’s predictable that people will take ages to make up their minds whether or not to accept a proposal.

There was a delay of a few months where I was waiting for an official go-ahead that I was actually allowed to teach the course as I am a member. Then another long hiatus where they kept saying it would be another couple of months etc etc.

When I finally got confirmation and then a date, everything virtually happened at once. I should have had the contract ready and waiting, but at several points I thought it really wasn’t going to happen at all.

As for verbal contracts, which CAN be binding, in practice the job that I was hired for was specifically to teach basic HTML to enable members to make their own web pages. [edit: for clarity, the advertised job was to teach them how to make their own web pages, method was up to the applicant]
It was me who suggested that perhaps a little CSS would be a good idea too. I was free to decide exactly how many lessons to give for the fixed fee, so I stated that 8 for £800 with an option of an additional 2 extra free ones for anyone who needed to know something more would be about right, in my opinion. I was told the classes would be 2 or 3 hours long, and this was part of my assessment of how much work to do for the money.

I think what would be best to do now is to deal with the main issue head on and remind them that the job was to teach and not anything else (remember this was an advertised job, there were other candidates, everyone was considered on their merits. The payment and the freedom to set the number of lessons and content of the course itself was the same for everyone. My suggestion of teaching them how to do html was the one that they liked the best).

I may or may not have time to produce a written contract by my next session but I will tell them that at this point I need one as it is simply too much extra responsibility. My builder also suggested that 30% up front was a normal payment to ask for before the course starts - a helpful piece of advice.

Thanks and of course it is partly my own fault. That’s the point of written contracts. It’s so easy for things to slowly change into something else when you are just chatting.

The complicating factors are that in fact I only see or speak with them once a week, in my support group. It’s all happened in the last 2 or 3 sessions. I may actually have mentioned that there would have to be a contract come to think of it - I think I just remembered! I had to wait to hear if I was allowed to teach first though, and they kept me waiting and waiting. It’s a serious thing, the health authority is paying for the course and it’s actually (sadly) normal for people to be refused work or sacked on the grounds of disability, whatever the law says.

So it’s important I do not let this overwhelm me and affect my teaching. I have been excited about it. But they have made it clear that they are only doing it on a first-time-ever trial basis and that they are unsure that a member will be able to cope with the stress of teaching. I’ve actually spent more time every week endlessly reassuring them that it’s like falling off a log (I’ve lectured at Oxford for several years in the summer, for goodness sake). IF I CAN’T DEAL WITH IT THEY WON’T GIVE ANYONE ELSE THE CHANCE AGAIN.

As for the general picture - this has me wanting to get proper legal advice somewhere. Wish I was back where I knew all the good lawyers. But I think that in the manifesto (or whatever its called) of this charity it states that the members are actually full-fledged members of the organisation, on a par with all of the staff etc. I think they explained this to me at the beginning. I think I need to gently explain my concerns, and explain that there is no need to panic as the hosting company can simply upgrade their account anyway (they have underspent on their budget, which could cover a whole dedicated server anyway). Then I will remind them of what they told me when I joined, and suggest they get some proper advice from someone who knows. I think there will be a legal document somewhere that sets out the fact that the members are in fact the organisation, not “clients” or “patients”.

Just as a by-the-way, I have had some lovely emails of apology from my hosting company, which say that they are so sorry that they alarmed me and never intended to cause me any distress. I feel much better now. I am just panicky about how on earth I can do all this, design a website, and write a report for an MP in one week flat when I have just come back from the doc because the stress made me so ill.

It wasn’t just this either. Frankly, the work is the only thing keeping me together at all.

Thanks very much. And sorry for posting again and again with these newbie whiny ranty questions. The feedback really does help me keep things in perspective.

Oh and PS the retrospective liability I was worried about was another way of saying that the trustees might make it heavy for me by saying that they bought the hosting on my advice. I can tell that the man in charge at the group, who is the person I deal with, is actually a bit afraid of the trustee in charge of the money. He’s not being a b*t’d, he is also afraid of getting into hot water. I know why. I heard the way the trustee/treasurer spoke to him about a small amount of money that was spent on craft materials that hadn’t been used [yet] and I thought it was extremely rude, bullying, and petty to say the least.

If I can’t write out a contract by tuesday’s session, I will simply ask the man I deal with to sit down with me and we can work it out and write it all down. It will probably need to be sent off to god-knows-who, but never mind. It shouldn’t be too hard though, I am feeling so much better now it really is possible I will get all these things done in time.

The class is supposed to start the week after! Oh boy oh boy! I have to stay on schedule, as I need the time between one thing and the next to write lesson plans! But really all I need is my brain and it will be fine. It’s html, for gods sake. They have been spot-testing me with html questions for ages, and so far I passed every test without a moment’s hesitation. It’s what I do all day for a large publisher, if I didn’t know html and css pretty much as well as anyone can, I wouldn’t be able to do my job. I got an email only this morning from the editor in charge saying that basically I’m the main person who actually keeps it all together and makes things happen on time, and I’m really competent. For no reason other than he wanted me to feel good!

I can deal with this. I can. It will be OK.

Just an update for the general information of anyone who has an interest in this. I thought some of this might be useful to someone, somewhere.

  1. Everything I said above was absolutely correct. I could now qualify it, however, as I have a deeper understanding further to my meeting with the client yesterday, but this would be unfair as it is too specific. Just take it as read that my assessment of the situation was indeed very accurate. This has led to a meeting of minds and an alliance and a plan of strategy, and also I have discovered that there are more people who can and will be involved and that nothing will go wrong if we all work together as a Team.

  2. Boundaries have been set. I have sent a contract, terms of which were hashed out in the meeting. I managed to set my own boundaries and stick to them, meaning that I am comfortable with the situation now.

  3. This really does take some guts and nerve. In another thread I was accused of perhaps being too aggressive. Well that is a fair point and always worth remembering, that there is a line somewhere. However it really does take a great deal of assertiveness and conscious effort to deal with situations like this sometimes. I’d say I was assertive to the max, and I needed to be. I don’t have any independent witnesses to give me feedback, but the client has assured me he is not offended in any way whatsoever by my handling of the situation. In other analogous situations, feedback has always been good (like “wow I don’t know how you can be so calm, that was impressive” when I’ve thought I’m kicking up a right rumpus).

  4. As a general point it’s worth realising that it perhaps really does take more nerve and assertiveness for a female to deal with a situation such as this. I mean in particular when dealing with eg males who can be twice my age and much more experienced. Every female at some point has the experience of being in a male-dominated environment and the difficulty that can be involved with being taken seriously as an equal player. Now, girls - please don’t be offended. I’m sure female programmers and business people are not average anyway, in any shape or form, and I’m not suggesting that you are pussy-cats. I’m just saying that it’s not always easy, and we all know that. I don’t just mean business, I mean life in general.

  5. Being unwell means that goes double or triple. I don’t think I can say more. Please read the above carefully and read between the lines. I CANNOT be the only person on this forum with a disability and I CANNOT be the only person here who has encountered discrimination and difficulties at work related to their disability. This gets into Law and Social Policy and, together with gender issues, is beyond the scope of this forum.

I hope that this is useful to someone. Male, female, or just anyone anywhere who sometimes feels that they are up against it and need to work a little harder just to make themselves heard or fight their corner. Even if it’s only what you feel on the inside. Have faith in yourself and you shall prevail.

Nil illegitimi carborundum

For some reason I can’t edit that, but just in case anyone really does relate to the whole disability issue (or for anyone else who does in spirit) I’ll leave a little musical inspiration. Not exactly normal behaviour here on SitePoint, but I don’t see any harm but potentially some use …

YouTube - (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)

(Beastie Boys, Fight For Your Right official music video, 1986).

If you don’t understand why that’s relevant, I guess it wasn’t for you.

I do hope nobody minds. Over and out.