You pays peanuts…..

And you get monkeys.

I assume most of us have heard this phrase. It’s become almost a mantra with me in my professional life because the last 6 months have exposed me to an interesting aspect of the freelance world that I’ve not been aware of until now; the fact that there are a Hell of a lot of people out there expecting a lot of work for next to nothing!

Allow me to elaborate…I get most of my work through ‘word of mouth’ – this has always been the way and after 20 odd years in IT it seems to have worked well. But I still like to chase the odd new client – after all, nothing wilts faster than laurels that have been sat on, as they say. In many ways, the availability of Internet web sites that allow people wishing work to be done to advertise their requireents for people like me to pick up the jobs should have ade things easier, but it hasn’t.

In fact, I’m beginning to regard such sites as one of the worst things that has happened to ‘professional’ freelancers and contractors, because they have totally distorted the market. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a firm believer in market forces but these sites are actually pushing the markets for freelance development work to the brink of extinction. And this isn’t going to be a rant about out-sourcing…

My concern is that people are posting requests for work like the following:

“Develop a highly interactive and very aesthetic media review website. A good example is Yahoo! TV. The site is going to cater for commercial considerations i.e web ads. Want a site that would load fast as well.
Hence, beautiful but efficient. Must do the job. “

This is a real advert, tweaked for punctuation and spelling in two places.  Now – this isn’t a hobby site, it’s not a charity.  The poster is open in that there will be advertising and will be catering for ‘commercial considerations’.  That’s the full ‘job brief’ against which people are expected to bid, by the way.  Now, let’s assume that we can put something together like the Yahoo TV site – here and ignore the content and imagery side of things for now.  It’s got forums, photo galleries, all sorts of cute stuff.  I wouldn’t even want to try tackling it – a wise man knows his limitations, after all.  But I can guess the sort of development time – you’re looking at the minimum of 2-3 man-months here, I’d estimate.  

And the suggested budget?  £250.  Yes, Two Hundred and Fifty Pounds.  No missing zeroes.

I cannot imagine the most desperate out sourcer being willing to work for that sort of money, let alone a programmer in the UK, US or Europe.

Oddly enough I came across this today:

An article in the Times dealing with Amazon’s Turk’ project which harnesses the available time of people to do online jobs of various sorts.  Where you might be expected to work for a couple of pence an hour, if that.

Digital exploitation?  You betcha.  There are projects that rely on the good nature of people to get things done – projects where the bottom line is a better, publically and freely available service, rather than profits to corporations who can already dictate terms to much of the online world.

Some years ago I was involved in film making and there was a very rich culture of ‘No-budget’ filming, where productions were put together with no budget except for the essentials of film stock or tape – everything else was borrowed, begged or blagged.  But part of the contract was that anyone involved would get a copy of the material for their own portfolio and an on-screen credit – ‘Credit and VHS’ – as well as being fed and watered on set.  This model could, of course, be exploited but rarely was, because the world of film making was relatively insular and someone pulling a fast one would immediately find it difficult to crew-up next time around.

Perhaps we need to start being similarly watchful in the information marketplace?


0 thoughts on “You pays peanuts…..

  1. I’ve had people come to me asking for a full on custom build site for peanuts before.

    First they get annoyed when I ask for more details than ‘a dating site’.

    Then after hours of back and forth over specs, when I say it’ll cost thousands rather than tens of pounds for the all singing site they imagine I don’t hear back.

    Not so much as a “thankyou for your time but we wont be doing it after all” or “thanks but we’re going elsewhere”.

    I’ve even seen folks happily offering their skills for nowt to commercial enterprise. For charities/societies/clubs etc I can understand and have done same but for someone looking to make money off my work?

    I have had work come to me after it had gone to lowest bidder and came back full of bugs. My brief is always “get rid of the bugs”. Half the time I end up re-writing great chunks and the whole thing ends up more than it would have done if done properly in first place.

    Hopefully, one by one the cheapskates will learn – if you want quality, you have to pay for it!

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