Sleepy Mistake

Tuesday, March 11, 2008 Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The other night I made a mistake. A business mistake. Not a big one, but telling the story may help other business owners avoid a similar fate.

It began as I was about to sign off after working on a new gadget in my Lab. I was very tired and sleepy, as everyone seems to be in Second Life lately. Someone was in the store buying a few items. I strolled over to thank them for their business, and she said, "oh can you help me?"

Normally, this means the customer is interested in something that I don't sell. It's an opportunity to make something new. Something people might want. I encouraged her to tell me what she wanted. And so she did. Sort of.

Her idea seemed fairly simple to build, so I decided to build it on the spot. "Real-time Building" is usually a lot of fun, and you can get instant feedback from the customer as you build things: "too big", "not orange enough", "too icky", etc.

The build proceeded. Particle shapes were devised. Parameters tweaked. Parameters tweaked again. And again. And still more. Somehow the build just wasn't quite what was required. Many adjustments were made. I realized at this point that I did not quite understand what she was after, either because she didn't or couldn't say, or because I was too sleepy to hear it or probe for clarifications.

As the tweaking continued, more requirements were stated. Some were easy to incorporate, so I did. Others were fantastically complicated, and would require hours more work. Finally, as sleep was about to overtake me, the item was finished. At least without the complicated add-ons. I noticed the clock said I'd been working on this custom product for a long time, and normally this implies a fairly high price. However, in the interest of speed I quoted a lowball price. She said, "omg - I don't have that much money!"

Yikes! I suddenly realized I had made the most obvious contracting mistake: not determining a price before the work started. A cardinal sin for freelancers. Here's how it should have gone down:

  • A clear discussion of what is required, and an explanation of what was possible
  • An agreement on precisely what is to be built
  • An agreement on the fee for building it
  • The build takes place
  • Goods and Lindens are exchanged
  • Everybody happy

But, it didn't work out that way. Instead, customer leaves with a product that is less than they imagined, and contractor (me) receives fewer Lindens than the work deserved. Moral of the story: agree first, then build.

One more thing: Never, Never, Never do work-on-the-fly when you are sleepy! After a certain hour of the night, go dancing, chasing dragons or ride a teacup!


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