The High Cost of Free

  • Posted on: 15 July 2014
  • By: Shawn DeWolfe

I built a website for a project. I handed over the admin password so that it could be administered and built upon. I did all this site for free because the project really needed an elaborate solution-- the type of elaborate solution that I could build because I know my stuff (ego aside, I can build big complex things; if they take a really long time they are crazy complex or the direction is crazy poor). The project proponent was given the password so that he could add as much as he wanted. He got frustrated, so instead of adding 20 new entries, he got someone else to build the whole thing from scratch, but it lacked all of the functionality, flexibility and brains. How could he toss a $20,000 website? Simple: he got it for free.

When we go to an all-you-eat buffet, there is a compulsion to overeat-- to get our money's worth. I found myself doing that so much that I stopped going to buffets because the fixed price and open-ended service gave me an expensive problem: obesity and bad health. I don't need to do that.

I had entirely stopped doing fixed price deliverable projects. That is because I am going through Hell with one project wherein the contract has been satisfied and I've been cajoled into also satisfying some add-ons so that the basics of the contracts are accepted. Am I a chump? Yes. Are the upstreams (my client, the contractor; and their client) a problem? Yes. They're so out of touch with what they need and what their requests boil down to that it's bound for tragedy. Is this my fault? Not really. I should have said, "you haven't gotten this specced, I can't go ahead." That is the body of my guilt. If you are urged to drive drunk, the drunk driving is on you. If you embark on a gimpy project, you should kick yourself, as I should kick myself. Last year, I learned my lesson and this hapless project is a holdover from that time. I'm all done being cajoled. I quit one project on the weekend because it was going dangerously off-course. There's no reason to force yourself to try make something busted work. When a three-wheeled car cannot drive, it's not your fault

I got an email from a friend. I asked her opinion. She dished back almost a research paper in reply. She also appended a research paper (a big honking paper) along with other long form information and opinion. I haven't done much with it yet. As first, though, I was floored and obliged to turn her great info into something useful. I should turn her efforts into something significant, but I have yet to do so. I am not without guilt. If I had paid for that information or commissioned that paper, maybe I would have been more proactive to turn it into something.

When people volunteer their resources (time, money, equipment), they're not really zeroing out the balance, they're excusing the cost. Even if it costs nothing, it's still of great value. Even if it's 10 hours of works X $0/hour, that doesn't mean the time can be abused or neglected. When I hold meetings with volunteers and pre-income entrepreneurs (those are business people who have no idea when the money will arrive), I am really mindful of the cost. Volunteers will pledge a fixed amount of time-- even when they don't say, "I have 40 hours available" they will have a cap and you can fish out that pond until it's empty. When the patience and availability of volunteers are expended, the fish are gone. They may well be extinct in that pond from here on out.

But, Shawn! You're dissing volunteer work? You suggested people should become angel developers last year! You talked about other ways to provide service to others! Heck, I think you're posting these blog posts to inform and enlighten the masses (well, the tens) for free! No: volunteer work is essential to our lives. Decoupling cash from good and services is how we should live out much of our lives. I don't run a meter for time-with-friends like a social cabbie. I didn't keep a spreadsheet on diaper changes so that I can cash in on familial diaper changes when I become demented and filthy (spoiler: that hits July 19th, 2014 2:45PM at this rate). I often do things as a volunteer that I would not do otherwise. Work of any sort cuts into family time, exercise time, video game time, drinking time and all-too-often, sleep. What I'm saying is that volunteer time is priceless not valueless. When someone volunteers time to me, I respect that they're giving me something that money can't buy.

Last updated date

Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 00:56