Grow a Pair

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Question: I’ve got this new contract client who desperately needs new manuals for their industrial equipment, but they don’t have a budget for more than a week’s worth of work. They somehow seem to think they can still get their manuals.

Answer:
Clients who can’t make decisions will nickel and dime you at every turn, second-guess everything, and spend so much time dithering that it will drive all of you straight to the grave. Wish them good luck and move on.

Some readers will be saying that THEY could write a decent manual in a week. I say otherwise. Aside from writing, you’ll need to satisfy multiple parties and purposes, and do a little editing, and that takes time. The client should at the very least end up with something good enough to live with for a while, and there’s a minimum threshold of effort to do that.

Maybe if I had been full-time with the company for years, knew their products and operations inside out, I could crank something out on the side during that same 2-month time period by working nights and weekends. Some of my best manuals were actually written that way, under the table. Note, however, that even skunkworks still take the same amount of calendar time, and the manual will LOOK like a home-grown thing, not necessarily what you want on your company website. It will likely not be maintainable.

Ultimately, these clients are in a trap of their own making. Their engineers are stuck doing reactive support, while at the same time the company is scaling up and trying to go global. Once a company reaches a certain size – I’m going to say 50-100 employees – you need to professionalize various functional areas. If you do a half-assed job at this, it only makes things worse.

Trying to do a project like this in small increments is actually worse than doing nothing at all. It wastes everyone’s energy takes time away from other things, The project will drag on forever and no one will even remember where they left off from the last round. This company should either bite the bullet and commit for 2 months of continuous effort or give up on the idea altogether and move on.

It does no good to say so, however. I would just say, “Sorry, I just can’t deliver anything useful in so short a time period,” and wish them well.

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