May 31, 2010
Just lately I’ve been having problems in my house, I’ve had a new shower put in, and before the weather gets rubbish, I’ll need a new kitchen putting in too.
I’ve been putting all this off for a while, but eventually the cold showers in the morning forced me into finding somebody, and whilst it all went ok, I suddenly realised how much the IT industry (or the Digital Sector as we all seem to be called now), is like the building trade.
I didn’t want to go through the hassle of finding somebody, getting my shower fixed, taking time of work to be there and then the hassle of dealing with cash (funny how so many people work in cash). I put up with a cold shower for months, and I’m still muddling through with my kitchen.
It problems are pretty much the same, you can normally muddle through. Just look at the number of websites hosted on free servers and thus cluttered with adverts, or how many businesses have [email protected] only to reply from hotmail addresses when you do get in touch. There’s a lovely poster from The Oatmeal about email addresses.
It’s hard, so you put it off, just like I’ll do in my kitchen until the bucket under the sink overflows.
Actually tracking down people is a nightmare. You’vea rough idea what you need, but who do you hire? I asked Twitter about electricians in Gateshead and a very nice fella came out and connected a wire form my cooker to the wall. So far so good. Sadly not all recommendations work out so well.
There are now starting to be online services to find plumbers, builders, tilers etc such as mybuilder.com but when I used the service it only worked out ok, not brilliantly for me.
One of my major problems was knowing what to ask for. I knew what I wanted (“a hot shower in the morning please”) and I’d bought a replacement shower (I did a little homework, found what I needed, and bought direct thinking this would save me money), but who did I need to fit it, a plumber (it does involve water), n electrician (it’s an electric shower after all), a tiler (because those nastytimes were going to get pulled off, maybe a builder would take care of this for me?
It turned out I needed all three of those things, but I only found that out after 3 guys turned up to fit it.
Even if you’ve gota good idea what you need, and you’ve found somebody to do it, you still feel like you’re getting ripped off. Even when you’ve got a perfectly satisfactory job done, it still seems fairly expensive. The same is true of dealing with lawyers, dentists and even gardeners. When you look at the day rate of running a business, charging £500 a day is maybe not unreasonable, but it’s not cheap.
Getting my shower fitted is a prime example. Quoted cost (job unseen) was £85 which seemed reasonable. Except then on inspection it turned out the wiring for my house is too old, and thus I needed a new Widget, and that was £180, and the extra time for somebody to put that in was £X. All said and done, it was £450 on the day,plus the cost of the shower.
I know a little bit about electical systems, and this was all fair, so I ended up paying out, but if the builder who does my kitchen says I need a new Dongle or DoDad, I’m stuck. I probably do, and I’ll be happy to pay, but I’ll always have that feeling that I could have just been ripped off.
It’s impossible to quote most jobs until you get under the hood of the problem, and the digital industry is no different. You’ve really no idea how difficult most problems are until you get in there and have a go. Luckily we can prototype, a luxury not afforded to the building trade.
Kitchens pricing is a bit of a nightmare too. You can spend anywhere from a couple of hundred to tens of thousands, and what you get for your money is probably a hundred times better. There’s no good answer to “how much does a new kitchen cost” just like there is no easy answer to the question “how much does a website cost”. A brilliant little project called Internet Online Website helped explain this to so many of my old clients.
My biggest worry about getting my kitchen sorted, apart from the cost, and finding somebody, is having people in my house. I hate the idea that somebody might have been thought my stuff whilst I was out, and thus I shall be working from home when anybody is about, even if the electricity is off, and the water, and the air is thick with dust.
I never let other people use my laptop, or very rarely, ever since a housemate at university borrowed my desktop for an evening to produce his CV, and I found lots of mystuff had been opened up (the power of “Recent items” in Windows 95 became apparent). Trusting people with your private stuff is really hard.
After my shower was fitted, I was dead chuffed. I stood under it until I nearly disolved, luxuriating in the heat and power. Then I noticed a smear of sealant down the side of the bath. Such things happen, and it being white on white, it probably didn’t show up.
Over the next couple of days lots of little things showed up though, from grout all round my plug chain (annoying) to the fact that the plaster dust had been swept up but out into the corridor which is carpeted (destructive).
Cleaning up after a job and handing over successfully is key to a client thinking well of you after you leave, from documentation to support contracts, finishing up is everything.
Finally the job is done. You’ve paid, you’ve left feedback if required and all is well, but these guys had access to your entire house for a week, did they get a copy of your keys cut? There’s nothing stopping them physically (there’s even a key cutting place at the end of my road) after all. Professional trust, respect and reputation are all that stop them from coming back.
You could change your locks, but do you know how? Passwords and rootkits are much the same,sadly.
To help me though my kitchen dilemma, I have my brother. He’s a builder, and whilst he’s not going to do the work (never work and family in my book) he came round, had a good poke about, and gave me an idea of what needed doing and roughly what it might cost. I bought him a beer, but I’d have happily paid for a couple of hours of his time, just like I do with my accountant.
He’s not about to sell me one thing, he’ll have a poke about and see if some of the gotcha’s are there, and if he knew a man who he rated, I’m sure he’d have put me in touch.
Hopefully The Approachable Geek is to small businesses what my brother is to my kitchen problem.comments powered by Disqus