Xojo Consulting

When we (Christian Miller of Pariahware and myself) spoke at REAL World 2007 about Xojo (then Real Studio) consulting we had no idea what people wanted.  So we took the generic approach of  lets-throw-everything-we-can-think-of-and-fit-it-into-45-minute presentation.  We were surprised that nearly every seat in the room was filled.  We were off to a decent start.

To make a very long story short, we were pretty happy at the response to the presentation.  What surprised us even more was the Question and Answer session afterward.  There were a lot of really good questions.  One of those questions has come up again and again:  How do you find Xojo Consulting work?  It’s a good question.

In my opinion, the best way to find work is to get the Professional license for Xojo.  Yes, at $995 it is expensive but in addition to the Desktop, Web, Database Access and Console you get access to the Pro-only forum which includes access to Xojo consulting leads.  As a consultant I find myself using all the Pro features eventually so the price doesn’t concern me.  I do realize that not everyone has the same resources that I do.

There is a page on the Xojo website called Find a Consultant where potential clients enter basic details of who they are, how to contact them and a brief synopsis of their project.  That information is then posted in the Pro-Only forum.  In turn, the developers may contact the person who posted the project.

In my opinion, this is like shooting fish in a barrel.  The potential customer already knows (or at least thinks they know) that they want a Xojo developer.  So you don’t have to sell them on Xojo or the advantages of one code base for three platforms for desktop, web, and console apps.  Isn’t that half the battle?

I’ve been part of the program for a a long time (in all its various incarnations and price points).  The quality and quantity of the leads varies considerably but all it takes is one decent sized project to make up your investment. You can find more information about it at https://xojo.com/support/consultants.php.

Most of the clients I’ve obtained from these leads have come back for more work.  This doesn’t happen with every client, naturally, but it happens enough to make a note about it.  In several cases the original job was a small project so the client could see if we were worthy of the project they REALLY wanted to do.  These small projects are good to see if you and the client are compatible (people are people and some just don’t get along).

Other developers have had some luck with finding work on the hire a developer sites like Rent A Coder.  Some of these sites require a fee to bid on the listings.  I would use caution using these sites to find work as your competing against people from all over the world.  Some people can live on $15 an hour (or less).  If you can pay your bills and save for your retirement at that rate then go for it.  I know I can’t!

Bidding on a fixed bid projects is an art form.  I use some basic formulas that call for a certain number of hours for each window/class/control and for really complex windows or classes I break them out separately.  Then if you want to get an idea of how much time you’ll spend on a project multiply your estimate by three.  That will take care of interruptions and waiting for responses for questions, doing research, and all of the things you have to do on a project that you can’t directly bill for.  I know a few developers that use a factor of 5 in doing their estimates.

This might seem a bit excessive but nearly every project I’ve ever worked on (even as an engineer in a previous lifetime) this seems to work reasonably well.  This doesn’t mean that the bid is inflated by three, it just means that I’ve accounted for interruptions and other issues that come up that might cause a delay.  At any given time I’m usually working on three or four separate projects and each one needs attention on a regular basis.

Track the time you spend on each project.  If you can, track the time you spend on each part of the project.  After each project, review how long it took to do the entire project and if you can, track how much each portion of the project took.  After you’ve done it a few times, you’ll find out what takes more time than you anticipated and what takes less.  This is valuable feedback for when you’re first starting out and learning how to do things.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you need to live on what you’ve bid.  If your rate is $15 an hour and you live in New York City I doubt you’ll be living comfortably unless you have six roommates in a two bedroom apartment!  In the long run, what you earn has to take into account your lifestyle, your location, and your ability to set aside enough for your retirement years.

As a consultant if you can bill 30 hours per week that’s awesome!  Most consultants say 20 billable hours per week is good.  Use that as your basis for determining what you should charge.  You’ll need to allow time for dealing with administrative issues, taxes, writing proposals and looking for more work.  Then take into account vacation and sick time (it happens) and what your expenses are and you’ll need some padding because some months will be slower than others.

50 weeks * 20 hours = 1000 hours per year.  You determine that you can making a living if you bring in $80,000 per year.  That means that you need to charge $80 per hour.  $80,000/1000 hours = $80/hour.  Don’t forget that you’ll have to pay your own taxes and insurance so take those things into account!

To be honest we charge significantly more than the $80/hour rate.  This was just an example of how to do some simple math to come up with a consulting rate.  Hopefully your rate leaves you with enough to live on and start saving for retirement.

Where are you finding Xojo work?  Have any fun stories of a client saying no to your rate and then coming back a year later after spending far more than your original estimate?

Look for some posts next week about my experiences at XDC!

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

At the Atlanta Real Studio Summit a few weeks ago several presenters were showing off beta code or showing code that they had modified earlier in the day.  Of course you know what happened – there were embarrassed developers saying, “I swear, it just worked a minute ago.”  It’s the Law of Demo’s and happens as soon as you use code not thoroughly tested before you show it off, or when you veer from your script.

When I told my son that they violated the Law of Demo’s he replied rather quickly, “Oh, you mean they tried to modify their program the day of the presentation?”  Smart kid, but then we had learned that lesson the hard way during our First Lego League robotics season.  Trust me, there’s nothing worse than your team (full of 9 and 10 years olds) feeling horrible because they didn’t keep a backup and the modified program just doesn’t work.  Lessons learned the hard way are always the best.

The same goes with consulting and contracts.  I’ve recently been in a spat with a client over unpaid invoices.  Because this person was a referral and well known to many in the Real Studio community I made a verbal agreement to do a lot of work for him.  It was a Web Edition project, which was new to me at the time, so I agreed to a lower rate since it was a good way to immerse myself in a new technology.  In general, I thought the project went rather smoothly while using alpha and beta editions of Web Edition.

Normally, all communications are via email and text iChat so I have a record of all conversations.  This client, however, likes to talk via video iChat.  The drawback is that iChat doesn’t automatically save these (there is an option but I didn’t find out about this until I started doing the research).  So now that the project is done, the client is 60+ days past due on his invoices and is *surprised* that he has a large unpaid balance.

How he can say this with multiple invoices being emailed automatically and the multiple emails and phone calls trying to engage him is beyond me.  He now claims there was a spending cap on the project and says he ‘told me this’ early on.  Right, I would have agreed to two days on-site coding (after a months worth of offsite work) for him since those two days alone are higher than his supposed cap.

The funny thing is that after the project was done he still tried to engage me to do more work.  Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately depending upon your viewpoint) the hourly rate he wanted to pay was so low that I couldn’t have made payroll.

The lesson learned is never to do anything verbally when it comes to money.  At a minimum, after a video chat and/or phone call, send an email confirming the details.  The paper trail, while a pain to maintain, is the only way to cover your bases.

A contract is better, of course, because that’s a legally binding document.  The sad thing is that I presented on this very topic at multiple REAL World conferences so that means I obviously didn’t learn my own lesson.  But then I guess I was blinded by the connections this person has with Real Software (not that I hold them responsible) and the community.  The referral was from a trusted colleague too which made it ‘safe’.  When money is involved there is no trust.

As a word of warning, this person is trolling the forums looking for Web Edition coding help.  Make sure you get a signed contract from him before doing any work.  Get everything in writing, which, of course, is good advice for all business dealings.

Will I get what’s owed?  I sure hope so but somehow I doubt it.  Regardless, I’ve relearned a valuable (albeit costly) lesson.

Last Week For Early Adopter Pricing For Atlanta Summit

Quick update on the ARBP and REAL Software Atlanta Summit.  This is the last week to get the early adopter pricing.  Purchase seats before February 1 to get the reduced price of $350.  After that it’s the full price of $450.  ARBP paid memberships get a reduced rate (check the discounts pages for coupon codes).

As of this morning, we have confirmed attendees coming from Europe and Australia and, of course, from all over the United States.  This is an excellent opportunity to talk REALbasic with others that know REALbasic.  This is THE place to find REALbasic developers for your Macintosh, Linux, Windows and Web projects and also a good place, as a developer, to find some work.  Certainly this conference is a good way to network with the REALbasic community.

Geoff Perlmann and Thom McGrath from REAL Software are presenting several sessions which should be a lot of fun.  They’ll be presenting about the new Web Edition and upcoming features.  If I was a betting person I would bet that REAL Software will show off something very different at the conference (don’t ask because I don’t know what it is).

So there you go.  What are you waiting for?  Come join us for what promises to be a very fun time.  Get your geek-on!

More information on the conference can be found at http://arbpmembers.org/real-studio-summit-2011.  Complete session list is at http://arbpmembers.org/real-studio-summit-2011/sessionspeaker-listing.

The New RS Referral Program: Less For More

Here’s the text, verbatim from the email:

Consulting Referrals Program
•    Developers who provide REALbasic and REAL SQL Server consulting services will find new business opportunities from consulting leads available only to Consulting Referrals Program members
•    On average, members receive over 90 consulting leads per year or about 8 leads per month
•    There are developers in this program that make more than $100,000 a year from these leads
•    12 months of leads for only $900 – Save $100

The old program cost $600 per year and provided you with a support incident.  In my four years in the program I’ve not once used a tech support incident so that’s not really an issue, though it was nice knowing it was there if I should ever need it (thankfully the combination of my immediate network of RB friends and the RB forums is good enough for nearly everything).

As many of you know, I have been a long-time advocate of the developer program for its referrals.  I’ve mentioned it in every one of my Real World talks, in RB Developer and on this blog.  I mention this so that you don’t get the impression that I don’t like the program because I think it’s the best way to get leads.  I believe I’ve used the phrase “like shooting fish in a barrel” to describe the process (however after watching the Mythbusters episode on that I’ll have to revise my phrase).

I find the new pricing and feature list less than desirable.  Why?  I’m paying more for less features.  While I never used the tech support incident I always knew it was there.  Secondly, all Real Software is giving me an email.  Yes, a stupid email with a lead that’s not been qualified as being good (there are still the occasional ‘help me learn RB’ leads which are useless).

So from a business standpoint, the cost of the program doesn’t both me.  A good sized project pays for it.  That statement assumes that you (the reader) are charging enough money to recover the cost – but that’s a different argument.  From a sales standpoint the biggest qualification (they want an RB application) has already been answered.  So from that aspect it’s an okay, but not great, sales lead program.

But $1,000 a year for emails seems a bit excessive.  I talked to many developers over the years that thought $600 a year was too excessive for them.  Certainly $1k a year is even more excessive.

There are quite a few things that I wish RS did to help me with this program so I could feel most justified in spending the cash upfront:
•    I would like to know how many developers are in the program.  If there were 50 or 500 it would make a difference in how I approach the leads;  I think posters would like to know that too!
•    None of the leads are qualified other than that they think they want REALbasic.  I know I’ve talked to more than a few leads through the program that really didn’t know what they wanted and I’ve talked them into NOT using RB because it just didn’t fit their needs;
•    There is no follow-up to see if a lead panned out or not.  So it’s not like I can go check an RS webpage and go, gee, that lead still doesn’t have a developer, or that project is closed, I won’t bother to check with them;
•    There’s no feedback from the poster to see how well the program worked or how well the developer worked.  This is a quality control issue.  Think about how much more powerful if RS could say, “Over the past year, we paired developers up with leads 75% of the time and of those, 95% were happy with the results;
•    Sort of related to the first item, there is no listing of developers in the program, how many developers they have, years of experience or anything that a poster would like to know.  A regional setting would be nice as well.  I’m busy with over 100% capacity right now (and don’t even bother to read the leads these days), but if someone from Kansas City called me I’d at least talk to them and evaluate their app.  But alas, unless they’re smart (you have smart customers?) they probably won’t think about Googling for REALbasic developers in Kansas City.

Now, if RS comes back and says that they’re implementing some new features/services, then I’m cool with the new plan and its new cost.  Right now they do no work for their leads other than have a web page so I’m not sure how they can justify the additional $400 per year.  At that point I just call them greedy bastards because I’m being charged more for less.

Another issue that bugs me:  The developers in the program are selling REALbasic for Real Software.  I have no doubt that they get calls from people looking for developers and they simply point them to their web page.  It’s up to the individual developer to sell the poster that REALbasic is a good choice for them.  So RS is charging us (twice!) for selling REALbasic for them.  Gee, wish I had that luxury in one of my products.

Isn’t it in RS’ interest to have as many developers in the program as possible?  Increasing the price raises the barrier to entry and causes fewer people to be in the program.  It’s already a problem that there aren’t enough developers responding to leads.  From my own anecdotal evidence, at best, two developers will respond to a lead and it gives posters the impression that there are NO RB developers.  Perception is reality.

Since my consulting business is operating at 100% (heck we can barely find time for any internal projects) $600 a year wasn’t a big deal because of the support attached to it (though ultimately a waste of money).  However, it’s harder to justify $1k a year for leads-only when I don’t need them.  Will I pony up the money if the work dries up?  Maybe.  Some of it depends on if someone comes up with an alternative to the RS Find a Consultant program.

I have two possible solutions:
•    Put the Referral program back to $600/year with no support;
•    Charge $1k/year but bundle it with the Personal Support plan (which is $450/year).

So am I right?  Am I pissed off for no good reason?  Do you have other gripes?