Why Don’t I “Consult?”

I get asked this question fairly often, and I usually just mumble something to move the conversation to something else, but I was thinking about my experience with it this morning, and wanted to write about it.

About… 25 years ago, I was working very heavily with Linux at my home, my church, and work. A good friend told me that his company wanted to get an email sever, and a file-sharing server. Aha! I was an expert at doing those things! I would indeed love to help!

In those days, there was a prominent local business-to-business consulting company which was charging $100/hr for their services. I quoted my friend’s boss at $50/hr. He balked initially, but eventually agreed. I bought them a server, installed Linux, configured postfix with spam rejection, and set up their computers with Outlook using IMAP. I bought a domain, setup a web site, and created a shared directory for internal file sharing. Except for the occasional new user I had to provision (which I could do remotely), everything ran fine for many months. I didn’t even charge them for less than 15 minutes of maintenance work like that.

Then the owner started making noises about paying too much for changes. I wasn’t doing much, so I agreed to cut my rate to $25/hr. Then he started making noises about how that was still too much, and my buddy told me that he was planing on bringing in a kid who was making local-business IT consulting his main gig. This guy was saying he could set them up with a wiz-bang Windows server for only $10/hr! I told him I wasn’t going to cut my rate any further, and they were welcome to replace me and my server.

Through my buddy, I heard how the kid bought the new computer, but couldn’t get mail to it. For days, he struggled, blaming my computer, which was turned off and sitting on the floor. Then he started blaming me, personally. So I wrote a nice, long letter, explaining that he needed to change the MX records in DNS, sent them the password to GoDaddy, told them what to do, and said that if they needed any more help, I would be glad to, without charge. None of this kept my name from being dragged through the mud by the owner.

Months went by, and I would occasionally ask my buddy how it was going with the new IT setup. Turned out that it was more down than up. About a year later, my buddy tells me that the owner was open to using my services again, if I would come back, and basically grovel for the work again. The whole process had been pretty dismal, but that’s when I decided, once and for all, that I didn’t have the patience or the temperament for doing consulting work.