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How I Maintain Control in the Highly Subjective Software Design Business
Posted 11 months ago on 11/12/2020 and updated 2/27/2021
Take Away:

This article describes how I use my Terms of Service web page to stay in control of my software design projects throughout the design process from start to finish.


Programming is one of the most gratifying, yet risky businesses you can go into. This arises from the fact that the nature of the business is highly subjective. The custom software design process can gyrate out of control from things that are misunderstood or other considerations that were never factored in from the beginning. It can escalate into a lot of extra work and take on a life of its own due to the subjective progression of the design process.

Despite this reality, you can still make it work financially as long as you work for a good customer. But what happens if you aren’t working for the right type of person? After you commence work on a software development project, you may find out that you could be working for someone who has no respect for you, your time or even your contract. An unscrupulous person may try to make you do a lot of extra work that was never contracted for without offering additional payment to compensate you. Or someone may change his or her mind back and forth many times, forcing you to do much more work that you never expected or planned for. These things have happened to me a number of times. And it is not just a simple matter of walking out on someone who isn’t being fair with you – they could potentially come after you with a lawsuit!

So what does one do to prevent these situations from occurring? I have tried many different approaches over the years to combat this problem and they didn’t really work too well, until I found one that did. I will discuss this momentarily.

First, I would like to talk about what inspired the management approach I use for my programming projects. I live in Cleveland, Ohio USA. Driving through our winters here can be perilous, because of all the snow and ice on the roads. To stay safe while driving, I have learned to handle my car a certain way so I don’t lose control and hit other vehicles or end up wrapped around a telephone pole. When I need to slow down on a snow covered road, I gently pump the brake every 2 or 3 seconds. This will gradually disrupt the car’s forward momentum, allowing me to safely bring my vehicle to a slower speed or a complete stop. I first read about this in a gas station pamphlet I found long ago.

After years of trying various ideas to unsuccessfully thwart people who were unreasonable to work for, I decided to adapt my winter driving technique to a mechanism for managing my software projects. I have learned from hard experience to never let someone accumulate a large number of unpaid labor hours. An unscrupulous person can use all those unpaid hours as leverage to force me to do more and more unauthorized work before I can finally (and hopefully) get paid. It’s almost like giving a crook a license to steal my time.

I began to think about all the software engagements I had done going back to 1990 when I first entered business. The vast majority of the winners were the programming engagements where I was able to bill for my services in an incremental fashion – hourly rate or piecemeal that approached an hourly rate. This was consistently true over all the years I had been in business.

I would like to point out that I have used a contract filled with excellent liability disclaimers since 1994. And it has done a spectacular job of insulating me from potential liability. Even so, that alone still wasn’t protecting me from the kooks who were out to take advantage of me. Obviously, I needed to bolster my contract with something that would really stand up to the shysters. I came up with the idea that I would screen prospective project customers with a Terms of Service web page. Whenever I receive an inquiry from my website’s contact page, I send them a link to my Terms of Service page. Some people may think I’m being too harsh by forwarding this link so quickly, but I don’t care. It’s imperative that I screen, identify and eliminate people who aren’t serious about paying me. Think of it this way – once the bad ones get in they are crowding out the people who are really good to work for.

This section from my terms of service site describes the main idea I use for my screening process:

Vendor accepts cash, check, money order, or official bank check as means of payment.

Vendor bills for custom software design services rendered using progress payment billing cycles. I will submit an invoice for every 10 to 20 hours of services rendered. The specific number of hours for each progress payment will be specified in the Agreement by the items of work to be completed before payment is required. Additional work cannot proceed until the current block of completed hours of work has been paid in full. I will submit an invoice if the hours of work are less than 10 hours if they represent the end of the current custom software design engagement.

Vendor’s labor rate is $________ U.S. dollars per labor hour. Hours for custom software design services rendered will be noted on a Time Sheet Log along with the date worked and the initials of both Customer and Vendor.

Payment for each progress payment billing cycle for custom software design services rendered is due within 30 days after which interest may be charged at a rate up to the highest amount permitted by Ohio law.

Customer acknowledges that Vendor shall not be required to perform any custom software design services contemplated by this Agreement while Customer is in default of its financial obligations under this Agreement.

What this does is “pump the terms of service brake to disrupt an unscrupulous person’s forward momentum”, so to speak. It is a limitation that governs how many unpaid hours a project customer can accumulate before I must be paid so the customer comes current in his or her financial obligations then work can resume on my part. And I would also like to point out that this has served as a very strong deterrent to those who have no intention of being fair and businesslike with me. Most of the time they don’t even become customers – they just move on as they should. Regardless of what business you are in, it is imperative that you maintain control of what you are doing at all times.


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Article Contributed By NE Ohio Computer Guy:

Please visit my software developer website for more information about my services. I offer application development as well as Android app coding services. My developer skills are best suited to dealing with custom software projects. I can perform programming for Corel Paradox as well as C# and PHP.

In my local area of northeast Ohio, I can cater to computer repair and "fix my computer" issues. And don‘t forget to check out my YouTube Channel. It is full of cool videos and has something for everyone!

Use my contact web page today to reach me about any software design ideas you have.

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