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An ongoing contract dilemma...

graphicsguy's picture

Hi all,

I'm having an ongoing contract dilemma. To refresh or catch anyone up, please read this post:

http://creativebits.org/extremely_awkward_place_big_client_help

Or, long story short, I've been working for my old employer as an independent contractor for almost a year. March 1 2009 will be one year. Before that, I was their one-and-only in-house designer, doing everything from design work to sending logo files when someone requested. They could no longer keep me on their payroll as an employee because they consolidated their operations in another state, and I turned down their relocation offer. Since then, the company has gone through some major financial problems, which seem to have improved a little, as they've sold off some of their assets. There have been times when they paid me late, but lately it's gotten better.

Anyway, the bad part of this is that I still do not have a signed contract with them. I drew up one last year, and it was supposed to be signed by 3/1/08. When that didn't happen, I began working for them in good faith that it would be signed. Then, every month I'd ask about it, and mostly wouldn't get an answer. If I really bitched about it, I'd get an answer saying "next week". But nothing.

I make most of my money from this company. They keep me so busy that I have a hard time growing my contracting business. They basically still treat me like their in-house person, expecting many tasks to be completed same-day or next-day, asking me to do little support-related tasks like sending someone a logo, or converting a file for them, or sending file to their printer. I basically feel like nothing's changed since I left the company, except I don't get a steady paycheck or benefits, and I have to manage my own taxes.

My goal for 2009 is to either find a new job (I've already been looking for months) or try my hardest to build my business, and pull away from my old employer.

I've been going over and over in my head whether to give them an ultimatum on the contract. I'm thinking about sending an official letter on 2/1/09 (giving them a month's notice) saying, with a positive spin, that I'm happy to continue working for them for a second year, and here's a copy of my contract to sign if they agree to continue. I also want to raise my cost with them for anything same day or next day - basically a rush fee. So, the new contract will reflect this, and remind them that same-day and next-day service from a contractor is an special service that should cost a bit more. I'm hoping that this may push them to provide more notice on projects, which will help give me time to work with other clients.

So, my question is - should I do this? Or does anyone have any ideas on how to do this differently? Will the added rush fee be too much to spring on them along with the ultimatum? With the economy being what it is, I haven't exactly been seeing a lot of job postings in my field. So, with nothing else big enough lined up, should I put this ultimatum on hold altogether for now, and be happy that I have work?

Alex's picture

It sounds like you have

It sounds like you have three real issues here:
1) you rely on this work as a stable source of income, but there's no guarantee that it is (no contract).
2) you are turning around work very quickly and, by the sound of things undercharging - which does no real favors for either you or the company in the long run.
3) This situation is stopping you from finding work that you will really enjoy and which will really push your career ahead.

I think that the solution to all three of these is to re-negotiate terms with the company. The market at the moment is very different to the one under which you initially worked so you are more than justified in altering your prices. You will now also have a far better idea of the kinds of work that they want to do, and of the work you want to do, so use this to define what you will do.

Use the start of a new year as an opportunity to meet with them, talk through your new costing system, the kinds of work you as a design business do and services you offer, and talk through projects for the year ahead. If you want to work on ongoing projects with them say that each project needs a signed contract. If they would like you to provide small, ad-hoc services, show them the contract and pricing structure for that. If they can't define what they want you to do I would ask whether you really want to be involved, and whether it actually does them any good to involve you.

The key to all this is that you take charge of the situation and offer only what you are willing to do, and offer it in a structured and professional way. The company will benefit from you doing this just as much as you will.

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