Blessing Musariri Shelling the Nuts
There was a time when a man’s word was his honour.
When a handshake was an unassailable agreement. Now everything is fluid and subject to disingenuous verbal comebacks when one party has a change of heart.
As a freelance consultant, the struggle is all too real and days like the following, happen all too often.
Early morning phone: grring, grring! (or as my tone goes, “She be my fine fine fine lady ooo, she go dance she no be lady ooo” — Well at least this is what I think they are singing, I wouldn’t quote me.)
“Good morning, I believe you heard about the job from My Friend Nhingi.”
“Yes I did.”
“So can we meet today at 9 o’clock?”
“Today? 9 o’clock?”
When I planned my day last night it did not include a nine o’clock meeting this morning about a possible job I heard about three weeks ago that was then put on hold while the potential client did further work on it.
“Well it’s a bit sudden and today is rather busy, I have work I need to send off this morning to another client, I will try and make it for 9 but I doubt I can make it.”
“Well we’re here all day so pop in when you can.”
“Okay great, thanks.”
I’m a little annoyed but paying work is a gift horse you don’t look in the mouth even if the breath smells a little off from where I stand.
Two hours later after rushing through everything planned for the morning.
“Hello I’m here to see Client.” (Let’s face it, this is not even a far-fetched name. It’s entirely possible.)
“Wait here a moment I’ll tell him you’re here.”
In the background : “Excuse me Client, Consultant is here.”
“Consultant who?” Have they already forgotten that they called me?
“I don’t know they just said Consultant.”
“Ohhhhh Consultant! Show her in.”
I am shown in. Client is very relaxed, I’m actually not sure which of the two he is until belatedly I recognise Colleague.
“Oh Colleague, how are you?” We chat. “So I guess this is Client.”
“Yes, this is Client.”
“You’re 30 minutes late.” Despite failing to greet me and introduce himself Client feels he can point this out, never mind the fact that we had not scheduled this meeting and I had earlier expressed doubt about meeting this time.
“I’m sorry but like I said this meeting was unscheduled for today, I did the best I could.”
“Ahyayai! Anyway less said the better. So anyway you heard about the job?”
“Well not much actually. I understood you were still working on your document and you wanted us (myself—Consultant, Colleague One and Colleague Two) to give you a critique.”
“No, I don’t want a critique. I’m not prepared to actually have to change anything, I just need you to look at it and give me feedback.”
“Yes, that’s critique and this is how it works.” I lay it out.
“Oh yeah, that’s what I need.”
“Great so we’re on the same page.”
“Fantastic, so these are my charges. I will start work as soon as we sign a contract.”
“Well, I don’t have a contract here. I can give you the electronic copy of the document to take away with you and look at. It’s just that I’m pressed for time and I needed this done today and tomorrow.”
“I need it printed out because I cannot edit off the screen.”
“Okay okay I understand.”
“I can email you a contract to look over and sign and on my way back home today I can pick both the contract and the document up.”
“If you’re not in the office just leave them at reception and I’ll pick them up.”
“No I’m here all day whenever you’re ready just give me a call and I’m here with everything you need.”
I leave. While waiting for my next appointment I amend a contract I have in my docs folder, on my phone no less. This is much harder work than you would think. I send it off. Great we’re good to go, my day can now continue as planned.
Three hours later.
“I’m on my way back now can I pass through and pick up the documents?”
“Well actually, I’m no longer in the office but I saw the contract and it’s fine. If you print out the document yourself I will reimburse you. Do you need me to send you the money?”
“No, it’s fine I’ll add it to your invoice.” My inner voice is telling me, no, make him send you the money, don’t incur any costs upfront, you’ve done it before and then the client cancelled.
Then Benefit of The Doubt, the voice that always talks louder than Inner Voice says, no don’t worry, it will be okay, this guy seems genuine, he’s assured you you will get paid.
“Great. So did you sign the contract?”
“I didn’t get a chance to but it’s fine, in fact we will use it for the Colleagues as well.” Inner Voice is shaking her head muttering, here we go.
“Can we meet up and sign it tomorrow then?”
“Yeah, no problem just get started on reading the document in the meantime.”
I have misgivings at this point. I know better, no contract , no deposit, no work. It’s bad enough when you have the contract and still people start quibbling once the work is done and it’s time to pay up but without a contract in the first place and a client who is as good as a bar of soap in my neighbour’s bathroom four houses down—very ill-advised.
But let me give him the benefit of the doubt. Why? I don’t know. Inner Voice cannot be quiet any longer, listen here Consultant. You have been down this road before, see the bougainvillea hanging over the black gate with the barking dog on the sign, see the three potholes in perfect symmetry in the middle of the road between the last two houses, see the writing on the durawall! Been here, done that, bought many T-shirts, you don’t need another one. But Benefit of The Doubt says, don’t worry, it will be fine.
Later on in my office: Email and text — Dear Client, your document is significantly longer than you indicated, this will affect the fee we agreed. Shall I go ahead.
Yes, go ahead.
I print 143 pages. At this point, Inner Voice has packed her bags and stormed out of the building yelling, you never listen to me, why do I bother with you? I’m taking my overdue vacation. Waste your time and resources see if I care!
I read a good bit of the document, because also I am curious and a little bit excited and when we sign the contract at least I will be a good way into the work already and Client can get it speedily because I know that he is pressed for time. ZESA does it’s business and puts an end to the reading.
Morning the next day. Inner Voice is back. I couldn’t leave. It would be wrong for me to desert you because you need me and that’s why I’m here. Have you heard back from Client yet about signing the contract? Call and confirm this before going any further.
“Good morning Client. I’m calling to see when we can meet to sign the contract.”
“Well, I thought I would just go with Colleague One and Colleague Two for now, because you say you won’t start work without signing a contract and you need a deposit and I don’t have time for all these negotiations. I wouldn’t want you to compromise your professional principles.”
If there was a lid on my head it would be popping off right now. Benefit of The Doubt is nowhere to be seen and Inner Voice is shaking her head (she does this a lot).
“Listen Client, I do not appreciate having my time wasted like this. You read the contract yesterday, said it was fine. I started reading your document and I told you I charge a reading fee for this exact reason — I am going to bill you.”
“But you said you don’t do any work before a contract is signed, so what am I paying you for?”
“Providing you with a contract which you have now adopted as your standard document, phone calls, text messages and emails, printing 143 pages and two hours spent reading — as per your go ahead — in preparation for providing a critique.”
This is what Client needs to pay me for but at this point I know it is just academics, Client will go and never be heard from again. Inner Voice—1 999 999 Benefit of The Doubt—0.