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Solving My Too Much Mr. Nice Guy Problem

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When I went to college to study computer science, there was an unfortunate side effect. I became "The Computer Guy." Whenever anyone had a problem with a computer they'd come to me. And I'd help them as I lack all ability to say no. Sometimes that leads to me not having enough time or energy to get my own work done as well as I would have liked.

I found that most people have unrealistic expectations of "Computer Guys." I was expected to have a success rate of 100%. Maybe it's because mechanics generally have 100% success rate. I tried to explain that computers are extremely complex systems. There is a lot of very complex software installed on them... many of which I've never heard of. It's a little bit like being a doctor. You probably are very good at diagnosing and solving the most common stuff, but if someone comes with a Dr. House odd case, it's baffling. And with millions of pieces of software written every day, there's no possible way one person can stay on top it.

The most difficult part, was explaining that I write software, I don't fix other people's software or hardware. It's like expecting a podiatrist to be a great dentist (I'm loving doctor analogies today). They are both in a broad medicine field, but they deal with very different things.

As my interests shifted to creating websites, I got more requests along that nature. You know, "Hey, I want to get my business online. Can you help me?" The good news is that I can get a website up and running in 30 minutes, maybe even faster, if you tempt me with a burrito.

As an optimist, I always think of this best case scenario. I also (wrongly) presume that people are as super-frugal like me. I'm not going to charge people for 30 minutes of my time. I've got plenty of spare hosting space on my server. So I can essentially get them up and running for free... or the price of them buying their domain name. I'd rather solidify our friendship. Maybe they can help me someday.

The bad news is that once I get the website up, there are endless typically requests about customizing it. Most of the time, they don't know what they want. They sometimes see a few websites they like and want to piece together bits from all of them. Then they want to do very small changes, move this icon here... and that pixel there. It makes sense, this is their business and they put in a lot of hard work to make it successful.

The vast majority of these people, such as a local dentist, doesn't need this much customization. In fact, trying to be perfect is the enemy of getting something very good up and running. Most business owners may think they need a lot of information on their website. However, their clients are typically going to Google, typing in the name of their business to get a phone number or driving directions. As long as a website serves their needs and looks professional, it's a win.

Should I start directing people to hosting companies? Most of them, such as 1&1, have design tools that anyone can use to make a website look professional. It isn't free, but it isn't expensive. Also, it's money customers had offered to pay me anyway. And if they get in trouble, the websites often have professional help who can even do it all for them.

I'm kind of stuck not knowing what to do. On one hand, I love helping people. On the other hand, I always seem to be juggling at least five projects without counting these one-off ones. I have one friend who haven't been able to get to in awhile now and it almost seems like a lose-lose situation. Fortunately, she's dragged her feet for years with the website when I was available to help, so she's very understanding.

I think I'm going to try the hosting solution and see how it goes.

Last updated on March 9, 2015.

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4 Responses to “Solving My Too Much Mr. Nice Guy Problem”

  1. phr3dly says:

    Geez no kidding. I have the same problem, both in my personal and professional life. Simple requests to set up a website for a friend turn into multi-year long commitments. Generally I end up paying the domain-name registration fees, because they don’t realize that’s even required. And of course host their stuff on my account, since it’s just easier for me that way. I’ve tried directing people to Square Space, but honestly most people don’t get beyond the first page

    At work, I’m “the guy” who can debug that tricky core dump issue, or figure out why the batch compute system isn’t running efficiently, or why a certain job runs fine on machine ‘x’ but not on seemingly equivalent machine ‘y’.

    To a point this has been useful, while progressing from a junior- to mid-level engineer. But beyond that, working on point problems (even if you’re really good at it) simply doesn’t scale. The people who progress beyond that are the ones who know who to ask to get those problems solved, rather than solving the problems themselves. (And I can totally respect that).

  2. Masterleep says:

    I handled a similar situation by directing them to SquareSpace. I think it worked out better for all concerned. It’s a rathole you really can’t go down except for maybe your wife / parents, if then.

  3. Kathy says:

    Sending them to an economical site seems reasonable but if you truly don’t want to tell them “no”, perhaps you can tell them that an original consultation is free but registration fees exist that they will have to pay and then any future maintenance work will be billed. That way, they can choose whether they want to continue with you doing the work or go somewhere else and you won’t be giving away your service and expertise for free.

  4. Kirstie says:

    I’ve put my hands in this tar baby of a project more than once. You offer to help get started for free, and then you’re making changes all the time for $0. It’s not that your friends are trying to take advantage – they just don’t understand the time and effort it takes to constantly maintain.

    I started going with one of two routes, depending on the level of friendship, mostly. 1) invest the time up-front to help them learn to use a very simple web design tool, such as those that are offered by hosting packages (or basic WordPress). This teaches the skills, as well as an appreciation for the effort involved in changes and additions. 2) initial set-up is offered free, but I state up-front that subsequent work is at (insert high hourly rate here), with a half-hour minimum. The 2nd option produces one of two results: either they save up multiple changes and have me do them at my stated rate, or they want to look at option #1. Either way, I gain either money or time.

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