The Middleman

Listening to the whole Readability vs Instapaper vs AdBlockers vs The Rest Of The World, from what I can gather, the whole thing is about the role of a middleman. In that particular instance, the people angry at Readability insist on the fact that they ask you to pay for a service that most of the actors are unhappy with or aren’t rightfully informed about. “It’s a scam”, I’ve heard a bunch of times: they insert themselves in-between two actors that have been playing along fine for a while now, propose to make it even better, which is a good grounds for collecting money, by the way, but then mislead people about what they pay for. And that’s where the rubber meets the road…

As a freelancer, there are two models you can follow: you can be in direct interaction with the end-customer, or you can deal through someone (person or company), who will manage the relationship and take a cut.

Managing a client/customer is a skill that is learned. There’s the whole psychological management (mostly revolving around priorities and problems that arise during the development), the administrative stuff (authorizations, papers, negotiations for third party includes), and of course the payment process.

I found out that the quality of my relationship with the middleman has a tremendous impact on my serenity on a project. Basically, both the customer and myself are paying this person to do a job. So, as in every business relationship, the job done and the price paid have to feel adequate.

Here’s a few examples of things I don’t like to see in middleman:

  • finder-only: “hey man, I’m just giving you some work! Don’t look at me like I’m going to reorganize that document… Oh and by the way, I’m getting paid 30% of the project total. You know, as a finder’s fee.”
  • overbearing: “hey, why are you using CoreData instead of a plain text file? The data’s not that huge… That seems like more work than necessary, right?”. Look, if you want to do the development, go ahead. If you want me to handle it, let me do my job.
  • forgetful (usually with payment, obviously): “Sorry, what? Oh yeah that’s right I completely forgot about it! Wait wait hmmmm did we say 6k or 7k? 6k, right? Sure I’ll send an email as soon as I check if the customer paid or not”. This is just the worst. Either it’s stupid, or unprofessional, or a scam.

Now, that being said, over the years, I found some great middle persons to work with. They understand their job as “being in the middle” with every pros and cons any job entails.

Yes some of their chores are problematic, frustrating and aggravating. And if I can (and the relationship is not conflictual), I’ll go the extra mile to help them, because I trust them to do the same for me.

When some friends who want to go freelance ask me about needing middlemen or not, I tend to stay vague. It just all depends… Talking one-on-one with a big company is just too damn time consuming. There are meetings, committees, impossible delays, etc etc etc. If I have only one project to manage at the time, and I don’t feel like giving whatever percentage of the money to a middleman, I’ll do it. But it gets tiresome and frustrating pretty soon. As soon as you juggle with several projects, having someone (or a bunch of someones) to deal with the daily life of consumer relations becomes more and more of a comfort.

So basically, if you are a lot better at talking to machines than to humans, and lack the time to hone the skill of business management, don’t bother. Find a decent, honest, and nice, middle man, treat him/her well and decide on a fair cut, and go for it. Focus on your strength, until you find the time to learn how to do it properly.

Obviously the same applies to designers/graphists/developers/etc… No one is good at everything. And it’s fair to pay for a skill you don’t have, and use to make money.

PPSN: the same applies to software used to make money, obviously. Pay the damn license.


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