Internet Hell With a Caveman – Long Yet Hilarious

Warning: Rant Ahead!

It’s usually disheartening to encounter the rare individual today that doesn’t know how to operate with today’s technological necessities. It’s even worse when such a caveman is mean and rude. The “caveman” I’m about to refer to is an owner of a well-known Barbecue and Grill place where he works, therefore I’m not disclosing any incriminating names or places.

Caveman #1: The Grilled Food Store-Owner

A number of years ago, when I had recently graduated from university, my uncle had approached me about a website opportunity for an acquaintance of his. This person was in the grilled/barbecue food industry, and was clueless about the first thing on how to operate a computer. At the time, the business lacked a computer, and for that matter, internet access. Their current business model revolved around two aspects: walk-in, paying customers, and a fax machine. Those that wanted their orders filled out took a form previously taken from the store, filled it out and faxed it to the place. It was indeed a primitive way to operate.

My uncle negotiated with the person, explaining that he needed a website to market to today’s generation. The fact that the owner had no computer, nor did he have the space to store one, wasn’t going to be an issue: the site would have a feature where a user submitted a form, and the form data faxed to his machine by using a custom fax-to-PDF method, which came through a 3rd party service. This site would cost approximately $1,000 for development. This was agreed on based on a handshake with no formal contract detailing what would be done – big mistake. Anyways, I then went to work, initially thinking that this was a lot of money (how wrong I was). Due to my inexperience at the time, I foolishly forgot about domain name and hosting registration costs, which for this person, at 2 years hosting and 10 years to own the domain name, came out to over $200 extra. I decided that, over the phone, I would pocket the costs and talk to him later about it.

I spoke with the owner a few times about it, and initially he agreed to pay the extra costs. Later on, he started to play dumb, repeatedly stating, after repeated reminders, that he “thought this was included in the cost” (which of course it wasn’t). To make matters worse, once the site was completed and ready for testing, he verified that the form-to-fax service indeed worked since he always “needed to find his wallet.” Also, since he didn’t have a computer, I had to print screenshots of how the site looked and fax it. When he complained that he wasn’t getting any online customers, I explained that he needed to market his website. In other words, he was looking for every excuse not to pay me (such manners). I guess that to him, I was a kid that he could withhold payment from as long as possible, and he being computer-illiterate, failed to appreciate the amount of work that it took to create the form and the Fax integration.

After not being able to receive payment from him, I asked my uncle, who initially arranged the partnership, to please pick up the money for me in exchange for a percentage of the pay. I don’t know what happened, but my uncle picked up two checks, one being post-dated for a later date, and mumbled to me that the person’s behavior towards me was just plain disgusting. Anyways, we exchanged monies and we let bygones be bygones.

Fast forward to a year later. I happened to meet a very nice girl, became engaged to be married, and naturally, was under a lot of stress in the process. Family, friends, where the wedding would take place, where we would live, where I would land a new full-time job should we move to location X, etc. Towards the wedding my nerves were shot (as was my bride’s), and naturally I was in no mood to be instigated.

All of a sudden, out of the blue, the owner of the site I built for a year ago calls me up and tells me, “I don’t like what you did! I paid for a service and it doesn’t work. All you know is how to take money.” I was understandably insulted because, in my mind, I provided a service on time that was tested, and payment came much later than it should have. Not only that, I doubted that he even ONCE went to the website. So, I blew up at him, screaming at the top of my lungs to get off my back, that I was getting married and already had enough pressures.

Apparently, the Form to PDF/Fax service failed to work for the online ordering form, but it worked for the main contact form. I decided to call this Form-To-PDF service, and found, to my chagrin, that level 2 support, let alone level 1, was indeed horrible. The people on the other line sounded like underpaid Indians who didn’t understand my question about Form to Fax. Apparently, in their online answer bank, they had tons of questions regarding emails/forms to PDF’s, and even Fax to PDF/email, but they didn’t have anything regarding a PDF that would do the reverse: go to a fax machine. After all, who operated with only a fax machine these days?

I tested the online form a few times, as well as the regular contact form. One worked, and one didn’t. In one of my testings, I submitted a mock email basically saying “Nu, I need more money!” The owner of the store, apparently disenchanted with me as well as having an “internet site,” as he put it, cancelled the form-to-fax service, rendering the form non-workable. When I called him about it, he told me, rightfully so from his end, that the service didn’t perform what his business requirements were. As a service, I disabled the form on the site, only keeping the “home” and “about us” pages intact. I also took on the hosting, using it for my domain names. Once the hosting package expired after the 2 years, I renewed it under my own credit card and as a service, hosted this person’s site for free.

Anyways, with so much on my mind, I didn’t think twice. I married, quit my low-paying job, settled in Toronto, and moved on.

Caveman #2: The Owner’s Wife

3 years later – yes, 3 years – after becoming more comfortably settled in, the owner’s wife, who knew how to operate a computer only a little better than her husband (although that didn’t say much), called me and left me a voice message commanding that I teach her how to use the “internet site.” I tried calling her back twice, leaving voice messages, but she didn’t get back to me. One day, my uncle calls me specifically to request that I speak with the wife, as he wasn’t hearing the end of it. He met the wife and asked her what happened. She explained that there was “phone tag” going on. He asked her when would be an available time for her to speak with me. She said she didn’t know. He asked her if her schedule was THAT hectic, to which she replied “ohhh yeahhh….” like she had a million and one things to do and therefore something that SHE was requesting had to be put on hold.

A few months later, the owner’s wife calls me, demanding that I teach her in a matter of minutes how to operate a website, something that took me, well, a lot longer than 5 minutes to learn. Out of courtesy, I spoke with her over the phone for not 5, 10 minutes, but close to 3 hours! She called me out of the blue, without asking if now was a good time for me, and made life unbearable for me. I failed to mention that I had a 30 page paper due for graduate school the following week, and with work, I valued my time very much. When she had a million things to do, that was important. But when I had a million things to do, everything had to be pushed aside! She mentioned that she was ready to learn how to use the site if it killed her. Never mind if it killed me!

This wasn’t a “how are you” conversation. This was a “how do I move my mouse” conversation, literally. She wanted to know how to enter data into a JPEG (I’m dead serious), edit HTML files graphically by default, and with that amount of knowledge, wanted to know how to upload files and pictures to her internet site. I directed her to FileZilla, gave her the username/password to her husband’s site, and attempted to teach her to upload/download files. Simple tasks like locating her downloads location, her desktop relative to her filesystem in the FileZilla interface, etc. alone was a 1 hour chore.

I could have suggested a CMS (content management system) for her needs, but a) it was doubtful that she and her husband would have paid the extra money for it, and b) training someone who wanted to enter data into a JPEG how to use a CMS, long-distance no less, would have been just as difficult . One of her children, during the phone conversation, came over and was amazed at what the mother was doing, to which she nonchalantly replied, “well I’m speaking with a professional, so he’s guiding me what to do.” Well, to be honest, it was more like pulling a leash on a dog that decided to sit rather than walk!

Needless to say, it was hell. The conversation ended rather unpleasantly from my end, and I just asked her to email me the pictures she wanted uploaded. She was about to email me….. until she realized that she didn’t know where the attachment button was! Apparently, after 10 minutes of deciphering, it was found that she was using iGoogle for Gmail, rather than logging into the main Gmail interface. Her settings therefore didn’t permit her to upload attachments from iGoogle.

Again, it was hell. The next day I received some more emails with “do this for my website” kinds of questions. Again, I wasn’t paid for any of this. I’m telling you, where was this person raised? In a barn? The one thing she and her husband had in common were manners – the each lacked them.

Here are some of those emails (with names and places changed):

  • Thanx a ton for your time and patience.  Please remember to change my (FTP) name to BerkOWitz.
  • Did you get the email yesterday?
  • I want to also send photos thanx
  • Did you get the email yesterday?

I called my uncle and told him “uncle, uncle!” Nah, but close. I asked him what should I do? He replied that, get this monkey off my back, I should offer her the option to pay for my services in time stamps, and that she would have 30 days to decide until I choose to take the website down for inactivity. I sent her the following email:

Mrs. Berkowitz,

Per your requests yesterday, I went ahead and added the menu pictures to the site. On website.com, you would go to “view menu,” then go to “Menu Picture.” Below that will appear a number of links where you would go to choose which menu you would like to see. As well, I’ve added the FTP user “mberkowitz” with the password “Berko123” (case-sensitive).

That said, I feel that now I must clarify that our 2 hour phone conversation yesterday was a courtesy one, as was the time in adding the pictures. Therefore, since there wasn’t agreed on, none of my time yesterday and today was charged. Moving forward, though, please understand that I must bill you for my consulting time. “Consulting” includes any phone conversations longer than 10 minutes, as well as any time uploading files/making changes. My normal hourly rate is at $XX per hour. What I can offer is “time blocks” in hours which you can purchase, and during those blocks my time is dedicated solely to maintaining your website as well as any other computer-related services I can provide over the phone.

If you feel that this rate is in any way shape or form unreasonable, or if you wish to go with somebody more local, then please feel free to try someone else. However please note as well, that for the past year and a half your website hosting package had in fact expired and that during this time I’ve hosted your website under my web host space (which I’m currently renting out, it’s not cheap) for free.

Therefore I am providing you 30 days to decide what to do. After this time period, should you not decide to use my services, the site will no longer be hosted on my server for free like it has until now. I can mail you the website files on a CD, if you’d like, but that’s about it. Otherwise, my offer still stands. If you would like to pay me online, I can accept Paypal. If you don’t have an account already, I can help set you up with one, but keep in mind that the time in doing so will cost extra.

Please understand that I don’t mean anything personal by what’s stated. I feel that my time is valuable, and that this is practically my means of livelihood. Why should I therefore work for free?

Best,

Me

To which she replied:

Again I want to thank you for the time you gave for free. I really appreciate it. I will need to make some inquiries and figure out where I want to go from here. Thanks. Please do come in for a free meal when you are in the area. Thanks again.

Conclusion

That was that. I sent a few reminder emails, to which she didn’t respond. It’s one thing to not understand how to operate a computer, but to be rude, self-imposing, and expect this kind of service for free, is just Chutzpah and caveman-like. Good riddance.

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t ever start work without a contract, if anything one detailing what you will do so that you and the client can reference it at a later time.
  • Learn when to “fire” the client, be mean if you have to. Don’t let the client or his wife ever take advantage of your time or professional experience, which you have worked years to attain.
  • Work with clients that “want” to learn the industry, even though you’re being paid to be the professional and in charge. Some willingness from their end is extremely important.

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