Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How much does it cost to change a lightbulb?

A tradesman came to visit my wife and I at home recently to quote us for installing a new kitchen in our house. He measured everything up, took a look at the new kitchen design, and we chatted for a while about the possibilities. I figured I could remove the old kitchen myself to save money, but could see that it might be handier and better if he did it himself, so I asked him to quote for that, too. He asked what we were going to do about the walls when the tiles were removed. Replastering the walls would obviously look much better, but wouldn't that make the job very expensive? Not so much as you might think, he said. This set us thinking...would it be a big job to replace the ugly ceiling as well? And, while that's out, to tackle the electric cabling above it so that the kitchen lighting is organised logically? Basically, we moved from just fitting new kitchen units to remodelling the entire space.

We asked him to specify all these elements separately on his quote, because we expected that the entire list would cost too much and that we'd have to pick and choose. I have two left hands when it comes to household DIY, so I have little idea of what's involved with this sort of work and no idea at all of what it costs.

Anyway, when the quote came back we were very pleasantly surprised. We approved the entire quote and the work has since been done to our complete satisfaction.

Why am I telling you this? Well, shortly after this discussion took place I had a very similar conversation with a client, but then from the other side of the fence. The client in question is a formidable businesswoman, but not an IT specialist. I'd built an application for her company a few years ago, and now she was asking for some additional features. Would it be possible to archive out old data without deleting it? No problem. Would it be possible to add intelligent defaults to the input forms? Easy. You could see her relaxing as our discussion continued in similar vein.

The application in question also exports data to Excel for reporting and invoicing purposes. These figures are manually checked, adjusted where necessary and approved, but then need to be re-sorted and totalled for invoicing. This is a lot of work to do by hand every couple of weeks, so I think that her assumption was that it would be a lot of work to program too. But it isn't, of course: if there's one thing that's easy in SQL databases it's sorting and summing. Her reaction was along the lines of, we should have done this years ago.

The point is, when it's a world you're unfamiliar with, it's natural to assume that when you ask for anything out of the ordinary that it has to be difficult, and therefore expensive.

I say, give me a call. If you've got coffee, I'll happily come by and talk about the possibilities. I'm creative and I know what I'm doing, so I can get a lot done quicker and cheaper than you might imagine. I don't mind changing a lightbulb for you, but maybe that new bathroom you want is a lot more feasible than you think.

I look forward to hearing from you.