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A weekly ComputorEdge Column and Podcast by Douglas E. Welch

Abandonment Issues

July 2, 2004

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WelchWrite Reader/Listener Line

It happened again – this time to a close friend. After he worked with a computer consultant for several months, the person just disappeared. My friend’s phone calls are not returned and it appears the person who set up his entire office, has fallen off the edge of the Earth – and taken my friend’s passwords with him. As a computer consultant, and a conscientious one at that, it drives me crazy. Sure, I can pick up extra work from grateful computer orphans happy to have someone to help them out. Still, I often have to work long and hard to deal with their issues of abandonment and how it reflects on my work. If you take on the mantle of a computer support person, especially if you are working as a freelancer, you have certain responsibilities to your clients and those consultants that might travel in your wake. Don’t hamper your high-tech career by abandoning your clients whenever the whim strikes you.

Walking away

The most troubling part of this scenario is that consultants often abandon their clients because they are choosing a new career or leaving the area. They often abandon clients because the work has become too mundane or uninteresting to them. They haven’t left the business. They have merely become disinterested in the client. For me, this is inexcusable. While I am the first person to tell you to “fire” bad clients, walking away from good clients hurts your reputation and leaves some clients in dire straits. Your whim could help to drive someone out of business. These clients have trusted you and paid you well for your work. Simply walking away is a personal and business failure. Not only are you being a poor businessman, you are compounding the problem by being a bad person as well.

Abandoning a client often has drastic side effects. If you have not practiced “full disclosure” with your clients, you could be leaving them without the information they need to run their networks, operate their computers or complete business processes. My friend is a perfect example. His Internet connection began acting oddly a few weeks ago. I stopped in to take a look, since his previous consultant was not returning his calls. Sure enough, one of the first issues I encountered was that no one on-site knew the password to the router. The default passwords didn’t work. We had no way to troubleshoot his problems or alter settings that might have solved those problems. All we could was reset the router. Thankfully, this solved his immediate problems, but we are now faced with the process of resetting the router back to its factory defaults in order to access it in the future. Leaving a client without such critical information should be criminal. It is tantamount to taking the keys to someone’s car when they brought it in for an oil change and refusing to give them back.


If you decide to leave your current line of work, do everyone a favor and hand-off your client to a fellow high-tech worker. Lately, I have been seeing postings on mailing lists and web forums from consultants looking to do just this. It is quite heartening to see this. Many people are making the effort to treat their clients right when they move onto different work and different careers. Your peers will gladly pick up the extra work and you will be free to move onto new opportunities without being weighted down with clients whom you cannot support.

Unfortunately, this is often not the case. I have many clients who weren’t lucky enough to find me right away. They suffered through one or many “fly-by-night” consultants who took their money and ran, leaving them with incomplete projects, inoperable computers or worse. I curse these consultants. They make my life more difficult be destroying any sense of trust on the client’s part. I am often left in the position of trying to explain their actions, or deciphering their work, with a client that is already hostile. Everyone could have benefited if the consultant had simply pursued a hand-off with another consultant. They would have been free, the client would have been happy and I would be able to get down to work instead of trying to quell the distrust and anger of their former client.

Full Disclosure

If you are working in a high-tech career, and wish to be successful for years to come, practice full disclosure when working with your clients. All clients should have access to all passwords, all settings and any other necessary information. Even if you don’t think you are going to abandon a client, there is always the chance that you might get hit by a bus, or have a spouse get transferred to a different state, or win millions of dollars in the lottery. Even if the client has no use for this information right now, prepare a booklet, files or computer database of everything they might need to keep things running in your absence. You have no way of predicting the unpredictable. Prepare your clients well and you won’t have to predict at all.

There is no excuse for abandoning your clients. It is a relatively simple task to hand-off your clients to others and prepares them for any future eventualities. No one who expects to build a successful high-tech career should ignore this simple fact.

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