Reader Response: My Customer Isn’t Organized!

A reader named Larry posted a comment on my personal blog, but the response really belongs here. Let’s see what he has to say.

First, let’s hear from Larry:

I’ve been a tech writer for over 20 years. In the last several years, I’ve done a lot of contract work, and one thing I noticed is; on the first day, they’re not ready for me. There’s no place set up, so I start in this unused cubicle or office that has for the longest time been a junk storage area. No computer, no office supplies, no phone. It takes a week or more to get things sorted. Then, for the first several weeks, there is nothing to do but grunt work for someone else, some project that has stalled and no one is working on anyway. Weeks go by, nothing to do. Finally, the project I was hired for gets going, but not for very long. It stalls out for some time, no one will tell me anything, the SME is too busy, engineering has other priorities, can’t get any info on the project or system, and this situation keeps up for months, then, late on a Friday, I get an email “Come to a meeting in this conference room.” The handwriting is on the wall. My contract has been ended, and this is my last day. I’ve run into this more than a few times, and it’s really annoying, to say the least. It seems this is very common. Are businesses so disorganized that they can’t get their act together?

Thanks for reading, Larry!

I’m sorry to hear you’ve been running into challenges in your contract work. My own experience as a contractor has been that I use my own laptop, so this tends to be less of a problem in my circumstances.

Since you are working on site in your contracts, you might mention during the interview process that you’ve experienced slow ramp-up times on previous projects and ask, realistically, when you can expect to get a computer and start work. Another thing you can do, given the situations you’ve had, might be to ask about specific tasks you’ll be doing and how you might best contribute until your security ID, computer, etc., are up and running so you can make the best use of your time and the client’s money. The point is not to ding your past employers but to let future employers know that you’re eager to start work as quickly as possible. If you have your own laptop and it might be a while before the customer provides you with a computer, you might also ask if you can use yours in the meantime so there’s no lag time between showing up and being productive.

Best of luck,



About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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