In Second Life there are two ways to make money, either you can make, build, do something and sell these items to Second Life residents or make, build, do something as a contractor and get paid through some of the Metaverse Development Companies. While the first method can be really lucrative, being a contractor provides access to clients, people and situations that you normally would not encounter. While being a contractor has its upsides, there are definite downsides and lessons to be learned by organizations who hire contractors, as a DJ, you really don’t have a product that you are selling, rather, you are selling your personality, service, time, and the costs that are incurred (stream hosting, music licensing, and music). Since I’ve entered Second Life I have done work for ASpiRE!, The Electric Sheep Company, Millions of Us, and other small venue owners in Second Life. Each one I’ve done some sort of contracting work either as a DJ or as a custom builder. Each of my experiences have been different some worse than others.
I make no secret that I’ve become very good friends with those at ASpiRE! Bianca and Trina are not only great people to work with but they understand how to make, create, and promote an event. I have had a few major projects that ASpiRE! contracted me to perform. The process is relatively simple; I’m asked what my availability is and how much I would charge. There are no contracts or major legal work that need to be done and the payments come as $L, opposed to USD (although I’m told that an e-mail that outlines the details, such as deliverables, times, $, does count as a contract, you may want to seek legal advice out on this one). The problem and a contracting pitfall here is that while it is great to get a large chunk of lindens, cashing out causes a problem. To turn $L into USD, you have to first pay a fee to LindeX and then a PayPal transfer fee (if your receiving your money through PayPal). While getting paid in $L is great, for large scale contracts it makes very little sense.
Most of the work that I’ve done for The Electric Sheep Company (at least 99% of it) has been very different than that of ASpiRE!’s or any groups that I’ve done within Second Life. With ESC I was exposed to having sign a contract for services rendered, which is usually the terms and agreements of employment, the amount you wish to be contracted for and a payment schedule. As well, while working with the Sheep, I’ve rarely been paid in Lindens, which is different than the past. For other groups I’ve usually had to figure out a dollar amount for an event and then convert it into $L. Having to submit invoices, create a paper trail, while not new to me, has become a major relief. It also has taught me a few lessons, one of them is to NEVER WORK WITHOUT A CONTRACT! It is always good to create a paper trail, to have an agreement, and to make sure that there are terms laid out.
The process can be a bit frustrating, sometimes it takes a bit for a contract to be written, terms to be agreed on, and sometimes payments are late! All of these things can be very frustrating and can lead to mistrust or animosity towards the group who I’m contracting with. One thing that is key is communication and the understanding that at times the process gets messed up and there can be slight delays. Hey no one is perfect. If there was any problem that I’ve had with a contract, payment, event, technical issue, anything that could potentially turn into a more annoying problem the Electric Sheep Company has been forthcoming, honest, and communicative about their process (and there has rarely been a problem). It’s very interesting in how a “Hey, sorry Nex, I’m having a problem with thisâ€¦” or “We need to discuss thatâ€¦” has really made the process of contracting with them, easy. As a contractor, the lesson learned here isn’t that payments may be late or you may not begin working without a contract during the beginning of a project but it is lending yourself not to be understanding and not establishing lines of communications with those in the organization. Understanding that things happen and being able to talk to ESC personnel about any problems that I have has really gone a long way (actually on a personal note, I love contracting with the Electric Sheep Company!)
My experience with Millions of Us has been quite different than any other group I’ve worked with. I was introduced to do work for MoU through a dear friend of mine. At first, events were simple, payments were made through $L, there were never any contract signings. It was much like the events that I do with ASpiRE!, they find out if I’m available, what my rate would be (from USD to $L), find out what I need to say, do, perform, get paid, go home. As time went on and the amount for events increased I decided to receive certain payments through checks or directly to PayPal. MoU and I were always friendly, at times I would be asked to perform for an event and either I could not make it or the event would be cancelled or both, again this happens all of the time, regardless of the contractor. One event came up, the MS Fly Kickoff Party, where I was approached to perform, naturally I agreed and as I have learned as a contractor set my rate and discussed what I would need to do (contract signatures, invoice providing, supply a PayPal address, etc.) The rules were agreed upon, and the event went through, although at this point I had neither seen a contract to sign. After the event (which did have a technical issue, my ISP decided not to like me that day during the beginning and I was offline), I submitted my invoice and inquired about a contract. As a contractor this happens, sometimes you don’t end up signing a contract until after the event or when you have submitted an invoice. A contract was eventually sent and signed (about a week or two later), but payment had not been received. As a contractor, you have to understand that sometimes it takes up to 30 days to have a check or payment sent to you, I’m personally not sure if there is a rule or law concerning this measure, but it’s something that I generally plan for. In this case with Millions of Us, 30 days has become 3 months.
As a contractor when a payment is not received on time you have several options in front of you, you can send repeated e-mails and phone calls till you do receive a payment, if there has been enough time you could go to small claims court (or court if the amount is substantial enough), or you could make your dispute with that said organization public. In this case, I have made my case known throughout the organization, so much that I’ve received a response from the persons handling their financials asking for my social security number. As a contractor sometimes you have to provide this sort of information (because you may be considered a 1099, which means you will have to file taxes on your own.) The last communication I’ve had with MoU concerning a payment for an event that occurred in June was two weeks ago and to date no payment has been made.
What makes this situation worse is that while my payment is relatively small (especially to a company who’s CCO received a huge payout from HBO), I rely on these sorts of payments for my living. As mentioned before, as a contractor you have to expect that on occasion you’ll receive a late payment, and have a contingency plan in place. Very rarely have I’ve seen contingency plans put into place that last over an extended periods of time. So now because of a no payment (unless a check magically appears tomorrow) and with the hope that a check would be sent, I have ended up having to bite the bullet for incoming, due costs. A small $18 payment to keep me in operation becomes a $48 payment (costs of a check bouncing in my bank account). Those fees stack up, so a relatively small payment that most other groups seem to have no problem in paying turns into a debt many times its size.
One could make the argument that this is a risk of being in business, of being a contractor. Another argument could be made that I should have required payment before performing for an event. While I understand mistakes do happen, I myself have made many mistakes while contracting others for work and being a contractor myself. When a mistake is made you have to become accountable for that mistake, and yes there are risks of being a contractor in business but there is also a point where the argument becomes not about risk but about accountability. Possibly I should have requested a down payment, something now where hindsight is 20/20. What makes this story even more interesting is that while there is this looming payment, MoU has come to me concerning performing another event for them. They have given me a “store front” on the Scion Island which is empty (and there have been some questions as to whyâ€¦ now you know). I have told MoU that until this matter has been resolved, I cannot and will not do anything for them. As a company who prides themselves on making big deals, Millions of Us seem not to be accountable by their actions, if anything some of their actions seem disrespectful and a slap in the face.
I am pretty sure that my story is not the only one as it pertains to Millions of Us. Even before making this post I’ve consulted with several people as to what my next steps should be, but never in any of my stories as a contractor has I dealt with something like this. As for all of the other work I’ve done (in my life as a DJ, web designer, etc) yes there have been hang-ups, mistakes, but I’ve made the proper communications, resolutions to them â€“ hey mistakes happen. As for other organizations I’ve worked for purely within Second Life, I’ve never had a problem or felt this disrespected. As I mentioned, this issue becomes more than just a late payment but it becomes damn well personal when your bank gives you that funny look. Hey, if I am entirely wrong, I would love to know; I’ll eat my words and make amends on my end! For a group, to not be responsive, and not be accountable in this manner, not only does this sort of story turn into frustration but it becomes extremely personal, and more costly than it is worth.