Today is a “what cheeses me off” article – and it’s much longer than my normal ‘fluff’. I encourage you to stick with me through this and add your comments at the end!
It’s no secret that I enjoy helping people become successful, address a tech challenge or generally improve their knowledge of how their online business works.
I participate in several forums and private groups operated by colleagues and clients on Social Media, I tweet and provide techie and online business hints and tips through Facebook and now Google + and I provide information on my blog.
I even offer a free 30 minute consult to all new clients to help them get their thoughts and ideas in place – this isn’t a selling session, this is a true “let me know your challenges with your online presence and I’ll help you as much as I can”. Hey, I want you to know that I know my stuff!
I’m happy to share and if you are happy to take the information I share and work out the rest, GREAT – my job here is done!
What constantly amazes me is how many people contact us privately and ask for additional advice or help and are genuinely stunned when they are advised that there is a fee for service.
What makes me cringe is the email I receive that says “Quick question…..” because invariably, whilst the question may be quick, the answer is likely not as it has to be framed in such a way the questioner will understand it.
Back in 2011, Forbes posted an article on the same topic: No, You can’t pick my brain. It costs too much and a lot of what I’m writing today will echo those sentiments… No, you can’t pick my brain. It costs too much. By all means, engage in the forums I’m on, in the private groups, ask questions on my Facebook Page, Google Plus page but if you want detailed, 1:1 advice about your particular issue or problem please be prepared to pay for it.
Let’s face it – the reason you’re asking me, or my team, directly is because you think it will be quicker than doing the research yourself, you don’t understand the information you’ve found or you simply can not find the answer you’re looking - i.e you can do more with your time to earn more, do more, or spend time doing something leisurely. For me to be able to provide the answers and advice I do, in the timeframes and detail that I do, I’ve:
- Spent over 20 years in the IT world – learning stuff, troubleshooting and generally developing my knowledge. The fact that I can work something out in 5 minutes today, means that I’m drawing on that experience, extrapolating potential causes and remedies and then weighing them against a likely answer.
- Paid for and continue to pay for training courses, access to professional organizations, access to the appropriate tools
- Spent time (and continue to spend time) learning things myself so that I can answer questions and provide service
- Spent time (and continue to spend time) training my team so we can provide service
This all costs money, in one way or another…
In addition to those costs, we have to cover:
- Wages or payments to team members
- Insurance – Public Liability, contents, building etc
- Internet service
and, at the end of the day, have some money free so we can actually live. If we spend our time providing service for free, how do these expenses get covered? Create products that deliver passive income? Sure, but I need time to do that …. and if I’m giving it away for free, where does the time come from?
So why are people still surprised when a detailed answer is required that a fee will be charged? Let me give you an example of an approach I had this week.
I had quoted for a custom design job to deliver very specific functionality to a client. After several email discussions with the client, they came back with a high level Scope of Work that allowed me to provide a quote (with caveats). After several months, they approached me this week as asked:
Would it be possible to test the concept with an existing plug in even though it isn’t exactly what I want? I have found some plug ins (list provided) but don’t know which one is best and if it can be integrated as a plug in to my specific theme. Do you know any of these? What do you think? The first one looks the best if it can be applied to the site and looks good for me to trial the concept.
If you believe that an existing plug in is more hassle than it’s worth then I trust your advice and will review the whole idea.
If the plug in trial was successful and I could proceed with the specific service you have offered, ideally we would want to be able to transfer information easily from the plug in to the tailored service. I don’t know if this is possible either.
So what is this person really asking?
- Is a Proof Concept a valid way of testing my idea?
- What is YOUR opinion of these plugins?
- Which plugin should I use for my specific situation?
- We want the whole thing to be easy to migrate to a new solution
In short, I’m being asked to provide my expert opinion so that this person can go off, do their own work and MAYBE pass some work my way. However, in order to answer these questions I have to spend time and energy checking out the plugins (again, as I did that in the initial engagement with the client), check which one would work best with their theme (and the best way to do that is to actually test them in the environment) and then provide a recommendation to them, so they can do the work themselves.
What this client is asking for is a requirements analysis and concept validation service.
When I explained that to provide the detailed advice requested, a fee would apply I was told that they considered the discussion a continuation of the negotiation of a potential client to complete the ‘custom job’ that was requested.
Where’s the WIN / WIN?
I may WIN, if the client decides to do the full project and if they decide to give me the work. In the meantime, let me pick your brains….
The client will always win:
- By “picking my brain…” they’ve outlaid nothing to get the advice on how to prove their concept and which tool to use….
- If the concept isn’t proved, they haven’t spent money on development
- They may just take the Proof Of Concept and improve it themselves by “picking my brains….” again.
Obviously this is NOT my ideal client and I wish them well in finding a provider who will help them appropriately.
Do you value others expertise?
What this demonstrates to me, is that this person does not value the expertise or knowledge of people they deal with. Most importantly, and probably most sadly, they probably don’t value their own time and expertise at anything either and, as such, will find it very hard to get ahead in life and in business.
Let me ask another question… You decide it’s time for your business to buy a new car but you’re not sure of the tax implications and how best to do the purchase. So you call your Accountant and ask their expert opinion, based on their knowledge of your business situation, what to do. Do you expect to be billed for this service? I reckon the answer is yes – either as part of your annual account or as a fee for service.
Would you go to the Doctors for advice and not pay a consultation fee?
What about a copywriter or a business coach? Would you expect to pay them for their expert opinion and advice?
Is there really any difference between asking an IT Expert or a Virtual Assistant to provide commentary and advice on your specific case and expecting to pay for the service? I don’t think so.
It’s interesting to note that Rosie Shilo of Virtually Yours Virtual Assistants addresses a similar topic to Service Providers today in her latest article, What is your knowledge worth?
So…. my question is – do you value others people knowledge enough? Do you value your own time enough? What should you expect when working with a professional organisation?
What should you expect from a Service Provider?
I’ll guarantee you know what problem you want to solve, or what you want to achieve with a solution.
I’ll estimate that 70% of you won’t have any idea on a solution – you actually need help in defining the best solution to meet your needs.
Of the remaining 30%, I’ll estimate that half will have the solution firmly in mind and just need a quote. The other half, will have an idea of the solution, or perhaps a few ideas around the solution, but need help fleshing it out.
If you have the solution firmly in mind:
- Document it! Detail what you’re trying to achieve and how you want to achieve it. Make it specific – just like goal setting use SMART, make your requirements to quote on:
- Time Based
- Ask the service provider to address the scope and provide a fee for service or describe how they would want to be paid for it.
If you don’t really know how to solve the problem you have or deliver the solution you want, if you ask someone for a quote how do you know you’re getting something that will actually work? You don’t – and even worse, I’ll guarantee that your Service Provider will think you want one thing whilst you’re expecting something else.
If you need help fleshing out a scope, or even creating one, ask your Service Provider for time to go through your requirements and help you write the scope. Be prepared to pay for this service – by taking this approach you will potentially save yourself 000′s of wasted dollars and a heap of heart ache. Imagine having a detailed contract to which you can hold your service provider?
Some service providers won’t charge you for this service – or they may have different rates or methods of charging for it, so have the discussion with your provider and get the low down first.
As Adrienne Graham says over on Forbes:
It’s the ones who keep coming back for more freebies and those who take my ideas, implement them, find success, then never offer to repay me for my time [that really cheeses me off]
And no, a turkey sandwich is not payment for something that helped you overcome an obstacle and either created value or additional revenue for your company. I charge my paying clients very good money for my expertise and results. How would they feel to know that I’m giving out free advice? Not too swell I would imagine. In fact I hope they don’t call me demanding refunds!
I’m more than happy to work with you – I’m happy to keep providing my hints and tips on my blog, through social media and forums – but please, respect the fact that we are a business and don’t be surprised when we draw the line in the sand and ask you to pay.
Service Providers – what do you think? How do you feel about the thoughts above?
Customers – how can we (all Service Providers) work with you better so that you can achieve your goals?