Friday, August 6, 2010

When to charge for advice you give away for free

"When you ask me to consider your specific business challenges, the meter is running."1


[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="160" caption="Please Pay Here 3-14-09 19 by stevendepolo, on Flickr"]Please Pay Here 3-14-09 19 by stevendepolo, on Flickr[/caption]Figuring that out was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Not that I don't like to get paid, you understand. I'm a huge fan of making money. For me, the challenge was coming to grips with the fact that my opinion was worth something, sometimes.

I'm a problem solver by nature. I'm not talking about logic puzzles or those infernal Rubik's Cubes. But give me a business challenge to overcome, and my mind can't help but start turning it over and over. Eventually, a solution comes tumbling out. Most of the time, I'll spot challenges before others, even business owners. I was at a local eatery recently chatting with the owner, and innocently offered up a two solutions to help reinforce his brand and increase traffic to his location. His comment: "Do you ever stop thinking?"

Nope.

Which brings me back to the aforementioned hardship: figuring out sometimes.

If you catch me at an event or a social engagement, free advice from me is there for the taking. That may sit strange with other consultants, but not with me. I'm there, and am quite capable of making sure one person doesn't monopolize my time and finding something else to do when someone whips out a business plan.

If you want to take me to breakfast, lunch or dinner; the situation is similar. Again, others who make their living delivering business strategies may squirm here. Even if you take me to a fancy restaurant, I'm likely not to eat and drink my way through $225 in an hour. But I eat fast, and complex business problems likely won't be solved over a meal.

For everything else, we need to work out a business relationship. That's hard for a lot of people to understand and perhaps even more to afford. Sorry. But the advice and counsel I give is valuable. And outside of the times mentioned above and perhaps a few others, my time is precious. Sometimes that time is spent in ways that enable me to earn my rate. Sometimes it's spent on things I want to do, learn about or see. I'm a huge fan of free, but in the absence of fee, I get to decide where my time is spent. Your worthy project has to compete with my worthy projects. Which do you think will win?

While I'm on the subject: I'm not really interested in taking equity in lieu of fees. Can it work? Yes. Have I done it before? Sure. Will I do it again? Probably. But the chance is pretty slim. I'd have to really love the idea. Not just like it. And just like with my time before, there are a lot of things I already love. I probably don't have room for one more unless I have to give up a current love.

And keep this in mind: skills and talent are important. But only marketable skills and talent are worth money.

1 - Those words of wisdom were uttered... or at least typed, by Jason Falls. He's a social media educator and strategist. And very smart. Start reading Social Media Explorer. You'll thank me.

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