RANT: FREE CONSULTING WORK
I’m not sure if there’s something in the air or its just an anomaly but I’ve seen two separate threads this week on what to do as a consultant when people want to “pick your brain” or “buy you a coffee” or say they’d love “your opinion on their strategy” or “your thoughts on how I can market my business” …
Some people have been vehemently against a “pick my brain rate” or simply turning these requests down and very passionately advocate for helping other people.
Hmmm. Ok, I get it, I help people every single day.
In fact today I gave my rockstar friend Simon Mitchell an idea on how to get the result he was after, that he loved, because of course I do believe in helping people.
The big issue I have is not with answering a quick question or giving a true friend advice in context of a conversation or when they’re really struggling and need you.
My problem is that you are asking me for my professional opinion, you want my brain, my perspective, my time, my attention, my focus, my creativity, my skill, my insights … and you want to tap in to 20 years of education and experience that’s cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars and involved making countless costly mistakes.
BUT you don’t want to pay for it.
So that means that either you don’t truly value my expertise OR you don’t have enough professional respect for me to think you need to pay me for my time.
I think it’s usually a combination of both of these.
And that most people have no idea how valuable great advice from someone who truly “gets it” is to their business.
There’s a reason some consultants, professionals & creative agencies are “so expensive” (truth is some are over priced for what you get but most charge those sorts of fees because they’ve earned the right and there’s enough demand).
Ask yourself why someone who’s uniquely skilled and qualified would sell their time at a lower rate than they could get for it?
When you’re paying for advice you’re not paying for “an hour” you’re paying for the advice.
One person could give you incredible advice in 5 min that’s worth ten times what another could deliver through their labour in 5 days.
You go to the dentist for a checkup, a clean and an X-ray and walk out 25 min later with a $250 bill and you don’t say “that’s ridiculous I’m never coming back” because any good dentist with great equipment charges the same amount. And they couldn’t afford to train and set up their practices, keep up to date with new technology and have lovely rooms if they didn’t. Why would they invest all that time and money only to make a salary they could earn somewhere else?
Just because you can’t see my tools, all the software programs I use, the years of trial and error, the hundreds of books I’ve read, courses and workshops I’ve attended, mentoring I’ve paid thousands for and natural innate ability I have doesn’t mean they’re any less real or any less valuable than the dentists set up is.
And guess what? I have to continually immerse myself in learning and continue to invest in my own business and development to be able to continue to deliver at this level.
That’s the difference between people who “do marketing” and someone like me.
I hear my clients horror stories every day and I meet these other “marketing people” all the time.
No I’m not saying everyone else sucks, I’m saying there’s a reason I charge what I charge and deliver my services the way I do, and vice versa for the others.
You’ve always got a choice, go to the great hairdresser and have a gorgeous spa style experience, work with a colourist, a stylist and get a shoulder rub but leave feeling relaxed, refreshed and glammed-up but pay $395 for the privilege OR …
Pop in to the corner hairdresser, sit in a plastic chair, get a different hairdresser every time, leave with hair on your face, colour on your neck and a cut you don’t love, feeling annoyed and running late but it only cost you $95.
It’s like that with everything in life. There’s always a trade-off. Sometimes, like when you’re buying your 4 year old son a pair of black trackies for school dress up day and you can pick from the $3.50 Kmart pair or the $40 Pumpkin Patch pair you go for price, it’s the purpose and the ROI on that investment that you look at. The knock on impact of buying the cheap pants for one wear is nothing. I’m happy to chuck them out if they only last for one wear, but experience has taught me they’re pretty damned durable to boot.
When it comes to business advice though, and services like web development and marketing strategy, the impact of getting bad advice and making the wrong decisions will cost you tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Not only in lost opportunities, but in money wasted on website after website, advertising campaign after flyer drop after expensive lead generation system … not to mention the months wasted on getting back to square one.
It continues to blow my mind that I still have people call me who expect me to be excited about the idea of doing all their work for them for the potential upside of a % share in profits of something that’s a complete pie in the sky idea.
And that I constantly come across small businesses who say things to me like “Well, the thing is right now money’s a bit tight, especially after I’ve just wasted $10k on other peoples stuff, but I’ve got $x left. (usually something like 25-50% of the actual cost) and I’m prepared to pay you ALL of it. And as soon as things come right I’ve got lots of other ideas that are going to be awesome and I’m keen to run them past you and get you to work on those as well.”
Um … how about “No thanks.”
Think about it this way. Are you going to send Warren Buffet an email and ask for Investment advice? No.
But are you going to send a guy you know who’s an investment adviser an email and ask him to give you his opinion on different stocks? Maybe. If you think he’s qualified enough to give you the info you need to save yourself a few hundred bucks, but you know not uber successful, so you’re betting that he’s still “nice” and will want to help you because you’re “friends”.
Truth is, it makes us feel awkward. Because you’re showing us that you don’t respect us. You’re saying “Hey mate, can you apply your intellectual capital to my problem for free because I know you so that I don’t have to pay for the solution?”
Yup. You’re essentially asking us to pay for your problems.
But we’re “friends” right?!
Because my true friends would have enough respect for me to understand that my advice is adding value to their businesses and they would want me to know that they respected me enough to pay my fee.
And if I do help you for free I’m massively undervaluing myself! Which believe me I am an expert in doing, so this post is coming from a place of self preservation not a diva level ego.
The way some people are doing it is more like being that guy at the BBQ who turns up with 2 beers and then asks for one or two from everyone else’s 6 or 12 packs … it’s not cool … you’re being a douche.
Stop doing this kind of stuff to your friends, acquaintances and connections. It’s just not ok.
And yes, if you want my help, I will charge you. Because if I don’t I truthfully can’t afford to give you the time, focus and headspace that really helping you will need.
I’ll have to be working on other projects at the same time to get paid. Which is bad for my paying clients too, in fact it’s worse! They’re getting less than they paid for, so you’re kinda stealing from them, and I’m facilitating it.
If you’ve got an issue with this, I’m sorry, but I invite you to go and find someone else who can do what I do and who’s going to do it for less.
If you do, please send me their number, really! Because I’ve got some referrals to send their way.
An for those of you in a similar boat who get asked to do similar things, like work for exposure, please don’t do it, you’re not helping anyone.
This YouTube video is one of the best explainers I’ve ever seen!
(Caveat – if you are truly just starting out and are trying to get experience that’s totally different!)