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How to drum up consulting work
The informal approach

 10:12 pm on Jul 22, 2004 (gmt 0)

One thing I don't see a lot of discussion about here is how to actually drum up consulting/contract work for those of us working out of the house.

There have been volumes and volumes written about how to do this, but I thought it might be interesting to share some tips and tricks that we use in the real world to actually get some business.

For years, my own aproach has worked fairly successfully, it gets me jobs when I need them, and I have a list of calls I can make any time the workload starts to run dry. My personal label for it is the Informal Aproach

How it works

It would probably be safe to assume that most of us are geeks, and our friends know it. Our family knows it. And many of our casual acquaintances know it.

Whenever we find ourselves in a social situation, we get asked all sorts of annoying questions about how to fix a glitchy browser or OS, or get into more detailed discussions about trends in web development and design, search engine optimization (which invariably leads us to "dummy down" the lingo), and all sorts of other issues.

For me, I don't stick to one thing. Too boring. I'm not a specialist in any one area, but can hack my way through a whole range of PC related issues. 99% of my business comes from these conversations, either directly or indirectly.

How to handle the "My problem is this..." conversation

The secret of turning these conversations into cash, in my experience, is to be specifically vague, and knowing how to talk in both plain english and geek-speak at the right times. It's a fine line.

By being "specifically vague" I mean demonstrating that you know how to deal with an issue, without giving away enough information for the other guy to figure out how to do it himself. Let's face it, a lot of what we do really isn't all that tough, and there are lots of automated tools out there that make it easy for the neophite. If you're too descriptive, then you've lost a job, because the person your talking to is gonna head off and fix the problem themselves.

My browser is acting up, but there aren't any viruses

Is a good example of a simple problem that can turn into a quick buck. Without even asking any serious questions about what the problems are, most of us here know immediately that the problem is most likely rooted in spyware.

How do you respond? Ask a few questions, and get a general idea of what the browser is really doing, nod sagely, and say, "Oh, sounds like you've got some nasty spyware on your machine." And then watch the other guy's eyes widen in shock and fear. Spyware is a scary word to most people. They'll go on about that can't be it, because they scan for viruses on a regular basis, and you just have to point out that virus scanning is innefective, because AV companies don't class spyware as a virus or trojan. In a few short minutes, you'll have them agreeing to drop off their PC for a clean up.

Now all you have to do is install SpyBot, or some other freeware anti spy software, get it to run a scan and clean while you play Moria on your own machine. When it's done, be sure to do a couple of things:

a) Print a log of all the spyware removed.
b) Your repeat business comes from leaving the anti-spy software on the machine and explaining how it works. Why? Because when one of their friends is looking over their shoulder while their running a scan, there's a 50/50 chance they'll tell that friend exactly who set them up with the solution in the first place.
c) Invoice 150$ and cash the cheque. Cha-ching.

My website isn't getting enough traffic...

This is especially a problem for small to mid-size businesses, and can be highly profitable, even if you know next to nothing about SEO. Why? Because the average small businessman knows less than nothing about SEO. They think they know how search engines work, but their assumptions are most likely entirely wrong.

Most small and midsized business have one of two types of website:

The "self designed" site made with afFrontPage.
The "Graphic Artist" designed site.

Now, nothing against graphic artists. I've seen a lot of very beautiful sites designed by graphic artists. But keep in mind, most GAs make a site look good better than they make a site useable/visible to search engines.

Here are the main SEO/Usability issues that both categories of site tend to miss, and are dead easy to fix.

- No "Alt" tags on images.
- Improper/Missing "Title" tags.
- Lots of pretty pictures, very little text.
- Not submitted directly to any engines.

On a typical small business site of 20 or so pages (often less), you can blaze through fixing those problems in under eight hours. And the results will show in under 2 months. Fix those issues, and you can easily double, more likely triple or quadruple a site's traffic.

And what can you expect for that half day to a day's worth of work? My experience is that most small businesses won't even blink at a thousand bucks.

How to handle the conversation? Just talk it out. Say they need to submit the site to search engines, work on their internal document structure, increase the prevalence of text on the site. And watch their eyes glaze over. When that happens, just mention casually that "I can take a look at the site for you if you like." They'll wanna know how much it costs, and then you say you can probably double their traffic for a thousand bucks or so. As far as advertising dollar value goes, this is a lot of bang for their buck. Call up the newspaper, Telephone directories, and magazines and find out how much a one time print ad costs. A thousand bucks for improved visibility that lasts as long as the site is up is still the best deal in advertising.

How do you prove you can do it?

Build an ugly site.

Seriously. I have an ugly site, that I rarely maintain, that's just a collection of stories and poetry. If someone looks at it, their first reaction is "what a piece of s$%t!" And it is. But it's text heavy, shows up reasonably well in search engines, and gets 15,000 hits a year without me even looking at it or promoting it.

Know how many hits most small business sites tend to get? 2 -3,000 hits a year. I kid you not.

Point out that your ugly site gets 5 times as much traffic as their pretty one, and they'll think you're a wizard.

But how do I find these people?

Be social, and listen to people. Don't be afraid to talk about what you do in casual conversation. People like talking about their careers, and expect other people to do the same. And don't just listen for the problems that person is having, listen for the problems their friends and employers are having. And keep a mental list of "problems I could solve easy".

When in an informal situation, try and keep the conversation informal. Don't make the hard pitch at a house party, it really turns people off. File the info at the back of your mind, and make sure you drop a few hints that you're able to deal with said problem. Also, as is often the case, someone will talk about their employer's problem (especially in small business settings). It's ok to ask someone to mention to their boss that you can handle the problem. 9 times out of 10, they will mention it to their boss.

Then wait a few days and pick up the phone. They're not going to call you. But if you've successfully "planted the seed", you've got an opening when you call them.

"Hi, this is (John Doe). I was chatting with (name drop acquaintance here), and he mentioned you were having (insert tech related issue here)..."

If your acquaintance mentioned your name to their boss, the rest is easy.

"Yah, (your acquaintance) mentioned you take care of that kind of thing. I've just been busy and haven't gotten around to dealing with it..."

If their boss hasn't been informed of your existence, no big worry. The fact that you called them already with an idea of what the problem is, and that you'd had at least some conversation about it with one of their employees or friends, shows that it isn't just a random cold call, and the conversation should go fairly easy.

Quite often small businessmen are exactly aware of what their problems are, but they're reluctant to pick up the phone and call around to find someone to deal with it. Call it a basic fear of tech issues, the uncertainty of seeking out a consultant, or the mere fact that the constant pressures of small business mean that they keep pushing the issue into the "deal with it later" category. In situations like this, the "friend of a friend" approach can work remarkably well. It's very much a "soft sell" technique. It's friendly and approachable.

Promise little, deliver much.

This builds repeat business, and strong word of mouth in you favor. When I do "simple SEO" (like the case mentioned above), I promise to double their site's traffic. I know from experience that in reality, traffic will triple or quadruple. But I promise double. Why? Because that way when traffic does triple, your customer will think "Wow! He more than met my expectations." If you're doing quickie PC maintenance jobs, like spyware removal or virus removal, make sure you tweak their current anti-virus/spyware solutions, and take the liberty of installing an alternative browser. Then mention to them why Browser X is more secure than IE (no browser war discussions, please), and even mention the strengths that IE has over other browsers (more sites work in IE). Explain it in fairly simple terms, and let them make their own decisions. The fact that you went the extra mile to give them a choice will be greatly appreciated. To your customer, it signifies that you *gasp* actually care about looking for long term solutions for them. It's a rarity in the computer industy, and small businesses are used to getting hosed by software comapanies and large consultancy groups.

The examples may be specific, but the technique isn't

In fact, it's literally the oldest method around for building up a successful consultancy. And can be summarised thusly:

a) Don't be afraid to talk about what you do.
b) People like to talk about their problems. Listen for the problems you can solve.
c) Don't hard sell. Build up "bridge" contacts socially, and only call businesses/individuals if you know they have an issue you can deal with.
d) Know what you can do for your customers. Promise half of that, deliver all of it.
e) Never, EVER sell a solution you don't know you can deliver.
f) Treat your customers as you would treat a friend. Sit down for coffee with them to discuss the problem before you try and solve it.
g) Know what the "going rate" for your type of service is, and keep your price in the median range. If you charge too much, you won't get the job. If you charge too little, you won't get any respect.

This works well for me. If anyone else has any ideas or thoughts, share them. We may be "independants" but we can all use a little help.



 10:47 pm on Jul 22, 2004 (gmt 0)

I think that everything sounds ok except for charging $150 to install a free anti-spyware program. What happens when their nephew,brother,cousin, whatever visits and says "Oh, you know about Spybot Search and Destroy", "yeah, I had it installed for $150". I don't think you will get any work from anybody they know after that.

When I knew nothing about computers I called a local computer guy to have him install my new graphics card. He told me how to do it because he said it would save me some money and was very easy to do. Well, I was obviously very happy to have saved $60.

Now that I do web design I often have people ask me about computer repairs. I tell them, "I don't do that, but I know a great guy that knows what he is doing and will treat you fairly".


 12:15 am on Jul 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

True enough, but I also tell people that what I've installed is freeware.

Surprisingly, they don't have a problem with that. They're willing to pay you for it because:

a) They don't want to take the time to do it themseleves.
b) They wouldn't know where to look, or which package is the best to begin with.

Another alternative, and I've done this too, is if I get a fair amount of work out of someone, I toss in a SpyBot cleaning, and ZoneAlarm (you'd be amazed how many people run without a firewall), as a courtesy. Let them know what you're doing first.

You can also make REALLY good money cleaning viruses off a machine using freeware, and freely available admin tools (Sophos lets you download detection/cleaning tools for free. You have to run in safe/DOSshell mode, but the software itself is free, and highly efficient).

I'm finding that, more and more, people are just throwing up their hands and handing over stuff and asking you to "deal with it."

Virus removal is a really good example. Chances are, if you take a machine into one of the big "retailers" they'll charge you 50$ just to tell you to reformat your hard drive, and then try and sell anti-virus software to prevent it happening again. They make their money off selling software, not fixing problems.

If you even half know what your doing, you can clean 99.9% of any virus infections without needing a reformat. Same goes for browser hijacks like CWS, which ISN'T a virus, and won't be cleaned by SpyBot, or AdAware.

You're not charging for the software. You're charging for the cleaning and time in. They get the software as a bonus.


 12:38 am on Jul 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

"Promise little, deliver much."

I suggest you read any of the consulting books by Alan Weiss. I'm sure you'll soon find that this is not an acceptable way of doing business if you want to expand your consultancy, grow or learn.

Ultimately this attitude is bad for your clients and will keep you from the top of the consulting business


 1:44 pm on Jul 23, 2004 (gmt 0)


Thanks for the post. I appreciate the time you took to get all of that into writing.


 2:20 pm on Jul 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

I think thats a fantastic post grelmar! Even if some people disagree with your approach i think it would work for me as a sideline to my proper job!

I've done the whole spyware thing and felt guilty as hell for charging any money when its freeware and all i do is click Next!

I think printing out the list of 617 items that i found would have made them appreciate the service even more - and talk about it with their friends/colleagues thus drumming up more business.



 2:35 pm on Jul 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

"Promise little, deliver much."

I suggest you read any of the consulting books by Alan Weiss. I'm sure you'll soon find that this is not an acceptable way of doing business if you want to expand your consultancy, grow or learn.

grelmar is absolutely spot on, streetshirts. You sure you read what he said the right way round? People love value for money.

Pretty good post all in all. I have been consulting for companies large and small since the 80s, and have picked up an enormous amount of work at social occasions (normally in the bar when working away from home on contract).

The only part of grelmar's post I might argue with if I was being picky is ...

Not submitted directly to any engines.

This isn't really necessary. Submitting to the right directories is much more useful.


 3:51 pm on Jul 23, 2004 (gmt 0)


This is an interesting topic. It is true people love value for money, but it can go too far.

I was just thinking of it from this point of view:

If all consultants except one promised very little, and one promised what he could deliver, I would see the one offering more as the best deal (and the best consultant - even if slightly more expensive)

If we all (as consultants) promise less and less, some businesses will plan on doing without a consultant altogether.

I don't take work anymore that I'm not going to learn from. If I can do it with my eyes closed then I feel I'm not working.

So, when that happens it means (to me) that its time to push the boundries again and go after the bigger money.

Just my humble opinion


 3:54 pm on Jul 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

Having said that grelmar, your post was great, and that bit was the only part I didn't agree with.

I too have met many clients networking, and most business does come from referrals. I like it that way.


 4:03 pm on Jul 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

I don't do any of the anti-virus, PC repair kind of work, but if someone I know ever told me they paid $150 for someone to install a peice of free software, I'd advise them to call the Better Business Bureau. It may not be illegal, but it's certainly amoral.

grelmar is absolutely spot on, streetshirts. You sure you read what he said the right way round? People love value for money.

Yes, if you use this approach of "promise little, deliver more" you will appear to be of more value than you are, but it's the "appear" part that is the problem.

If you build your reputation on this, what happens when clients discover (and let's face it, it's not that hard to find out what's easy and what ain't in this business) that your service wasn't really above the norm but right on it? What will they think?

Either (a) that you don't know your own business well enough to give a proper, up-front diagnosis or (b, aka: the truth) that you DO know your business, but knowingly misrepresented yourself. Either assumption does not bode well for your business or reputation or word of mouth.

I hold on to the notion that clear, up-front and honest wins the race.


 4:38 pm on Jul 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

Hmmm, can of worms I was not expecting to open.

The "promise little, deliver much..." issue:

I worded that wrong, or at least too simply. What I meant was always try to deliver a bit more than you agreed on, and don't get over your head.

If I told someone I could quadrouple their traffic, I may or may not be right. I give them a reasonable estimate in the sense that "if I do X, Y, and Z, I KNOW there traffic will double, but much more likely triple or quadrouple..." So I promise a doubling. That way I know that I will be able to meet the objectives in my customers eyes, and probably exceed them. I don't ever, EVER want to put myself in a position where I've promised more than I can deliver.

Charging for installing freeware:

Ok, I can see where people might have a problem with that. In fact, I used to have a problem with that. I used to do that kind of thing free and "as a favor" for people. Problem was, it still took up my time. If your consulting, what people are paying for is your time and your knowledge. Eventually, I got to the point where I became unwilling to just give away my time on that sort of thing. What I DON'T do is tell them I'm letting them in on some secret deal. What I DO, in fact, do, is tell them up front "just go to safer-networking dot org and get spybot and run a scan..." and if they're unwilling to do it themselves, and just want to hand it over to me to "deal with it" then I charge them, and I have no problem with that. They know up front they're getting a piece of freeware. They're paying me for my time so that they don't have to do it themselves.

I appreciate the input, and I can definitely see "the other side of the coin" from what people have said. Food for thought, which was the intent of the post. Get the ball rolling and see what other people's opinions are. I spend a lot of time "working in a vacuum," not knowing how other people would handle similar situations.


 5:17 pm on Jul 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

streetshirts, createErrorMsg ...

grelmar beat me to it ... what is really being said here is underpromise, overdeliver.

For example, I bought a couple of reports from a firm last week. I got 3 bonus reports (not the usual junk ... extremely interesting information). Needless to say, I was happy. A fine example of what it being referred to by "underpromise, overdeliver".

It's just about giving the client a little something that they weren't expecting :)


 6:05 pm on Jul 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

Why wouldn't you underpromise and overdeliver?

Because clients then start to overdemand and underpay.

The second point is: if you always underpromise, you will never improve, never get better clients and never get to the big money. You should never promise what you can't deliver, but conversely, I believe that each job should make you improve and test your limits.


 6:19 pm on Jul 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

I think it depends on what your aiming for, street.

Personally, I'm not looking to become a zillionaire doing this.

I'm looking for a comfortable living doing what I enjoy doing.

If I was aiming to "climb" the consultancy ladder, I might push the limits a bit more.

But I can DEFINITELY see your side of the issue. It's as correct a model as my own, just a different model with different aims. And I think it's valuable for you to present that side of the coin, because there are a lot of people with no idea whatever on how to price out their services, or arrange contracts. Getting the two major sides of the debate on the floor is good, because it allows people here to determine which route they want to follow, and suits their needs best.


 6:23 pm on Jul 23, 2004 (gmt 0)


I agree with you entirely. It does depend what you are aiming for and its always good to hear both sides of the story.

I also agree that there are many people starting out that have no idea what to charge. In most cases I find they charge too little. The only way to find out is to ask.


 7:33 pm on Jul 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

underpromise and overdeliver

It's the first part I object to, and I'm willing to admit this may just be a matter of semantics and not underlying principles. In saying that you 'underpromise,' we're still dealing with a level of dishonesty. Why not 'promise and overdeliver?' Or just 'overdeliver?' THAT'S an idea I can stand behind, that one should always do more for the client than they are expecting.

Storevalley's example of ordering reports is a good one for 'overdeliver' but not 'underpromise.' Did they promise 'I don't know, maybe we'll send you a report or two,' then sent you five? No. They promised two, and gave five...regular old, runofthemill promise, followed by an overdeliver.

My point is that I think you respect, and conversely get respect from, your clients more when you lay it openly on the table and let them decide. If the service you're offering is really worth what you're asking, there's no need for an underpromise. The idea of underpromising seems (to me) to imply that one secretly doesn't think one deserves what one is asking a client to pay...insecurity? knowledgable misdirection? I don't know, but there it is.

That said, gremlar's recent post 're-explaining' his anti-virus thing doesn't seem quite as devious now. If you tell people upfront that this an easy thing, that they can do it themselves, then they knowingly choose to pay you $150, well...that meets the criteria of being upfront.


 8:29 pm on Jul 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

I also agree that there are many people starting out that have no idea what to charge. In most cases I find they charge too little. The only way to find out is to ask.

Very definitely. I fell into this trap when I first started out, and it cost me dearly. The thing is, when we head off to become "independants" we often bring a few false assumptions with us.

First: If we're coming into the field from being "wage-slaves" for a large company, we base the value of what we do on how much we earned working for "the company". That's a dangerously bad starting point. It doesn't take into account all the costs of running your own business, the fact that you have to build in a certain (small) "padding" to cover the irregularity with which work comes in at (you have to budget for lean times, because they WILL happen), and all sorts of other issues.

Second: Most "consultants" are doing something they both enjoy doing, are good at, and as a result, there's a mental/emotional barrier for charging good money for something they feel is inherantly "easy". Easy for you, maybe, but difficult to impossible for the majority of the population. If you can accomplish something in an hour that would take "Joe off the street" days to accomplish, there's a lot of value in that.

If you tell people upfront that this an easy thing, that they can do it themselves, then they knowingly choose to pay you $150, well...that meets the criteria of being upfront.

Exactly, you said it better than I was.

underpromise and overdeliver...

It's the first part I object to, and I'm willing to admit this may just be a matter of semantics and not underlying principles.

I think we might be on a semantics debate, but that doesn't make it any less valuable.

It's a bit hard to get the concept across in short BBS posts, because when it comes right down to it, I think a lot of us spend inordinate amounts of time in the "consulting" portion of consulting, as opposed to the "doing" part of the job. But it's time well spent. The better an understanding both you and your client have of what your objectives and expectations are, the happier everyone will be in the end.

If you know that your client expects Z, and that you are fully cpable of fulfilling Z, then you're in a strong position to provide that, and maybe throw in a "Y" in order to exceed their expectations a little.

If you have a signed contract and the objectives are vague, and your customers expectations are unclear, it can be a recipe for disaster.

Again, thanks for the noodle exercise. In a way, this thread is a good example of the consultation process. Everyone seems to be moving into a clearer understanding of each other's stance.


 9:56 pm on Jul 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

but if someone I know ever told me they paid $150 for someone to install a peice of free software, I'd advise them to call the Better Business Bureau. It may not be illegal, but it's certainly amoral.

No way. As part of my regular job, I can be asked to explain the simplest tasks. Many people are petrified of touching their computer and installing software of any kind. If I were doing this as a consultant and told the guy he could do it himself, but he didn't feel comfortable, so I drive across town, install a free application and clean the virus, and drive back home, then

1. $150 would barely cover the time and disruption this might take (depending on how big the town is).

2. The client would probably be thrilled that I saved his computer for so little.

3. The client in this case probably wants expert reassurance more than anything and is happy to pay for that.

Now if the guy drops by my house, brings over his laptop and some good ice cream and it takes me 5 minutes, *then* $150 would be out of line.

Similarly, if someone told me he just bought MS Office and was afraid to install it himself, I would encourage him to try. If he refused, I would have to charge enough to make it worth my time, even if his nephew could do it for free because I'm not his nephew!



 8:35 am on Jul 24, 2004 (gmt 0)

if you always underpromise, you will never improve, never get better clients and never get to the big money

I'd disagree with this pretty strongly, and have a client list to back it up.

I believe that each job should make you improve and test your limits

Most big clients will be unimpressed if you test your limits on their time unless you are playing with bleeding edge technologies (and they appreciate this fact).

I know what I am good at, and if there is a better resource for the task in front of me, I will happily forward the work to them. I have found that most clients appreciate that level of honesty.

That doesn't mean that I don't keep an eye on new technologies and learn about them in my own time, of course ;)

Why not 'promise and overdeliver?

A far better way of expressing the sentiment :) As stated a couple of times already, I think we are just talking semantics here.


 2:28 pm on Jul 24, 2004 (gmt 0)

Most "consultants" are doing something they both enjoy doing, are good at, and as a result, there's a mental/emotional barrier for charging good money for something they feel is inherantly "easy". Easy for you, maybe, but difficult to impossible for the majority of the population. If you can accomplish something in an hour that would take "Joe off the street" days to accomplish, there's a lot of value in that.
Yes, yes, yes! I see this at both ends. When my computer acts up, I call my computer guy. (I'm a copywriter, not a techie.) It may indeed be a "simple" fix, but I just want him to make my problem go away. There is no space in my brain to learn how, especially with deadlines looming. I don't care if he's using freeware; I appreciate his expertise and expect to pay him for it.

And as a writer, well, writers have a history of being undervalued by others and by themselves. The biggest hurdle a new freelance copywriter has to get over is sticker shock to her own market prices. I imagine it's the same for freelancers of all stripes.

The bottom line is value. Of what value are your services to the customer? What is his ROI? Sure, he probably could buy a "Whatever for Dummies" book and muddle through, but is that the best use of his time? Most likely it's not.

Regarding drumming up business: two years ago when I struck out on my own, 100% of my clients came from networking. Since then, I've gotten some business from direct mail, and I now have repeat customers and referrals working for me. But I still develop 70% of my business new each month, and most of that I get through networking. I play to my strengths - I'm an extrovert, and love schmoozing. (If I weren't such a people person, I probably would have made direct mail much more central to my marketing plan.) I also send out a monthly e-zine with marketing tips. This helps clients keep me in mind if they or someone they know needs a copywriter, and it's a tangible demonstration of my skills.

And finally, as the token writer and by default, expert semanticist, on this thread, I vote for simply, "overdeliver." :)



 5:45 pm on Jul 24, 2004 (gmt 0)

>>I know what I am good at, and if there is a better resource for the task in front of me, I will happily forward the work to them. I have found that most clients appreciate that level of honesty.<<

Clients expect you to tell them whether you are the best consultant for the job or not. When you have built up this level of trust, then you are a really valuable addition to their organisation.

When work comes in that I can complete with my eyes shut, I will forward it to other consultants who are where I was a few years ago. Its about my personal goals. If you are good then you can delight a client, but what is important to me is to improve each project. Thats not to say I work longer hours, actually fewer, but I'm always improving.

I don't learn on client's time, but I have got a pretty good grasp on how long it will take me to learn something new, or develop a new skill, so that I can factor this into the project timeframe. What I won't do is the same work year on year, thats not why I started as a consultant: I want to keep rising up the ladder.

I too agree with: 'Overdeliver'


 5:04 am on Jul 25, 2004 (gmt 0)

This seems to be mostly semantics. How can I ovedeliver without having also underpromised?

As to big $$$ for freeware, it is expertise and a solution to a critical problem that is being sold, plus the time/expense of getting it done onsite. It costs nothing in materials and takes 10 minutes for a plumber to fix a clogged pipe, but I pay good cash anyway because I ain't doing it!


 4:25 pm on Jul 25, 2004 (gmt 0)

How can I ovedeliver without having also underpromised

I guess we are actually talking about overdelivering against customer expectations rather than against a specific promise ...


 9:38 am on Jul 26, 2004 (gmt 0)

Interesting thread.

The responses of several people to the idea of charging someone good money to install a free program reminds me of an article I read once. It divided "buyers" into four categories. I don't remember all of them but I do remember that I was pretty surprised as I had always (of course) assumed that everyone had the same outlook on purchasing things as I did.

I'm one of those people who will research for 2 hours to save $5. I'll compare, contrast, look up the item in 10 different shopping comparison sites. I know it's not very logical, as I could make more than that if I just worked for 2 hours instead. But I enjoy the hunt. And I'm cheap. I would never pay someone else for something I reasonably thought I could do myself. And I usually research it do death before I would pay for it so that I'm SURE that I'm getting a good deal on the service.

But I read this article and it said there are other types of people who are happy to pay for someone else to take something off their hands that they aren't an expert about.

This boggled me. But now I see the value. It was very hard for me to charge for my work when I started because I couldn't understand why anyone wouldn't just want to learn it themselves. I do everything in my business - the marketing, accounting, customer service...I even print my own business cards. (Did I mention I'm cheap?) But I couldn't imagine why someone would want to pay me for something they could conceivably teach themselves. After all, it's not that hard. So I make my money doing for others what I would never pay anyone to do for me. That makes me think - what are these people about? What makes them decide to hire me?

But over the years as I begin thinking about how to increase my income and build my business and realizing that I need to outsource things and I need to hire people who are experts at what they do and be willing to pay them, because I can't do everything. And ultimately being successful is not about being the best but about being able to hire the best people to be on your team. So now I realize the value but I will say it comes very hard to me.

Anyway, just food for thought. People are different and understanding those differences and how to approach people who think differently about buying I think is the key to being able to successfully market your services to a broad range of people.


 2:34 pm on Jul 26, 2004 (gmt 0)

There's an old story that goes around something like this: There was a water leak at some place where it was critical to get it fixed immediately. Maybe a nuclear power plant or something. The employees and experts were stumped. They tried all sorts of things to no avail. They finally called a plumber who walked around in the pipespace, looked at few pipes, then pulled out a hammer and whacked one of the pipes. The leak stopped.
The plumber sent an invoice for $10k. The customer was surprised and asked the plumber for an itemized listing of the charges. He sent back an invoice that said Hitting the pipe - $1, Knowing where to hit the pipe -$9,999.
Maybe a little far out, but charging for expertise and results will keep you in busines. You're not working for an employer who pays for your benefits, marketing, rent, telephone, travel, etc. on top of your paycheck.
I'll coach a client through a simple fix like installing freeware without charge if I think they can do it. If they ask me to do it anyway, I have to charge my standard rates.


 6:28 am on Jul 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

True story from yesterday/today:

I was at a favored client's yesterday working on some freaky networking issues, and a friend of the owner's stepped in, and asked if I was "new".

I said no, I was just the hire-a-geek. She brightened up and said "I need a geek, when can you come over?" I told her I would be all day on the problem I was working on, but could come over in the morning, and asked what the problem was. She said it was a virus and then asked how much I would charge to remove it.

I told her it was x$ per hour. She said, "Oh, last time I had a virus, I took it to the shop, and they charged me that as a flat fee to scan my system."

I asked her how that went, and she said they scanned it and told her to reformat her hard drive.

"So they charged you x$ to tell you to wipe out your hard drive and lose all your data." She kinda got the point from that comment.

Long story short, I went over to her shop the next day (today), and even though all I did was use 1 free online scanning tool, and a couple of removal tools freely available online (ok, so they're really obscure tools you have to execute from command prompt Safe Mode, they're still free), she had no problem paying me for four hours work. Cut me a cheque on the spot with a smile, in fact.

Freeware and Open Source Ware are tools. Just because they're free tools, doesn't mean the mechanic comes along for free as well.

This isn't about boasting about my skills, it's about the realities of the marketplace. There's so many shady shops out there, and weak operators, that if you can actually solve the problems, people will pay you well for it. And they should.

And as for "deliver more"?

I gave her a CD with a pile of freeware and Open Source ware, and said that they were just some alternatives to the M$ stuff she was using, one of which that was the source of the infection. I gave a brief explanation of why some of the open source programs might help increase her security.

She was stunned. The same shop that charged her a pittance to tell her to wipe her hard drive, turned around and got her to buy a small fortune worth of software to prevent it from happening again. So she not only lost all her information, but got sold software to prevent a re-occurance, and that software failed.

I fixed the problem, she didn't lose any data, using free tools I showed her how to use, and gave her a bunch more free software to help her out in the future. I charged her a decent consulting fee for this, which was actually less than she'd ended up doling out to the shop after they'd got her to buy a bunch of software.

So, at a guess, the next time she has a problem, do you think she's going to call the "big name" shop, or the "geek-for-hire" with the expensive hourly rate?

I'll give you a hint. She asked if I had some extra business cards to hand out.


 8:58 am on Jul 28, 2004 (gmt 0)

Excellent example grelmar :)

She asked if I had some extra business cards to hand out

This is the really good part ... you be remembered and warmly recommended. I've found that it's much easier to win work this way than any other.


 9:06 pm on Aug 3, 2004 (gmt 0)

Great post!

But in France it wouldn't work : socialist mentality they expect you to do things for free!

So I have only worked for Fortune 500 company: there you can make 10000$ per month whereas try to find 10 small companies to pay you 1000$ is much harder!

>Build an ugly site.

>Seriously. I have an ugly site, But it's text heavy, shows up reasonably well in search engines, and gets 15,000 hits a year without me even looking at it or promoting it.

What is the url of this wonderful site :)


 10:19 pm on Aug 3, 2004 (gmt 0)

heheh, while I'd like to actually promote the site, it would kinda defeat the purpose.

Also, there's the TOS [webmasterworld.com] to contend with.

I'm aware that for most people here, 15k/year is peanuts, but for a basically static site that doesn't have a lot going for it, it proves a point (and actually, looking at the stats from last year, it was just over 20k in a year).

For small businesses struggling to get 3 or 4k hits/year on pretty much static pages, that DON'T get updated often, if ever, it shows the value of having a lot of descriptive text.

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