Despite my thirteen years of working online, my desire to help people sometimes hurts my bottom line. It is something I have battled with on many occasions. Whenever someone asks me for help, I always tried to email them back and help them out when I could. Sometimes all I do is point them in the right direction with a useful link, other times I have exchanged a few emails and gave good advice.
There have been a few rare occasions when someone has emailed me a few years later and said thanks for the help I gave them. Sadly, it is a rare occurrence. In fact, it has only happened twice. Considering I have probably helped thousands of people over the last several years, that is quite a sad statistic. Most people soon forget who it was that helped them. They simply get what they need and move on.
I soon realised that helping others eats up a lot of my time. I used to reply to two or three “Can you help me” type emails every day. Five minutes here, ten minutes there: It all adds up. To quote the old cliché “Time is Money”. As I get older, this cliché seems to be more true. I love my work. I really do. I love writing and I enjoy helping others. However, I love spending time with family and friends more. I want to make the time I do sit at my computer more productive so that I have time to enjoy myself away from the computer.
Charging for My Time
Every business needs to deal with time wasters. It is just the nature of business itself.
Not a week goes by where I do not a few emails from potential advertisers and website owners who want to hire me for a project. A few emails are exchanged and we are all set to move forward….and then…nothing. No more emails. They either change their mind or they had no intention of working with me in the first place. It is kind of bizarre in a way as they are wasting their own time too. If they do not want to work with me for any reason (rates too high, not the right fit for the job or whatever), all they have to do is say thanks but not thanks. Instead, they drag things on for a few emails and then disappear.
Before, my habit of helping people attracted more time wasters. I soon started advising people that if they wanted my help, they had to pay for my time. I recently reduced my consultation rate to a very affordable $50 an hour. In future, I plan on raising this rate, however at the moment I feel that it is a fair price. I can make more money per hour writing articles for others. Plus, an hour’s consultation via Skype does not just take up an hour of my time. In order to help someone with their project, I will always have to spend time before a call familiarising myself with their project. Specifically, I would look at what their problem was so that when we do chat, I can offer them a solution.
Two recent consultations have made me realise that I need to charge for consultation from the very start. Both guys were nice people and I wanted to help them. The problem was that I was not 100% sure if I could. Due to this, I ended up wasting my own time.
Let me explain.
Potential Client Number 1
The first guy explained that he wanted a Digg or Reddit type website for a very specific niche. He was very knowledgable about the subject and there were no existing news type websites that were active. I was not 100% sure if I could help him as his explanation of the whole project was a little vague. It was not clear if he needed a website designer or just someone to guide him when he launched the website.
The client wanted to pay for a consultation right away, however I did not want to take his money if I could not help him. Plus, if I could help him, I thought that it would be good if we chatted a little before making a plan of action. Our conversation was about an hour-long and through our discussion I realised many things. Firstly, he was not sure what he wanted to create. Secondly, he was very inexperienced in building websites and really did need someone to help him. At the end of our conversation, his project seemed to have changed from developing a social media news website to wanting to develop a blog.
I advised him what he should do next and suggested some websites to check out. He thanked me for my time and then suggested we book in ten consultation sessions (10 hours total). That is how we left it. He never got back to me.
Potential Client Number 2
The second potential client wanted help with a discussion forum he was developing. Again, his explanation of what his project was about was not 100% clear. Therefore, it was not apparent right away if I could help him with his project.
This time, I was not 100% sure whether to do a call first to establish exactly what he wanted. What swayed me to suggest a quick call first was that (a) His website was getting huge amounts of traffic, and, (b) He has spoken at conferences such as Ted and has a lot of good contacts. The client was making good money on the internet already. So in addition to being an additional client for me, it could also have been a good contact for me in the future.
We spoke for around 40 minutes and then I had to leave as I was going out with friends for a run. We discussed his project in detail and we agreed to speak later. I did not see him online later that night when I logged on.
Maybe I am completely wrong, though I did get the impression that he wanted to chat again without paying for a consultation. His initial email mentioned that he wanted to hire me as a consultant but we had not discussed it after that point. We have not spoken since.
Charge for Your Time
Both potential clients that I spoke to were nice guys. I do not believe either were time-wasters. It was me who handled the situation badly.
I am fairly new to consultation so I am still learning what is the best way to handle clients efficiently. My intentions were good, however clearly I should not be offering my time for free when my time is the service that I am selling.
Let’s assume I did offer everyone who was interested in consultation a free 30 or 60 minute call: A call to establish whether I could help them or not. I strongly believe that most calls would not lead to a paid consultation. Here’s why:
- After an initial call, the potential client may decide that I am not suitable for the job.
- They may only need a little information from me and attempt to get all the help they need in the initial call. That is, if I give them good advice during the initial call, they may not see the benefit of a paid consultation as they have everything they need from me.
- They may be a time waster. Someone who was not sure whether to buy consultation, or had no intention to ever buy a consultation (i.e. a time waster). These people would jump at the chance of a free initial consultation.
Since offering consultation through my blog, I have seen a sharp decline in the number of people who ask me for help. When someone first sends you an email, you do not know if these people present a good opportunity or simply a drain on your time. Most people who contact me for help do not email me back when I advise them that I am available for hire. Without doubt, telling people that your time costs money is the quickest way to get rid of time wasters who want something for nothing.
I strongly believe offering potential clients an initial call for free is not good for my business. I am sure this kind of thing works in other types of businesses, however it is obviously not right for me. I have no doubt that if I did continue to offer a free initial consultation, the people who did go on to hire me long-term would be the ones that would have hired me anyway. So I have not lost anything by charging from the start.
Moving forward, I am always going to charge for consultation. I am not going to rip anyone off. If it is clear that I cannot help someone, then I will tell them straight up from the start and not offer any consultation. If, however, it sounds like I can help them, the client will have to pay for my time from the very beginning. And if it later turns out that I am not right for the project, we can go our own way.
At the end of the day, I am quite open on this blog with where my experience lies. Therefore, if someone is not 100% sure if I am right for a project, it should be them that takes the risk, not me.
Thanks for reading,
Ironically, a few minutes before I was about to publish this post today, I received an email from someone I had helped in the past who needed help choosing the right comment solution for his website. He noted I had helped him before and asked for my help again. With my mum going into hospital today and with me having at least three to four thousand words to write today for other clients, I was swamped with work.
I explained this to him and advised that he can hire me at my normal rates if he really needs help. Or alternatively, he should visit the WordPress.org forums and ask for help there. This is the reply I got:
I was expecting help from you Kevin, But this is an arrogant reply from you.
I am a regular reader of your blog.
Can you believe that someone I had helped before would reply in such a way? Unbelievable!!!