As we all know, I have recently moved to WordPress after years of blogging via Blogger and FTP publishing. The move went well, and so far I am happy with WordPress. As noted in my WordPress Process series, I hired Aaron Brazell to help with some of the more difficult parts of the switch. Aaron did a great job, and I recommend him for anyone needing a WordPress expert.
We took the final step of the trip today when we set up the new permalink structure, and redirected the old-style permalinks to the new permalink pages. During the process, I asked a some specific questions about some plug-ins I had read about and a back-up solution, and ended with “is there anything else/different you recommend?”
Presumably in response to this, and no doubt other similar questions he has received over the years (as my job was less than miniscule compared to big corporate gigs), Aaron wrote an interesting blog post, that is a good read for anyone looking to hire a consultant, or anyone else who provides services for a fee. I agree with some of it, but I’m not so sure about some of it.
First, some preliminary matters:
1. In no way, shape or form am I offended by Aaron’s answer, which was a short version of his blog post, or the post itself. Aaron’s post is intended to help those who hire consultants save money. It just raised some issues that got me thinking enough to write this post. In sum, Aaron’s cool by me, and I will without a doubt turn to him if the need arises in the future.
2. I don’t know squat about the business of consulting, as it relates to the stuff Aaron does. So my experience may not be completely relevant to that arena.
3. Having said that, I know a little bit about making a living via the sale of professional services, having managed large practices at two mega-law firms. I can’t help but believe there are similarities.
So let’s look at this a little bit further.
One of Aaron’s points, which I whole-heartedly agree with, is that everyone benefits from clear, defined expectations. If I think I’m selling you something for X and you think you are buying something more for 0ne-half of X, no one is going to be happy. Only those looking for an unfair gain want to go into transactions with undefined expectations. It is, stated simply, a recipe for disaster.
So we all have some concept of good practices that we should try to adhere to. The best laid plans, and all that.
Because, to one extent or the other, market conditions will determine what is and is not the custom when it comes to professional services and the delivery of and price for the same. I can only charge you X for my services as long as there isn’t a giant population of others who are similarly qualified and will do it for less than X.
The qualified part cannot be overlooked, but it doesn’t always carry the day. Falling tides, all ships, etc.
I got a lot of responses to my RFP, and most of them were less than what I happily paid Aaron. He has a reputation as the best. I wanted the best. A deal was made.
Likewise, I charge more than many others who do what I do, having spent 25 years building my personal brand (I’m not going strangle myself with a self-embrace, but let’s just say I have a pretty high profile in the industry). So I’m all about the “getting what you pay for” thing. I’ve preached that sermon for years.
But these aren’t the good old days.
Which means two things. One, most of us have to work harder to keep the same level of business, at least until the economy gets better. And two, questions and requests that used to be buzz kills are now sometimes life lines.
Stated another way, I think there is a middle ground between scope creep and a blank checkbook. And I think there are many, many cases when an open ended question is both unavoidable and appropriate. I recently hired a top notch landscaper, who charged me a lot of money. I told him what I wanted, we came up with a plan and he did the work. When it was done and I could visualize how I might use the new area, I asked the same question: “is there anything else I should consider?’” He said I should think about some lights. I did, and I hired him to do it.
He made more money. I got lights that let us play soccer at night. Good times.
Sometimes you can’t really know where you want to end up until you’re on the journey.
I get open ended questions in my business all the time. Sure, sometimes it’s an attempt to expand the scope of my work or get my time for free. But most times it’s another way of saying “OK, I’ve bought this and that from you and I like it. What else do you have that I might be interested in?”
Show me what else you can do for me.
Additionally, for a fair-minded, reasonably sophisticated person to ask that question shows a level of trust. No one would ask that question to someone he or she felt was only interested in making a quick buck.
So maybe it comes down to the difference between jobs and relationships. In my business, you can’t really be successful in one-off jobs. You need a stable of clients who over time will need a bunch of your services. So when I hear an open ended question or two, I see a horse thinking about entering the barn. It may be different in other fields.
All of this certainly could result in doing work for free or busting the budget, as Aaron points out. It could also be grounds for a new budget. For a new job.
Now about that one dude. The one who won’t take a job under $50K. I don’t know what world he’s living in, but unless he has some secret formula, he’s not living in the same one I am. I know lots and lots and lots of really well qualified, highly sought after people (lawyers, doctors, architects, plumbers, indian chiefs and rodeo clowns) who would be living under a bridge somewhere if they took that approach. Particularly in this economy,
In other words, I want that dude’s job.