Given my topic this morning, this could be the shortest post ever. With respect to doing work for prospective clients or others without being compensated, it’s a one word proposition:
Let me explain, after my 7 years in consulting, why I feel this way. Yes, I do some pro bono work but that’s different. Helping out a charity or other worthy cause is different from helping a for-profit. Similarly, I try to be a resource for my friends, and have looked at many friends’ business plans, websites, social media plans, and analytics over the years with zero expectation of reciprocity (I know they will be there in a heartbeat if I need something).
What I’m talking about today is spec work. Obviously I realize you need to discuss the prospective client’s business issues with them ahead of time in order to figure out the scope of work. You might even want to begin to do a bit of a deep dive so you can pinpoint how best to move their business forward. That’s an exercise for ME, so I can establish a mutually beneficial working relationship and we (the client and I) make best use of the time they’re buying. Over time the focus of the work always changes as the business changes and grows, but you need to have a starting point.
That said, there is a difference between identifying the issues and opportunities and providing a roadmap to a solution. When clients demand lots and lots of spec work, I politely but firmly say “no.” Much of why people hire me is for the expertise that comes from experience. The strategic and tactical documents I give clients are roadmaps. They probably believe they can find people with less experience and knowledge to follow that map. They forget that the business road usually takes unanticipated turns after which it’s easy to become lost. Who gets the blame? The map maker (me!) so I’d like to be in the car with them to get them pointed back in the right direction.
A client paying for your advice is their skin in the game. It also makes them pay attention. I don’t like to spend my time providing guidance and observations that, ultimately, get ignored. Inevitably the recipient makes the mistake(s) that I warned were going to be the outcome of their direction or decision. It is a waste of both of our time.
Your job is to remind them of the value (NOT the cost) of what you bring them and then to deliver. The old saw about free advice usually being worth what you pay for it rings true to most clients. To me as well. You?
While I’m too lazy (or burnt) to write a few new screeds this week, as has become our tradition we’ll look back at the posts you guys read and shared the most over the past 12 months. This first one was also one of my favorites because it’s a good example of what I’m trying to do here most days. That is, of course, to take the things that go on around us all the time and find actionable business lessons among all the other stuff. This was from last April 10. Enjoy!
Suppose you have a small but very popular business. You began as a handful of people, most of whom are still with you after you kicked out a couple of uneven performers. While you’ve added some staff as the business grew, every employee is a key employee since there really aren’t any overlapping roles.
Thirty five years go by, the business grows, and while there are good years and bad, the product mix is generally well-received by customers and reviewers. In an industry where products come and go very quickly, this one endures, even though it went through a period where everyone wondering if it had lost its way. The product focus changes with each release cycle to match the times – no one has ever called your business stagnant even though its product sector has gone through some very rough times. In fact, there is an entire secondary business of add-ons and information providers that has grown up around your business. Not a bad place to be.
One day, you learn that a key employee is sick and several months later he dies. You adjust by hiring someone who can do what he did albeit without the strong emotional bond to the team as the late employee. A few years later, another key member – your right hand – passes away suddenly. The team is devastated and there are real questions about the ability of the business to continue. The emotional toll on you is palpable and the business community wonders if you’ll retire and shut it down.
Instead, you decide to replace the man who everyone thought was irreplaceable. You let customers know that it will be different, and while you will make best efforts to minimize the differences, you are up front about it being different and don’t try to pretend as if nothing had changed. You bring on more employees to reinforce some of the differences, creating a transformed product in the process. You release new product – one developed primarily with an outside team for a fresh perspective. It’s very well received, and breathes life into the older products, and customers continue to buy it in droves. The business remains true to its core values and it’s obvious that the old and new employees are on the same page thanks to excellent leadership.
It’s really a textbook case on managing business transformation in difficult times. I was privileged to witness it myself last night. Ladies and gentlemen, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.