I bet the following happens to many web professionals all the time.
You’ll be able to bill for *every* hour you spend consulting your clients, if you make this trivial change.
You’re sitting in your office, working on a design / development / internet marketing project for a client. Another client interrupts you by phone (or by coming by your office unannounced!). She wants you to advise her on an important topic. You drop everything you’re currently doing and spend the next hour helping the client make an important business decision. The client pays you with a ‘thanks, you’re awesome!’ and leaves. You’re allowed to resume paid work.
You just increased her business’ worth and decreased your own. You lost an hour, and you didn’t even bill for it. What’s worse is that by giving your expertise for free, you increased the chance of having this happen more and more in the future (the client just got awesome free value from you, you can bet she’ll come for more).
There are two very simple solutions to this problem
Solution #1: create a “Consulting By The Hour” service.
When you come to a restaurant, you’re given a menu of available meals. You study the list and pick a meal you want to eat. If a meal is not on the menu, you won’t be able to pay for eating it.
The reason you’re not billing for giving good advice to your clients is because you don’t have that service as an item on your menu. The solution is to create that service: pull it out of the thin air, attach a price to it, and publish it on your website! The next time a client calls, offer her to schedule a consulting call / meeting with you.
Solution #2: put the client on a monthly support retainer. There is almost no question a client could ask that you couldn’t answer in a reasonable amount of time. Do you have any idea how much something like this could be worth to a serious business? Have you ever asked yourself how much effort it took you to get to the point where you can solve almost any problem in your domain of expertise?
You are a source of infinite knowledge and wisdom. You’re just not used to thinking about yourself in this way.
Not being able to ask the right questions and not being able to recognize the best solution are two principal problems our clients have with the Internet in general. We solve the internet-y problems beautifully, while forgetting to solve our main problem: we’re giving away the solutions for free.
But I just googled the answer, that can’t be worth much, in fact how can I charge anything for the minute I spent googling something?
Even “just googling it” is tremendously valuable. Imagine two people - one is you and the other is your client - looking at the same set of search results on Google. Your client could be looking at an obvious solution to their tough problem and not be aware that the solution is right there in front of them (it’s proverbially biting them in their asses). You, on the other hand, can recognize the best solution just by reading the contents of the TITLE tag in search engine results.
If you’re struggling with defining what the real value of your services is, it’s this: you solve tough business problems in an instant.
Yes, sometimes you have to use Google to solve problems, but so what? In the past, doctors went to libraries or bought expensive medical books to save their patients’ lives. I don’t think they ever had any problem with charging good money for “just flipping through some books”. They have spent years in the medical school to be able to understand what’s in those books, and today they use Google too.
So, there’s your solution: clients should be paying you monthly to get instant, uninterrupted, guaranteed access to your expertise. If they can’t afford to pay your monthly retainer, I guess they should learn how to ask Google the right questions, and how to recognize the right solution among the 130,000,000 results Google spits at them.
This is where it comes really handy to have a “consulting by the hour” service: some of your clients will resist buying a support retainer from you. Some of them will never agree to pay you monthly “just for answering their questions”, but you know what? Some of those clients do have urgent problems sometimes, problems so urgent that they want to pay you for solving it. When they do have such a problem, they’ll remember the many times you offered them paid consulting. The only difference this time is that you’ll get paid great money for your expertise.
Also, having a monthly support retainer is great for removing the friction your clients feel when they consume your hourly consulting too frequently. When you hear clients complaining that you’re billing them for every second and for every yes and no you give them, don’t take it as a complaint, take it as a buying signal! In this perfect moment, pitch them your monthly retainer! It’s a win-win situation, for both of you.
It’s easy to start: steal this from me
Stop procrastinating now and do this. On your website, on the page where you list your services, add two more items to your list:
- (1) Consulting By The Hour - $xxx per hour
- (2) Monthly Consulting - $yyy per month
(Take a look at my book “Recurring Revenue For Web Agencies” where I describe in great detail how to create and sell a support and maintenance service on a retainer.)
You could be hours away from the first client call that will earn you extra (recurring) revenue - a revenue that you couldn’t have earned yesterday, because you didn’t have those two items on your menu!
The next time a client calls and wants to “sit down with you for a couple of questions”, tell them you’re awfully busy these days, and that you could schedule a paid consulting meeting with them. Would Tuesday or Thursday next week be fine?