The Danger of Unpaid Consulting, And One Answer…

One thing that happens a lot in the web development and design sphere is the problem of unpaid consulting.

Actually, I’ll rephrase it a little… it happens all the time!

It’s rather tricky. Clients are interested in us because we offer them something that gives them better efficiency, sales and returns. But what we do is complex and sophisticated.

As it’s myself that does all the sales work I often find myself giving over two hours of my time to a prospect in order to explain how the dynamic websites work. I’m educating them. For two hours.

How much would it actually cost to get an expert in any field to educate someone for that period of time on a one-to-one basis? £120? £240? Certainly it wouldn’t be cheap.

Yet there I am, explaining various elements of design, hosting and development… all for free.

Not only that, but many clients expect proposals, complete with mockups. For free too, of course. After all, we’re only selling.

And it’s a trap I think that all IT types need to be wary of. We’re natural born ‘pleasers’. We want to write cool stuff, but more importantly, we want people to acknowledge that coolness. It’s interesting that the concept of Open Source is so strong in IT. There aren’t nearly so many top photographers offering any of their materials with a right to free duplication as there are developers.

But here’s the thing… free doesn’t put food in the table. Each prospect may be the result of two hours of work before we even get to visit. On top of that is the two hours of free consultancy they end up receiving when we go and see them. Then there’s the proposal – that can be four hours for something simple, but easily a 16hr job. So we have up to 20hrs per prospect, before a sale is even agreed.

If we then assume a one-in-three conversion (because they’ll probably talk to three potential clients) that means up to 60hrs of work for each client won. I’ve actually estimated that by and large we manage on about 40hrs per client win.

Now here’s the funny thing – many of the websites we produce take less than 40hrs to build. Let’s say each is 30hrs of work to build – what with all the toing and froing of ideas, images and copy.

That makes 70hrs per website. If you’re going to make a modest, middle class income, and cover costs, then chargeable rates have to be around the £30 an hour mark. That’s about what most backstreet mechanics are charged at. So the very base price for a website built according to expectations above, has to be £2,100.

Read that figure.

£2,100!

For a basic, simple, custom website.

We’re working on developing techniques to get web developers away from this problem. Expectations are far higher than can be fulfilled economically. Check back to the blog regularly to see our up and coming announcements…

Comments
  • Graham Ellison 12 / Mar / 2008 at 1:19 am

    Here’s the problem with selling your expertise: It’s only information. I use the word ‘only’ advisedly here, because some information can be priceless. But most information can be found for nothing in this source-rich age.

    I do however agree with your assessment of the situation and with Judith’s helpful reply from her husband. Even the money you describe is ludicrously small – especially since I was charging a minimum of £35 per hour for design consulting as long ago as 1987!

    But information really is no longer as valuable. Even design skills aren’t appreciated, since everyone with access to PhotoShop, Illustrator or Corel Draw thinks they’re a graphic designer, regardless of their real abilities. The evidence of this is everywhere.

    It’s the same with web design. People think that if they can master Dreamweaver, building a web site is easy. It’s not.

    I’m not sure what the answer is though, except that I largely gave up on seeking clients for this sort of work a long time ago and am now moving onto the stage where I’m hiring!

    Oh, and clients haven’t changed in 21 years!

  • Judith Hall 11 / Mar / 2008 at 6:54 am

    My husband offered the following pasted below on the basis of his long experience as a freelance journalist as food for thought.
    ————–

    Consultants across many fields face the same dilemma. The answer is simple but you have to “bite the bullet”.

    Respond to queries about potential projects by (a) indicating you will be delighted to help and (b) offer to immediately follow through with information explaining the services you provide, examples of projects undertaken (if appropriate) and your scale of fees and then (c) deflect all further interrogation about how a project might be designed or implemented by saying “Wait till you get my information package and we can take it from there. It will answer all your questions”.

    I can assure you this approach works 99% of the time and quickly weeds out time wasters and freeloaders from the genuine client.

    The problem is that many consultants worry too much about “losing” a potential client if they don’t follow the approach that you currently adopt. The reality is the genuine client will appreciate the ‘professional’ approach. Give it a try!
    ————–

    …… Enjoyed the blog!

  • Waldo 21 / Feb / 2008 at 9:27 pm

    clopinettes,

    Great read and so true. I have done the same thing many times before. I would be interested to know how you aim to cut down on this time spent or how to recoup your time.