Will Consult for Cappuccinos
December 29, 2010 7:56 PM   Subscribe

Many of my friends work in digital media and advertising and I've often helped them brainstorm. But lately I'm receiving more and more requests from strangers who know me from my writing or various websites and want to get together to discuss whatever "big project" they are working on.

I'm not a consultant and I'm not really looking to set up a consultancy myself. But as these acquaintances of mine are working at a day rate that exceeds what I might make in two weeks, I'm not exactly eager to give away ideas to people I just met.

Complicating this is, I'm not meeting random strangers for coffee just to get an elevator pitch. For the most part these are really great people doing fascinating things that I'd like to stay friendly with. On the other hand, if they want to hire me for several hours to help them come up with ideas that's even better.

What are good ways to keep asking them questions, demonstrating my competency without offering feedback? And what is the most casual way to suggest that if they want more of my ideas it would cost more than a cup of coffee?
posted by pinafore to Work & Money (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The key is to stop being ashamed to ask that you be paid when you do work for someone.

Once you're over that, all sorts of doors open up. You can discuss your rates and come to a deal, then go on helping with whatever fascinating project, and not feel used. If it goes well, it will benefit both of you, and you'll both be happy.

If you have trouble picking a rate (and it can be hard...) try thinking about at what price you'd be ok with not getting the work, and you'd also be ok with getting the work. This number is what your time's worth to you. If you're disappointed to not get a job, your quote was probably a little too high (you feel like you could have made a cheaper quote and maybe got it). If you're disappointed to get it, your quote was a little too low (and we all have those disappointing jobs sometimes). Shoot for the middle.

But whatever you do, stop being ashamed about having a straightforward business deal. You don't need to be casual and roundabout.
posted by fritley at 8:24 PM on December 29, 2010 [5 favorites]

Ask to be paid, it's just business.
posted by bradbane at 8:31 PM on December 29, 2010

If you were running a new consultancy business in many fields, you'd be looking at giving away a free (short) initial consultation. You'd need to check out whether you've got anything to offer, the client would need to check out your skills.

So be diplomatic but direct and upfront about this. As fritley says, there really is nothing to be ashamed of in asking to be paid when you are already acting as a consultant. And you are.

Put it to people who approach you for help that if they're looking to buy you lunch and have a very general chat about their project, then you're happy to help and available for the price of (a good) lunch. But if the outcome after lunch is that they want specific and in depth help with something that is going to involve your creative energy and make them money, you expect to be paid.

That's just plain reasonable.
posted by Ahab at 8:40 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Perhaps you can suggest "Yeah, we could just get some lunch or something, but this project sounds bigger than that, and really interesting - do you think you could swing paying for a block of my time - because that way I can rearrange my schedule to meet you when it suits you, and we can just go nuts on this thing, uninterrupted."

Basically, you're asking to be paid while also indicating that there are Significant Benefits to paying that make it easily worthwhile to take that route, while at the same time, you're not explicitly closing the door on the existing arrangement, so it will remain your call how to proceed if you encounter resistance.

Since it sounds like you're not earning anywhere near what they're making, it might also work to assume a fair, modest hourly fee for yourself, but let them know that because their project is interesting and you enjoy working with them, if they book an hour of your time, you're not going to clock it and charge more if that session turns into 2 or 3 hours in the zone, you just want the session to be ostensibly paid for so your accounts make sense and you can justify moving your schedule around to better accommodate them.

This way, they're not paying much money for your time, but it's still enough to make a difference to you, and importantly, it's establishing a billing precedent.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:40 PM on December 29, 2010

I would generally say something like "Let's go to lunch and discuss it" and see if that turns into more work. The idea of the lunch is that you mostly *listen* rather than offer all of your big ideas. People love to be heard, and if you're a good listener, you can summarize their ideas back to them at the end of lunch and then say something like "Here's how we might move forward if we were to work together on this..." You definitely don't need to charge for that first meeting, and it's a great way to network your way into your next paying gig. That said, you have said you're not looking to set up a consultancy - in that case, I'm not sure you can really have it both ways - getting paid hourly to discuss strategy but not having it be a business. Either it's your work and you treat it as your work, or it's not and you don't... which do you want?
posted by judith at 10:11 PM on December 29, 2010

Thirding judith, but just to add: when you conclude with the "here's how we might go forward..." spiel, be sure to say something like "my rate for things like this is $80/hr (or whatever). I would put it up front as well, "So, looking forward, you should think about doing X, Y and Z, and if you'd like me to help you with that my rate is $80/hr (or whatever)." Make sure this is at a natural conclusion, so that they don't try to wheedle more free time from you by stretching the meeting out and backtracking for more detail after you tell them your rate. Draw a line after which it is clear you expect to be paid for your time. Also, keep the intitial meeting short, like 30min or 1hr max.

Dealing with "idea people" you are going to be wallowing in unfocused ambition, so set the limits with the meeting so that they have motivation to be efficient in their dealings with you. People want you to be a pro!
posted by rhizome at 9:23 AM on December 30, 2010

When you get one of these requests, reply with "Sure, I'd love to meet you to discuss your new project. I charge $X per hour, and [whatever other terms you want them to know up front]." This will weed out the people who just want to socialize, versus those who actually want to pick your brain for assistance.

I do this kind of consulting from time to time. When I do this sort of thing, I typically tell them "I charge $X per hour, and I'll email you an invoice after we meet." I email them a PDF invoice, along with an overview of the stuff we talked about. I include relevant links, short notes, and so forth.

People basically pay me to have a broader view of the field than they do. I coach myself to remain as non-judgmental as possible, while still providing them solid information about road blocks they may not have considered, other markets they might want to tap, and so forth.

I'm also a very implementation-focused, plan-oriented person. I find that it's very helpful to "idea people" to have someone basically sketch out a road map for them. Like, "First you'll need to do X, then you'll have to figure out how to do Y for less than your costs of Z," that sort of thing.
posted by ErikaB at 10:36 AM on December 30, 2010

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