"TODO list sabotage" mailbag

Philip Morgan

A few days back I wrote this:

_Imagine that if, unbeknownst to you, someone sabotaged your business by re-arranging your TODO list each day so you focused on un-important tasks instead of important ones. Consider how destructive that would be over the course of several years!

Now imagine that your prospective client is doing that to their own business!

I’m not saying they definitely are, but imagine if they were and a brief call with you could help them see the error in their prioritization of their TODO list.

A simple list that could easily be written on the back of a napkin could dramatically improve their business over the course of several years.

It’s not the length of the list, it’s the quality of the contents (and the thinking behind it) that matters._

List member Sasha Jolich offered a really interesting story that I'm sharing here with his permission:

_Coincidentally, just yesterday I discussed this topic with a colleague

Often, I’ll be building trust by getting familiar with a client/company and providing value of the sort you described in your email - prior to writing up a contract or agreeing on billing. What I’ve noticed is that it can be difficult for clients to compare consultants. One way for me to get the upper edge is to provide this kind of early value, get them to acknowledge it, and then proceed to negotiate a contract. I was worried that this might lead to some sort of commoditization or ‘spec’ work but in practice this has not been an issue. It’s proven to be fairly easy to qualify customers. Someone who wants work for free has not been difficult to spot.

My colleague mentioned a related issue: value-based pricing. He’s been struggling with this. In my experience, if you truly want to adopt value-based pricing then you’d have to know your customer extremely well. To me, that means spending potentially a lot of time with them upfront before you negotiate pricing. In order to be able to quantify the value of your work to a customer, you’d need to deeply understand what it would be worth to them specifically (as opposed to your fictional ideal customer description). That would probably entail a great deal of conversation with that customer.

One could look at both of these approaches and think that the consultant is a fool for not charging for his/her time upfront. But I think in both cases it is a conscious choice to trade some of consultant’s time upfront in exchange for a potential for negotiating a higher-value contract. In many cases, that final contract can more than make up for the upfront time that wasn’t billed.

So perhaps this is not entirely what your email was about as I suspect you probably meant it to be about advice that we give that don’t feel comfortable charging for - but I thought this was related enough that it would be relevant. It’s also useful for those of us who are good at what we do but don’t have convincing enough marketing materials (website, etc) that would cause a customer to immediately sign a contract._

Thanks for sharing this, Sasha!

Another list member also wrote but I didn't get permission to share so I'll vaguely summarize: He wrote to tell me he recently got his first client who paid him solely for the privilege of picking his brain. It was a small engagement when measured by dollars, but a huge engagement when measured by impact on his confidence and business growth! Congrats, dude!