Friday, June 22, 2007

Don’t Let Your Knowledge and Skills be Taken Advantage Of

Some recent correspondence between myself and another consultant has reminded me of times I’ve been taken advantage of in my consulting career. I’m not saying this consultant is taking advantage of me or I’m taking advantage of him at all, but it’s a situation that could potentially be exploited.

Here’s what I’m talking about: in exchange for recently promoting a service he is offering, my colleague has agreed to help me out with a marketing strategy I’ve been mulling over. Normally he would charge for this advice, but because I’m doing him a favor he’s agreed to help me out. The boundary as to how much advice he is willing to give and the boundary as to how much advice I am seeking haven’t been clearly defined. In this case, it’s OK. Knowing this consultant I think we pretty much know where our boundaries are and nothing needs to be said. We have a great deal of mutual respect for one another as professionals and I respect his time and the amount of advice he’s graciously willing to part with free of charge.

Unfortunately, there have been times I’ve not been so lucky with potential clients and other consultants. I had one instance where I met with a potential client and left the meeting believing he was very interested in doing business. I offered a proposal for my services, delivered it and never heard back from him. A consultant in town (who will remain nameless) wanted my advice on how to conduct some research on some end-users. I sent him my ideas and method for which we could work together and never heard back from him. In fact, he wouldn’t return my calls or e-mails. Another instance left me high and dry when I gave a software developer a high-level blueprint of a global navigation for his web application. Never heard from him again.

In each of these instances, was I taken advantage of? Did I give them enough information that they took the idea to another vendor, did it themselves or abandon it completely and go in a different direction? I don’t know. I’d like to think I wasn’t taken advantage of, but it’s hard not to when your hard work does not get any feedback.

In consulting, I seem to learn my lessons the hard way. If I could avoid proposals all together I would, but they seem to be somewhat of a paradox in the profession when you’re first starting out. Clients want them because they need something concrete to go by and you have to do them if you’re new in the profession because you don’t have a long roster of clients who can vouch for your work.

Despite all that, how do consultants keep from being taken advantage of? If you’ve fallen into this trap or could potentially fall prey to it, the answer is to be firm. If you charge for your knowledge and skills, say so! It’s fine to have an honest meaningful conversation with someone about what you do and what you know, but once they start moving past that boundary (which you have to establish on your own) where they’re just trying to dig for free advice stop them right there. Tell them that you’d be happy to help them with their situation, but in order for you to continue the conversation you first need to discuss your rate or project fee. The people who are serious about working with you will respect that and it’s a good filter to weed out the diggers from the true customers.

Remember, you worked hard for your knowledge and skills. You have every right to profit from it.

1 comment:

Patrick Lee said...

Great post on a topic that all of us unfortunately will deal with many times in our careers. Best to be prepared for it ahead of time.