“Whaddya mean you won’t do ___?”
It’s a question I get every now and then from a prospective client. Most folks see our marketing, see that our consulting services page only has one thing on it, and understand that we’re very specialized.
But every now and then, someone contacts us after seeing our pages in their Google results over and over again, and they figure we’re up for anything. They say something along the lines of, “I just need you to look at this one query and fix it.”
And sometimes – not often, but usually when the prospect has been struggling to find someone willing to take the gig – the conversation becomes a little insulting, along the lines of:
“Whaddya mean you won’t fix one query for me? I thought you guys were experts. Are you telling me you don’t know how to do something that basic?”
Here’s the deal.
I load my own dishwasher. Erika does the cooking (when we’re not at a restaurant), and I load the dishwasher. I somehow find it relaxing – I’d rather load the dishwasher right now than walk past the sink and see dirty dishes in it. I like the task. It’s kinda zen-like, just me and the dishes.
But no, you can’t pay me to load yours. You can’t call me over to your house to load the dishwasher. Even if you happened to live near me, I’m not putting on shoes, a jacket, and dealing with the security of getting into your house – all just for a 5-minute task.
The startup costs of that engagement are just too high.
Now, if I happened to already be at your house – like if we were hanging out after you threw an excellent dinner party – then sure, you’d find me loading the dishwasher. Payment would be simply out of the question – it’d just be something you’d find me doing absentmindedly.
If you have what you think is a small task, then post it.
If all you need is a very small task that’s self-contained and well-defined, go to:
- Programming tasks: StackOverflow.com
- Database tasks: DBA.StackExchange.com
- Server administration tasks: ServerFault.com
I help out at all three sites too – because there, the startup costs are extremely low. I can jump in there between calls, whenever I see something that looks interesting, and help out in seconds. When the questioner has put the right work in to define their question, I find it peaceful, zen-like, transferring knowledge from one person to another like moving dishes from the sink to the dishwasher.
But often, in the process of trying to write a clear, simple, well-defined question, the asker discovers that it’s not as simple as they thought. They start saying things like, “Well, to explain it, I need to talk about a few other things, bring in context, and get you security access, and must be kept private,” then that’s not really a simple question, is it?
That’s where consulting engagements come in. Those requirements have a startup cost, and it’s not 15 minutes and $50.
Epic reply Brent! 🙂 that reminds me of the guy that wanted to ask you a question at SQL Bits (Thursday) during a break and you asked him in a bit of an angry tone “What’s the question?”, he then continued with more mumbling and you asked him again “What’s the question?” then he finally asked it and you answered 😀
Hahaha, that happens more often than you’d think. One of my former colleagues had a great way of cutting through that, but it only works if you know the other person well. If people started rambling, he’d say, “Stop. There are 2 things: what you need from me, and your story about what you need from me. Right now, I’m busy, so just tell me what specifically you need from me. We’ll talk about the story later.”
Why wouldn’t you just adjust your quote to make it worthwhile and avoid this problem altogether?
Josh – we do! That’s the last line of the post. It’s just that folks are usually shell-shocked that it costs over a thousand bucks to get their dishes loaded, so to speak.
Over time, I’ve learned to tell prospects that a small “get to know you” project is around $10K for us. (Unlike you, most of clients are long term). The folks who say “that sounds reasonable” are good prospects. Most others are happy when I recommend getting a freelancer at upwork or checking out local college students. And for the ones who continue “but we just..”, I try to end the conversation as quickly as possible.
Adam – yep, exactly, it’s so much more complex for big things like data warehouses, reporting strategies, etc. You really need to dig into their source systems and desires in order to figure out if you’re a good fit and how much work will be involved, and that’s just not cheap.
I’ve lost count of the times a query tuning request turned out to uncover that it wasn’t so much the query, but that their entire data model was at fault. Now try telling someone that what they think is a $1000 problem is actually a $100,000 problem.