“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.