If you go and see your lawyer (or anybody's lawyer for that matter!) it is almost certain that they will charge you according to how much time they spent talking to you and thinking about your work. You know this is going to happen, you know you are going to have to pay for it and it allows them to recover their costs and make a living. After all, lawyers and accountants and many other professionals, charge their clients according to the time they spend and everyone knows this. It's no big surprise and you know you are not going to get it for free because their time is valuable.
Over a hundred years' of experience
In our firm, we have a mixture of professionals from highly skilled developers to designers to marketers to accountants. In all, we probably have over a hundred years' of experience across a number of key areas, all of which are vital to running a successful business. Like these other professionals, we also charge our time by the hour. But we are very poor at recovering that time compared to our lawyer or accountant cousins because the sense of value that our clients get, drawn from their expectations and historical understanding, make it a much harder sell. Maybe it's because they think anyone can build a website, that there are almost no barriers to entry in our market. But we have to change that view.
Customer expectations are often misaligned with the reality of costs
In the three and a bit years that I have been at E-scape, I have met many potential clients that take our time, plus our knowledge and end up giving us nothing in return. More often than not we spend many hours, over a period of months and many meetings, putting together a detailed and costed plan to allow them to bring their projects to fruition. They then take this valuable information and either do nothing with it because it was actually far more costly than they anticipated (expectations misaligned with the reality of costs) or find someone else to deliver at a cheaper price now knowing exactly what it is they want. For us, the cost doesn't end there as there is also all the time wasted in our weekly prospect meetings talking about projects that are never going to come home.
We tend to be generous!;
We are always keen to take new work on and understand that sometimes you need to invest a bit of time upfront before you can catch your client. But is it worth it? What does it say about the value of the service you are giving? If you are happy to sit and talk and produce plans and estimates and discuss budgets and timetables, to give sage, experienced business advice but you don't want to pay for it, what value will the client place on it?
We have such a good base of experience in the firm that we are able to give general business advice to budding entrepreneurs as well as detailed advice on digital projects. We can be a sounding board for a new business or highlight possible legal issues from a regulatory perspective. We have strength in depth and why should we give it away for free?
So we have changed our stance. If you have a great business idea and you want to talk to us about how it will work or even if it will work, or get our advice on what online form it should take, then surely that is the same as going to discuss your business with any other professional. You would expect to be charged by the lawyer or the accountant so why not by your online consultant?
We firmly believe that if you are serious about your plans, then you should be willing to pay for our advice. And if you're not, then maybe you just aren't that serious after all. It's also a good indicator whether you have the funds to take the plans through to fruition and whether we'll ending up spending our hours chasing you for payment of our development bills!
So what has changed?
Well as Jason Stratford wrote in his recent blog 'Thinking of websites as software', websites are now so much more than just a few pages. Yes, we still get people asking us to build them a brochureware site or something simple, but that is becoming rarer as the complexity of business evolves and clients realise that they are inextricably linked to the world wide web and social media.
We also find that projects are spread across all our teams, where development and design can sometimes be led by some great work in the digital marketing team which then bring the games guys in to help the social media interaction. These are complex projects which need proper thinking and good advice.
More recently we have been involved in putting together some extremely detailed plans in the gaming sphere for a number of clients. They involve websites and apps but also complex platforms and software engineering. To spend hundreds of hours working on these projects on the 'hope' that the development work will cover that investment cannot be seen as a good business model.
So we are now telling our prospects that yes, we are really keen to work with you, that yes, we think your idea has legs, but no, you're not ready to put together a brief and you need help to do that. That journey from idea to brief is crucial and we now encourage client workshops which produce a deliverable that the client can either give to us or take elsewhere. But they have to pay for it because it has value. We have been pleased to see that these clients also see that value, as we have not had a single refusal so far. We also believe that it adds value to the other work we do for them and gives them a better insight to the quality of work they are getting and the complexity of the product we are delivering.
If people want our intellectual property, they have to pay for it. Times are tough, we can't afford to just give it away.