On Mentoring, Consulting and Charging For Your Time

Editor’s Note: I recently received a communication from business consultant Anne Chertoff.  The presumption, in the article and how I read it, is that along with professional consulting services, she charges for career advice.

Instead, Ms. Chertoffs “Pick My Brain” is a service intended to offer start up businesses the opportunity to get some marketing consulting services without having to invest in a full time marketing firm or employee.

A link is provided here for further clarification.

A few times a day I take a timed break from the spreadsheets, data bases, emails, phone calls and other work-a-day routines to check in on the social media feeds to see what’s trending in the world of publishing and beyond. In particular, I’m looking for what is trending outside the circulation/audience development silo. And this being the 21st century, it helps to continue to enhance my own digital “brand.”

Keith Kelley writes about magazines for the NY Post so I follow that papers feed. Occasionally I’ll click on something beyond Mr. Kelly if it looks interesting.

This Monday, I was intrigued by a head line titled “Why people are charging to network over a cup of coffee” Was I missing out on a potential new source of income? The article was by writer and freelancer Anna Davies who turned down a request from another aspiring freelancer to meet for coffee and offer advice.

Source: Wethechange.com
Source: Wethechange.com

Ms. Davies reported that she was surprised at the reaction of her acquaintances who agreed with her decision to forgo the time and energy the meeting would have taken. She then went on to describe the growing trend of some self-employed professionals to charge for their “mentoring” services.

She points out Anne Chertoff, the founder of the boutique marketing agency, Anne Chertoff Media. Ms. Chertoff dealt with the flow of requests for advice by offering a service on her website called “Pick My Brain”. For $500.00 she gives advice seekers 90 minutes of her time. At the very least this is cheaper than seeking the advice of a Manhattan lawyer.

I couldn’t decide as I read through the article: Was the point to create some outrage over the fact that a cottage industry has sprung up to strip a few more dollars out of the pockets of the newly self-employed? Or if the author was just pointing out that some people are doing this while others are just irritated with requests for free help? Sprinkled throughout the short article are words of advice from people who don’t charge for these services.

Here’s my conclusion: If you’re charging people for advice, you’re a consultant. Deal with it. If you’re irritated with people asking you for free advice, then tell them up front that they get this much for free and after that the clock starts. That is just a very good, very basic business practice.

Over the years I’ve taken what is probably hundreds of of requests for advice about all things related to magazine publishing and being self employed. It took awhile to create some hard and fast rules and here they are:

1. No one, including my parents, gets my pricing guidelines, client list, or customer service guidelines. No one.

2. Everyone who calls or emails, from startup publishers to long time publishers get a certain set amount of my time. We can talk on the phone, communicte through email, and even meet face to face (depending on distance). I think that’s called good manners. Or maybe it’s called building and maintaining connections. Mostly it’s self-preservation.

Remember, you’re a free lancer, not a hermit. Did you really plan on becoming an agoraphobic? Get out there and talk to people.

Of course, they still don’t get my pricing guidelines, client list, or customer service guidelines.

3. If I know you and we’ve done business before and you’re about to become a competitor, you’re welcome to join the brotherhood. But you don’t get item #1 and the rest of the advice you get is timed and generic. But friendly.

Remember: You never know who you may be working on that next project with. Work friendly, y’all.

4. A publisher, even a novice start-up with limited funds is a potential customer and a potential long time friend. However, there is a difference between having a conversation with someone who could become a customer and when that someone is looking for free labor. Learn how to detect the difference.

There is a limit to how much “free” advice everyone gets. Much of that is on my blog under the heading of “Free Services”. We can talk for a while. However long ago I learned to say “I’ve been able to answer a lot of your questions, but if you want an answer to that one, I am going to have to turn the clock on and charge you.”

It’s not hard to learn how to say that. Nor is anyone’s feelings hurt if you say it politely, but firmly. If the persons feelings are hurt when you say that, you didn’t want to work with them anyway.

More often than not, when I tell a potential client that I need to start charging them if we keep the conversation going, they ask me how much I charge.

In case you were wondering: I charge less than a Manhattan lawyer.

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