Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Why Do You Charge So Much?

Randolph's Tough Question

Randolph is one of the sharpest technical consultants in my network. Until yesterday, I'd have bet a hundred bucks that no client could stump him with a question - but I'd have lost.

When Randolph called for a bit of meta-consulting, he was so nonplussed I had to spend three whole minutes in idle chitchat, which wasn't Randolph's usual no-nonsense style. Finally, I couldn't stand the suspense, and I asked, "What's the matter, Randolph?" (Nobody calls him "Randy" more than once. It's Randolph all the way.)

"Why do you charge so much?" He blurted so quickly I didn't believe I'd heard him.

"Say what?"

"Why do you charge so much? That's what he asked me!"

"Who asked you?"

"My client. The new one."

"So what did you tell him?"

Pause. Sigh. Longer Pause.

"Randolph? Are you still there?"

Pause. Finally a weak voice said, "I didn't know what to tell him. That's the problem."

I recognized the problem and tried to reassure him. "Randolph, you're not the first consultant who's been stumped by that question. And you won't be the last."

"But I've got to go back there tomorrow, and I don't have an answer. I need help."

Turning the Question Around

Well, yes, Randolph did need help, and perhaps you do, too. Do you hesitate and stammer when your client asks this dreaded question? Are you ashamed to explain to your employee friends who make one-third of your hourly rate? Do you feel guilty that you make so much more than your spouse, who works much harder than you? And how do you handle yourself when the IRS asks you the same question? Well, I'm your meta-consultant, and unlike your IRS agent, I'm really here to help you.

First of all, I'm going to advise you to meet this question head-on by turning it around. Instead of emphasizing how much you're getting, emphasize how much they're getting. Many clients are unclear as to just what they get in return for your fee. This is not surprising, as your fee covers a wide range of intangibles. That's why you need to break out the various components, which I've done in simple ABC format so you can remember next time you're put to the question:

A. Attention. I suspect my clients would be astonished to discover how much time I spend thinking about them and their problems when I'm not "at work." I might be hiking in the woods, or reading a magazine, or taking a shower, and a thought comes to me about something that will help my client. For example, I was driving back from Los Alamos last week and suddenly realized that I'd spent the whole distance from Jemez Springs to Corrales working out a transition plan for a client in Ohio. I could have been enjoying the enchanting scenery - and perhaps I was. But most of my conscious mind was in Cleveland, developing the plan. Supper had to wait until I had the details in my Mac.

And that's just conscious attention. I don't know about you, but I often dream about my clients' problems, often awakening in the middle of the night with solution ideas. This happens so frequently, I keep paper and pencil handy on my headboard, where I've mounted a high-intensity lamp that won't awaken Dani when I'm scribbling away at three in the morning.

B. Barring Competition. While working with one client, I won't work with a client who competes directly with them in the area I'm working. This exclusivity sometimes reduces my opportunities for paying work, but clients may take this service for granted if I don't point it out to them.

C. Celebrity. As my reputation has grown, I've noticed that my clients are quite willing to use it to sell their product or programs within or without the company. They may not be aware that this use of my reputation creates a risk for me. If they make a mess, some of the dirt rubs off on me.

Ah, I've now run through ABC, but there are more items in this alphabet.

D. Dexterity. My clients unconsciously expect me to be on call, not only for the planned activity, but also for unexpected emergency jobs, incidental questions, idle speculation, and all sorts of administrative work such as rescheduling at their convenience. Moreover, unlike their employees, I get neither sick days nor vacation days. When I say I'll be there- and sometimes when I haven't said - I'm there. Even when I'm not there, I've implicitly or explicitly restricted my other activities so I'll be able to respond to their needs in a reasonable time.

Moreover, although I don't get sick leave, and I don't participate in their health benefits, I'm often expected to work under pressure, at odd hours, in inaccessible locations - all the while operating at top efficiency.

E. Education. Speaking of top efficiency, my clients don't pay directly for all the education I bring to the job - not just my formal education, but, for example, the thousands of hours I spend reading in related fields. I figure that in a typical year, I read the equivalent of two books a week, perhaps more. Very few of their employees devote this kind of personal time to their own development. And, when they take a seminar or attend a conference, their employer pays for them - but not for me. (Well, sometimes they do, if it's directly related to their problem and nobody else's.)

F. Flexibility. My clients can release me in a minute if they no longer need my services. Even in these days of downsizing, they don't have this cheap kind of flexibility with their employees.

G. Gratuity. Although I may charge clients for out-of-pocket costs, such as transportation and hotel rooms, I don't charge for meals, supplies, reasonable phone calls, faxes, mailing, and so forth. All these gratuitous expenses save paperwork for my clients, and they're lumped in with my other overhead - my own office space, utility bills, computers, software, network services, professional services, and the like.

H. Honesty. The work I do for my clients can sometimes literally mean the life or death of a project or campaign. This is a grave responsibility, and I accept it fully and do whatever is necessary to give full value. And, unlike an employee, I offer my clients a money-back guarantee of satisfaction with my work.

I. In-house Labor. Nowadays, most consultants/contractors are paid by the hour, or sometimes the day or week. This method of payment tends to emphasize a single tangible component of what my client is getting - my face time toiling on their premises. If they look at me as simply another grunt, grinding away in their office, no wonder it's hard for my clients to understand why my apparent rate is larger than that of their typical employee. They're missing all the other letters of the alphabet.

ZZZZZ. Sleep. Of course, I do have to sleep once in a while - and, unlike some of their employees, I'm not charging them for this. Even when I dream about them.

So there you have it, my Abecedarian cheat sheet that will prevent both you and Randolph from ever again being stumped by a client's question.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Amplify Experience

The last two times I've tried to clip an interesting web page, Amplify has failed me. Most recently: So, go there yourself and have a read.

(two days later)

Encouraged by Amplify's president, I made a few changes and tested Amplify again.

So, with a little help from president Goldstein, I now have Amplify working again. It's a fine idea.

If you don't know about the app, look up his article, "What’s the need for Amplify?"

And, after all, I'm host at the Amplify Your Effectiveness Conference (AYE Conference), so I'm all for amplification of effectiveness, which Amplify helps me do.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How to get a job or assignment

One of my colleagues recently wrote about her difficulty in landing consulting assignments. She has some great unique models, but, as she says, ...

The Problem

Most large companies (w/ no R-D labs) have the resources to take risks but refuse to.

Small companies have the guts to take the risks, but do not have the resources or the macro set of processes to do it. ...

What do you think?

Some Solution Ideas

It's one of the paradoxes of the consulting business.

Sometimes, the trick is to choose medium-sized companies. :-)

Seriously, people retain your services only when they know you enough to trust you. Consequently, my preferred method has always been to have a stepped-variety of offerings so they can start to know me in safe, tiny steps (books, keynote addresses at conferences, blogs, comments on blogs, ) ...

Then have medium steps (like workshops, tutorials at conferences, ) ...

Then larger steps (consulting visits)

Then really big steps (consulting contracts ).

Then retire rich.

Solution Ideas for Getting Hired on a Job

These days, it's not just consultants who are having a hard time finding the work they want. In the same mail, I got the following email from Liam, a recent PSL grad:

"As you were advising me to start looking for a new job in the Spring of '09 at PSL, you won't be surprised that lost my job at XYZ at the end of last year."

Not surprised, but disappointed. Still, in the long run, these changes usually work out for a much better situation. Losing the job is just confirmation of a lousy situation.

"I am still looking and would welcome any ideas or advice you might have."

The Problem of Getting Hired on a Job

Well, I just finished an email to another grad who's trying to establish his consulting business (which is getting a number of jobs, so there are many similarities). I'll quote what I told him:

Sometimes, the trick is to choose medium-sized companies.

***[Liam: this might apply to job-hunting, too. In any case, whatever you're doing now, change something--bigger, smaller, more or less medium, you know.]

My preferred method, though, has always been to have a stepped-variety of offerings so they can start to know me in

- tiny steps (books, speeches at conferences, blogs, comments on blogs, ) ...

- Then have medium steps (like workshops, tutorials at conferences, ) ...

- Then larger steps (consulting visits)

***[Liam: interview visits, but also visits to help you show off by
doing something for them that's specialty of yours, just a talk, maybe]

- Then really big steps (consulting contracts).

***[Liam: hiring, which is a really big step these days, so perhaps hiring for a trial period, to minimize their risks]

Then retire rich.

Applying My Own Advice

Well, I'm already rich, haven't wanted a "job" for half a century, and have more consulting requests than I can handle. BUT, I'd like to be "hired" more often in my new "career"–writing fiction that entertains while teaching, or teaches while entertaining. I'm trying to apply my own advice to this new situation:

- tiny steps (books, speeches at conferences, blogs, comments on blogs, ) ...

***[Jerry: A book is already "tiny" for your consulting business, but in the book business, that's it! Well, no it isn't, so I'm trying to make samples available (see one example below in the Appendix, my email signature, which is another tiny step) ]

- Then have medium steps (like workshops, tutorials at conferences, ) ...

***[Jerry: I offer workshops and tutorials for writers (writers are a small part of my potential audience, yet can be quite influential). I set up a book table at conferences, where people can actually put their hands on books. I've tried book-signings, but they're pretty painful when nobody shows up. And larger samples.]

- Then larger steps (consulting visits)

***[Jerry: I haven't really figured out how to do this. Well, I've just become a member of Book View Café, a writers' cooperative, where I have serialized one of my books for free, and will blog pretty regularly]

- Then really big steps (consulting contracts).

***[Jerry: I've had some offers to write books-for-hire, but that's too much like a job. I suppose I'm fantasizing that some huge publisher will see one of my books and offer to make it into the next Harry Potter, but that's just a fantasy. And if they offer me a movie option, I'll turn it down. I used to live near Hollywood, and the smell of it was more than enough for me. (but I do love going to movies, but I saw what they did to the book of a friend of mine--and no thanks. He now wears a t-shirt that says, "Don't judge a book by its movie.")]

Then retire rich.

***[Jerry: You already did that, so take $$$ out of the equation. Write for fun, but get as many readers as you deserve, neither more nor less.]

A Cry for Help

After sending those two replies to my students, I immediately realized I had failed to mention the most important possible solution. (Isn't that what always happens when you hit the SEND button? Maybe I should sell SEND buttons to writers who need inspiration.]

What's that solution idea? Obviously:

- ask your friends for solution ideas.

So, friends, any ideas for my fiction business?

- And, oh, yes, you can ask your friends for jobs/assignments.

So, friends, I wouldn't object if you bought a book or two.

- Motivate them, or why would they want to do it.

Well, I believe my books ought to be self-motivating, but I have to motivate potential readers to actually look at them. So, perhaps because you know my non-fiction, or my teaching, you might be motivated to buy one of my books (either e-book or paperback). And, if you read it, and don't like it, I'll personally refund your money.

But if you do like it, I wouldn't object at all if you told me, and even wrote a review of it for Amazon, Smashwords, Powell's, your blog, or any other place that accepts reviews. If you do, I'll give you the free book of your choice, as a small thank you. Heck, I'll even give you your money back, if that's what you prefer.

And, yes, I really mean it.

Appendix: My Email Signature Inviting Sampling

How to sample my novels (try before you buy):

Suggestion: Go to the CreateSpace website for each of the books below and see a short description of the book.

Or, if you want a sample, click on , then click on a title you're interested in sampling, then "buy" the book and ask to see the sample.

Or, for most of the books (not fully updated yet) you can read smaller samples on my website (below).

Or, if you prefer them as quality paperbacks:
First Stringers:
Second Stringers:
The Hands of God:
Mistress of Molecules:
Freshman Murders:
The Aremac Project:
Aremac Power
Earth's Endless Effort

First Stringers: A free version

Book View Café offers you a chance to buy this exciting science fiction novel from Jerry Weinberg, absolutely free.

Amplify’d from

Gerald M. Weinberg

First Stringers

In the near future, a group of handicapped twenty-one-year-olds with the
ability to control the string structure of the universe, find each
other and form an alliance against the people and organizations who
would hunt them down and use their powers to conquer the world. As
they discover one another they must strive to master their abilities,
overcome their conflicts, face their personal fears and discover their
deepest values in order to become more fully human.

First StrFirst Stringers


Book View Cafe is pleased to present First Stringers in free serial form.

First Stringers is also available in trade paperback and as an ebook.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Attendance Too Regular? Try This!

Inspired by Ajay Balamurugadas's blog at

The title was Enjoy Testing

which starts with:

"For the past few months, I left office at sharp 6 p.m. I felt I should not invest more hours just because someone's estimate was wrong. So, I always took the 6 p.m. cab to home instead of the 8 p.m. or 10 p.m. cab."

And Michael Bolton commented:

"...I perceive that resolution to the trickiest part of the problem starts with recognizing people."

Michael is right. It starts with people. And guess who is the first person to recognize?

Yourself, of course.

The very first thing that struck me about the (quite fine) post was the regularity with which you come and go to work. Ordinarily, such regularity is a highly valued trait. For example, people can count on knowing when you'll be there and when you won't. Very good contribution to communication--and thus very high on every tester's list.

However, as an experienced tester, you already know that too regular, too predictable, behavior is a way to miss a great many bugs--and that's true of the regularity in attendance, too.

I would suggest you come in a couple of hours early on some random day next month, and (on a different day, probably) leave quite late. And, if you have people who work night shifts, arrange to be around for one or two of those.

I probably didn't have to explain why, but some of Ajay's readers may be less experienced than others. Experienced testers can probably all tell stories of when they came in early or left late (or were somewhere they weren't usually expected to be, or even prohibited to be) and because of that noticed something that led to a bug they never would have seen otherwise. (Perhaps something they were totally unaware of.)

I myself can tell many such stories, including one that may well have saved astronauts' lives, so I regularly practice being somewhat irregular in my behavior as a consultant (yes, I know that's a paradox).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

AYE: The Book #AYEconf

It's been ten wonderful years, folks, and we're still at it, still filling up, still helping with careers. And lives.

Amplify’d from

New Book Review: "Amplifying Your Effectiveness"

New book
for Amplifying Your Effectiveness: Collected Essays, edited by Gerald M. Weinberg, James Bach, and Naomi Karten, Dorset House Publishing, 2000, reposted here:

This book is a collection of "pre-cedings" written by 17 software consultants for a conference of the same name. In the introduction, Weinberg explains the frequent ineffectiveness of proceedings typically distributed at the end of conferences. These essays (the entire text is less than 150 pages) present a preview of the hosts participating in the first "Amplifying Your Effectiveness" conference by demonstrating the diverse styles and interests of the authors. Weinberg explains that within any organization, improvements in effectiveness can occur at three levels - the individual ("the Self"), the team ("the Other"), and the organization as a whole ("the Context") - and that this collection attempts to address all three levels. In addition, there are three fundamental abilities that contribute to the effectiveness of a manager or any other technical leader: "the ability to observe what's happening and to understand the significance of your observations", "the ability to act congruently in difficult interpersonal situations, even though you may be confused, or angry, or so afraid you want to run away and hide", and "the ability to understand complex situations so you can plan a project and then observe and act so as to keep the project going according to plan, or modify the plan". These three abilities are also addressed in this collection because the least developed among them prevents one from amplifying effectiveness the most.