Thank you for being available to solve the world's problems.
I'm a consultant. Several times in the last couple of months I've been asked to put together proposals for small companies. In all instances, the potential client needed the proposal NOW. These are special projects and there is no standard or template I could simply send out. Since I do have a lot of experience, I've greatly reduced the time it takes to do the necessary research and write a good proposal. It still takes at least a day, sometimes more. So I tend to drop everything else I'm doing to get the proposal in on time ... and then one of two things happen:
1) The company won't start the project for another few months even though I was given the impression that this was a rush project.
2) I find out that the company used my proposal to "shop." It's like I wrote their shopping list for free.
Do you have any ideas on how I can avoid getting caught in that cycle?
I don't mind writing the proposals, it's actually enjoyable work. But I want people to respect my time and effort. Maybe I should charge for preparing proposals. What do you think?
Dear Constant Consultant:
Thank you for your confidence in me. [I blush.] I am glad that the world does not depend on me for solving all the problems, and I am glad I can help with some.
You raise several issues here, so I will do my best to respond each of them:
First, "Your lack of planning does not constitute my emergency." I've seen it on t-shirts, mugs, and magnets; therefore it must be true. Just because they say it is a rush job, doesn't mean it is a rush job. Ask questions:
"When is your deadline? Give me your time line so I know what you need and I can let you now if I can fit you into my schedule."
"When is the meeting scheduled for which you need this plan?"
"Who will be at that meeting?"
In other words, get them to explain to you why it is a rush job. Don't take their word for it. Often times it is a rush job for them because they are anxious. It doesn't mean that you have to meet their emotional time line. Of course, if there is a legitimate business time line, it makes sense to try to accommodate them if you want the job.
Second, educate them. Let them know that this is a specialized service and you can't pull out a form and fill in the blanks. The plan you write will be for them and it will be one of a kind. That kind of work takes time. You have experience and know how to do it quickly, so you will be able to meet their deadline. However, it will require putting other projects that you are working on hold. Therefore...
Third, you need to charge them. The way I see it, you have a couple options for how to do that. Since new businesses are often short on cash, you could give them a "lower cost" option or the "full meal deal."
The lower cost options looks like this: "You pay me only 1/2 my fee for preparing the plan for you. We meet to go over it. I retain the plan. You are free to go away and think about it for as long as you want. If you want to go with my plan, the remainder of my fee is due and payable at the time I hand the plan over to you." If you decide to charge more than half, that's fine, too. I chose half as an arbitrary amount. The point is, come up with a figure that you think honors you and the work you do.
The full meal deal requires that they pay your full fee to prepare the plan, you meet with them and go over it, and they walk away with the plan to do whatever they choose with it. Then they send me a gift certificate for dinner at a fine restaurant. (Just kidding about that. I needed to make the full meal deal metaphor work out somehow.) You have been fairly paid. They get the product. If they want you to do more work for them great. If they choose to go shop around and find someone else, no problem.
Fourth, make sure you charge a fair amount so that whatever you do and whatever choice they make, you don't feel taken advantage of. I know one presenter who says, "If people don't pay attention and respect what I am offering them, I raise the price until they value it enough." There is great wisdom in that. People will value it to the extent that they pay for it.
Fifth, claim the harvest. What do I mean by that? Since you have already been through this process a couple times and people have used your expertise without paying for it, claiming the harvest means that you ask "the gods" (whoever they may be to you) to "pay" you for the good work and good will you have extended. Claim that your harvest be many fold. When you plant a seed in your garden, you expect to get a lot more yield than the three seeds you plant in each hole, right? So claim a full harvest in wealth, good health, spiritual blessings--whatever you need and desire.
That's what I would do. Let me know how it works out.
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