Your Time Is Valuable - So Charge For It

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Hello Everybody!

I felt inspired to start this thread today to encourage you to consider whether you are setting good client expectations about the value of your time.

You may have an existing client with whom you have an open ended contract about free phone and email consultation time as part of a larger project, such as the development of a website or citation building campaign.

-But-

If you are working with a client on a consulting basis, don't be afraid to charge for all the time you spend. This is particularly vital for single owner Local SEOs and small firms that don't employ phone staff to field all incoming calls. If you are 'it' for fielding those calls from your consulting clients, then you should be charging for each consultation, even if it's only a 15 minute call. That's 15 minutes you are devoting to the client and not devoting to your other clients or projects. Multiply that by 4 requests a day from 4 different clients, and you've got an hour. Multiply that by 5 days a week and you've just lost $500 or whatever your fee would amount to. Who can afford this?

Why this is so important is that some local business owners will attempt to get you to consult with them for free. They purchase 1 hour of your consulting time, but then request additional feedback from you via additional emails and phone calls. They don't offer to pay you for this, but can seem to expect you to keep serving them on an open-ended basis because they paid you once for the one-time service. This is not how you should operate your profitable Local SEO consultancy business. Your product = your time and it has value. Set expectations at the beginning of a consultancy relationship about what your time costs.

Volunteering also has great value, and if you are a visible participant in fora like this one or are a visible blogger, you can expect to receive frequent requests via email, phone and PM from local business owners asking for free help (Hey there, can I just pick your brain about why my business isn't ranking well?).

Whether your volunteer time extends to giving one-on-one free help to all-comers is a personal decision you must make, and if you're just starting out, could lead to some new actual contracts for you. But, if you (like me) are so busy that you feel like your head is about to explode :eek:, free one-on-one consultation with out-of-the-blue business owners is seldom going to be possible. You need to spend real time to investigate Local SEO issues and an off-the-cuff free answer could actually result in harm rather than help (geez, I didn't realize you had set up 22 different Google+ Local listings for your P.O. box addresses because I answered your question in 3 minutes :p).

Feel okay about responding to inquiries for free help with an explanation of your fees. Local business owners are totally aware that their own products and services are valuable, and by declaring that you live by the same rules, you are only stating what is true. If you feel like a miser for doing this, go ahead and explain that you care too much about the fate of their business to offer a slap-dash response. They deserve your total focus and you deserve remuneration for making their business your focus for the allotted time.

What if they get miffy? Nothing you can do about this, I'm afraid. Yes, being nice is vital to having a civilized lifestyle, but your work is your livelihood and if someone gets bent out of shape because you aren't giving away your services, the problem is with their outlook - not yours. Move on to the next conversation with the next local business owner who truly gets that your advice is a valuable asset.

So, long post here! Why did I write this? Because it took me years to learn this, and I still struggle with it from time to time. I want to be nice and generous to everybody, all the time, but the 24-hours-a-day time limit and the bills on my kitchen table work against my philanthropic desires. I've had to learn to be proud of myself when I set standards of value for my work. It's taken some effort to do this!

How about you? Do you feel you're setting correct standards with your clients, or do you find yourself giving away time out of your own 'niceness impulses'? What are you thinking and feeling about this, when you look at your earnings? Do you have any tips or stories to share? I'd love to read them!
 

Linda Buquet

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Why this is so important is that some local business owners will attempt to get you to consult with them for free. They purchase 1 hour of your consulting time, but then request additional feedback from you via additional emails and phone calls. They don't offer to pay you for this, but can seem to expect you to keep serving them on an open-ended basis because they paid you once for the one-time service.
Ahhh Miriam, excellent post and points as always!

For those that don't know - my model is a little different than most here. I don't do optimization for clients anymore, only consulting for SEOs and agencies on complicated cases and occasionally for a higher end SMB do-it-yourselfer, like an attorney, that's pretty SEO savvy and has scrambled listings, etc. So I'm more so pure consulting, but this topic is near and dear to my heart and issomething I've been struggling with.

Again my model is different, and not that this is the best way because it does not always work for me, but... one of the reasons I keep my consulting rates on the high end ($300 per hour with a 2 hour minimum) is that everything ALWAYS goes over-time. It always takes more research time than I expect. There are ALWAYS more questions on the call than I expect AND there are always follow-up Qs which takes extra time to answer.

I have a hard time saying: "Our call went 1/2 hour over-time and it took me 15 minutes to read and reply to your questions afterwards - so here's an extra bill for my time".

So what I do, although it may seem backwards is... I just keep my rates high knowing that the 2 hours I charge for is likely going to end up being "3 hours at 200 an hour" instead of "2 hours at 300 an hour". So I always say on the 2 hour consult: "I don't mind going a little over to help ensure you get what you need from this consultation." And just know I'm always going to go over-time and it's built into my fee.

So I feel like I have myself covered somewhat that way. BUT the problem I personally have is drawing the line beyond that 3 hours. Everybody, paid client or not, comes to me saying: "just one more quick question." They don't realize that for me there are NO quick answers cuz I usually have to research and write a book, when I try to help with what they may think is a fairly simple question.

"seem to expect you to keep serving them on an open-ended basis because they paid you once for the one-time service."

Yep, so drawing the line after question 2 or 3 and starting to charge at that point is my stumbling block.

Didn't mean to derail your thread Miriam, because again I'm a little different. But this has been on my mind and is a big issue for me because I give so much free advice as it is. And I felt my thinking out loud on this may help others or at least get the conversation started.

On a local search consultant level - back when I worked on client sites - I did have a disclaimer or warning in my agreement that said the quoted fee was for optimization only and if Google bugs or dupes arose there may be a service fee if extra work was involved. So that kinda goes along with your point about covering yourself, so you aren't spending time working for free. But I never covered anything about consulting or advice time and usually just gave that away as value-add.

But I think it's a great topic for search consultants.
How do you guys handle this???
 
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Hi Linda,



I have a hard time saying "our call went 1/2 hour over-time and it took me 15 minutes to read and reply to your questions afterwards - so here's an extra bill for my time".
Totally! I totally get that. And...

They don't realize that for me there are NO quick answers cuz I usually have to research and write a book when I try to help what they may think is a fairly simple question.
This is exactly the issue. There are no simple explanations if you are really trying to educate the client, and with all the nuances that may be involved in each individual situation, any question requires at least some investment of time.

Your solution to the time thing is a proactive one, Linda. I admire the way you handle things! Loved your reply and hope we get others on the thread.
 
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Great question to ask, and as someone who is launching a consulting firm that will be covering SEO I look forward to the responses of those with more seasoning in the industry.
 

Marie Haynes

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Linda's tweet brought me here. I wanted to comment because this topic is something I have been dealing with a lot lately. I might derail the topic a little bit but I think that this may be helpful to some of the new consultants or people who are starting out in the business.

I am not a local consultant but I think the situation is similar. What I do is consult with site owners who have issues with Penguin, Panda or an unnatural links problem. I started off doing this when I was pregnant and on bedrest. It began with me just spending the entire day in forums or reading and educating myself and then I would start giving some advice where I felt comfortable. I helped a few sites out for free (I learned that model from Linda) and then eventually started to charge.

At first I was charging a very small fee to have a look at the site and the analytics and create a report. Eventually when I felt that I really knew what I was doing and my clients were giving me good testimonials, I raised my prices. The result was that I got more work. :) I suppose $xx for a report sounds like you are going to get some kind of automated work, where $xxx sounds like you may get something worth your money. Each time I get to the point where I have more work than I can handle I raise the fees again. And so far it hasn't slowed the work down at all.

I also did the same thing for helping site owners with unnatural links penalties. I offered to do one for (almost) free. The site owner agreed to pay me a very small fee once the penalty was removed and we agreed on no charge if I couldn't do it. That first project was the hardest of any I have done since. For my second project I started to charge more, figuring out roughly how many hours it would take me and multiplying by my desired hourly fee. Again, as I had more success, I started to charge more and became more in demand.

I can totally relate to the phone consults though because I do a lot of hourly consulting. I seem to get a lot of people who say to me, "Can I just talk to you for 15 minutes before I decide if I'm going to hire you?" That's really tough because 15 minutes is rarely 15 minutes and like Miriam said, my time is valuable. What I did was tell them that I had an hourly fee, or they could purchase 30 minutes for just over half of that. Then, if they decided to take on a fair sized contract with me I would refund for 30 minutes of our consult. This is working really well.

The other thing that I struggled with as a new consultant is how much to charge. I have a secret. I really don't enjoy talking on the phone. Also, I am working at home while I am with my baby so I do my work during naps and after bedtime which means it is hard to schedule phone calls. So, I priced my phone consults at a bit higher than I thought I was worth. When I started to get too many, I raised the price by $50.

I would also add that I have learned not to give discounts. I would say that 20% of the time when I am discussing a contract with a client they ask for a discount or tell me that they can only afford an amount that is $100 less than what I quoted. At first I would bend because I needed the business. As I got busier, I decided to flat out say no to discounts. In EVERY SINGLE CASE the person agreed to my initial price.

Something else that I am learning is to be more brief in my emails. You can see from this post that I am long winded. (Perhaps that is a common trait amongst us?) Often in an email I would end up spending 30-60 minutes just talking about how I could answer a question if they purchased consulting. Now, I am not afraid to say, "I have a few ideas on this. Would you like to purchase some consulting time?" I do give some help, but if I am going to have to spend a long time I need to shut myself up and not give too much for free.

One of the main things that I learned is that in the eyes of a small business owner, cheaper is not always better. Don't be afraid to charge for your time. But, I do want to add that this type of philosophy only works if you are willing to go above and beyond for your clients. If you do good work and you are able to produce great results then charge well for it.
 
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Marie, what a great story! Something that I hear again and again from confident and happy consultants is this:

I raised my prices. The result was that I got more work.
What is it about this? Who has a theory they want to share on WHY that seems to work so well? So many people are afraid to charge more, and then when they make the leap, the chances are good that they will experience what you have, Marie. It's a really remarkable phenomenon!

BTW, I think you are terrific for finding a way to earn money while taking care of your little one. Way to go! Really enjoyed your response.
 

Marie Haynes

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BTW, I think you are terrific for finding a way to earn money while taking care of your little one. Way to go! Really enjoyed your response.
Thanks!

I really think the increase in business that goes along with an increase in prices has to do with value perception. But, perhaps it also has something to do with an increase in confidence.

When you're new and inexperienced your pitches probably come across as "Please, please, can I work for you, please? I won't charge you much!" But when you get the confidence to raise your prices, it sounds more like, "I am really good. I am in demand because I am so good. Hire me and I will do a good job."
 

Linda Buquet

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Yes great info and back story Marie.

I admired you carving out a brand new niche doing the Black and White animal troubleshooting too. That was pretty cool!

I think the high price or raising fees issue also can have a reverse psychology or almost hard-to-get element to it. Plus can carry the assumption that if he/she has the confidence to charge that much, they must really be good. I think not being willing to discount can have a similar type of impact..
 

Eric Rohrback

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What is normal to charge for consulting? I help people from time to time, but I would love to get into making this actual work (and getting paid for it). I've seen some figures thrown around in this thread, but for someone just starting out in consulting - not a substantial client base or what not - what do you guys believe is reasonable?

Also... do you believe business owners have a bias against younger consultants? Is it typical for someone to turn down or not contact a consultant based on age?

Couple of questions I had floating in my head after reading through this thread. Interested to hear the answers.
 
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Hi EsR,
Great question! In my opinion, your age shouldn't be a factor in this - it's your experience that counts. At this point, even the most experienced Local SEO has only been doing Local SEO for less than a decade, because Local just wasn't big until the mid-2000s, right? So, if you've got 3-4 years under your belt, that's far enough along to have started gaining some real experience. And, if you've got 6-8 years experience, you've been around almost since the beginning of Google's march toward local dominance and have pretty much seen it all.

You need to figure out what you feel comfortable charging, based on your experience. Something else to consider might be the cost of living where you are. For example, Linda and I both live in California and the cost of living here is incredibly high compared to many other parts of the U.S., so we have to charge enough to make a living where we live, regardless of where our clients are located.

When I first started doing working on the web, I was charging $30/hr! Incredibly cheap. But I was a beginner, and that was about a decade ago. As I gained more skills, I felt confident about slowly raising my rates. I think this is probably true for most web-based marketers.
 

Eric Rohrback

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This is kind of off base from charging, but how did you initially get started with consulting? What sort of things did you do to promote yourself at the beginning? This might be more of a longer topic on getting up and running (getting new clients, setting up services/prices, etc). PM me if you would like to share (if we're starting to get too far off topic), I'd be interested in hearing how you first got yourself up and going.
 

Marie Haynes

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I'm a big fan of initially working for free to build a client base, get testimonials and prove your skill. When Linda first started doing local, she asked if she could train me to get my husband's real estate site ranking well on local. We worked together on a number of issues and eventually were ranking #1 for our suburb. (and we still are today). Linda did not charge me a cent to do this. However, several good things came from it:

-I have given her referrals and testimonials
-She proved that her advice could get a site to #1

And now look at Linda. Not only is she good at ranking sites, she is one of the top consultants for local and making $300 per hour!

When I first got into SEO I started to rank some friend's businesses for them. There are pros and cons to this because often the people whom you work for for free are the most demanding. Make sure you set limits and that they know that you are, for example, only working for them for x months and that after that they can hire you for further work.

I got a few of my friends' sites up to the top of Google and then when their friends and business partners asked how they got to the top of Google they rave about me. Once you've got some good success then you will have no problem finding clients. And, once you're good, you can charge well.

...and....the baby's awake...so that's it for now. :)
 

Linda Buquet

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Eric, I'd start BUILDING UP to charging 1st on the next couple free consults you do. I'll advise starting sort of the way I did with Dental optimization at 1st.

You are giving free advice anyway. I'd start telling the next couple free consults something like:
"My time is at a premium these days because I have so many people coming to me for advice & consulting. So I'm going to have to start charging for my services. However since you are XYZ (a friend or referred by X or on a tight budget or I like you or whatever the justification is) I can give you an hour of consulting at no charge - instead of my normal fee which is $75 an hour. IN EXCHANGE for the free consulting, if I'm able to provide value to you, you agree to let me use you as a case study/example and will give me a testimonial."

So I'd do a couple like that "Free - but my normal rate is $75." Then for the next few say my normal consulting fee is $100 per hour but since you are XYZ. I'll work for you at 50% off in exchange for all-the-above.

Then as you get more case studies, testimonials, confidence - just keep inching up your rates. BUT eventually then don't say anything about a discount and NEVER discount. Start charging full fee - WITH CONFIDENCE.

Re your age. MOST have only been doing local for a couple years.
Heck I don't even have 3 years under my belt yet! :rolleyes:

You need to realize you already know 800% more than any SMB knows about local. AND businesses are used to web folks, designers or coders or whatever being sometimes really young. So I don't think that should be a barrier.

I have no idea how old Phil Rosek is - he looks pretty young to me and he does consulting. Nyag is really young and he's an industry leader and consultant and nothing is holding him back either! :p
 

Nick.SEOSpark

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Some fantastic advice has been shared here for Eric. On the age thing, it's no problem at all, I'm 25 and get by just fine. When I have a meeting with a client, I know what I'm talking about so age has nothing to do with it. It's just about being professional and knowledgable.

I'd like to contribute a little bit on the topic of time wasting phone calls and emails. I have suffered with this plenty with clients being very needy! But recently I've gained a lot from some specific "time hacks" outlined in the 4 Hour Work Week book which has been a bestseller:

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich (Expanded and Updated): Timothy Ferriss, Ray Porter: 9781441737588: Amazon.com: Books

Ive been reading this recently and (aside from all the other stuff in the book), the "time hacks" have helped how I approach it all. The way Timothy Ferris speaks about it is quite rigid and extreme though - he suggests things like "always having the office phone set to voicemail, and to (if possible) get them to email the problem" as it's takes less time. It makes some good points but I've taken a lot of it with a pinch of salt.
 
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What a terrific discussion. For me, at first, we were working solely on the implementation side of things, and honestly, what led to me consulting was that the explaining of things to clients became a job of its own. I realized how much time I was spending researching and explaining, guiding and training clients...for free. Eventually, it occurred to me that this was really a stand-alone service and that I could help a lot of people just by talking to them. That's how I began treating consulting as its own area of work.
 

Marie Haynes

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I just spent 10 minutes trying to decide how to word an email to a former client who continually emails to ask a "quick question". I hate saying "I WON'T TALK TO YOU UNLESS YOU PAY ME!!!!!" but emails take time...and time is money, right?
 

JacobPuhl

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"SUPERLIKE" Miriam.

ESR - yes, people might make an immediate judgement based on your age, but the second they see you can increase their bottom line with your advice, sometimes drastically, all the sudden your age 'magically' doesn't matter any more :)

The way to combat that from the beginning is testimonials and case studies. Lots of them. If you don't have those then yes, you might need to do some work at a lesser rate until you've proven you warrant that compensation, in my opinion.

Miriam -

What I like best about this is advocating a market-wide acceptance of this mentality so most ALL seo's do the same thing and over time business owners will come to expect it. Similar to lawyers - although I'm not too quick to lump myself if that category - but the industry as a whole has figured something out. Virtually none of them give free advice. The second I call my lawyer I know I'm paying because he has asserted that is what he is worth.

The mentality you are describing needs to be accepted industry-wide to make all our lives easier and limit the expectation of free work.

It's very similar to relationships where they say you will be treated in a relationship the way you feel like you deserve to be treated deep down (hopefully good!) Same goes for our careers - we will be paid for our advice in a way that we 'assert' or 'demand' that it is worth. In my experience, the type of local marketing advice that local seo's give out is very very valuable and they should be compensated accordingly. Let's all rally around spreading that :)
 
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Jacob,

The second I call my lawyer I know I'm paying because he has asserted that is what he is worth.
What a great example! Yes, everyone has come to accept that it works this way in the legal field. You are right. Internet Marketing is still a new dance, I suppose, and we're all kind of making up the steps as we go along, but, perhaps, things will become more standardized in the future, as in your example.

Thanks for the great comment and kind remark!
 

Linda Buquet

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What I like best about this is advocating a market-wide acceptance of this mentality so most ALL seo's do the same thing and over time business owners will come to expect it. Similar to lawyers - although I'm not too quick to lump myself if that category - but the industry as a whole has figured something out. Virtually none of them give free advice. The second I call my lawyer I know I'm paying because he has asserted that is what he is worth.
I don't accept atty clients for consulting very often because many either have problems with lots of violations because they've been overly aggressive OR they have lots of scrambled data and dupes.

HOWEVER, in cases when I do take on an atty case because its a good ethical marketer that just has problems and is willing to play by the rules - what I LOVE about them is they value my time and always say things like "I'm happy to pay for extra time to have you help me with this" or "I realize that will be extra because your time is valuable."
 

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