Stop The Clock!

For those of you who have never experienced Halloween first hand, I encourage you to plan a trip here for next October — of all the holidays, it’s my favorite.

Not just because I get to roam around the neighborhood in a terrifying costume (this year I went as a bald, middle-aged white guy), but because for one day each year, you and your children have permission to walk down any driveway, ring any doorbell and invite yourself into the homes of people you’ve never met.

As a parent however, there is one downside . . . sugar intake regulation. The kids come home with tons of candy, and some ground rules need to be established.

In prior years, my wife Linda and I went with the ever popular, “one piece per day rule.” That worked when the kids were little, since they didn’t count so well, and between Daddy eating some and Mommy throwing some in the garbage, nobody on the Kids Team ever thought to wonder why it was all gone by Thanksgiving.

Today however, with my oldest approaching 12, the one-a-day rule doesn’t work. Not only have the kids gotten more efficient at rounding up the treats — 385 pieces collectively this year — they’ve instituted rigid inventory controls that make it impossible for us to surreptitiously drain the supply (I think they’re using the Dewey Decimal System). If we stuck with the one per day rule, they’d still be eating it by the next time the Red Sox win the World Series.

So this year, we came up with a new concept: “All you can eat for one week.” That’s right, for 7 days, they can have as much candy as they want, with the understanding that come November 7th, we go back to “normal.”

And as I sit here on Day 5 writing this, I’m happy to tell you that it’s working out pretty well: The kids get to decide how much is enough; we don’t have to keep track of who’s had what each day; and the entire thing will be over by midnight Saturday night.

Believe it or not, the candy idea was inspired by the approach I use for my E-Newsletter consulting and coaching fees, and that’s what I want to talk with you about today. If you’re charging your clients on an hourly basis (i.e. you’re counting each piece of candy), I encourage you to consider this approach.

In my case, all-you-can-eat pricing means that whether I’m developing a newsletter for a client or coaching someone through doing it themselves, I no longer tie the fee to the time involved. Instead, my price is based on the length of the engagement (e.g. three months) or the result itself (e.g. E-Newsletter up and running). In either case, there is no predefined limit on how much or how often we interact.

I’ve played around with a bunch of different pricing models over the last few years, but so far I’m liking all-you-can-eat the best. Here’s why:

• It’s better for my clients. Back in the days when I charged by the hour, I found that many clients would literally call me up and talk as fast as possible, to minimize their cost. For the same reason, others thought twice about picking up the phone when they had a simple question. As a result, the calls were less productive (because I didn’t get as much detailed, thoughtful information from them) and less enjoyable (because we spent very little time on non-business topics).

Today, with no clock ticking away in the background, I have conversations with clients that are more relaxed and more personal, and as a result, I find that they’re more likely to involve me in multiple aspects of their business. I’ve even found that the extra time spent on non-business tangents gives me greater insight into who my clients are, allowing me to do a better job of serving them.

• It’s better for me. According to Rock and Roll folklore,Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones wrote the group’s megahit, “Satisfaction,” in 20 minutes, after hearing it in a dream the night before. I have no idea how much that song has been worth to him over the years, but I think it’s safe to say that if Mick had been paying him by the hour, he’d have earned quite a bit less. Likewise, as a professional service provider, linking your fee to time spent limits your compensation, and doesn’t correlate with what your clients really care about: Results.

I also love the fact that fixed fee billing has liberated me from having to track my time in 15 minute increments. And now when I work on a client idea while running or driving or mowing the lawn, I don’t have to wrestle with the question of how to bill for it.

But I know what you’re thinking. What about the clients who call you every day and take advantage of the arrangement? Doesn’t that destroy the all-you-can-eat model?

You know what, it never happens — they’ve all got businesses to run and have no more interest in wasting time than I do (in fact probably less, since I really enjoy wasting time). Sure, there are those who call more frequently than others, but like a restaurant that offers all-you-can-eat service, some people cost more, some people cost less, and it all just balances out in the end.

Bottom Line: If you’re just starting out as a professional service provider or are unhappy with the constraints of hourly fees, give the all-you-can-eat approach some consideration. If my experience is any indication, taking the clock out of the equation will improve the nature of your client relationships, and have no negative impact on your compensation.

And by the way, if you know of anybody who could use about 15 pounds of slightly handled candy, please let me know.

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