Should I pay or should I go?

Single by The Clash from the album Combat Rock
Single by The Clash from the album Combat Rock

I had a really good discussion with Jack & Nigel in the Watershed a couple nights back. Jack’s launching a new venture and wanted some advice. Nigel and I pitched in our thoughts, as did Micheal when he turned up a bit later.

Jack’s key question was around the business model. How much of his know-how did he give away on the website and how what did he charge for?

Essentially, Jack is building a personal brand as so many of us are.

In many ways Jack and I (and most consultancy businesses) are in similar positions, we’re trading on our expertise and ability to do stuff that’s really important to a business at specific moments in time. We also really enjoy what we do, which makes it easy to have a discussion with someone about how they could develop new ideas for their product / service, or how they could structure their business for growth, or find funding.

The challenge is when to do this over a pint in the Watershed (other pubs & coffee shops are available but good food, beer and free wifi is a tough act to beat) and when to sit down in a closed room and start billing. For me, the test is if we’re discussing specific costed solutions for your business, or if we’re having an advisory chat about business models, sources of funding, networks of finance, etc.

Jack also had a question over scalability, this was a question for Chris Garrett at OpenCoffee Demo where he presented a thriving agency with lots of work and skills, but no core IP. That’s changing for good reason, and they’re developing a system for location based alerts and friend finding but with an interesting difference (more when it’s launched). For the rest of us, once you’re billing 24/7 at the maximum rate the market will stand, you’re maxed out. The solution usually is to hire more mini-me‘s.

But people are paying for your insight, not the intern’s.

So what can you do?

  • Keep building your tribes, they are your evangelist marketeers, global ideas pool, potential clients, and probably friends
  • Keep building your know-how, your secret sauce (this is what people are paying for); read widely, participate in conversations, innovate up the food chain
  • Look out for scalability: collect your stories / experiences /ideas, if you’re a coder write some code that you regularly re-use and license it as a development tool, if you’re a designer/creative put some designs on T-shirts / mugs / etc (traditionally it’s called merchandising, bands have done this for ages),
  • Rinse & repeat

Don’t get stuck in a rut of securing clients, delivering, billing, securing clients, delivering, billing without any scalability or building any know-how; someone will come along that is faster / smarter / cheaper / cooler than you and you need a defensible position.

How are you building know-how and scalability?


  1. A brand is often described as a ‘collection of perceptions’ people have of a product, service or organisation – it is what sticks in their minds and helps them make buying decisions. But people don’t only have perceptions about products, services and organisations – they also develop a ‘collection of perceptions’ about the people they meet. A Bristol-based company has published excellent free advice on this right here

    1. That’s a great point, and actually I’d extend it to say that your personal brand is important even if you’re “representing” a corporate brand. There are plenty of cases of people that have gotten into hot water (or even lost their jobs) because their ‘personal’ brand conflicted with their ‘corporate’ or employers brand.

      In these days of economic uncertainty, developing your personal is critical. Even (or especially) if you’re in a company, a faceless manager or code monkey is easily replaceable. Someone that’s engaged in their professional community and recognised as the ‘go to’ person has much greater value to the company (so long as you’re still delivering core benefits).

      I particularly liked Stephanie’s last two points about promoting your personal brand:

      Be well connected and connect other (to which I’d add, without expectation of reciprocity)
      Not to become a ‘networking bore’ (to which I’d ad the bit about having 2 ears and 1 mouth)

      Thanks for the comment and link to Marketing Donut

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