What am I worth? This was the recurring question in my 20s. When I first got out of college (1972) I was sure that making $50,000 meant I’d died and gone to a material-heaven-on-earth. That was a lot of quantitative easing, government spending, and inflation ago…
I had done a lot of things to earn money growing up, leading me to an important understanding of how the value of what you provide corresponds with the price you charge. At 13 years old, I worked for my father’s industrial painting crew, working on overhead truss bridges in small towns in southern Indiana. Outrageously hot and humid, especially while hauling five-gallon cans of paint and water to the crews under radiating steel girders. Doing this for four summers persuaded me to not take over the family business…
In college I found work as a professional musician. I was a fairly accomplished classical guitarist, performing for $50 per gig for a few hours of music. When I graduated, finding a job was not easy. For a while I worked building handcrafted wooden executive desks and as the news director for a Rock ’n’ Roll radio station. Both positions paid very little, and frankly, I quickly got tired of knowing where Mick Jagger was last weekend.
So I decided to go to graduate school. I learned a lot about being a think tank facilitator but was not happy with the idea of becoming a lifetime bureaucrat. So my wife, Katherine, and I moved to the country. She became an Assistant DA, and me… well, I would figure it out eventually.
Don’t get me wrong: I was busy. I did charity work at a prison, taught music lessons, and helped raise our 3 children. I also kept busy learning about microcomputers - I could see they were the future.
What drove me into my career was the horrid recession of 1982 and 1983. With unemployment in our area higher than during the Great Depression, these were very hard times. I started to help local businesses figure out what to do, and after seeing success, I thought, “I should be charging for this!”
While helping these small companies for modest fees, I came to the realization that large companies in the technology sector were in the same boat. I also recognized that many start-ups in this field were created by programmers and technologist with limited understanding of how to run a business.
Fixing broken things is addictive to me. Seeing how I could help these breaking and broken companies was irresistible. I started to prospect in a more elegant way. I began by researching the company, its product/service offerings, the real distribution channels, and the challenges faced in their market.
Next, I’d craft a letter to the CEO showing my insights and summarizing challenges they were facing. I would let them know that I would be near their office soon and would love to meet them over a cup of coffee. Thus began my career as a transition and turn-around specialist.
In 1983 I persuaded three companies in Silicon Valley to cover my expenses for a complimentary review visit, but how and what to charge was still not clear. I found a mentor, a wonderful person named Ted Brown, to help.
Ted helped in lots of ways. But most importantly, he helped me understand my true value, one of the most difficult aspects to providing services. The first hard lesson Ted taught me was to never charge an hourly fee, because hourly billing makes clients become clock watchers, rather than results and return watchers.
Next began an interesting series of stark realizations... Continue reading here!