Pablo Picasso is sitting in a restaurant, when a woman approaches him, gushes over him and his work, and asks him to sketch something on a piece of paper for her.
Picasso takes the paper, and does a quick-but-beautiful sketch. He hands it back to her and says, “that will be $10,000.”
The woman is taken aback. “But it only took you a few minutes to do that. Isn’t $10,000 a lot for just a few minutes work?”
“it may have taken me just a few minutes to draw, but it took me a lifetime to learn,” said Picasso.
I frequently think of Picasso whenever I’m asked to provide free advice and knowledge.
“Can we meet for coffee?” someone will ask me at a networking event. “I want to pick your brain about blogging.” Like my brain is on display, with a lot of other brains.
I’m usually happy to share as much information as I can. I try to be friendly and willing to teach people, as an homage to the people who shared so much information with me when I was first starting out.
This bothers people. Most notably my business partner, Paul, my wife, and any professional consultants.
“You need to charge for your time. You’re giving away information. Information that’s taken you months and years to amass. Even if it takes you an hour to teach them, it took you years to learn it.”
“Cool!” I think. “My time is worth money. I have years of knowledge and experience that people think is valuable.” And I feel really good, and I promise that, this time, I’ll embrace my inner consultant, and say I’m more than happy to teach them everything I know for a pre-determined hourly rate. Like Picasso did.
But then someone asks me again, and I’m afraid of looking like a money-grubbing a-hole, so I compromise.
“Tell you what. I’m supposed to charge $100 an hour for this kind of information,” I say, rolling my eyes as if to say “they” told me to ask for money. “But if you buy my lunch, I’ll be happy to tell you what I can.”
The other person readily agrees, we meet, and I share whatever I can to help them out. Of course, when I get back to the office or come home that night, I feel like Jack did after he told his mom he traded the cow for some magic beans.
I know I’m supposed to make money from my work. I’m a professional who is hired by companies to actually use my knowledge and skill to help them be successful. That is paid consulting. I’ve raised the bar (and my rates) even higher in the last year by co-writing two books and working on a third. (At the very least, I think, I should be getting dessert with lunch, but apparently that’s still not good enough and now I have to watch my cholesterol.)
I don’t know why it’s so hard for me. Pablo Picasso scribbled on a piece of paper between courses, and charged a woman $10,000 for something that took him decades to master. I’m sharing many years of blogging and writing wisdom in 60 minutes, and I should be able to look someone in the eye and ask for $100 an hour without stammering out an apology.
I’ve talked with other friends who face the same conundrum. Some are happy to charge, while some are not. I don’t know who to believe. Even the experts aren’t sure.
On one hand, Seth Godin says if I want to be a Linchpin (affiliate link), I need to participate in the Gift Economy, and give this stuff away for free, because then I’m valuable to a lot of other people, and the benefits (and money) will shower upon me. Chris Anderson says that if I give knowledge away for Free (affiliate link), I’ll show my value to others, and the benefits and money will shower upon me some more.
On the other hand, there are hundreds and thousands of professional consultants who make their living getting paid to share their knowledge and experience, which took years to amass. Why should they get paid obscene amounts of money to share their knowledge, when I’m settling for a damn hamburger? (To be fair, it’s a really good hamburger, and I order bacon on it, which usually costs extra. Because I’m worth it.)
What should I do? Should I embrace my inner capitalist and charge people to give them my knowledge? Or should I continue to believe in puppy dogs and rainbows, and share my knowledge for the good of mankind and the benefit of the planet? What would you do? Leave a comment and let me know. I’ll discuss the answers in a future post.