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Articles filed in: Worldview

Why I Stopped Working For Coffee And 12 Reasons Why You Should Too

Are there still days when people ask to “pick your brain” and offer to buy you a cup of coffee? It’s tempting to take people up on those offers and flattering that they think you’ve got something valuable to contribute. I know. I’ve been there, done that and got the t-shirt. I understand the allure of those $4 an hour consults, because years ago I did my fair share too. Those caffeine filled hours were the catalyst for an eventual epiphany, something that frustrated me so much I decided to launch an independent brand strategy consultancy.

It finally dawned on me that those ideas and plans that were hashed out over a latte all too often never amounted to anything. I’d leave all fired up about this great idea and six months down the track, it was still just that…a great idea.

I believe that because they didn’t really pay for the advice my coffee friends had no skin in the game. They were actually demonstrating a lack of belief in themselves and their ideas. Sure it was fantastic to talk about starting something great. But talking is not the same as doing though and an idea without the execution is just an idea. It has no impact. The execution is what creates the impact and in turn makes money.

In the end I realised that I was helping people to feel good about having goals and dreams, when what I wanted more than anything was to empower them to follow their hearts, back themselves and make a go of those dreams.


1. A $4 consult doesn’t help people in the long run
They aren’t demonstrating self belief or taking their idea seriously enough to invest in it and do the real strategic work required to make it a success. The result is a lack of execution.

2. You’re wasting their time and yours
There is always an opportunity cost. Time is the one thing you can’t create more of, so you need to use it wisely.

3. It sends the wrong signals to them and you
Teaching people that they don’t need to invest in themselves to achieve what they want isn’t being of service to them. It devalues you in your eyes and in the eyes of the client.

4. It attracts the wrong kind of client
You might work for free to attract business, but does a client-initiated coffee consult really attract your best customers?

5. You won’t do your best work
Cheap kills part of your creative soul. You just don’t do your best work this way. Seeing people fail to execute takes the joy out of your work. Getting reimbursed ups your game.

6. It prevents you from working on other things that do serve you and others
This doesn’t help you to build your legacy.

7. A fair fee for your work forces you to be excellent
As Jason Fried founder of 37signals puts it, “Charging for something makes you want to make it better. For customers, paying for something sets a high expectation. As an entrepreneur, you should welcome that pressure. You should want to be forced to be good at what you do.”

8. It means working with two different sets of expectations, yours and theirs
You are quite possibly hoping to convince them they need more of what you have to offer. They are most likely there to convince themselves that they don’t and that they can get what they need for free.

9. It’s not a fair trade
Your time and your expertise is worth more than a few bucks. Plain and simple.

10. The agenda is dictated by the coffee buyer, not by you
This means it’s not deliberate or intentional, as it needs to be.

11. It’s not strategic
It encourages people to grasp at ,myriad of tactical straws instead of building from a solid foundation.

12. Often it doesn’t align with your values
Somehow coffee consults end up feeling “off”. You won’t be doing your best work and you won’t be as invested in the effort as you need to be.

Of course there are always exceptions to any rule and yes, I still create for love sometimes, for good causes which are close to my heart and in win-win situations. The difference being that, for the most part, the approach is initiated by me. In those instances, I make sure that the work is legacy building, not just ego building and that those choices are made from a place of love.

If you’re still in doubt you can use the handy Should I Work For Free flow chart to help you decide.

Tell me about your experiences of working for free and how you strike a balance.

Image by Mikey G. Ottawa.

The Idea Execution Blueprint

The best-laid plans are no substitute for and idea that’s done.
Just do it!

Image by Jeff Daly.

Show Them What You’re Made Of

You could wait around until the CEO rubber stamps your ideas. Your book can gather dust for years until an agent discovers your writing and you can while away a decade in a cubicle wondering when Saatchi and Saatchi will call.

Or you can simply show the world what you’re made of and pick yourself.

I love the story Ji Lee tells in the video below about how he decided to put some joy back into his work, by doing a project he had creative control over.

Proof that doing accomplishes what wishing never can.

Image by Jorge Quinteros.

How To Guarantee Failure

Do nothing.
Don’t start.
Sit on the fence.
Avoid taking the first step.
Stay in analysis.
Stand still.
Never ship.
Look for ten different opinions.
Act on none.
Stop trusting your gut and feeling like gold dust.
You are.

Image by Christa Lohman.

Trust And Excuses

The next time you don’t quite manage to do what you said you’d do, send your apology and stop there. Don’t be tempted to say I’m sorry……and. Excuses actually don’t change how the other person is feeling about being let down by you. Making excuses simply justifies your inaction to you. Excuses don’t help you to make a better impression once you’ve broken your word.

Try ending the apology with a full stop. I’m sorry I didn’t email back yesterday {full stop, period}. Because everyone knows that if you’d really wanted to you’d have found a way around your dodgy internet connection, or the fact that your kids were home sick. Excuses don’t actually excuse.

Just like the members of a trapezing crew of an 18ft Skiff, what the person on the other end of that excuse really needs to know is that you’ll be there for them. Like you said you would.

Image by Ian Sanderson.

What Is A Brand?

The American Marketing Association defines a brand as, “A Name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.”

Brands are much more to us than designs and symbols that differentiate. There are an infinite number of definitions of a brand, here are just twenty.

A Brand Is

1. A promise.
2. The way we differentiate this from that.
3. Whatever the customer believes about a company.
4. A feeling created.
5. The tangible representation of personal or company values.
6. A set of expectations met.
7. The way a person or company communicates what they do and why they do it.
8. Trust built between a customer and a business.
9. A company asset.
10. Your word.
11. A set of unique benefits.
12. Reasons to buy, or buy into something.
13. A story we tell ourselves.
14. Communication with and without words.
15. A symbol of belonging.
16. Signals sent.
17. A waymarker.
18. The experience a customer has.
19. A complete field guide to a business.
20. The impression that’s left at the last interaction.

What’s your definition?

Image by Painted Book Lady.

Keeping Your Promises

Communicating inbox to inbox, no longer being eye to eye, makes it easier to say no. The flip side is it also makes it easier to say yes. Interacting online makes giving your word and then breaking it in just a few hundred characters a lot less complicated. Excuses trip more easily off the keyboard, than off the tongue.

Keeping promises is the one thing you can do to differentiate yourself, right now, this minute, for free. No marketing budget or strategic planning required. Simply act like the majority doesn’t.

Do what you say you’re going to do.

Don’t commit to something unless you know you can follow it through.
Show up. Start. Lead. Do.

Keep your promises. Not just to others but to yourself too.

Image by Marcin Ejsmont.

Most People

Most people believe that the day starts at nine and ends at five.
That you need the permission of others to start.
Most people believe that rules are made by others.
That their horizon is a definite line.
Most people believe that work must be difficult.
That life begins in the two weeks when they aren’t working.
Most people are afraid to take a place at the front of the line.
To listen to themselves first.
Most people choose not to embrace things they cannot change.
And accept those they can.
Most people think they long to be free.
Even though they don’t know what makes them feel free at all.
Most people don’t choose.
Or get to be the most they can be.
Most people are just like you.
When you’re not being most people.

Image by Atila TheHun.

When What You Sell Isn’t What You’re Selling

Yesterday I skipped the early gym session, packed up my mac book and headed out to the hair salon. This particular salon runs a no appointment system, it’s first-come first-served. So I got there almost an hour before they opened, sat on the floor outside and worked. Ten minutes later another lady arrived, twenty minutes after her yet another who I’d seen before. With fifteen minutes to opening time a grandmother showed up, excitedly chatting to two little girls about how they’d be talking to Carmel and she’d know what was best for them to do.

By nine there were six of us all queuing for the same stylist. By 9.05 there was a three hour wait for a $20 trim with Carmel, even though there were at least four other stylists available right away. A couple of people chose to wait and some were reluctantly bumped to others.

I watched her work all morning. The first question she asked, before she even picked up a scissors was, “is this for the graduation, and if not when is that?” The next client was asked how long before her three month trip overseas, it was apparently important not to put too much colour in this time round, so that the timing was just right for the last colour before her trip. Carmel explained to the frail old lady who couldn’t cope with a two hour wait that she had a couple of colour clients already, but that she’d tell the other stylist what to do. I heard her reminding her colleague about the frailty of the hair quality and how they needed to use the mildest possible products. The grand daughters were having back to school trims. They were done in five minutes by another stylist, while the grandmother came to have a chat with Carmel as she mixed bleach.

Of course there are others in this salon who can cut and colour almost as well as Carmel can, but that’s not what people willing to wait for an hour or two, maybe more, are buying. She’s not selling a $20 haircut, she’s selling something people crave even more than looking just right for their son’s graduation… caring, connection, belonging and yes, even love. All of which take something ordinary and make it extraordinary.

Your business needs people who care this much. Often your products and services don’t need more bells and whistles. They just need a little more love.

Image by Mondopanno.

The Comparison Trap

At the gym I can’t take my eyes off the tall, svelte, Scandinavian goddess who is sweating elegantly, on the cross trainer just in front. When I’m attempting a less than elegant blossoming lotus, I long for the balance and flexibility of the raven-haired beauty on the yoga mat alongside. With regular practice I know my flexibility will improve. But having ‘legs up to your neck’ envy is really a hopeless waste of time, thoughts and positive energy.

My genetics, along with ancestry don’t permit it. They do permit a million other things though, that I can’t even begin to make room for if I allow myself to get stuck in the ‘comparison trap’.

While the Internet has given us amazing access, awareness and opportunities to be grateful for, it can be that place to get lost in comparing and contrasting.

Yes, it’s good to know what competitors and people in your field are doing. That’s market research. But there’s a fine line to be drawn between awareness and obsession. Awareness drives you to articulate your value and bring your ideas to the world in your unique way. Obsession results in unreasonable insecurity, doubt and paralysis.

When you allow yourself to get stuck in a state of constant comparison, you limit your ability to create a difference of your own.

The quota for ideas hasn’t been used up just yet.

The capacity for experiencing difference hasn’t been reached.

There is room in the world for people who can and can’t blossom a lotus.

A place for both them and you.

Have you ever got caught in the ‘comparison trap’?

Image by Joseph B.