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What to charge for (a bit of) your time

What to charge for a bit of your time

I’m not a coffee addict, but I learned some important insights about earning your worth, from a coffee shop. Namely, how much to charge for a bit of service.

My design teams met at one coffee shop (let’s call this Coffee Shop #1), so it’s my go-to. The baked goods are familiar and I think no one will make fun of my coffee ignorance.

They change their wifi password every few days, so you’re locked out until you buy a drink; also, you need a code to get into the washroom.

There’s another big-name coffee shop (Coffee Shop #2) across the road, and I’d only glimpsed the inside briefly.

What you should charge for a bit of your time

When my friend texted me about meeting for coffee in the area, I quickly glanced at the message, assuming it was my go-to.

I arrive early to orchestrate a cookie on a plate and card for her, but then she texts that she’s at the coffee shop across the street (my mistake). So I pack the cookie up and head to unfamiliar territory.

She says, “I ran here on my lunch break.”

I slide the cookie in a baggie across the table. “This is for you. I was across the street because I thought we were meeting there.”

Later, after she leaves, I ask for the wifi password at the counter.

“There’s no password,” the barista says. “Just choose our wifi.”

The washroom is open as well and I feel welcome for once. Not that I’m an expert on coffee, but this shop is awesome.

What locked wifi really means

When a person sits at a coffee shop with a laptop, she probably needs wifi. Locked wifi means pay or leave at once.

My most memorable piano teacher interview was with a lady who taught from her dim basement. After I played my first piece, she shared some advice yet became increasingly adamant about my fingers. I’d started crying tears of frustration. (I never cry.)

Then she asked my mom to pay for the free interview as she “taught a few things.”

In the end, she gained a little cash, but it could’ve been ongoing income if the interview had gone well.

This is how powerful Free is

By opening their wifi and washroom, Coffee Shop #2 is respecting that people will buy when they’re ready, not necessarily right when they walk in (what if I’m waiting for a friend and I don’t want to lose the table?)

In general, when you trust people, they’ll trust you in return.

Warby Parker, named the most innovative company of the year, operates on the same principle: Pick 5 glasses frames on the website and they’ll mail these to your house for fitting; after you pick your favourite frame and send all of them back, they’ll mail you the prescription glasses. That’s trust.

This might sound counter-intuitive, but being trustworthy also means giving things away for free. Being confident enough to let people try first and smart enough to respect that people won’t take advantage of you unless you make yourself a victim.

Kiehl’s, the skincare company, is my favourite example. They give away more than 12 million packets and tubes each year, investing in samples and R&D rather than airy advertisements. It’s rumoured that a person can’t walk out of Kiehl’s without a sample, regardless of whether they’ve purchased. That’s respect and confidence.

Do it for free and still get paid

If you like the idea of getting paid for a skill, then share this skill for free whenever you can.

Afterwards, people will be happy to pay you. They’ve seen the quality of your free work, so they can’t wait to pay you for more.

In fact, they’ll be thinking, “If this is your free work, then your paid work must be even better.” And it is.

This is like the student-teacher interview (which should always be free)– it’s a chance for the student and teacher to decide if they’re the right fit for each other. If the teacher gives valuable feedback, then the student can only imagine 3 months of lessons… 6 months… onstage. They’ll be excited to start paying.

If you have a skill to offer, the world deserves to know about it. Try to give value first– you might be surprised at what you learn. Don’t be afraid to help someone out. Be generous, show confidence and respect to gain trust.

The other thing this insight shows me is why generous people are often happiest. They focus on giving genuinely rather than return on investment. Which means you might not see a return right away, but it’ll come when the time is right, sometimes when you least expect it.

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10 years ago

Hi Grace! I really like this post. Thanks for this great perspective. I really like the idea of sharing something for free. But I haven’t shared a lot of my skills like programming skills, creating websites, playing the piano with people outside of my social circle yet. Looking for opportunities to share these things for free as first steps can be very valuable (for me and for the person I can teach something). Most of the time I think about “oh well… you can’t charge anyone for that” and never really start. But letting the people think about if it’s… Read more »