How to reply to a professional who gives you a rate

Friend of VeraSage, Jim Hart, and I traded a few messages on Facebook today. During one of the exchanges we had this conversation:

Jim: Buddy… this world is still upside down.

Ed: How so?

Jim: I am trying to engage a lawyer. I met with her yesterday and she gave me a “rate.” Because I thought you would enjoy that I am standing on premise, here is my response:

Ed: Do tell.

Jim: Hi NameWithheld:

I’m hoping we can work together. I have been consulting for many years. I don’t charge by the hour. As a corollary to that, I also don’t pay by the hour. You see, I’m paying for your knowledge and expertise; not your effort.

That said, my hope would be that we could meet, agree on a scope of work and you could give me a price for that expertise.

Let me know if that would be acceptable.

So far, there has been no reply. I think that this is fantastic response to the professional who tosses out a rate. If you are a potential customer of a professional firm who has just quoted you a rate, go ahead and try a version of the above reply. Alternatively, you could just go to the VeraSage List.

On Client v. Customer

When speaking at conferences aimed at professionals I often use the term customer rather than client to describe the buyers in the professional relationship. Sometimes I can visibly see some people winch.

I know what they are thinking, “This guy doesn’t even use the correct word to describe the people I serve. What can he know about this industry or my business?” I see these contortions so often that I usually have to have a side bar conversation to explain myself. I fear if I do not, the rest of what I have to say will fall on deaf ears.

This post is about why I prefer customer to client. But first, a story about growning up in the Kless household in Levittown, NY.

My Dad loves Latin. I mean he really loves Latin. (For a short time he tutored a post-Vactican II educated priest who felt he, the priest, had really missed out on something.) My Dad especially loves taking English words and breaking them down to the Latin roots to gain greater insight into their meaning — in other words, the etymology.

Did you ever see, My Big Fat Greek Wedding? If you have, I am sure you will remember the running gag in which Nia Vardalos’ Dad, portrayed superbly by Michael Constantine, asks, “Give me a word, any word, and I will show you how the root of that word is Greek.”

Well, in my house it was like that only with Latin instead of Greek.

I will always remember the time my Dad explained that the two root words compounded to make up the English word mortgage are mortuus- meaning “death” and –gage meaning “pledge.” A mort-gage is a “death pledge.” Yes, Dad, yes it is. Crystal clear now, right!

As a result of this upbringing I tend to look up (as I do not have my Dad’s memory for such things) the original meaning of the root words (Latin, Greek, or otherwise). This, of course, brings us to the word client. The origin is from the Latin cliens, a variant of cluens meaning ‘hear or obey.’ Further still the word derives from the suffix –klei meaning “to lean.” We see this reflected in the English words incline, decline, and recline.

The term originally denoted “a person under the protection and patronage of another,” a ‘leaner’ if you will, who needed to be propped up and fixed so they did not ‘lean’ anymore. These were people who needed to be protected by an adviser, usually in a legal proceeding. 

In ancient Rome, lawyers did not charge for their time or anything at all for that matter. All citizens had to be represented before a court by a lawyer for free. (Interesting model.) We still see this with Legal Aid (“if you can’t afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you”) and in social work. Social workers, too, have clients. You see it is very much a patron/benefactor relationship and at worst a derrogatory one at that.

Customer on the other hand derrives from custom — “a practice followed by one as a matter of course.” The word custom as far back as can be traced in Latin has this same meaning — “to become accustomed to.” There are no negative associations with the word that I can trace.

It is my belief that professions can/should/do aspire to this kind of relationship. We want the people we serve to look at us as a practice to be follwed as a matter of course. We want it to be their custom to engage with us, not come to us when they need propping up or fixing.

I think changing the language around this relationship is important. Words matter. Semantics matter. It is for this reason I believe professionals should speak of their customers, and not their clients.

My New Question for CPE Polls

Lately, I have been doing a number of webcasts which offer CPE to those in attendance.

One of the requirements is that the participants answer poll questions during the session in order to prove they paid attention. The questions do not have to relate to the material in any way and are not quizzes with right and wrong answers, just survey questions.

As a presenter I find being interrupted four times for about a minute each time to be iksome to say the least. The webcast I am doing are 60 to 90 minute sessions and quite frankly the polls just interrupt my flow. I know #firstworldproblem.

Still I was wondering how the participants felt about this practice. After all, most of them are highly educated individuals who are trying to further their knowledge on the subjects about which I speak. Furthermore, as professionals they have some fairly high ethical standards to which I imagine they hold themselves. To me, it seems quite insulting to break from the material in order for the learners to “prove” they were paying attention.

Well, my twisted mind led me to create a poll questions which serves as a mini protest for both me as a presenter and for the participants. Feel free to use this in your own polls if you do educational programs requiring CPE. Here is the question with the results from my latest webcast.

I find it interesting that only 42 percent find this to be disagreeable to them in some way.

What do you think?

Episode #45 Preview – Interview with Brad Smith

Ed and Ron will interview Brad Smith, Global EVP of Customer Experience at Sage.
Brad is responsible for developing all aspects of the Sage customer experience, from product design to the invoice experience and all points in between. He has nearly 20 years of leadership in web consumer, enterprise software, and communication service provider industries. Brad is on the board of the Consortium for Service Innovation and loves talking about customer experience.

Episode #44 Preview – On Public Choice

“Democracy is the worse form of government…except for all the others.” — Winston Churchill


In this episode, Ron and Ed will examine public choice theory, which describes the extension of analysis to the political alternatives to markets. Many commentators talk about “market failure,” but far fewer ever even mention “government failure.”

Public choice theory sheds light on how government employees face incentives as much as employees in the private markets, and how these incentives can create bad policies, costly regulations, and other negative consequences.

In addition, we will also talk about the dynamics of group decision making in private organizations. Some of the same challenges confronted by government officials are also faced by people in private business.

We will explore the question, “What are the best ways for groups to make collective decisions?”

Episode #43 Preview – Interview with Dan Ariely

Are we rational or irrational? Are we more like Mr. Spock or Homer Simpson? There are compelling arguments on each side of this issue. On this show, Ron and Ed will interview one of the country’s leading behavioral economists: Dan Ariely from Duke University. Dan is the New York Times best-selling author of Predictably Irrational, The Upside of Irrationality, and his latest book, The Honest Truth About Dishonesty. Folks, you won’t want to miss this show!

Episode #42 Preview – Best Business Books

Thousands of business books are published each year. Some are worthless, others have merit, fewer still have lasting value, but a handful possess the ability to transform your business (and possibly, your life). Yet with today’s busy and demanding schedules, do you feel you don’t devote enough time to reading and absorbing new ideas? Then this show is for you. Ed and Ron will explore the best business books ever written, selecting their favorite all-time business books. If you want to share your favorite business books, call the show at: 866-472-5790, or tweet us at #ASKTSOE.

Episode #41 Preview – Free Rider Friday

The last Friday of every month Ed and Ron will do “Free-Rider Friday.” Most of our shows are “topic” driven, where we dive deep into one subject. Free-Rider Fridays are designed to be “event” driven; whatever issues are in the news that we (or you) find worthy of commentary. In economics, free riding means reaping the benefits from the actions of others and consequently refusing to bear the full costs of those actions. This means Ed and Ron will free ride off of the news, and each other, with no advanced knowledge of the events either will bring up. If you’d like to call-in during the live show, the listener line is: 866-472-5790. You can also participate on Twitter at #ASKTSOE.

Episode #40 Preview – We Are All Consultants Now

Consulting and sales are not different disciplines, but one and the same. They are the art of enabling the best possible decisions for customers. Recognizing this reality is not easy because it requires us to rethink the paradigms and prejudices of the past. We can increase the effectiveness in working with our customers if we adopt some concepts of consulting theory.

The assumptions and goals of consulting will be discussed by Ed and Ron.

Episode #39 Preview – For Good and Evil: Taxes and Civilization

tax-dayIn celebration of April 15th, Ron and Ed will explore the history of taxation. All good tax systems tend to go bad, and throughout history tax laws have taken away liberty more often than foreign invaders. As Charles Adams explained in his book that will be discussed on the show, For Good and Evil, “The prosperity as well as the decline of nations has always had a tax factor…” We will explore the priceless legacy the Enlightenment thinkers passed on to posterity that comprise the components of a just tax system, as well as Adam Smith’s four marks of a bad tax system, and what a good tax system would look like.