The other day, I spent £400 on an online course.
Not so long ago, I would have thought that was crazy – how could, essentially, a series of emails even possibly be worth that much?
What could anybody tell me that I couldn't look up for nothing?
And yet, I don't regret it for a minute. It was absolutely money well spent:
- I believe it will help me to earn more, though that's unproven at this stage, and
- I had a great time reading the emails
Read that again. Both parts are important.
Anyway, it got me thinking (again) about value, and worth – and how this is ALWAYS entirely subjective.
Let's look again at what happened:
A stranger sent me some emails.
I read them, and paid a good sum for it.
Quite right too, you might think.
But there are other people out there who would have to pay me a lot of money to read their emails.
So for one person, I'll pay, for others I need to be paid.
But let's stick to the guy who sent me the £400 email course.
I actually gave him more than just money.
I sent him emails back, without him asking, saying how much I liked what he does. For all I know, he might use these as some kind of sales testimonial.
I didn't charge for this.
And by interacting with his emails – clicking the links etc – I provided him with invaluable data.
I didn't charge for that either.
You might be thinking – of course you didn't charge! He was giving you a great product!
And that's true… though I didn't know how good it would be until I paid for it.
I had read a little of his work. But essentially I was taking a leap of faith.
I believed in him.
Let's move to a similar, but slightly different thing.
When I was crowd-funding my novel, I invited the people who funded me to read my manuscript before it was printed.
I wanted their feedback – to know what worked, and what might make it better.
I sent out the request to nearly three hundred people.
And for a few hours I worried that nobody would reply.
What if nobody wanted to read it?
After a short period, a few people volunteered to do FOR NO CHARGE the work that I had already paid a professional editor to do.
And they gave me feedback that was truly brilliant.
Some spotted small mistakes, which saved me from looking silly. One came up with a strategic suggestion that led me to change the entire ending.
Others wrote enthusiastic comments that I later printed on the jacket of the book, and on my website – essentially, promoting my book.
They did not charge me for this…
Later, a friend of mine went to the same publisher to crowd-fund his book.
As is normal with crowd-funding, he offered a range of benefits, at different prices, to people who wanted to support the book.
One of the offers was: read one chapter of the book before it's printed, and give feedback.
But for this privilege, people had to pay a substantial sum.
- my friend charged people to edit his book, as part of crowd-funding his book
- I gave that same job to people for no charge, as part of crowd-funding my book
- we both received great benefit from their edits
- we both paid professional editors to edit our manuscripts too.
Reading this, I'm confused.
The company that published our books, Unbound, has a large staff, paid to edit, design, promote, distribute, and so on, out of the funds that we raised from subscribers.
In other words, Unbound staff were paid by me, and I was paid by my readers, before product they wanted was even made.
So Unbound worked for me. And I worked for Unbound, producing a product they would be able to sell…
And all of us were working together for bookshops who would sell our books…
And the bookshops were working to serve, ultimately, book readers.
And some of my readers were working for me…
Who was the customer?!
I think another example might help.
I spent most of my career working for newspapers.
As I write this, some papers give away their content free. Others hide it behind a paywall, confident that people will pay for it.
Some papers give work experience to young people, and get useful work out of them – for no pay.
Other papers give work experience and pay the young people a nominal fee.
Other publications actually CHARGE young people to come in and get work experience (they charge because it costs time and money to train people who don't know what they're doing).
Does anything, really, have a value beyond the value that one party manages to confer on it?
Recently, my daughter complained about how heavy her school bag is.
I said, wouldn't it be nice if you could get somebody to carry it.
And then my brain went a bit haywire, perhaps because I have been thinking so much about value. I said:
“What if you could get somebody to PAY YOU for the privilege of carrying it?”
My daughter, not surprisingly, looked a bit sceptical.
That same day, back at home, I started to think about writing this post.
I was in the kitchen, sitting at the table with a pen in one hand and the back of a large envelope in front of me.
But could I write it all on one envelope? Probably not.
I thought, I should probably go upstairs to write this on my computer.
But in front of me was the sink, and it was full of dirty dishes.
I thought, Oh, man, I hate a dirty kitchen!
I thought, I'd better wash up first.
And I felt momentarily annoyed that the people I live with had left the kitchen in such a mess.
I knew that washing dishes actually calms me down.
It grounds me…
It allows me to impose order on my world…
I just didn't want to do the dishes NOW.
And I remembered my conversation with my daughter.
I thought, What if I could SELL somebody the chance to do my dishes?
But how could I do that?
Who could possibly be willing to do my washing up?
The potential market is tiny. They'd have to be:
- crazy for washing up, and
Or would they?
The internet has made it possible for us all to offer what we have to absolutely anybody in the entire world.
There may be people out there who would love to join me as I wash up.
I just have to find them…
And work out how to charge for it.