Free Time?

In 1986 I was working in Dallas, Texas. I was a rookie salesman (but didn’t realise how rookie at the time). One day I went to the loo, and when I came back my boss was waiting for me. That man taught me a lot, and on that day he taught me that time isn’t free.

He took me into his office, closed the door and said “How much did that bathroom break cost you”?

“Nothing, the loos are free” said I.

“No they’re not, let me show you why”.

He cleared the whiteboard and asked “how much do you want to earn this year “?

“$100,000” – I didn’t that year but came close the next.

And then he started working on the whiteboard. He told me there are 242 working days in the year, after taking out weekends (104 days), holidays (10 days – only 2 weeks in America!) and public holidays (9 days).

“You will notice that there are no sick days”

And then he explained that in an 8 hour working day (we were in the office 8-5 every day), and excluding the fact that I actually worked 10-12 hours every day and some weekends, these were the hours my prospects would also be in their offices. So most of my income would be earned in those hours. So in one year there are 1,936 working hours in which I can earn $100,000 – so each hour represented $51.65. So the 10 minutes I had been in the “bathroom” had cost me $8.61.

Now you may think this is nonsense, but I can tell you that I took this to heart. Like him, I started travelling outside work hours. I was flying every day Sunday to Friday, travelling across America to meet prospective clients, sometimes 3 or 4 in each city each day. I would catch a plan in the evening, arrive at a destination, get in a rental car, drive to hotel (arriving late – 10 or 11 at night), get up and start the day with a breakfast meeting. And repeat. Until I arrived back in Dallas on Friday evening. At the airport I made calls (no mobiles). On the flight I wrote up my expenses, report on the day and actions for the next day. At the hotel I ran through my next days presentations and went to sleep.

And when I was in the office, I started focussing on my time management, until I used my time effectively. And my income increased and I became efficient & professional.

This week alone, one prospective client has told me that they just want me to apply my knowledge & expertise to their documents, just a few hours, and naturally they don’t expect to have to pay for “just a few hours”. Another one told me that by my age they thought I wouldn’t need to earn money any more and could just help them out. One man arranged a meeting and didn’t show up – no call, no txt, no email (and 3 days later I have not heard from him, but I know he’s OK – he met someone else I know the next day).

I value my time, and respect those that act professionally.

I just wish a few more people acted the same way.


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  1. Thank you Stuart for this enlightening blog post.

    It’s funny (but not in an amusing way) how often people don’t value your time. I’ve recently submitted a couple of proposals. These aren’t particularly quick to do yet when I follow up, I get nothing. In one, I actually said “I don’t care if a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but would appreciate knowing either way”.

    Clearly, I’m no salesman and people must hear this all the time but I find it really strange that people can receive a report yet not even have the courtesy to get back to you with a simple ‘thanks, but no thanks…’.

    • Stuart on February 28, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    I know what you mean, I’ve always taken the view with sales (and proposal writing) that it is a loss leader – if I have been asked to write one then I do expect an answer, but I find I don’t often get one. I do get bemused when I am actually asked to do real work, apply my experience or leverage my network and I’m hear “we can’t pay you but it doesn’t really cost you anything”!

  2. There seems to be trend with that. I’ve met quite a few people recently who have clients who seem to think it appropriate to keep asking them to do more without paying. I guess in a difficult climate there can be a tendency for people to abuse this.

    • Stuart on February 28, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    The thing about difficult climates is that we all get a bit of it!

  3. Yes, very true! 🙂

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