My favorite novel of all time is Herman Wouk's World War II epic The Winds of War. (Actually, the follow-up novel, War and Remembrance, is the same story continued. The two books together are my favorite.) At one point in the story, young Madeline Henry is annoyed to find that her radio-host boss — whom Wouk describes as "oleaginous" — has ordered a prostitute to be sent up to his hotel room. (He hadn't expected Madeline to show up to talk about their radio show.) He has the prostitute wait in another room while Madeline describes her idea for a new program. She is unmollified:
Both hands jammed in her coat pockets, Madeline said, "It's not fair to keep a prostitute waiting. All she has to sell is time."
Now, I don't have any experience with prostitutes, but it's my understanding that their customers aren't buying time; they're buying something else. (Sex, if I'm being too oblique for you.) And the prostitutes charge by the job (at least I think they do), and not by the hour. It's not about the time; it's about the sex.
On a related note, Abraham Lincoln once wrote: “A lawyer's time and advice are his stock in trade.” (This is often misquoted, with "and advice" getting left out.) Smart guy, Lincoln was, but he was half-wrong here. The lawyer's advice (and knowledge) is his or her stock in trade; the lawyer's time is not.
Most lawyers misunderstand this, and actually believe that they are in the business of selling time. But they are not. Clients don't buy time; they buy knowledge. It is the knowledge that they derive value from.
Maybe the second-oldest profession can learn something from the oldest profession.
What do you think? Are your clients paying for time, or are they paying for your knowledge and attention? Sound off in the comments below.
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