A nice little work-at-home business

A nice little work-at-home business.

Linda spent an hour yesterday, trying to get Photoshop to export a jpeg.

This represents a great business opportunity. Lots of smart people run up against small, simple technical hurdles. It happens all the time. You need to use some application that's not in your daily repertoire but that everyone uses occasionally. You want to do something simple.

For some reason, it's not.

So here's the plan: you hang out a shingle on AIM that says, “Photoshop” or “Excel” or “graphic design”. Customers buzz you with questions. You respond right away with an offer.

Customer: I need to export a jpeg from Photoshop.

You: OK. I think I can help. $25 if things work out, $10 if they don't.

Customer: here's my credit card….

To make this work, I think you need two features:

  • Availability: you've got to be there on AIM when the customer gets bogged down. There's a significant group of people, though, who can be available online intermittently for hours and hours. They're taking care of kids or invalids at home. There are lots of shady schemes to exploit these people; I think this one would be fairly satisfying.
  • Kill fees. It's dangerous to do fixed-fee consulting, but nobody wants to give a stranger a blank check — least of all when they're stuck in software hell. So we set two fees. The “kill fee” tells the consultant, “any time this gets to be a pain — the client asks for too much, or the client is unreasonable, or the client didn't really understand their own problem, or Billy's school called and needs me to run over and get him — I can bail out. I get paid something. If I stick around until the client is happy, I get paid more.

Kill fees are used in magazines. The editor assigns a story to a freelance writer; they agree on a price for the article, and a kill fee. If the magazine takes the piece, they get the rights and the author gets the price. If the magazine doesn't take the article — the article is lousy or the editor was replaced or the subject of the article is suddenly radioactive — the writer gets the kill fee and keeps the rights. It's a good way to draw a line around a small project that might blow up; get the kill fee right, and everyone can stay friends and work together next time.  [Mark Bernstein]

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