Knowledge, value and money in the competitive marketplace: How much should you pay (or be paid)?

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verba
Quoted price from Alex Verba in the Ukraine to solve a critical Sunday night IT problem -- $7.78 US. I doubled his pay with a bonus.
mailwizz
The mailwizz email management program operates from our server. I paid a one-time fee of $50.00 — updates are free.

It was late Sunday and I had a major problem. Early on Saturday, in a botched effort to update this company’s server-based email management program, I managed to crash it, losing access to it and all of the data.

I had paid a $50 one-time fee for the program (plus an additional fortunate $20 for a backup module, which appeared to work properly). The program had all of our data on more than 146,000 names for eletter distributions, with critical blacklist and unsubscribe data, plus email letter templates. In other words, it was our “list.”

verba
Quoted price from Alex Verba in the Ukraine to solve a critical Sunday night IT problem — $7.78 US. I doubled his pay with a bonus.

I tried reinstalling the program, and the backup files. But this proved to be a daunting task. The backup files were simply too big to load through relatively easy-to-use interfaces. In the process, I certainly stretched my knowledge, learning how to access the root server and various technical tools and resources generally in the domain of IT specialists.

No luck.

When you pay $70 (one time) for a program, you certainly shouldn’t expect 24/7 on-call technical support, and there was none. The software provider had responded to previous inquiries by email, however, reasonably promptly, so I held out some hope he would communicate.

Then key employees sent emails reminding me of important emails to go out tonight and tomorrow. Our latest issue of North Carolina Construction News had been published, and our first issue of Chicago Construction News had been released late last week — and especially in Chicago, we had made commitments to share the word today.

Still no solution.

Then I remembered that I might be able to call on offshore services for a solution. At 7:00 p.m. last night I posted my task on Upwork.com (a merger of Elance.com and Odesk.com). I set a $200 budget for the job, and provided core details. Within 15 minutes, I had received two bids, two for $200 and one for $7.78.

$7.78?

I emailed the service provider, an IT technician in the Ukraine, and confirmed that he indeed meant $7.78 flat rate, not per hour. He had no prior Upwork.com experience, but his resume indicated he had the requisite skills.

He started work. I stayed online, giving him password access and explaining where key files were located. As I thought he decided he needed to use a more direct code language than a consumer like me would like to touch. Two hours later, he solved the problem. I bonused him for an extra hour. Total cost to fix the problem: $15.00.

There are some interesting and complex challenges for anyone concerned with marketing in this story. Most businesses pay well more than $50 a month — not $70 total — for their email management services, using outsourced providers such as Mailchimp or Constant Content (both reputable services). And they would have no hesitation paying well more than $200 — more like $2,000 or in some cases $20 to $200,000 or more — for critical IT infrastructure management and work.

I’ve managed to do everything for under $100, without fixed budget commitments. The Mailwizz program is as good as any I’ve seen out there, with many features and functionalities of more expensive services (and obviously it has a functioning back-up capacity.)

If this is the case, then how much should we value our own services? If you can solve critical IT problems instantly on an emergency Sunday night call for $10 to $15 — how can you justify spending more? Are formerly high-level skills reaching a commodity stage? Is there a race to the bottom?

I’m not convinced yet things are that bad (or good, I suppose, depending on your perception as a purchaser or vendor.) For one thing, there is the knowledge base and differential to consider. I’m fortunate enough to know where to find and source offshore services, how to evaluate their relative quality and which accounts to use. And I have enough IT knowledge to understand root systems, CPanel and FTP. If you don’t have these knowledge points, you would have to pay an intermediary for the skills — and that person could certainly charge much more.

In other words, you still need to have quite a bit of knowledge to find the bargains, and this process isn’t so easy to scale, consistently. If you had to hire others to lead the charge, they would of course expect to be paid more.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that formerly very expensive services can be obtained very inexpensively. And I proved that you can solve truly challenging IT problems, on the weekend, for less money than a North American professional service provider might expect to earn in 10 minutes of work. Phew.

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