As I get back into the swing of this writing thing, celebrating my own NaNoWriMo with what I like to call "NaBloWriMo", I've started working my way through my favorite playlist on iTunes, one I call "The Best Soy Latte That You've Ever Had and Me"... a collection of singer/songwriter tunes that I enjoy very much. And I'll list them as I write...
"One Hundred Years" by Five for Fighting
As someone who runs a small business, working solely on commission, I have to make every dollar count. So everything I do business wise results in one of two things -- either helping someone for free, or putting money in my budget. Either using the skills and experiences to give someone some free advice, or make some money to help put food on our table (or in Campbell's case, buy those expensive snacks he eats)
Thus begets the dilemma that nearly anyone who runs a small business runs into... how much to give for free before you charge? And this isn't just an issue with at-home travel planners... its editors, photographers, website designers, life coaches, and anyone else who has a learned profession that can be shared with others.
"Jimmy Olsen's Blues" by The Spin Doctors
When someone comes to me and asks, "Hey, can you tell me the best time to go to Disney?", or "What is your favorite character meal?", I personally think its selfish and greedy to turn up my nose and say, "Nope, only if you pay me for that info." Those are easy answers, even if a bit long. At least the former is longer, as I have about 7 travel windows I always say... late January, early February, between Spring Break and Easter, between Easter and Memorial Day, late August, most of September, mid-November, early December... then again, do you want good weather? Low crowds? Lower prices? Holiday decor? Never a short answer.
The other is quite simply "Bon Voyage Breakfast" at Boardwalk.
Those are the same level of basic questions I may ask -- and have asked -- of a photographer (what is your favorite camera?) or a web designer (is there a ___ function on WordPress?) or an editor (do you put a comma if you are using an ampersand?).
"How Do You Mend a Broken Heart" by Rev Al Green
But then there are those -- and I never assume nefarious or shenaniganny reasons but rather they just don't know -- who will ask me flat out "Hey, can you give me a list of Fastpasses to get on which days?"
"Sure. Have you booked your trip?"
"Yep, we have a place to stay and already have our dining and tickets. We just need to know what Fastpasses to get"
(that happens more often than you'd think)
Or maybe "Can you tell me about Character meals?"
"Sure. Like what?"
"Oh, like do you have a list of all the character meals? Which ones are hardest to get? Which ones would my kids like?"
And how do you find a way, without sounding rude, to say "I'm sorry, that information comes from experience and training that I have to reserve for those who have chosen to book their travel with me, and thus will me making me money even though they won't be paying on extra cent on their trip"?
I guess the answer is simply "That's the kind of info I get paid to help people with", but that does sound a little snotty, doesn't it.
"Something's Always Wrong" by Toad the Wet Sprocket, a little apropos of this post...
I do just assume that most people don't know. I had one fella contact me with questions about his trip upcoming, and when I finally had to say that I couldn't really go on anymore without some sort of client agreement, he stopped talking to me... only to then contact me a week later to tell me that he had no idea this was a full time career -- he thought it was a side dish, something I just did for fun. He apologized profusely, I accepted happily, and we worked together -- sending his family was delightful.
Keep in mind that when you deal with Disney travel, especially to the theme parks, if you are on property, Disney will compensate the travel agent (or my agency, Upon a Star Travel and Concierge) and I get paid out of that... if you do it all on your own Disney doesn't cut that amount off of the price, they just keep it, so you pay the same amount regardless.
What does that mean exactly? Well, that means that you don't pay me anything for all of my help. I'm your virtual Disney assistant at no cost above what you are paying for your trip.
But... what if you are off property?
"There's a Light In Your Eyes" by Blessid Union of Souls
So if you stay off property and you ask for help, either I have to charge a planning fee, or I work for free. And you might be tempted to say "Oh come on, you are answering questions about Space Mountain and eating at the castle, what on earth do you have anything to charge for?", and to that I'd say that you'd be the person that would need my help the most if you were going.
"Possession" by Sarah McLachlin, my 4th favorite song of all time.
Why do I charge $150 to help a family with a trip? Because I've been dozens of times. Because I've spent on property what I estimate to be around 200 nights, and at least one night in every resort save for Old Key West, Contemporary, and Beach Club. Because I've planned in what I'm estimating to be around 450 vacations for families by now. Because I read constantly, study before I do a Disney podcast, because I'm more prepared for your trip than you might ever be. That's why.
"Sunrise" by Simply Red
But its the same for an editor... why does an editor charge thousands? Because they've had thousands of hours pouring over page after page, trying to make you sound smart.
Why can a cake maker charge hundreds for a cake? Because they've made hundreds of cakes, spending hours and hours on each one trying to make that Paw Patrol Puppy they made out of fondant pop, making you seem like a super parent.
How can a web designer justify charging $500 for a webpage? Have you ever tried to build a webpage? Not a custom page like Square Space or Wix, but a page that you design and build and host and own? It's freaking hard. Its really, really hard.
Or the photographer, who has photographed 100s of weddings and has $10,000 worth of equipment... or the financial coach, who has helped hundreds of people pay off millions in debt...
"Wide Awake" by Katy Perry
You can absolutely hire that guy from Facebook for $100 to take some pics for you... after all, he bought a $400 camera, so he's a professional, right?
Just like you can get Sparky the Wonder Agent who went to Disney World in 2015 to help you with your trip, or you can ask the Facebook Moms for help... I've been on those threads, and trust me, Sparky and Facebook Moms are two sources you need to be careful of, because "I went in 2015 and I know all about it!" shouldn't be reassuring to you when planning your magical days.
Oh, this sounds so bitter, doesn't it? I promise you, it's not. It's really not meant to be bitter... and I can tell you why -- because when I first started, I would do anything I could to get business. I did stuff for free, I gave out information sheets that I had written for free, I handed out stuff to people for very little because I want them to like me, to work with me, and to refer people to me.
In fact, I had one family ask me a ton of questions once, all of which I happily answered. And I was pumped, thinking of the commission I'd get from this trip... once they booked. Turns out, they booked on their own, using all of the intel I gave them. I was very unhappy with them -- friends that they may be -- though I got over it. The Lovely Steph Leann? She doesn't hold many grudges, but five years later, I'm still not sure she cares for them very much.
They've never booked a trip with me, though they've been a few more times. They came back to me and asked more questions before going on their next trip... I answered pretty vaguely, which is what I do now, when I don't think I can trust where the conversation is headed.
"Creep" by Jena Irene (the American Idol performance, and by far my fave version of this song)
I'm not a selfish monster, however. I have helped people for free. Consulted with some people, giving information and experience to them for no cost, based on their situation. I think most people with a service has done so in their life. But I am at the point where I can pick and choose now, which is a great place to be.
"King of Pain" by Alanis Morissette (MTV's Unplugged version... magnificent)
So now you know how it works. How I work.
Don't be afraid to ask questions, because I'm usually very happy to help if I can... but don't be offended if I tell you that I can't give you all of that which you seek... you can spend the time on The Googles looking up the answers, or trying to navigate Disney's massive and many times overwhelming website... or you can just let me do it.
But probably not for free... because all these years later, I don't have to do it for free.