September 6, 2017

The Sherpa Analogy

In common usage, a “sherpa” is a member of a Himalayan people who helps climbers get safely to the top of the world’s tallest peak, Mt. Everest.

A top sherpa will plan your route to the summit, tell you what to bring, accompany you on the journey, point out dangerous areas, tell you when to sleep, show you where to camp, and if necessary, pull you the last ten feet to the top.

Do you know what top sherpas WON’T do?

They won’t carry your stuff.

Why This Matters

To increase your profits, you should aspire to be like a sherpa for your clients.

Your clients are at the bottom of a mountain (i.e., their current state). They want to be at the top of the mountain (i.e., their desired state). You have helped other clients get to the top of the mountain before. You can help this client get to the top now.

But you don’t have to carry their stuff (i.e., do laborious grunt work like coding, testing, debugging, refactoring, etc)

You can get paid handsomely to map out a timeline with milestones, tell them what (and what not) to buy for infrastructure, answer their questions 24/7 along the way, point out common pitfalls as they arise, warn them when they’re working their developers too hard, recommend releasing betas at points of stability, and if necessary, get your hands dirty pulling the project over the finish line at launch.

None of this requires writing production code.

None of this could reasonably be billed hourly.

None of this should be given away for free.

Advisory Retainers

What I’m describing is an advisory retainer relationship wherein you guide your client through risky and unfamiliar territory.

My primary income for many years has come from these types of retainer engagements. Over the years, I have charged between $7,000-$15,000 per month for a retainer. I have had as many as three retainer clients running at the same time. The majority of my retainer relationships have lasted at least a year. You do the math.

There is TONS of value in being a sherpa. Let the donkeys carry stuff.