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under the heading "things I know now that I did not know then"...

someone elsewhere on the interwebs posted a "what should I do?" because a friend of theirs was in the business of selling things that they got from suppliers in china or elsewhere. as in, they had a pretty good facebook following of people who weren't totally internet-savvy, and this person is internet savvy, and was sometimes even having these scattered retailers ship things directly to their customers, and the person posting on this thought it was unethical and did not want to be involved.

it's not nice to get a profit on things that people could buy themselves for a lower price, just because the people haven't been to the websites you've been to, right?

well at 20 I would have agreed with that statement. but now I don't.

flashback: I was developing websites for people and small businesses in the early 2000s. so MANY people did not have websites but wanted something. I liked making websites. I did not like selling "myself" - convincing people to pay me, or really even feeling like I was worth it. How should I charge... by the page? By the hour? I hated that side of it.

First they needed domain names, I'd point them to the websites I recommended for domain names. A lot of them were uncomfortable buying the domain names themselves, they'd say "can't you do it?" and I'd say no, it's an easy $10 setup, I want you to own this, it's good for you! Here's what to put in, I'll help you through this.

What I SHOULD have said? Your domain name is $30 and I will take care of everything.

When I was 20 years old, I thought people made money by DOING or MAKING things. I also would have thought it was unethical to charge an overhead just to buy a domain name for somebody.

But now I know that a significant portion of our population makes money by arranging, knowing things, redistributing or organizing. They make money by telling people, "I've done this before. I can make this easy for you." It doesn't matter that something takes me ten minutes... what matters is that it would take an outsider two hours to learn it. So that's what they're paying for: the two hours. I was only thinking of the ten minutes.

Yes it's true, last year I made a bit of money on Etsy by doing things like ordering thousands of little clips from China for several hundred dollars, splitting them into packs of 10 or 50. Or I'd cut up fabric that could be easily found elsewhere, photograph and add keywords to it to make it easy to find. Making stuff easy to find is worth something. My 20 year old self didn't get that and would probably think that my 35 year old self was a scam artist because I was charging people for something they could do themselves. But they don't want to do it themselves!

All up and down the world there are trees and pyramids of people in the middle of things making it all easier for the next step down the line, and that is valuable. The world is a complicated place and not everybody can know everything, and when you don't know something you can pay someone else to know it instead, and it'll all be okay. What you know and who you are has worth and the earlier you realize it, the less you'll undervalue yourself.

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( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 4th, 2015 06:29 pm (UTC)
Ah, the knowledge economy. We talked about this in library school. Because I am a librarian, I often try to help people learn things themselves, but if I asess that the patron is not interested, I will do it for them because that's why I get paid. To know things.
Jun. 4th, 2015 08:13 pm (UTC)
"[W]hen you don't know something you can pay someone else to know it instead, and it'll all be okay."

Yes, not everyone wants, needs to, or can learn everything. We exchange knowledge, services, talent and happen to use a common currency that allows us to do it efficiently without trying to network 20 people together so that you can get the one thing you need.
Jun. 5th, 2015 01:23 am (UTC)
Related: As I've gotten older I've gotten more okay with paying someone else to know/do things. My favorite bit of having a financial adviser? I don't have to think about it. She tracks our investments, knows how they are doing, let's us know when to switch investment vehicles and generally makes it so the only time I need to actively think about it is if something changes. Worth. Every. Penny. She's had a great track record for us, even in this shitty economy (Our maternity set aside cash made 11% last year. In a money market account.) so I trust her. I no longer NEED to do it all just to prove I can.
Jun. 5th, 2015 01:30 am (UTC)
I love that lesson. I mentally calculate the cost of my time on almost everything. I usually use a figure much closer to minimum wage than my actual salary. As a result, I am very happy to pay for many services, and save my time for making things I want to work on. A friend who is a brilliant knitter feels that there is no worse insult than to be asked if she will knit someone a pair of socks for a modest price. She buys fancy handspun and naturally dyed yarns, and it takes her at least a full day to knit a pair of socks (she's very fast!). Even at minimum wage, she calculates that a simple pair is worth at least $100; they are gifts for special friends only.
Jun. 5th, 2015 03:22 am (UTC)
Oh gosh, the craft world is a whole other ballgame. I only make presents for other people who craft, as a rule. Nobody else appreciates it and I learned long ago that when somebody casually says "oh I love that skirt you made, make me one?" My answer is "we'll see!"

Which means "no".

Because in their head, a skit is something you can get at the mall. They'll never get what sewing means.

On the other hand my fellow seamstresses will totally get handmade gifts from me! Because they get it!
Jun. 5th, 2015 02:29 am (UTC)
yupppppppppp, I've been learning the same lesson. People aren't interested in the details or maximizing; they just want it done. You don't have to offer the absolute best value, you just have to offer something that's good enough for them right now.

(of course that opens up the problem that the absolute best value is not good enough for them right now, but that's its own thing.)

bridging gaps is very useful. that's how money-lending got invented!
Jun. 5th, 2015 03:16 am (UTC)

True, that is a very good point.  It isn't just the labor it is the time and energy it takes to figure it out.  Plus some skills are hard to learn, I would never be my own doctor.  Then also it takes more energy if your personality preferences are inclined for something else, sure a programmer could be a waitress or vice versa, but it will be that much harder because the two jobs require such a different personality preference. 

Jun. 5th, 2015 07:23 pm (UTC)
Oh, this is such a great post. Yes to all of this. I know that I can track things down myself and it'd be cheaper to do that than to pay a slightly higher margin on someone else having already found them.

Like fabric. Cute knit fabric is damn hard to find unless I'm looking at a reseller on Etsy. Sure, it costs a little extra to buy it, but I've saved sooooo much time. Time I would rather be sewing with that fabric! It's a valuable service.
Aug. 19th, 2015 03:19 pm (UTC)
People pay a lot of money for a dishwasher when they could easily hand wash their dishes themselves. I think it's the same principle. I don't WANT to hand wash my dishes, so I will pay for the skill, materials, and workmanship it takes to build a machine that does it for me. Or even, I don't want to learn how to fix my computer that I have completely screwed up, just fix it, please. I'm happy to pay not to have to do it myself.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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