Why Spend Money for Advice Online? Everyone is Giving It Away Free!

Note: This is the second in a series of posts about TheSageBoard.com

I have a good friend who spent the summer gutting and re-tiling a shower in his house. He spent dozens, if not a hundred, hours of research and work, buying new tools and all the supplies.  For him, doing the work with his own hands was worth the time and money he spent. Sure, he could have paid someone else to do the work in a weekend or two, but he’d rather do it himself! Recently I asked him if it was worth all that work, time, and money? He said he had no regrets, but “Now that I know how much work it was, I might have been better off hiring someone.”

How much is your time worth? Everyone has a different threshold for the value of their time, but everyone puts SOME value on it.  There are online calculators to help you figure out a ballpark number. When you’re considering spending your hard-earned cash consulting a Sage, this is the balance you’re trying to find. Will spending money now on expert advice save you money in the long run?  If you have a problem that you could research in 40 hours, how much money would you be willing to spend to just get an answer?  How much do you earn in a week?  How much would you pay to save a work-weeks’ worth of free time?

As easy as that?

If only it were as easy as that! Do you know at the outset how much time researching a problem is going to take?  If you knew it would take 20 hours, you could make a judgment on getting expert advice versus doing your own research.  Some questions are easier than others. If you just want to know about hangover remedies, a simple search is likely to get you a good result. If you’re looking for advice on a startup? Not so easy.

Consider “Should I refinance my house?” Hundreds of thousands of dollars could be at stake, so getting professional advice seems sensible.  Doing your own taxes versus hiring someone to do them is a calculation you can make based on your likely savings. If you are at a point in life where your taxes are simple you won’t likely benefit from hiring someone. If you have investments, kids, a house payment, and several sources of income, different story. Then not only are you buying expertise, but you’re also buying peace of mind because someone who understands the complexities you are dealing with has your back.  Finding advice online about refinancing and taxes is easy.  Knowing what advice to trust is harder.

In my last blog, I talked about trust and evaluating the sources you use.  Trust is paramount when putting your own money on the line. Trusting the advice of anyone, especially large corporations or institutions, means risking their advice benefiting them, not you. What you want is an advocate who understands the nature of your problem. Someone who wants the best outcome for you regardless of how your decision impacts them. A person or company who has the knowledge to guide you through your choices. The term for this is “fiduciary,” which simply means that they have agreed to place your interests above their own. That’s the gold standard for advice!

Dance like no one is watching, especially when everyone is watching.

Consider a scenario I came across a lot when I was teaching dance. You’re engaged to be married – will you do a “first dance” at the reception? Neither of you have done any kind of social dancing, but at other receptions, they start with a dance. What should you do? Fake it or take some lessons? How much time, money, and effort should you put into learning enough for that one dance? For that matter, how long will it take to learn enough to be comfortable dancing in front of your friends and family? And how much do dancing lessons cost anyway? 

I taught ballroom for about fifteen years. In my experience working with couples on their “wedding dance” was about 25% of the business. The number of lessons a couple took ranged from dozens, to prepare full-on choreographed three-minute routines with lifts and tricks, to just one – an hour of “here’s how to do a box step and maybe one other move.” Probably the most common choice was four or five private lessons learning the basics of Foxtrot or Waltz.

The best time to judge the value of a purchase is before you make it.

There was no “one-size-fits-all” answer to “how much time/effort/money should we spend learning how to do our first dance?” Every couple had unique circumstances. Part of my job was to help them find the right amount of lessons to fit their schedule and budget. But because I had a vested interest in their decision I was not, and could not be, a fiduciary. They came to me asking “how many lessons do we need,” and it wasn’t my job to ask them “do you even really need to do a first dance at all? Should you invest your time, money, and effort doing something else?”

Over the years many couples returned after their wedding to show photos or videos and talk about how much they loved their first dance. They treasured the experience and considered the time, money, and effort well spent.  Some continued dancing socially. I’m still in touch with a few today, fifteen years after I stopped teaching.

Other couples’ experience… was not so happy or successful. Preparing for a wedding can be stressful, and some people found adding dancing lessons an additional source of stress. You can imagine that all sorts of relationship dynamics play out in such situations! For some couples, a better choice would have been to find a song that they both love and do the “clutch and sway” for the verse and first chorus, then go get in-laws or friends on the dance floor.  They would have saved time, money, effort, and been happier at the end of it!

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It’s a seller’s market.

Maybe this just boils down to “if you ask a salesperson for advice, don’t be surprised if they advise you to buy what they are selling.” But finding good advice from people who don’t have a vested interest in your answer isn’t always easy. Sites like Popular Mechanics and individuals on YouTube post their reviews of products, which is great as far as it goes. Decisions are often more complicated than “which rice cooker is best for the money.” To me, that’s a big advantage to a site like Sage.

Sage is a marketplace where you can find an expert in most any subject area, evaluate their expertise, and see how they answer other people’s questions before you commit any of your own money. Sage also pays experts when they answer questions/solve problems – at a rate that the Sage decides is fair.

Consider the wedding dance example. If you want generic advice about a first dance, you can bet I’ll give an answer, free!  Just ask a public question!  You can see I’m on the record for other questions about ballroom dancing. Maybe my public answer will give you enough to go on. If not, and you want to have an hour of my time? We can talk through your circumstances and review anything from picking a wedding song to finding a reputable teacher where you live. Why should you pay for my advice? I worked with literally thousands of people in similar circumstances, and I have no investment in your decision, either way.  I may not be a fiduciary, but I’m not financially invested in your decision. I know the shape of the journey you are about to undertake. 

Everyone is going to have a different calculus on whether that knowledge is worth spending money – there is no right or wrong answer. In my next post, an example of a time when I didn’t get good advice, and how the decisions I made, as a result, were … suboptimal. 

Previous Posts in the Series

Part 1 – What Makes a Good Sage?


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