Insights and discoveries come in a rush—more so I think when we’re young and eager. After all, it’s been said that scientists and mathematicians produce their best work in their 20s and 30s.
I was 28, fresh out of graduate school, driving home from a client who was paying me mind-boggling fees of $50 an hour, when the first thought struck: If someone’s crazy enough to pay me $50 an hour, there must be somebody else who would pay me 100. It hit me like a lightning bolt. The instant the thought came to mind, I knew it was true. I hadn’t a clue who’d pay that much or what I’d have to do to be worth it, but I knew he or she was out there somewhere, just waiting to write me checks times two. I first had to figure a few things out. But simply knowing it was true was like giving myself a 100% raise.
It wasn’t two minutes later when the second thought struck: If someone’s crazy enough to pay me $100 an hour, there must be somebody else who would pay me 500! Instantly, I knew that was true as well. I hadn’t a doubt; I could feel it at my core. I set about to answer the overarching question: What could I do that was worth $500?
I told each of my clients beginning the next day that as long as they retained me, I’d never raise their fees, but that with each new client, I’d add a slight premium. I charged my next client $60, the one after that 70, each with a guarantee that their fees would never climb. In no time I was earning $100 an hour, changing nothing except the structure of my fees, proving that my initial insight was 100% correct.
I subsequently developed a method called “One, Two, Ten,” teaching business leaders and their employees how to get ahead. Since by then I was earning $100 an hour, I raised my own stakes, believing 100 would become 200 with 1,000 awaiting me patiently. But moving up further would take more than adjusting fees. I had to initiate additional services that would justify higher costs in my clients’ minds. So I planned an executive retreat—no employees, all bosses. I arranged a weekend in a country lodge, facilitated the discussions for 20 hours, and charged $2,500 per person. I cleared $20,000 after expenses, which when divided by 20 was $1,000 an hour. Cool, I thought. My theory actually works!
In the process I developed another idea that I began teaching clients along with One, Two, Ten. I advised: “Do the $1,000 an hour tasks and delegate the rest—the $10 tasks you like because it feels good to cross things off To-Do lists. Instead, concentrate on doing the things you can do that are most appreciated and valued by your employer.” That led to interesting discussions regarding talents and skills and how they’re viewed by the people we work for. What might each of us be doing that could seriously increase our income? Not everyone experiences a meteoric rise in wealth, but by tuning in to highest skills, best practices, and company priorities, income inevitably improves.
Shortly after that, a client called and said I’d helped him build his businesses, and he’d decided to sell them with me as his broker. I told him to put his feet up and take two aspirin—that I’d see him in the morning. Me a broker? What is he talking about? Three months later, I found his buyer and have been selling businesses ever since. I might have been trained as a psychologist and a consultant, but the lure of developing a new set of skills with the opportunity to soar past $1,000 an hour was inescapable. Life, at least for me, has never been about doing the same thing forever.
A stay-at-home mom once turned to me and asked: “What are the $1,000 an hour tasks for me?” The answer was easy: “Being a great, full-time mom or dad, might not fill your mailbox with lots of cash. But every quality hour you spend with your child is an investment worth more than $1,000 an hour.”