These last couple weeks, I’ve noticed a subtle theme in some of the people I’m speaking with. It has been bothering me enough, and putting these people in bad enough positions, that I’ve decided to write about it in the hopes that others will learn a better way.
What I noticed is that some potential clients have decided that they know best, and that they are smarter than everyone else who have experienced an insurance loss. This very same theme is why Home Depot is a multi-billion dollar company and TurboTax is a household name: there are a lot of things that you can truly do yourself and potentially save money.
But there is a difference between using a CPA vs taxes-in-a-box.
This phenomenon is not new. There have always been those who look for a cheaper way to do things, or shortcuts to their goals. My dad would complain all the time about people who would call his shop for advice.
Dad ran an electrical shop for twenty years. There wouldn’t be a week that would go by without someone calling to pick his brain. There is some of this that is expected. In order to know whether your services are needed, you have to ask questions and educate your potential client on the process of what it is that you do. If someone describes their problem, and you have a solution, then a deal can be struck they can hire you to help solve their problem.
The problem that my dad complained about, and the trend I’ve seen lately, are those people who would call him in the hopes that he could help them solve their problem without actually hiring him. I overheard several of these conversations over the years, and they generally went something like this:
“Hi there, I’m SoAndSo. I’m running some wire to my new stove.” (Red Flag #1: Non-electrician running wiring)
“Hi Mr. SoAndSo,” my dad would say, “What can I do for you?”
“Well I’ve got a GE DoubleDecker WhopperDo and I’m trying to decide whether to use a twenty amp or a thirty-amp breaker.” (Red Flag #2: asking for electrical advice. #3: any decently mechanical person knows the correct answer.)
(Just so you know, the correct answer is NEITHER. You should use two thirties with a two-pole setup)
At this point, my dad would have a choice; offer to send an electrician to fix their issue, or spend the next thirty minutes playing Electrical Helpdesk.
And he usually did the latter. It was so hard for him NOT to answer the question, “What would you do…?” And he is just the world’s most helpful person, so he couldn’t help it.
Mr. SoAndSo would hang up the phone to go wire his house himself, and dad would hang up the phone and give his patented “grumble-sigh-aaaarrrgghhhh” (usually reserved for when I forgot to take out the trash). My dad knew that he’d just spent a half-hour helping someone NOT hire him.
He also had visions of some poor soul lying unconscious on his kitchen floor as his house burns down around him.
Electricity doesn’t mess around, and does not suffer fools gladly.
This “free estimate” culture pervades our society. Ask any sole proprietor in any service business and I’m sure they’ll have stories of a serial non-customer who calls for free consultation on a regular basis. The number of reasons this is a bad idea for all involved is too great to address in one sitting, so I’ll focus on the would-be client/pseudo-expert. I’ll even number them for simplicity.
1) If it were easy (and safe) enough for laymen to do, there wouldn’t be specialty trades.
We have electricians, plumbers, CPAs and doctors because their trades are sufficiently complicated to be regulated and licensed by cities, states and the Fed. Yes, there are simple things that we can all do for ourselves. Beyond the simple things, we are all better off leaving it to the real professionals.
2) Advice given freely doesn’t equal a specifically tailored solution.
When someone asks me a “general” question about insurance claims or Xactimate estimates, I give an equally general answer. My advice does not speak to the person’s individual situation, policy language or claim circumstances.
And, as I’ve learned from my dad’s experience, if someone does ask me to speak about their specific circumstance, I (usually) ask them to sign a service contract. Which leads to…
3) Action taken on free advice, which ends poorly, provides the recipient with ZERO recourse on the one who gave the advice.
Liability policies, Errors & Ommissions policies, malpractice and contractor bonds are all things that exist to protect clients from mistakes that people make. That is why some trades like lawyers have strict policies against providing ANY consultation or specific advice without compensation or retainer.
4) The world is full of smarter, more experienced people
This brings me to the heart of the matter.
If you believe that you are smarter than me, why are you asking me for advice and information? If you believe that you can do my job better than me, if only you can get a couple “pointers”, then why are you doing something else for a living?
What really gets me is those people who think they can outsmart industries and companies that have been around for HUNDREDS of years.
Do you really think that the IRS hasn’t already figured out the “trick” you’re about to try? What makes you think that your insurance company doesn’t know that people are constantly looking for a way to take advantage of their property claim?
The reality is that most trades have more potential pitfalls than jackpots. Professionals make their livings by knowing the rules and playing by them day after day. Getting rich quick just doesn’t happen (very often).
For every story about finding the tax loophole or insurance claim trick that landed someone thousands of dollars, there are hundreds of people that found out the hard way that messing around with trillion-dollar industries is a bad idea.
I make my living the hard way: going to work every day and fighting for my clients. The fact that there are so few companies like mine out there is a testament to how difficult my industry is. Truth is, the insurance claims industry is downright hostile to new players with new ideas about how things can be done.
I continue to do my work because I believe that I DO have a better way, and I want to change my industry. Yet my approach is measured, in a “better mousetrap” kind of way, NOT in a “card up my sleeve” way.
So, to all of you out there who fight the good fight every day in their chosen profession, who put the best of themselves into everything they do because it’s the right thing to do, I say, “Carry on men (and women)!”
We are the light (or something like that).
For those of you with a problem that needs solving, find a quality professional to help you out. Ask people you trust for referrals, and take the advice of friends.
And to everyone looking for a shortcut via free advice, be warned. You WILL get what you pay for.
Photos (in order of appearance):