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What's the Value of Your Time?

“So how much will this cost me?” a prospective client asked me recently. 

I gave her an estimate. 

“Sounds like a lot,” she replied after a few seconds. 

I guess it was. But rather than launch into a riff on the market price of industry expertise, or get into the weeds of managerial accounting and overhead savings, I reframed the discussion in terms more familiar to my prospect. I asked her, “You have peaking power plants, right? Think of me as one of those peakers. You only use me for a little while to fill a specific need. After the need goes away, the cost falls to zero.” 

The reframing appeared to work, as the prospect became a client. 

The electric dispatch model (often rendered as a pyramid, see below) is a familiar one in the electricity business.

Credit: Jack Egan

  • Baseload resources, typically at least 500 megawatts (MW) of generating capacity, are large plants that are expected to run 24/7/365. They cost a lot to build, but because they run so often, their cost to generate a megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity is low.
  • Load following plants are smaller units, say 100-250 MW, that are used mainly during “shoulder” periods. Because they’re not used as often as baseload plants, their cost per MWh is higher than baseload generators. But they’re essential to keeping the lights on.
  • Peaking plants are used only during specific, limited periods during the year, when temperature extremes create needle peaks, or after the unexpected loss of another generator. They might only run for 25 or 50 hours or a year, but during those hours, peakers are indispensable.  

For contractors, pricing can understandably be a sensitive matter. Some prospective clients make a contracting decision based largely, if not exclusively, on the price.  

But that’s not how we run EEC. We focus on value, which includes, but is not limited to, price. Other intangibles, including industry expertise, peace of mind, ability to meet deadlines and the skill to collaborate effectively, go into the “value” calculation. 

Could this be the year you add a peak resource to your Communications and Marketing resource portfolio? Think about the amount of your time that could be freed by hiring a contract writer who could write your annual report, sustainability report, customer newsletter, case study, employee newsletter or marketing collateral.


Some time ago, I was speaking with a different prospect (who also became a client). He said he looked around at his local market and found freelance writers willing to work for substantially less than I charged.  

“If those other writers know anything about electricity, or how a utility works, and you’re happy with their work, then you should hire them,” I replied, channeling Lee Iacocca’s famous challenge that helped bring Chrysler back from the dead nearly four decades ago.  

“Your time has a value,” I continued. “How much of it do you want to spend rewriting copy, or training a generalist writer? Plus, you would need to factor the uncertainty — ‘will he finally get it right this time?’ — into your considerations. Do you want to spend your weekends rewriting your contract writer’s copy?”

Credit: iStock

Several clients have hired me to write an annual report or customer newsletter because they had grown weary of explaining to the junior copywriter at their ad agency the difference between kilowatts and kilowatt-hours, or between electricity companies and Walmart. Then, just when the copywriter “gets it,” they leave for another agency. And the dance starts anew.  

If we were to apply the concepts of the electric power dispatch model to your company’s Communications and Marketing function, your employees would be considered your baseload resources. They come to work 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year. They’re on call to post to social media whenever there’s a power outage or emergency, day or night. They work weekends when it’s necessary. You work them hard, just like the industry’s trusted baseload power plants, and their per-hour cost is low because their annual salary is divided by 2,000 hours in a work year.  

An advertising agency of record would be a “load following” resource in the power dispatch model. You need them for specific periods — like when your company is promoting energy-efficiency programs, rebranding itself or introducing new programs or services. Your use of these resources rises and falls over time. While you may need them for certain well-defined periods and purposes, you don’t need them in the office for 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year. Their hourly cost may be higher than your baseload resources, but that’s largely a function of how many hours they are used.  

That leaves “peaking resources” like me. On a per-hour basis, my fees are higher than your baseload and load following resources. But I have a narrower and better-defined purpose — writing copy. I don’t attend staff meetings. I don’t participate in a cross-functional team that’s rearchitecting the customer experience. I don’t help plan corporate events.

Credit: iStock

When my project is complete, I’m gone and the meter is turned off. I offer clients the ultimate in a la carte purchasing: you only buy what you need when you need it. No more, no less.  

At some energy companies, the Communications and Marketing function may be starting off 2020 with a new (sometimes smaller) budget. Or, on a happier note, perhaps your company is experiencing strong growth and needs an outside writing resource to meet new demands.  

Whatever your challenge, you can solve it using the idea of the electric dispatch model. You get your job done by cost-effectively marshalling a portfolio of baseload, load following and peaking resources to meet a need. That lesson applies to Communications and Marketing no less than Power Generation.  

Is this the year you add a peak resource to your portfolio by bringing on a contract writer who can help your department meet the needle peaks of demand? If so, you know where to find me. Let’s start that conversation today!

John Egan's picture

Thank John for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 3, 2020 10:31 pm GMT

You have peaking power plants, right? Think of me as one of those peakers. You only use me for a little while to fill a specific need. After the need goes away, the cost falls to zero

I LOVE this analogy, John-- I'll definitely be borrowing this one to use with clients

John Egan's picture
John Egan on Feb 5, 2020 3:23 pm GMT

Hi Matt,

Glad you like it! Feel free to repurpose as needed. 


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