This past week I wrote an article for my consulting group's newsletter that I also posted on its blog titled The Art Of Consulting. The overall point of the article was saying that the purpose of consultants is to be helpful, plain and simple.

In that article I talked about trying to learn from other consultants early on when I decided I wanted to go this route, and how I could get almost none of them to talk to me. A couple of guys who did some of what I did were even more rude, saying I was competition and it wasn't in their best interest to help me in any way.

I started thinking about that because a few weeks ago I did that very thing. Someone connected with me on LinkedIn, then wrote to ask if she could talk to me about charge master consulting. I looked at her profile and saw that she was doing it for another company, so I wasn't sure what she'd be asking me.

She called and was a very nice lady. We talked about 30 minutes about both charge masters and being an independent consultant as well. She was thinking about going out on her own and wanted to know what it was like. I told her a lot of things, a lot of truths both good and bad. I wanted her to know what she might be up against and the type of joy she might find if she approached it right.

When our conversation was done my first thought wasn't "I just helped someone be competition against me in a few months." I thought "I just did what I'd expect of me, helped someone who had a question that I knew the answer to."

I do that often. I charge people for health care consulting advice, but every once in awhile I'll answer a question for free if the mood strikes me or if someone was smart enough to find out how to contact me from an outside source. I'll often answer questions from LinkedIn; I did that a couple of months ago as well. The problem then was the guy kept coming back for more, and longer emails, and actually wanted me to help him figure out what his life should be about. As soon as I mentioned it was time to charge him for some of the information I never heard from him again.

I expect that, but I also expect that I will always think about helping first and making money second. Some of my other consultant friends think that's convoluted thinking, and it might be. But I figure that overall most of us like helping others when we can; sometimes the trick is in knowing at what point help becomes consulting.