Think of this as Volume 12, Number 34 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
Recently Netflix sent us a classic comedy from 20 years ago, Stephen Fry (now a director) and Hugh Laurie (now House MD on Fox) starring in a true-to-the-book series of P.G. Wodehouse' Jeeves stories, called Jeeves and Wooster.
Laurie played Bertie Wooster, an upper class twit who thought he was smarter than he was. Fry played Jeeves, a "gentleman's gentleman" with the remarkable ability to get Bertie out of his self-made scrapes.
This got me thinking. How might someone deliver this value, or some portion of it, in the age of the Internet?
Even when Wodehouse was alive Jeeves was becoming antique. I don't need my pants pressed. I don't need my bath run. I can't afford to have someone else in my house taking care of me.
I am not alone in asking this. You may recall that the search engine Ask.com was originally called AskJeeves, the conceit being that it would deliver, not search results, but real answers to real questions. This same conceit powers Bing, Microsoft's new search engine. (Makes me wonder why Hope and Crosby didn't do a Jeeves series, with Hope as Wooster of course.)
There is a vast distance between a full-time, live-in butler like Jeeves and a software-driven online resource called Ask.Com. It occurred to me this morning that bridging this gap can spell opportunity.
When I first began my freelance career, in the early 1980s, I was close to Rob Aaron, who then made his living sifting through search engines to get real answers to people's business questions. He emphasized to me that a big part of his value add was interviewing clients to learn exactly what they were looking for, which was usually quite different from the question they were asking him to research.
For example. A lawyer might ask for an obscure fact on how much of a certain pollutant is being pumped into the local atmosphere. Close questioning would reveal the nature of the case they were working on, and the specific questions a series of search requests might answer that could lead to a courtroom victory of a settlement.
This is the kind of thing financial advisers claim to do (but seldom do), what primary care physicians would love to do (but don't have time to do), even what PR people claim for their clients (but seldom deliver).
Now consider how many millions of Americans are now operating , like me, as freelances, one-man bands with specific expertise. We may have mad skills for what we do, but we may lack other skills essential to success in business. Organization in my case. Perhaps follow-up. We don't have time to work on our business and we need that valuable service so we can work in our business.
Let's look at this through the eyes of another fictional construct, the 1950s show "Bells Are Ringing," starring the late, great Judy Holliday. She was working for an answering service, but her soul demanded she get involved in her clients' lives, which she transformed by giving them good advice in the role of a variety of characters.
Marry all this together and what do you have? I call it a 21st Century Jeeves. You may prefer to call it a shared secretary. You charge by the hour, just like a lawyer. You establish order. You follow-up. You learn what your clients need and either help them get it done or make sure you do it. You boost productivity by using your knowledge of computing combined with your knowledge of how bureaucracies work and your understanding of people.
How many clients could such a professional juggle at once? A pretty limited number, I would gather. You would need to have a car and a laptop, not an office. You would have appointments with clients, perhaps working at their home-offices for a few hours or a day at a time, and you would know where all the good WiFi coffeeshops were to act as your own offices.
In time you would need your own Jeeves, in order to scale your business. A central answering service would handle your scheduling, manage your payments, and let you work on clients' needs rather than getting lost in your own weeds.
But this can work. Start small. Call me. Especially if you live inside Atlanta, preferably on the east side, near Decatur. HELP!