Breakthroughs

It’s so simple that it’s crazy it took you this long to figure it out.

The breakthrough really does come when you’ve stopped looking for it. When you start doing something else. When you follow your nose and just do the thing that makes the most sense at the time.

Something tells me that you need to go through all the pushing and gnashing. Trying to mould what you do into a nice, neat, tidy package that’s valuable, that makes a real difference to your clients. That sense of it being okay but not quite it.

The breakthrough happens when you go from pushing your client through swathes of information to the crystal clear clarity when they reach the same conclusions you do but without the struggle.

Realizing you are finally in a place where you can take your client from point A to point B with ease for both parties.

It all seems so simple now. If only it was.

Why not defining your service process is costing you money

One of the biggest challenges most of my clients deal with day to day is the sense of not having enough time.

Between networking, writing proposals, providing value to their existing clients, administration and invoicing, they’re already into overtime. So when it comes to marketing and business development, it’s hard for them to see where they could possibly carve out the time.

When I bring up standardizing some of their processes to streamline operations, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard any one of the following responses:

“That simply isn’t possible in my business.”

“This is just the way it is in my industry.”

“Every client is different. Every project is unique. There is no way I could shoehorn them into one process.”

I’m not here to tell you that all of your clients are a homogenous mass. I completely agree that every single client you work with will have a unique set of needs, a unique problem for you to solve.

But here’s the thing. As long as you treat every client, every proposal and every project as unique, you will never truly be able to shift away from trading time for money.

You risk being a me-too freelancer forever at the whim of whatever project comes along - changing your process with the wind. To compound your problems, you will eventually be overtaken by those who have a defined offering and are able to get really good at that one thing by doing it over and over again.

So what’s the alternative? I’m so glad you asked!

First, let me say that I don’t recommend refining your service offering until you have taken the time to understand your audiences and their pain points.

For more on this, check out my post: What is an audience persona and why do I need one?

Since you are now starting to get a true sense of what your audience segments are looking for, where the gaps are in the market and what’s stopping them from buying, you can create streamlined service packages that speak to them, address the unmet needs created by other options on the market and eliminate the sense of risk in trying something new.

Creating a set and repeatable service process will also help you realize the benefits of repeating the same process over and over until you can truly say you’re an expert.

Perfectionism

The problem with perfectionism is it’s pass/fail and 100% is the passing grade.

Client relationships are often pass/fail too. And if you suffer from perfectionism, any mistake, anything that slips through the net equals a failed project and a failed relationship.

The thing is, the client isn’t looking for perfect. In fact, they don’t even know what perfect looks like. They hired you because you know something they don’t, have expertise they don’t have, because they trusted you.

Bouncing from one failure to the next obviously won’t grow your business. But being in business also means being prepared to iterate. Is it perhaps that you want your work to be perfect on your first attempt? There’s no such thing as perfect but you can always improve.

The knowledge trap

It’s not usually required that you share everything you know with a client. They don’t need access to every aspect of your expertise to get value from your services.

When we first encounter a client’s problem, it’s so exciting to view it from the perspective of all the things you could do to elevate their situation. If they just get with your program, follow it from start to finish, never skipping a step or going off on tangents, the change could be astronomical.

It’s true that clients may view you as the silver bullet for whatever their situation. They want everything you know. The challenge then is knowing which knowledge they need to know and when they need to know it. And when they don’t respond in predictable ways, knowing how to guide them.

It’s not what you know. it’s knowing what to share and when.

Here's something we can agree on

If you’re having trouble convincing someone of the best way forward, perhaps you are going about it the hard way.

Humans all have the same needs - safety, shelter, food and water, belonging, love and connection, to be respected by others, to feel fulfilled. There’s a reason Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has endured for decades.

Yet we all have different ways of getting our needs met. Our beliefs determine our actions and getting others to agree with our beliefs is hard. But what if instead, you find the need you share? What if agreeing on the outcome is all it takes?

Taj James, found and Executive Director of the Movement Strategy Centre talks about how much time we spend wanting people to believe what we believe as opposed to working towards the same outcomes. Say for example, you want to establish a new community garden in your neighbourhood because of your belief that eating home grown produce is healthier than eating conventionally farmed produce. Your neighbour also wants to see a new community garden in her neighbourhood because she believes kids can benefit from learning how to garden. You don’t have to share the same beliefs but you both want the same outcome.

We are always going to have different needs to our clients. We need to work within our process. Our process might be too arduous or take too long for our clients. An emergency to our client is a just another step towards their goal to us. Your process might be evolving while some of your clients will want to work with you the way they always have.

Your job is not to convince them that your way is the best way. It’s to find the outcome you both agree on and work back from there.

System failure

if you run a seasonal business, then you have no excuse for not serving your customers effectively, no matter when they have a need.

For example, if you’re an accountant and deal mostly with income tax for individuals, you cannot complain to your clients about how busy you are during tax season.

If you are the student services office at a university and you know your busiest time of year is the three weeks either side of the first day of semester one, you have no excuse for not serving your students during this time.

If you cannot answer the phone during your busy season, it’s not your clients’ problem. It’s your problem. Because your clients, customers and collaborators don’t have three weeks to wait for you to pick up the phone. They’ll simply call the next option on their list. As long as their call is answered, you’ve lost a customer.

Escape velocity

In physics, escape velocity is the minimum speed needed for an object to escape from the gravitational influence of a massive body - for example a space shuttle trying to escape the earth’s gravitational pull.

For a space shuttle, this requires an enormous amount of fuel. More fuel on board adds more weight to the space craft, which in turn requires more thrust to lift it. More thrust requires more fuel. An endless cycle.

NASA says escape velocity represents one of the biggest challenges in space travel. A challenge scientists work to resolve by creating lighter vehicles, more efficient fuels and different forms of propulsion.

In small business, the slide into exchanging time for money is quick and almost imperceptible. Soon work has become a familiar grind where the harder you work, the more work your business seems to require. And yet, strangely, this isn’t reflected in your bank account.

Achieving escape velocity from the pull of daily tasks means letting go of thoughts like “If I can just get through the next [week, month, project, pitch], then I’ll have time to [make a plan, call that prospect, prototype that design].”

Because there will always be another task, another pitch, another project to complete next week, next month or next year. More work and by extension more money requires more time, more energy, more power.

Unless you re-design your business to be lighter, to require less resources or that requires a different kind of propulsion.

Knowledge is free, time costs extra

In modern marketing, there’s a saying that you should give away your knowledge, but never give away your time.

I encourage all of my clients to publicize their process to potential clients. This means creating service packages and a pricing structure that is clear, honest and transparent with pricing to match and making this information as accessible as possible on their websites.

I also encourage my clients to create helpful, free content based on their audience’s needs.

‘But if I put my process out there, won’t others just copy it?’

‘If I share what I know for free, why would anyone want to buy from me?

Both valid questions. Copycats and lurkers abound online.

And if your process is the sum total of your competitive advantage or if your grasp of theory and concepts is your core competency, you do have something to worry about.

But I suspect you have more to offer than that. Your competitive advantage is your unique world view, the sum of your experiences, the way you show up for your clients, the energy you bring to create great work.

“Do not covet your ideas. Give away everything you know and more will come back to you” - Dan Arden, It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be.

Good design is good business

Thomas Watson Jr, IBM CEO from 1952-1971 first coined this phrase back in 1973. While it sounds reasonable, is it actually true and how would we go about measuring it?

When you think of good design what comes up for you? Is it the sorbet in beautiful packaging you bought the other day? Your favourite social justice organization’s annual report? The pen that when held gives you a certain kind of feeling?

Design is not one thing. It is not just graphics on a page. Or the logo on an appliance. Or the appliance itself. But it’s these things too. Recently researchers at McKinsey Quarterly set out to determine the true value of design. They identified a 300 top performing, publicly listed companies and rated them on design.

They found that companies that invested in good design consistently outperform their competition in terms of profit. And not just by a little. At nearly twice the rate.

It held across all industries studied. It held for both products and services.

So why are we so reluctant to invest in good design?

And what is good design? According to McKinsey Quarterly’s researchers:

  • It’s analytical and can be measured

  • It’s cross-functional - everyone’s responsibility

  • It’s continuous iteration - not just a phase

  • It starts with the user experience - not just a product

And what does all of this mean for small businesses and freelancers who don’t have the luxury of an in-house design team?

It means starting with your user in mind. It means incorporating design thinking into your planning. It means involving your end user sooner and iterating quickly based on what you learn. It means thinking of design, not as a line item on a budget or as something you’ll invest in if you have money left over or if you do better next quarter.

Are you an imposter or on your way to mastery?

I’ve been thinking a lot about perfectionism lately. My particular brand of perfectionism is the kind that sneaks up behind you when you least expect it. It’s not there nagging at me every moment of the day but it has a way of showing up when I need it least.

Usually it’s when I’ve mad a mistake. My reflex response to any error is to tell myself I’m a complete failure, an imposter.

But lately I’ve noticed two things happening. One is related to finding my niche. In the past year, I’ve been honing my craft with my ideal clients - creatives and very small businesses. As such, the work I’m doing is starting to repeat. I’m starting to know my clients and their needs better. So when I make an error of some kind, usually I know exactly how to fix it. The mistakes are smaller. They have less impact. I feel more like an expert, less like I’m play acting.

The other thing I’ve noticed is how I view my mistakes. I’ve started to see my mistakes as less like incompetence and failure and more like learning opportunities on my way to mastery.