Conveying Value

One challenge of freelance work for me has been conveying the value of my work- whether that’s consulting, or even deliverables to clients. As a brilliant way to address this, one of my old mentors gave me this paper on planning a web site. It did help streamline spec-ing out jobs, but that was a distant second to what it really did.

This paper isn’t only about planning a build with your client. It illustrates why exhibiting and demonstrating the tools and expertise you bring to the table is important. It also helps to unknowingly drag your client into developing a quick and dirty web strategy. It helps to put responsibility on the client that is clear to them, but would have been your failure if never asserted. This important step – discovery – the way I’ve done and seen it done – might be as much sales and consulting as build planning.

Not only was I failing to establish credibility and giving strategy development away by skimping on discovery and planning because “I got it” and wanted to move fast, but then the client rightfully resented me for it. Ideally there’s a point where clients realize there is more to it than they thought. Without a solid discovery process this happens mid-build.

In that purposefully long paper there’s a version of a story about the value of paying for expertise. This version uses building a deck. I could build a deck. My deck could end up janky garbage or it might require loads of prep time, learning, designing, planning, likely use more the lumber, and potentially cost me a good chunk of my summer depending on ambition and perfectionism. It’s also a perfectly legitimate route to go – to DIY. Here are snippets from the parable to get the gist:

If you want a deck for your house, you probably won’t call several carpenters and ask “How much is a deck?”…

Hi, Jennifer Carpenter, it’s Juan Homeowner. I need a 20X30’ cedar deck in my backyard. I want it built in two weeks…

Okay, Juan. I’ll pick up the materials and get started tomorrow. If you have any questions, just see me in your backyard while I’m working…

What kind of wood? Cedar? Treated? Or do you want synthetic?

There’s no building permit…

I hope you see where the story goes- cue communication and expectations, shenanigans, and disaster.

That’s how I started out in freelance. Sometimes I was about to take the hose reel off the client’s house without asking, or I tried to add trim to the deck. “Yes-man-ism” is a symptom of it, and it’s insidious because it’s disguised as virtuous.

I used to call it “under selling and over delivering”. Sounds good right? Not this way. For me, it was insecurity – and it undermined my credibility, lost me jobs, and cut margins. In its worst form, it can be kind of passive aggressive.

Making and using a solid discovery framework flipped that issue on its head. By formalizing the process, I’d carved out a defined (and correctly placed) space to turn my people pleasing liability into a place and time to display work and expertise that clients had not previously been seeing. It turned spec-ing out a build into a dog and pony show.

It also helped vet clients who were not ready or able to move forward in a way that more often brought them back later. Mostly though it usually improved their trust in me, pleased them, motivated them, and could be fun to do.

So sure, plan builds, that’s fundamental, but also, if you don’t like selling yourself, rely on a structure to make sure you do it, because there are costs to not doing it.