Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.Robert Louis Stevenson
During the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-08, I published a post of a similar title as this one. In light of the current humanitarian crises and resulting economic fallout that COVID-19 has triggered, it seemed worth revisiting that old post as well as sharing an up-to-the-moment opportunity example.
My opener is just as relevant today:
Independent consultants may be in an enviable position within the world of business. Our services – by their very nature of not being tangible – allow us to be more agile. We can adopt to changing market demands.
Adapting, accepting reality, making adjustments, experimenting, learning, brainstorming, analyzing results, incrementally getting better – these are things an entrepreneur does. And make no mistake: consultants and freelancers are entrepreneurs.
Aaron Cruikshank of Friuch Consulting writing on his blog around that time period said:
Find new pain points, serve them.
People starting out in consulting today might think that they need to go down market to succeed in a shrinking economy. I respectfully submit that such thinking is bunk. What you need to do is find a niche that is not something everyone else is doing and sell it at a premium. For example, when the economy is tight – offer a service that makes people think they’re saving money. You’re a webmaster? People still need websites, even when the economy is in the toilet. Make your niche designing websites in the most affordable way possible or link your design techniques to a measurable return on investment (ROI) so that the client can be sure they got their money’s worth.
I don’t think his statement just applies to those just starting out. It applies to all of us at all times.
Expanding on his example, I’ll dig into this a bit deeper so that you can see how it might apply to your own situation one way or another.
SITUATION: Restaurants (and other businesses too) are focusing on pick-up / take-out service with an emphasis on contactless service, social distancing enforced through scheduled pick-up and pacing, and the like.
OPPORTUNITY: Many restaurants have sub-par to horrible ordering processes on-line and off-line. They’re also suffering from cash flow and liquidity problems. They need orders, they need streamlined processes, they need a good customer experience, they need low hassle, and they don’t have any extra capital to invest in accomplish this.
SOLUTION: Utilize your web skills, business process skills, availability, and expertise with third-party technical solutions to pull together a tailored solution for a restaurant client in exchange for a % of sales (up to a fixed dollar figure roughly equivalent to what you’d have charged for the same work with paid ahead of time payment terms – or even 15% to 25% higher – to compensate for the added risk you’re taking on).
What getting good at marketing can do for the individual is to help him or her find the clients they could care about and be eager to help, and the types of work that would be truly stimulating. The better you are at marketing, the more truly professional you can be, because you are not forced to take money from anyone and everyone just because you need the cash.
— David Maister in “Doing It For The Money”
A business does marketing and sales for the money, but that’s not the sole reason to get good at it.
David’s original article is a bit long, but there are some other tidbits wrapped around this quote if you feel inclined to dig them up. I also recommend two of his books, “The Trusted Advisor” and “Strategy and the Fat Smoker“ and/or spending a morning with your coffee in hand while perusing his articles and blog archive.
Seth Godin writes an excellent post on this topic and forces you to ask:
Which are you? Are you sure?
The WAV Group had researchers pose as consumers and make inquiries with real estate brokers. The results were depressing. They found that:
- 48% of buyer inquiries were NEVER responded to.
- Average number of call back attempts after the initial contact was 1.5
- Average number of email contact attempts was 2.07
- Average response time was 917 minutes (or 15.29 hours)
Their results were about right for solo technology professionals as well, in my experience.
Unfortunately, that’s not the the most depressing part. It’s embarrassing for me to admit this, but the very week this study came across my desk I blew off a new contact …and we were discussing some ways we could work together. I didn’t ignore him intentionally. I simply completely dropped the ball on getting back to him in an email thread we were having.
I never like to leave somebody hanging. I have no excuse, though I told myself I was too wrapped up in a couple of projects that suddenly picked up momentum that week to continue the thread wholeheartedly. I still should have acknowledged him and said something before it became a 14 (!) day gap of silence. This is Customer Service 101 and I blew it. Learn from my mistake.
Learn all you can from the mistakes of others. You won’t have time to make them all yourself.
Too often our personal “driving force” isn’t composed of our strengths and passions but rather of our fears. We are afraid to confront an issue; to start a conversation; to pick up the phone; to try something new. We are “driven” in another direction entirely, to procrastinate, make excuses, abandon a plan, endure a poor relationship.
As the same poles in a magnet repel, we are “repelled” in a different direction, antipodal to our intended goals. “Fight (our fears) or flight” results in flight. This makes us not only unsuccessful, but also uninteresting.
As with any problem, to remove it we must find the cause. And in this case the cause is almost always an ego problem, poor self-esteem, “baggage” being borne for no rational reason at all. We fear rejection, we fear a “loss,” we fear ridicule, we fear “defeat,” we fear fear itself. Our fears are, of course, irrational, because they create a far worse future than any pain in confronting the obstacles would actually produce.
As we pass four million Trello members I thought it would be a good time to share with other small software development teams the fact that providing high quality support doesn’t have to be expensive or impossible. This includes a one business day initial response window for all newly created cases and making sure to follow through on all open cases until resolution. With just a few tools and some dedicated time, it is possible for even just one person like myself to support our entire member base.
Pretty damn impressive.
Funny business meeting illustrating how hard it is for an engineer to fit into the corporate world!
“Of course I can. I’m an expert.”
A bit back Mike McDerment, the founder of FreshBooks, and Donald Cowper, published a free eBook called Breaking the Time Barrier — How to Unlock Your True Earning Potential.
The tagline is “Learn how to charge what you’re really worth. Read this book and find out how you can earn twice as much as you do today.”
It’s an excellent guide, and it’s free (well, you can donate if you like, but not until AFTER you’ve read it).
Many of the approaches discussed are similar to the work of Alan Weiss, of Summit Consulting, namely the proposal structure and value-based fees (which is not a bad thing; I’ve learned a lot from Alan’s body of work in this area), while being a bit more accessible to the typical freelancer (if nothing else simply because many are already familiar with FreshBooks).
It is a fairly quick and easy read eBook and anyone doing freelancing, consulting, or quasi-consulting service-based businesses will get something out of it.
Breaking the Time Barrier — How to Unlock Your True Earning Potential. (Cost: Free, ironically.)