During lunch with a fellow-techie friend, I asked him how work was going. He launched into a long monologue about stuff I couldn’t begin to understand. Something about PBX trunks, defined hierarchies, set-based operations, or some such nonsense.
It felt like a bad date, where you’re desperate for a call from your BFF with an “emergency” so you can hightail it out of there.
I felt bad, since the guy sitting across from me is actually a really good friend.
Then I realized something: Your skills don’t matter.
At that moment, I also realized there was a hidden trap–but more on that in a minute.
So, yep, you heard me: your skills don’t matter. No one cares about your skills (except you, of course).
I’ve already written about this on TechRepublic, but this is such an important concept I wanted to cover it here on the blog as well.
The hidden trap
“But wait!” you protest. “My Ruby skills are killer! And Ruby’s far and away the best technology for…” Blah blah blah.
See? You’ve already fallen into the trap.
You could just as easily replace “Ruby” for whatever your expertise is–whether it’s computer programming or project management. Smart people fall into that trap every day–and fail miserably because of it.
If you’re like most new consultants, when you start your business, you focus on your skills–which is generally whatever you’ve slapped on your resume.
But your potential customers don’t care about your skills–they care about solving their problems, making their pain go away, and their “jobs to be done” (to use a phrase from Clayton Christiansen, Harvard business professor and author of The Innovator’s Dilemma). Whether you’re targeting consumers or businesses, your prospects almost never care about how the solution is implemented–they just want the end result.
But instead, you fall into the trap of thinking that your skills are important.
And where does that get you? For starters:
- no clients
- frustrated that you can’t get enough consulting work
- you start believing that it’s impossible to create a profitable consulting business
Think like a business owner–even if you’re an employee
I’d go even further and say that the same thing is true not just for entrepreneurs, consultants, and freelancers, but even if you like your job just fine or want to look for a new job.
Employers want problems solved, jobs done, and pain to go away, whether they’re buying a product or service, or hiring their next employee. Sure, big companies and HR people have to scan resumes to make sure you have particular experience, but they ultimately want problems solved, not just a warm body who typed the right keywords on their resume.
Now, obviously, skills do matter, but we need to view them as tools, not the end product.
The biggest reason we wrongly believe that our skills are the end product is because we’re taught to think like an employee, where we build our resume around our skills. This is particularly true for tech professionals, where we like to collect a huge list of acronyms, languages, and technologies that we’ve used (HTML, Java, .NET, etc.), then proudly tout them on our resumes.
What’s more, it’s easy to get drawn in by the fervor of passionate adherents for the hot technology of the day–Java, Python, whatever. But those zealots lose the point.
If you spend your time trying to convince a potential customer why they’ve GOT to have their app written in Lisp or what-have-you, their eyes will glaze over, and they’ll dread talking to you ever again. Try it and see how fast you fail.
Ever had your pitch cut short by an “emergency” call? Thought so.
Stop making yourself a commodity (and the secret to creating value)
If you focus solely on your skills, you’ll end up stuck in commoditized markets where you’ll compete with thousands of people around the globe, many of whom are eager to work for less than your typical pimply-faced teenage burger flipper.
Care to argue the point? Spend 60 seconds on ODesk trolling for jobs requiring your skills.
I bet you a dozen donuts that half the people charge less than $20 an hour–which will likely get negotiated down a bit. That may not quite be burger-flipping rates, but you certainly won’t be able to quit your day job either. For SQL–my specialty–98% of contractors charge less than $50/hour, and 75% of contractors charge less than $25/hour.
In contrast, my hourly rate is $175; I have plenty of work, ditched my day job over 4 years ago–during the economic meltdown, mind you–and consistently make over $100k working essentially part-time hours.
How can I charge $175/hour and still have plenty of work?
Not by focusing on my skills alone, but by focusing on a very specific market and my customers’ biggest problems.
And therein lies the key: people will happily pay for their problems to go away.
If you do that, your prospects will be on the edge of their seat listening to you describe how those problems will go the way of the buggy whip, and will happily pay you to make that happen. By focusing on a tightly defined market and its most pressing problems, you’ll not only have an easier time selling to them, but you’ll be able to charge a much higher rate.
That’s just one of the strategies I teach in Breakthrough Consulting, and it reliably sells services time and again–without feeling like you’re a sleazeball used-car salesperson.
Of course, you can still try to wear down prospects with your Python enthusiasm–let me know if that ever works for you.
Or, you can focus on your prospects’ biggest problems and how you’ll make their pain disappear.
And instead of getting your pitch interrupted by “emergency” calls, you can say goodbye to your burger-flipping spatula.
And, yes, due to popular demand, I’ve temporarily re-opened Breakthrough Consulting for a couple days.