My son Evan is a freshman this year at Rhodes College in Memphis. (School motto: We’ve never heard of you either.)
For me, having a child in college is turning out to be a déjà vu-ish experience: It seems that the older my kids get, the more vivid are my own memories of having lived through the same things.
So when they entered kindergarten, for example, it wasn’t particularly reminiscent of anything for me (I have few memories of my earliest years). But college? … I remember my first semester like it was yesterday.
In my case, yesterday was 1978, when I was enrolled at McGill University in Montreal. Great people (what’s not to like about Canadians?), great beer (ditto) and a seemingly never-ending parade of parties, social events and beer (did I already mention the beer?).
But even now, nearly 35 years later, one thing in particular stands out as the highlight of that first semester: Bruce Springsteen came to play at the Montreal Forum.
I’d seen Springsteen in New York the previous June, so I knew first hand that his concerts were well worth attending. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one with that point of view.
The city was buzzing with the news, and it quickly became clear that the only way to ensure a decent ticket was to be waiting at the Forum box office when it opened at 8am the following week.
So I got together with a bunch of friends and, after a not inconsiderable amount of debate, we scientifically determined that we needed to be in line by 6pm the day before. We divvied up the 14 hours of coverage and each took a shift standing out on the freezing sidewalk.
But it was worth it. Because when the next day rolled around, I had floor seats to the hottest show of the year.
Think about what happened: I rearranged my schedule; I stood outside for two hours in the freezing cold; I paid a lot of money for a ticket. And … I couldn’t have been happier. I felt fortunate for the opportunity to purchase a ticket.
And that’s my point. Because if you ask me, Springsteen is the model for all of us who sell a professional service.
We don’t want to be doing work we hate with people we don’t like. We don’t want to be constantly defending our fees. We don’t want to cross our fingers, hoping someone – anyone – will pick us out of the generic pile of people who offer the exact same services we offer.
No. We want to be Bruce Springsteen.
We want prospective clients waiting in line for when the doors open; rearranging their schedules for when we’re available; and happily bragging to their friends that they “scored a ticket” to see our show.
So how do you do it? I can’t tell you for sure because I don’t claim to be there – but I do claim to be trying. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
- Only do work that you’re exceptionally good at. I know, it’s tempting to take anything you can get, especially when you need the money. But that blurs your focus and the mediocre results water down your reputation.
Ever met anyone who attended a lousy Springsteen show? Me neither. That’s because he doesn’t perform jazz or country or any of a thousand other genres he might get away with in the name of earning a little more money. He does what he does well, and nothing else.
- Stop copying your peers. It’s fine to check out the competition, but if you start mimicking them, all you do is blend in in the eyes of potential clients.
You and I need to be doing the opposite. We want to set up our respective practices and offerings in such a way that if we don’t do the work, there’s no reasonable alternative. Springsteen doesn’t have an understudy … either you get him, or there’s no show.
Prospects who see you as the only option are less inclined to shop around, less inclined to haggle over price and nearly always happier with the final outcome.
- Lose the “employee mindset.” Most people in most jobs know that if they leave, there’s 100 others who can step in and do the work just as well. That’s fine for people who get a weekly paycheck.
But if you expect someone to wait out in the cold overnight and be happy before, during and after they write you a check, you need to first believe in yourself. People who hire you aren’t doing you a favor – they’re willingly exchanging their money for the value that only you can provide (see 1 and 2 above).
So stop talking, writing and behaving like an out of work employee hoping for the next break. Be the world class rock star that we both know you are and the prospects will start believing it too.
I held onto that Springsteen ticket stub for years before finally losing it in a move somewhere along the way.
But the business lesson from that concert is as clear now as it was 35 years ago: If the services you provide don’t offer at least an occasional shot at earning you a cheering, screaming, standing ovation, you’ve still got work to do.
P.S. For my fellow Springsteen watchers (BRUUUUUUCE!), I strongly recommend checking out the fabulous, weekly blog of my college friend and fellow concert-goer that night, Rick Shea. His “Friday Bruce Fix” never fails to find the gems and hit the high notes.