Aeration Complication

Have you ever aerated a lawn? I do it every year.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, an aerator is a gasoline-powered machine equipped with a spiked metal roller on the bottom. It weighs about a billion pounds (I’m guessing) and its function is to poke finger-sized holes in your lawn, thereby “aerating” it and making it healthier.

Your job is to walk behind this self-propelled behemoth as it takes angry bites out of the ground, all the while doing your best not to inadvertently run over any shrubs, walkways or neighborhood children.

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In my case, there’s one additional obstacle that needs to be contended with: our automatic lawn sprinklers. These plastic things sit buried in the ground, awaiting their turn to pop their little heads up and spray water in all directions like a drunken toddler.

And you better not run over any while aerating, or you’ll be out fifty bucks.

The problem? They are nearly impossible to spot when not in use; there’s no way you could see and avoid them while running behind an active aerator.

The solution? Turn on the sprinkler system. When the heads pop up, mark them with a healthy dose of baby powder. Now, as you aerate your way across the lawn, you can easily see them.

That’s what I do every year and it works just fine.

The sprinklers are set to run automatically in the middle of the night, of course, but you can turn them on manually whenever you want. And so, baby powder in hand, I did.

Uh oh. Nothing happening.

Check the water main. Check the control panel. Review the directions for manual operation.

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

An hour later, after fiddling with everything I could think of, I was ready to give up.

You can’t run the aerator without marking the sprinkler heads and you can’t mark the sprinkler heads without first locating them. Time was quickly running out on my one-day rental.

But then my wife Linda had an idea: “Let’s call the sprinkler guy.”

“Don’t bother,” I said, in that condescending tone one reserves for their well-meaning but ill-informed spouse. “We’ll never catch him on a Saturday and even if we did, he can’t fix it over the phone.”

But I was out of options, so I called him. And he answered the phone.

I think you know where this story is headed. He asked me one question and immediately solved the problem: “Do you have a rain sensor on the system?”

Me: “Yes.”

The problem, you see, was that it was raining that day. The rain sensor keeps the system from turning on (no need to water the lawn in the rain).

He told me where to find it and how to disconnect it. The second I shut it down, the sprinkler heads popped up and I was back in business.

Why am I telling you all this? Who knows?

I’m kidding. I’m telling you this because I want you to notice how quickly and easily the sprinkler guy fixed the problem, despite…

… how much thought, effort, logic, sweat and time I spent not solving it.

It was his experience and perspective that allowed him to instantly diagnose the problem and offer a simple solution; something I couldn’t do on my own. He did what experts do.

Two related suggestions worth thinking about, both specific to your business:

  1. Sell insight not effort.

    The most valuable thing sprinkler guy did for me was solve the mystery. It involved zero work on his part. But without the answer he provided, I was stuck, unable to move forward.

    How about you?

    Are you just a freelance writer? Or are you a marketing consultant who advises clients on what needs to be written and when, in addition to providing the written words?

    Are you just a graphic artist? Or are you a visual design expert who guides clients in determining how to best represent their brand, in addition to providing the marketing collateral?

    Are you just a guy who installs sprinkler systems? Or are you a garden expert who helps homeowners understand the choices and tradeoffs involved in lawn care, in addition to making sure the sprinklers function as they should?

    It’s a critical question.

    How you describe the work you do and the level at which you engage with your prospects and clients will have a big impact on how they see you and, as a result, how much they are willing to pay you.

  1. Stop cringing every time somebody accuses you of being an expert.

    I understand. Particularly if you’re new(ish) at whatever it is you do, thinking of yourself as “expert” fills you with a lot of doubt. But you are absolutely that, relative to the people who hire you.

    Consider my sprinkler guy. He didn’t invent the rain sensor. He doesn’t have an advanced degree in sprinkler systems. He doesn’t know anything that every other sprinkler guy on earth doesn’t also know.

    But … he knows way more than I do or ever will about lawn irrigation. As the old saying goes, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

    Your clients and would be clients feel exactly the same about you. You’re already way over the knowledge bar.

    What they want most is somebody who can apply that knowledge to their particular problem and in a way that makes them feel confident and taken care of (did somebody say, Likeable Expert?).

    So get over yourself and start behaving like the expert you already are.

Here’s the bottom line. If you insist on selling time and effort, you’ll always be competing against lots of other people in your field who do exactly the same thing. From there, it doesn’t take long for you to become a commodity and the hiring decision to be made solely on price.

If, on the other hand, you find a way to wrap advice, insight and perspective around the work itself, you’ll make more money, attract better clients, and spend a lot less time digging up broken sprinkler heads.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever been marked with a healthy dose of baby powder? Explain.
  1. The semicolon is my favorite bit of punctuation; what’s yours?

  1. Are you comfortable being called “expert?” How did you get that way?

Share your comments below!

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29 thoughts on “Aeration Complication

  1. Gina Longo

    1) Yes, but this is definitely not the place to discuss details! Beer would definitely need to be involved in that conversation.

    2) I’m partial to the apostrophe, actually. So many people nowadays are apparently completely unfamiliar with where this little devil is supposed to be used that I feel a bit sorry for it.

    3) Yes, depending on what you’re talking about. If you’re talking about travelling solo in a caravan around Great Britain for 3 years with two large, furry German Shepherds, then yes. I’d consider myself the definitive expert on that particular topic! 😀

    P.S. With any luck, I’ll be getting my newsletter underway shortly. Thanks for the encouragement!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      1. Send photos
      2. Agreed
      3. Wow!

      And big congrats on beginning your newsletter! The best marketing tool on earth.

      1. Gina Longo

        Thanks! As for photos, I continue to be grateful that I grew up before the advent of cell phones with cameras. 😉

  2. Diana Eastty

    This is a great message Michael.
    1. Nope.
    2. I am partial to the dash – I have not idea why – but it seems to work for me in informal writing such as emails, etc… I also seem to use the ellipsis a lot… 🙂
    3. I’m not really comfortable with being called an expert because I always feel like I have more to learn. But I need to get over myself as you suggest!

  3. Marietta Courtney

    1. Not that I remember
    2. I am guilty of exclamation overuse. So much so that I automatically police all emails before sending to bring the happy down and professionalism up, with a period.
    3. No. I hear what you are saying, but as someone that works with tax law, I am humbled by the complexity.

    I do need to up my game with something I am comfortable with. I’ve always felt that I am “selling” the wrong thing. Thanks!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I’m glad it got you thinking, Marietta. It’s funny how the question of “what should I sell?” doesn’t get much discussion. Most of the focus is about how to market and sell better, with the assumption that the “what to sell” is already taken care of.

    2. Bill Scott

      Marietta, I just visited your web site and the fact that you can list the various kinds of things that a business/estate administrator/individual might need makes you an expert!

      I will bet if someone sat down and said, “here is my situation….” that you could confidently give them expert advice on the actions they need to take (planning, filing forms, etc etc) in order to be successful. And then as Michael suggests, you could offer them the set of services that match their need.

  4. Harold Waisel

    1. I’m not sure it was healthy, and I’m reluctant to note where I was marked.
    2. I’m a big fan of bullets.
    * They help me align thoughts and ideas
    % I can use them without using periods
    $ I can use any shape I want to create the bullet
    3. I want to be an expert. 25+ years of experience should make me an expert at something, right?

    P.S. Keeping your lawnmower blades too low will also chop off a sprinkler head. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Harold! I like bullets too but had not considered using different symbols. Something to keep in mind!

  5. Vaughn Hromiko

    Michael, you’re the one who convinced me, or caused me to become aware, that I am appropriately considered an expert in my field. I took your “Be a Leading Expert” webinar about 5 years ago and it opened my eyes.

    Amazingly, I just now glanced to the left of my computer monitor and there, posted about 10 inches from the screen and staring right at me, is a printed copy of my notes from that webinar. The sheet is dated January 12, 2011. I’ve kept your counsel close to be a reminder.

    Thanks for being a part of my professional development and life all these years!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Wow, that’s impressive, Vaughn (I can’t even find the notes I took yesterday). But thanks, I’m so glad to know it was helpful and has informed your work since!

      BTW, here’s the webinar Vaughn is talking about:

  6. Laurie Schnebly

    Michael, your newsletters are always SUCH a treat to read — I’m impressed with how well you apply everyday situations to marketing problems.

    And I’m going to use your sprinkler-guy analogy for my fiction-writing students who have no clue how to market their work…they owe you a big thanks as well!

    Laurie, another semicolon fan who cringed at Kurt Vonnegut’s “Do not use semicolons. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      My pleasure, Laurie and thanks. Whatever I can do to help the youth of America!
      P.S. If Vonnegut had a sense of humor, he would have written, “Do not use semicolons; all they do is show you’ve been to college.”

  7. Mark Wayland

    Insight is the edge we’re all looking for (BTW; I see your semicolon and raise you an apostrophe…. the most misused of all punctuation).

    Most marketing aims at shouting the “known and spoken about” things the loudest and most often.

    The expert aims at whispering the “known and unspoken about” things in the right ears at the right time.

    I’m not sure who said this, but it’s the best definition of expert/ authority…. “when you can articulate a person’s problems better than they can; they automatically and unconsciously credit you with knowing the solution.”

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hello Mark! Thanks for your comments; its always great to hear from you.

      And I love that quote you shared. I agree completely.


      P.S. Don’t worry, I deliberately left the apostrophe out in the first sentence, just to keep you on your toes!

  8. Charles

    1) No, but I have been marked by whiskey. And I would explain…but I don’t quite remember the details.
    2) My favorite is the … or ellipsis. I’m a pause for effect kind of guy. See above.
    3) Absolutely. Who wants to be known as a novice?

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      1. Better than being marked by a dog, for sure.
      2. Yes, me too. I prefer it evenly spaced between the words, like this … but I’ve also seen it immediately after the first word… like that. Which is correct?!
      3. Not me.

  9. Diane Fanucchi

    Thanks, Michael, for the informative, and entertaining newsletters.

    This one especially spoke to me. I’ve been in the massage therapy/holistic health business; and geriatric services; and creative writing, for decades, but I don’t think of myself as an expert in any of these 3 fields, because I don’t know more than, or even as much as, many of my colleagues. The thought that I do know more than clients and other nonprofessionals, though, does help. I’m going to keep telling myself that.

    I have recently begun making the transition to becoming a freelance copywriter and content writer (I have trained in catalog and email copy with AWAI and am finally starting my own blog. Look for starting November 1)

    As for the questions:

    1. Happily, no.

    2. Well placed commas. (not comas) It drives me crazy when professional materials leave out necessary commas or use them when a semi-colon is really needed. I’m getting into the Oxford comma lately. It sounds so dignified.

    3.See above, but your materials are helping. For right now I’m just trying for competent and not a fraud when I apply for projects. I seem to have trouble making the connection between doing the work (writing) and actually selling it to people, for money.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I’m glad today’s newsletter was helpful, Diane! I’ve sometimes been accused of over-comma-ing, but I can’t quite seem to figure out where they go consistently. All the best in getting your freelance work going.

  10. Angie

    1.) No remembrance

    2.) My favorite punctuation marks are dashes; but I have a fear of them because the best English teacher in my high school was also our year book staff teacher, which I was a part of and she did NOT allow me to use those dashes.

    3.) I’m still looking for what I’m an expert in and will hopefully, find it soon. It’s sad that at 45 years old I still don’t know.

    Michael, I agree with Laurie–your emails are a treat to read. Thank you for being so personable. I want to grow up and be just like you someday!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thanks for writing, Angie! One book that I’ve been rereading recently and recommend is The Crossroads of Should And Could ( I bought it originally for my 20 year old daughter but then started reading it myself!

  11. Diane

    To Angie,

    If you’ve lived 45 years, and are interested in something enough to be on this page, you are an expert in something.
    Make a list of things you’re so comfortable with you don’t even think they’re important. What do your friends ask you about?

    I totally understand not feeling like an expert at anything, but it’s easier for others to see it in us. Don’t undervalue yourself.

  12. Angie

    Thank you! I am going to work on a list Diane and I will get the book you recommend Michael. Thanks so much for the feedback.

  13. Steve Church

    1. Yes – around about 60 years ago. I can send a photo if you but I wouldn’t want to upset your breakfast.
    2. The dash – love it. It’s a bright and handy-dandy substitute for the dowdy old semi-colon.
    3. I’ll tell you when it happens 🙂 To be serious, it does happen increasingly. it’s most heart-warming.

  14. Barbara

    Great post Michael! I love the aeration story. What a great example of how we provide value to our clients.
    Question #3 I have a great deal of expertise as a clinical social worker (41 years) but not so much as a daily money manager (5 years). Initially, I did not see myself as an expert in my business (paying bills for clients). But money is such an emotionally laden issue for lots of people and I found that I have had to rely heavily on my clinical skills as well as financial organization abilities in working with clients and their families. When people question me about what I charge “just to pay the bills”, I tell them I bring over 40 years of ethics, clinical judgement and advocacy to my work, and I will utilize my professional experience on behalf of each client I serve. If they aren’t interested, I refer them elsewhere. It’s been quite empowering. I generally don’t use the term “expert” to refer to myself but others do 🙂 Thanks again for all of your humor, insights and great content!
    PS, excited to say I sent out my first newsletter a week ago! Kudos to Gina for getting on the newsletter train. It took me almost a year!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Barbara! You’re a great example of how to use a “previous life” to enhance your current work. Many people who make a career switch think of it as starting over, but as you point out, there are many things from your other experiences that you can bring in – and that other people appreciate. Congrats on your newsletter too!


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