Squashing the Intangibles

(Listen to this post, here.)

Believe me, I’m as surprised as you are.

It seems like just yesterday I was telling you how we had just dropped off my daughter Emily at college in Tacoma, Washington at the University of Puget Sound.

And yet here we are, already four years later, and she is now a college graduate (Phi Beta Kappa, thank you very much).

Emily has a double major: anthropology and sculpture.

The anthropology is interesting, definitely. But the sculpture? That is way cool.

Not just because it’s comforting to know that in the unlikely event of a major structural collapse at home, there’s somebody in the family who knows how to weld.

No, it’s because unlike most of what you experience as the parent of a kid going to school far away – phone calls, grades, the occasional term paper and/or arrest report – when your daughter is a sculptor, you get to see tangible things that she has produced.

In Emily’s case, examples include “Attic;” her incredible senior project; and (my personal favorite, if only for its name) “Lack Thereof,” a sculpture made out of a single 2×4 in the shape of the “negative space” of a single 2×4. (Just click the link, I can’t explain it.)

That’s a significant distinction: Her sculpting work allows us to experience, understand, and remember what she’s doing in a way that is much deeper and longer lasting than her purely word-based anthropology projects.

Your work as a professional service provider is no different. 


When you share your qualifications and experience on your web site, LinkedIn, in conversation, etc., it tells me a lot about you, absolutely. But it’s not very tangible or enduring.

Professional service providers like us sell air, and air has a way of evaporating (or something, I’m not a scientist).

That’s why it’s helpful to take deliberate steps to make your work – and you – feel more tangible:

    • Testimonials. Other people talking about you goes a long way towards convincing me of your value and helping me understand how you might solve my specific problems.When you ask people to write these for you, ask them to be as specific as possible about how working with you improved their business or life.(Note that including their photo and full name makes these feel even more real.)
    • Case studies. These don’t have to be long or complicated. Here as well, though, the idea is to let prospective clients get as close to a first hand look as possible at how you work and how your clients benefit.It’s one thing to read about your qualifications. It’s quite another to read a story about how you put those into practice.
  • Lots and lots of reality. Do you tell stories from personal experience? Is your physical mailing address on your web site? Is your photo and those of your staff prominently displayed?All of these tangible bits of the material world help you feel more real to others. General Mills can’t write a story about what it did over the weekend (although I’m guessing it would involve cavity-filled, overstimulated children) … you can.When you omit this kind of thing out of fear of appearing “unprofessional,” you are ceding one of your most important competitive advantages.(P.S. Don’t tell me you don’t have a photo on your web site because you don’t like your appearance. Look what I’m working with. It’s not a beauty contest; it’s a relationship-building event.)

Here’s the bottom line. When you sell a professional service, it can be hard for prospective clients to really understand what you do and, even more important, imagine how they might benefit from hiring you.

Take a page from Emily’s book: the more real and tangible your services feel, the easier it is for others (especially your dad, 3000 miles away) to know what exactly it is you can contribute.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What was your favorite “I can’t believe my parents let me eat this” breakfast cereal while growing up?
  1. Have you ever made something out of a single 2×4? Attach photos.
  1. What do you do to make your work more tangible for prospective clients?

Share your comments below!

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8 thoughts on “Squashing the Intangibles

  1. Grace Kennedy

    Those sculptures made my day! (And greetings to your talented daughter from a fellow Phi Beta Kappa. We are required to brag about it every change we get.)
    1. I was a tofu and carob kid but my mom let me have Rainbow Brite cereal on my seventh birthday. It met and exceeded all of my sugary cereal expectations.
    2. Are 2x4s what they use for giant Jenga? If they are, then I have made many Jenga statues out of 2x4s.
    3. I have lots of opportunities to add tangibles to my website so thank you for reminding me. I do use testimonials every chance I get, on my website and my LinkedIn page, and I have a photo up but I need a few more. And maybe some Rainbow Brite cereal gifs.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Yes, that is a real person in the Attic. Not part of the exhibit, though. It was interactive, so you could go in there and check it out!

  2. Dave Vigna

    Great post. Great projects. And wonderful how you tied them together. Congratulations to both of you!


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