Different Rules, Different Tools

Have you traveled internationally much? I’ve done a little bit.

One thing I’ve noticed is that no matter where you go, when you meet someone whose first language is not English, and no matter how technically fluent they may be, they almost always speak with an accent.

And, of course, it’s not just any accent.

Italians speak with an Italian accent. Germans speak with a German accent. Costa Ricans speak with a Costa Rican accent.

So here’s my question for you: How do they know?

How does each person, from whatever country they hail, know how to do the “right” accent?

I mean, it’s not like somebody is pulling the Swedes aside and saying, “When you meet the Americans, see if you can sound like that chef on the Muppets.”

The answer (I’m guessing) has something to do with one’s native tongue and where and how we first learn to speak. How you start has a big influence over where you end up.

And since all the people in a given country start in more or less the same linguistic place, when they switch to English, they tend to apply a similar approach.

Which brings me to you and the way you behave as a small professional service firm or solo.

Here as well, past experience has a big influence over how you operate – often, unfortunately, in ways that work to your disadvantage…

Way #1: We Copy the Big Guys

If you’ve worked for or just observed how big companies promote themselves, you’ve no doubt noticed they spend a lot of time, effort, and money on “branding.”

For the most part, this includes things like their logo, tagline, mission statement, company colors and fonts … even the company name itself.

That kind of thing is especially important if you are a large organization selling high volume products or services that are hard to distinguish from the competition (sneakers, soda, computers). Here, your brand makes a big difference.

Unfortunately, it requires a lot of money to sustain in a way that will be noticed, let alone remembered, out in the world at large.

After all, there’s nothing brilliant about having an emu in your insurance ads. But if you see Liberty Mutual’s ad a thousand times, it sticks in your head (whether it sells more insurance is another topic).

Little of this, however, applies to people like you and me – we don’t have even a fraction of the resources needed to promote ourselves to this degree.

Which means that with the possible exception of your mom (and I’m pretty sure even she’s faking it), nobody cares about your tagline or has ever looked twice at your logo. Your best clients would be hard pressed to even remember the name of your company.

So, while it’s fine to have all these things, don’t spend a lot of time or money on them. Make a decision and move on.

Way #2. We Don’t Focus Enough on the Money

When you have a job, and unless you are specifically and predominantly tasked with selling, you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about where the work comes from … it just arrives at your desk.

The truth is, for employees, “workload” is a problem to be solved, not something you go looking for.

So whether that means writing, data analysis, coaching, financial management, strategy development, supervising other people, or whatever, those with jobs are responsible for doing high quality work and getting it done on time.

When you work for yourself, all of that still matters – with one Shaquille O’Neal-sized modification: it’s up to you to go get the work.

Of course, this seems obvious.

But I can’t begin to tell you how many first-time professionals (myself among them) walk away from a job, start a business, and are shocked to discover that their ability to provide a high value, high quality service is totally irrelevant if they don’t have any clients.

All of which means that even though you may not have started your business “for the money,” if you don’t find a way to earn enough of it, consistently and over the long-term, it’s game over.

The money matters: we need to prioritize our activity based on which things are most likely to bring clients and work – something that most employees never even think about.

Among those things is not…. perfecting your web site, organizing your office, setting up your CRM, or asking one more friend what they think about the name of your planned email newsletter.

It’s figuring out how to find clients and convince them that you can solve whatever problem(s) are keeping them up at night. Do that, and all the other non-revenue-generating things will take care of themselves.

Here’s the bottom line.

A lot of what we learn as employees just doesn’t apply out here in the big, beautiful world of working for yourself.

It’s not universally wrong, it’s just wrong in this particular context.

Like learning to speak a new language, having spoken a different one previously can sometimes do more harm than good.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever pulled a Swede aside? Give examples.
  2. Could your mom draw your logo from memory? Could you?
  3. What mental shift(s) did you have to make once you began working for yourself?

Share your answers below…

If you liked this article you’ll love the next one (I’ve been holding back on the good ones until you subscribe). Click here to sign up for future posts.

4 thoughts on “Different Rules, Different Tools

  1. Eri Zeitz

    Hi Michael,
    1. I have never to my knowledge pulled a Swede aside, but I have pushed and pulled and taken apart and put together furniture I bought at IKEA. So maybe that counts.

    2. My mom, alas, passed away nearly 11 years ago, and if she was alive and her brain was functioning, I’d ask her to draw me a logo. And then we’d get into a big argument…

    3. My mental shift is something I’m constantly working on: doing the work to get the work. Believing that I can do it and that I need to do it. That “the needing to do it” is not something to get into a big Mom-type argument with myself about.

    That last question, wow! Thanks Michael! And thanks for the card 🙂

  2. Biz Corrow

    I have been “selling” since I was 10. I knocked on doors and offered to mow lawns, shovel snow, baby sit, or perhaps you would like a popcorn ball. I worked in sales all my life. I am NOT an “account executive” I am salesman.
    You may have the best widget in the world but if it is sitting on your shelf gathering dust you will be out of business quickly. The average “Joe” “Jolene?” is reluctant to knock on the door. Whats the worst that can happen? Someone is going to say no? Well hey if you don’t ask the answer is always no so why not ask? 1 out of 10 times is a yes. 10 out of a hundred and you have the begginings of some work to do. Bonus hint some times you get 2, 3, or more yes’s.
    Oh by the way, if you need a promotional product ie. hats tee shirts or a myriad of other ideas, email me or check out the website below.
    I had to ask.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *