Three Wrong Things

My wife, Linda, has two brothers and a sister. One in Vermont, one in Pennsylvania, one (like us) in Massachusetts.

We are near enough to one another to get together for a weekend, but too far away for unplanned visits, a chance arrangement that has served us well over the years.

But we do have fun together. So, now that all children are grown and out of the house, the eight of us – each sibling and their respective partner – try to meet every year someplace more or less in the middle.

This year’s lucky winner happened to be the New York town in which the famous 1969 Woodstock music festival took place. And, seeing as we were right there, we decided to visit the Woodstock museum which is located next to the precise spot (Yasgur’s farm) where it all happened.

But here’s something you maybe didn’t know: Defying all logic, Woodstock the festival did not take place in Woodstock the town. Rather, it was held 40 miles away in Bethel, New York.

Why? Well, that’s too long a story even for me to tell (read more here).

But it does serve as an example of how sometimes, things that seem plainly obvious, are not necessarily true.

As it turns out, the world of professional services sales and marketing is filled with all kinds of counterintuitive things like this. Things that, if blindly followed, will lead you in precisely the wrong direction.

Here are three standout examples…

I’m no Jay Powell, but I have taken a few microeconomics courses. Generally speaking, when the price of something goes up, the demand for it goes down.

That’s certainly true of a lot of things: eggs, gas, airline tickets, to name just a few.

But professional services? … not so much.

Apples to apples comparisons are difficult when considering alternatives. Unlike comparing two pairs of sneakers, your prospective clients have no easy and obvious way to know how working with you will differ from working with someone else.

In many ways, rather than deciding what they are willing to pay based on objective value, they estimate your value based on how much you ask them to pay.

When your fees are high, you earn more money, get better clients (the difficult ones live at the low end), and are able to provide better service (because you’re not chasing every dollar). And … you signal to prospects that you are very good at what you do.

My friend Betsy is a retired recruiter. She used to say that every resume tells a story. What jobs did you have? What moves did you make? Are there long, unexplained gaps along the way?

On the “Planet of the Jobbed,” forward progress – in title, responsibility, compensation – is considered a plus. Potential employers want to know where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and how it all hangs together.

That’s not how it works when selling a professional service. In 24 years of working for myself, I’ve never once been asked by a prospective client, “What did you do before this?”

Clients look to hire people like us when they have a problem for which they don’t have the time, interest, or ability (often all three) to solve themselves.

Yes, you need qualifications and capabilities. But nobody cares how you came to acquire them or what path you took along the way.

Your job in getting hired is to convince them you can fix whatever is broken. You will have a lot more success by focusing on what you can do for them and not talking (or worrying) about how you got there.

I specialize in a very narrow area: email newsletters for small professional service firms.

Is it hard? Not for me. I find it both highly enjoyable and super-easy. The fact is, I can’t think of many things I would rather do than sit in my office, drink coffee, and write a newsletter.

My clients don’t know or care how long it takes me or how hard I work. They are buying the output, not the input. (Side note: That’s one of many reasons charging by the hour is a bad idea.)

The “Hard Work Myth” may be the most counterintuitive work-for-yourself lesson of all since most of us were brought up to believe that effort and success are highly correlated.

It’s a nice story to tell, but for those of us who work for ourselves, I think things operate in exactly the opposite way – success comes from finding your own particular version of “easy.” The thing that comes so naturally to you, that you’re kind of baffled when you see other people struggling with it.

If you can sell that, you’ve pretty much cracked the code on work.

See you at the festival.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever been to the Woodstock museum?
  2. Among those who played at Woodstock, who’s your favorite?
  3. What conventional rule of marketing, sales, or work do you deliberately ignore?

Share your answers below…

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14 thoughts on “Three Wrong Things

  1. Keanisha Mona Johnson

    Numbers#1/2 never been N/A
    What really grabbed me was “Your career path matters a lot “
    I loved this ..grabbed my attention especially since I’m starting out myself. Focusing on PAIN POINTS and fixing whatever is broken or offering a value. Awesome, awesome point.

  2. Don Sadler

    I like what you say about “hard work” and what we do being relatively easy. I’ve often thought this myself. Like you, I have been doing what I do for decades (15 years as a solo) so most of it is actually pretty easy, at least for me. I almost never “dread” working and wonder what I’d do all day if I weren’t doing this. You can only play so much golf and tennis!

  3. Jean Feingold

    1. No to the museum. I was living not far from the Woodstock event when it happened. I didn’t go; some people I lived with did.

    2. Jimi Hendrix

    3. I don’t work on a schedule other than being sure to meet all deadlines. I let my clients think what I do is hard for me and can’t be done quickly.

  4. Mark Wayland

    Hi Michael. In a counter-intuitive move I’ve decided not to answer 3 questions. But in the spirit of counter-intuitiveness combined with your Baby Boomer bias did you know that coyotes actually run faster than roadrunners?

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Mark! I was unaware of the coyote vs roadrunner difference. Fortunately, based on my many years of cartoon watching, the roadrunner appears to be a lot smarter.

  5. Wendy Abraham

    #1: That’s great news. Fake it til you make it (… while making a LOT of it $$$).

    #2: Trick question. If you can remember the 60’s it means you weren’t there.

    #3: I’m still chuckling over #2. Ask me again in the next Penguin Gazette.

  6. Margaret Schneider

    I have not been to the museum.
    My fav Woodstock artist Janis Joplin, in second place, Credence and Santana.
    I’ve been ignoring reaching out to potential clients.


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