By Tom "Bald Dog" Varjan, Organisational Provocateur
Many service professionals mistakenly believe that if they work harder and their clients actually see them work so back-breakingly hard and get drenched in sweat from tip to toe, they better deserve their fees, and clients are less likely to make a fuss about money to be paid.
Yes, very often service professionals are regarded as outsourced labourers, and get paid in proportion with the sweat on their brows. They work like dogs, neglecting their own health and their families because “the job must be done”.
They run around with their mobile phones permanently plugged into their ears because they think they must be available day in day out. I know an IT guy who puts his mobile phone under his pillow, in case the client calls at night.
After having designed and built professional service firms all over the globe, I have come to a different conclusion, and would like to disabuse you of this paranoia. Unless you want to position yourself as an outsourced labourer, you have to make sure that the perceived value of your services does not lie in the manual work you perform.
Because if it does, then you are not a service professional but a service slave, which is all right, at least a tiny bit better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, still it is a losing game.
So, let’s see what you can do to increase the value of your contribution - thus your fees, if you are one of the tiny minority who charges for value not time.
Understand that if your value to your clients lies in the number of hours you perform manual labour, then you are in deep shit. You are perceived as a service slave not as a service professional, and throughout history slaves have been exploited whereas professionals have been respected. Take your pick.
Detach your fees from time and other retarded arbitrary “measuring” units. Make sure both you and your client focus on the outcomes and do not get lost in the tactical details. Just because some braindead accountants and lawyers with a slave mentality invented task-based pricing does not mean we all have to follow them.
Commit to working towards specific objectives, but steer away from committing to spending certain number of hours to perform tasks and create deliverables. Communicate to your clients that the value of your intervention has nothing to do with number of hours worked, and poundage of deliverables produced. The value of your intervention should be the magnitude of improvement in the client's condition.
Focus on intangible deliverables, and minimise tangible deliverables to the bare minimum (or even below that). Stop writing reports and creating silly PowerPoint presentations. Well, stop presenting. Peers do not present to each other. Sales people do that. Peers compare notes and discuss their findings and experiences.
Focus on maintaining or even increasing the “intensity” of the project. Hint: An “intense” two-week vacation far outweighs a dull two-month vacation. An intense strategy-setting weekend is more valuable than six months of aimless tactical drifting. A 45-minute fitness session with a personal trainer is worth more than 2 hours of half-arsed, half-asleep wandering-around in the gym.
Emphasise the soft benefits and personal wins of your interventions: enhanced corporate image, reputation, lower stress level, better sense of strategic purpose, etc., and regarded as a true leader and innovator, higher level of respect from employees, higher level of pride from your kids, etc.
Utilise email and telephone as much as you can, and pay attention to how much “face time” you put in. In face-to-face meetings you can waste lots of time on small talk and irrelevant chit-chat. It is easier to get to the essence on the phone or in email.
Keep your work as strategic as humanly possible and never succumb to tactical grunt work beyond the bare minimum. Make sure that the implementing team is doing all the tactical work. For instance, if you are a marketing consultant, never agree to stuff and lick envelopes. Remember, the client hired you for your brain, not for your muscle power. Spare your muscles for the gym.
Always keep your buyer up to date with progress, and make certain you share both good and bad news. Create a template for both good and bad news. Once a week or once a month, depending on the duration of the project, print out a one-pager and slap in on your buyer’s desk just to keep her/him up to date. Always keep in touch with the buyer. Some new projects may come up for you.
Strictly for internal use, create and use a profit loss account with each client, including the amount of time you invest in the project. Then you can calculate your productivity by dividing your fees by your invested hours. This is vital. You must know where you stand with each client. Using Pareto’s rule – again, some 20% of your clients give you 80% of your revenues. And the irony is that the bottom 20% of your clients eat up 80% of your time and attention, giving you nothing more than late payments, stress and stomach ulcers. Get rid of them before they inflict serious damage on you.
So, are you perceived as a service slave or as a service professional? If you are on the service slave side, what are you doing about changing it? You just cannot go through life by running faster on your business treadmill, while slowly but surely falling behind. Using Ken Blanchard’s words, “You can win the rate race, but you are still a rat.”
And tomorrow there is another race, but now you are one day older. You have less and less chance to win. A few years from now you will not even be able to complete the race. A few years after that you will get a heart attack shortly after the start. What sort of life is that?
The way I see it your business should support you in your quest to create a bigger and brighter future for yourself and your family. What is the honour in pumping in 70 plus hours of work every week for the rest of your life, even if you love your work? All right, you love your work. But do you love it so much that you are willing to neglect your family in the process?
You may love your family too, just as much as you love your work. It may be a good idea to spend more and higher quality time with them. So, who should come first? Clients or family? I vote for the family. Would you agree? Serve your clients well, but make sure you do not become their slave. Never confuse having a career with having a life.
Tom "Bald Dog" Varjan of Dynamic Innovations Squad helps professional services firms and solo professional to create more client value for higher fees using less of their time and effort. For his FREE Black Paper Ten Deadly Management (Mal)Practices That Bring Professional Service Firms to Agonising Death!" visit Tom's site at www.di-squad.com