I would like to tell you the story of The Intern. I’ve been freelancing since I was out of college, and one summer an old professor contacted me about a student who needed an internship. This student would become The Intern. His theoretical purpose was to help me in my freelance web development and also game development business since I was trying to make an overly ambitious game as a business.
Filled with a mix of enthusiasm, idealism, and inexperience, I jumped at the chance to hire my first official intern. How very high falutin I now would be!
I had a small following on Twitch.tv at the time, and The Intern became a person of lore. Who was the intern? Was it someone in my chat? What did he do?
After a few weeks though it became clear that The Intern was not contributing all that much to my bottom line. I had to sit on him (metaphorically) in order to get him to do anything besides read web comics, and he had to be given exact instructions or he wouldn’t know what to do next.
One day after a failed motivational pep talk, I up and asked him, “Why do you think I hired you?” To which he replied, “…because you are nice?”
Why do people hire employees (outside of misguided idealism)? Is your employer hiring you just because they are nice? Are all businesses running a charity?
When put like this, it seems obvious that a business owner would hire you because you give some kind of return on the investment of your wages (and it’s actually illegal for a business to just give money away in some cases). But how many people understand the real reasons for their employment?
A valuable employee, freelancer, or consultant understands the business goals and works towards solving those. (Not to mention that a good boss also understands this and allows employees to do this.)
Consider this email I got the other day from a "mobile app developer."
Greetings, My name is Sunny. I am working as a Business Development Consultant.
We are a Software Development Company, we develop web applications and mobile applications as per our clients required specifications.
Please let us know if you are interested to develop a mobile application/web application and how we can be of some assistance to you.
Would suggest you to connect over a call for better understanding of your requirement and and our solution approach for the same.
I can send you our Work Portfolio, Client testimonials and Service Packages for your review.
Look forward to your response.
Thanks & Regards,
This email isn't bad. It's decently written. But, why do I need a mobile app? What would I use it for? My business seems to be going along just fine without a mobile app.
Compare this pitch with one of my recent virtual mentors, Jonathan Stark. If you go to his website, the headline is, "I help credit unions increase member engagement." I am not personally a credit union, but if I was, and I wanted to increase member engagement, you'd have my attention.
Next, he gives the reason why you'd want to hire him as a mobile developer.
Here’s the bottom line:
Your members are mobile, and they're way ahead of you.
Members expect services to be accessible on any device. They expect their data to update in real-time. They expect to have one login for your organization. They expect products that cater to their needs, not the needs of their parents generation.
Learn more about how to stay ahead →
Do you see what he did there? By focusing on the business outcome - my members are expecting mobile, and by not having it I am becoming obsolete - he is much more compelling than a commodity "mobile app developer." Apps don't make money. Helping members access their accounts on the device they actually want to use does. And he charges a whole lot more.
Now you are probably not a mobile app consultant for credit unions, but you might be a developer, a designer, a writer, etc. Maybe you are on your own or work for an employer. Do you go into work each day and just blindly take instruction from the boss or client and do the thing without considering why?
By focusing on the business outcome, the "expensive problem" as it's sometimes called, you elevate yourself from commodity help to trusted adviser. This is a path to promotions and higher paying gigs. It's how you compete with Sunny on his probably very low priced mobile app development and any of the other people on Upwork and ELance. It's how Sunny could elevate his own business to the next level. We are all competent at swinging the hammer of our chosen profession. Adding that together with the ability to swing the hammer on the right thing makes you way more valuable than most.
Your job description will probably change throughout your career. Technology is changing too fast for you to have any hope of doing the same thing for the next 40 years. But the principles of business will not change, and as long as you find ways to provide value to others, you'll have a job.