Want to Charge More? Be a Master
Don’t just do what customers want. Stand for something, and change what they think with mastery.
By seeking mastery, you prevent problems instead of solving them and sell strategy instead of a commodity.
How to Build Expertise
It started with a Facebook message.
In April 2011, my brofounder, John, received a message asking for some design help to build something new to us: an infographic. Our two-year old company, 9 Clouds, said yes.
A few weeks later, we created an infographic for the largest newspaper in our region. A few months later, the infographic design agency Lemonly was born.
What started as a simple request turned into a niche, which turned into an expertise. After six years of focusing exclusively on creating infographics and data visualizations, Lemonly is arguably one of the best infographic design agencies in the world. Seriously, look at their work.
Entrepreneurs start a business to solve a problem. People take a job to help solve a problem.
This solution is usually a product or service, like an infographic. It’s a simple yes or no. Do you want this thing that can help you solve your problem? If yes, let’s work together. If no, look for someone else, or try to make the solution better.
As you continue to think about the problem and work on possible solutions, you gain expertise. Not only expertise in how to solve the problem, but also insight into how the businesses that face that problem should operate.
As your business and skills evolve, customers want your expertise, not just your solution. A solution, such as an infographic, is a commodity others could provide. Expertise, however, is a skill earned and developed through experience, thoughtful exploration, experimentation, and repetition.
Solutions solve problems. Expertise avoids problems and creates a foundation for future success.
Expertise > Solutions
Expertise is worth more than a solution. If you sell your time to customers, expertise enables you to charge more for your time. Plus, employees at businesses that achieve expertise are actually happier at work.
The hardest part of expertise is trusting it against internal and external doubts. You have expertise because of your experience in working and thinking about a specific problem across a variety of companies and contexts. The Lemonly team, for instance, works every day on making data understandable. This repetition builds their data visualization muscles.
Inevitably, however, your customers will ask you to do work that won’t help solve their problem or that may even be detrimental to their business. They think they know best, or they have been following a process that runs counter to your recommendations.
The quotable answer I am tempted to share in an article like this is: You have to say no. If a client is hiring you just to do what they want, you are underpaid. You should be hired for your mastery.
Reality, however, is more complicated. You may need the business. You may doubt your own advice. Or, you may realize that someone else’s experience points to an alternative that could be effective.
The answer to this complexity is to share with your customer why your expertise leads you to your recommendation. You should never be only an implementer. Simply fulfilling requests means you are providing a commodity that others can easily replace at a lower cost.
Instead, trust your expertise, and explain what you believe. Share why the work should be done in a certain way and what the probable outcome will be if it is not done in that way.
If the customer still wants to move forward, you can choose whether you want to implement the idea or say no. If you choose to implement, you can do so with a clear conscience. You explained the potential outcome before saying yes.
In fact, if the results are lackluster, as you predict, you can use that as an opportunity to build more trust in your expertise for future decisions.
Focus on Building Mastery
Businesses are built to solve problems. Because of this origin, we often focus on improving that solution. But what if you changed your goal to pursuing mastery?
Instead of focusing on providing a better solution, concentrate on continually building your expertise. This means consistent, mindful practice. Test new ideas; read literature from your field; share insights and debate with other thought leaders; work with a mentor; and sell your expertise, not your product.
It won’t be easy, but it is possible. As noted in the Harvard Business Review, “Consistently and overwhelmingly, the evidence showed that experts are always made, not born.”
Changing your focus to mastery moves your company from selling a commodity to selling strategy — an insight that few have and many want.
An expertise-based business model rewards your knowledge. You can charge more for your service, providing incentive to further specialize and improve. This virtuous cycle leads you down the path toward mastery.
The Value of Mastery
As the world flattens, what you do matters less than how well you do it and what you know.
Mastery is what helps you stand out and show up. Mastery is what enables you to charge more and provide more value in the same amount of time. Mastery is the end goal few seek and few achieve.
If you are looking for long-term success, mastery is your goal. Begin learning, testing, and improving. Lemonly is contacted by companies around the globe for infographic design work because they are masters of their domain. You can do the same.
Stand for something. Stand by your expertise. With a confident belief in how work should be done, you will not only help your customers, but also change the way they think.
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