Consultant or Commodity? How do your clients see you?
This is not my usual article targeted at my client audience, but at other developers - mostly people who've been in the industry for ages and can't get out of the "just a technician" trap that limits their personal growth and income. I had to get this off my chest because it's something I've struggled with myself. I see other people struggle with it too.
I see established companies with long track records and a roster of employees with diverse skill sets fall into the same trap, although in the case of companies, it's usually overseas or "near shore" sweat shops begging for crumbs from the first world table. Here are my thoughts.
People - even companies - that provide technical services often find themselves in the unfortunate position of being viewed as "the techs" and sidelined when discussion turns to policy, marketing, or anything relating to business management and strategy.
This can be the case whether the technical leader is a twenty-something fresh out of school, or someone who's been in the industry for decades.
It's difficult to change people's perception once you've been slotted into a role, so it's far better to set expectations at the beginning of a relationship than try to change mid-stride.
This can mean that in order to make a pivot "from Commodity to Consultant", rather than struggle to change existing relationships, technical experts need to forge new relationships. A client who's used to spending a certain amount of money on you as a technician isn't going to react well to a change in pricing that reflects your true value as a Consultant. A client who's become used to using you as a pair of hands isn't likely to start listening when the hands start talking.
For older coders, in order to accomplish a pivot, you need to change the perception of your skill set and focus on the transferable skills you've picked up along the way. For the younger set, you need to emphasize the mastery of business concepts and strategic thinking. It's about knowing when and why to use a particular technology, about knowing which technology makes the most sense in a given scenario. It's about creating the perception that you can provide ROI. In a nutshell, it's about positioning.
How to position yourself as an expert?
Simple; demonstrate your expertise.
The best way to do this is to provide examples that will resonate.
You need to create an online persona for yourself that's designed to appeal to your target audience, and provide concrete examples of what they'll be getting when they hire you. If you're a marketing expert, market yourself.
Describe some case studies and give specific instruction on how to build a marketing plan. If your specialty is lead generation, describe an automated system you use to generate leads and how you can deploy it to serve your clients' needs. If you're a content marketer, well; your content should speak for itself.
This isn't about deceiving your audience. It's more akin to cleaning yourself up for a social event. You take a shower, shave, brush your hair, put on nice clothes that are appropriate for the occasion. It's putting on your game face and stepping up to the challenge. By all means be yourself and put your own unique spin on things - just do it with some flair.
Your clients need to see you walking the walk, not just talking about it. Make it happen for your own business and lead by example first, and be aware that it's not a quick fix. It's not some grand gesture that changes everything. It's little things you do every day. If you're not prepared to do them, you're accepting that your voice will continue to be unheard and you'll always be just another pair of hands to your clients. That's got to rankle or you wouldn't be reading this.
This isn't something that will happen overnight, it's a commitment to an ongoing regimen that moves you incrementally towards your goal. It's a change in paradigm that may take you weeks or months to fully realize. Be prepared for a hard slog.
Be ready to face days of discouragement and depression, when your goal seems unattainable. Be ready to try things out, evaluate their success, and change direction based on results. Focus on what works, discard what doesn't, and keep your head up.
What specific actions should I take in order to accomplish the pivot from technician to consultant?
1. Build detailed profiles of your audience.
I've said this before and I'll say it again, it's a truism: "know your audience". You've probably also heard that "if everybody is your customer, then nobody is". These are statements that businesses live and die on. The ones that don't take them seriously struggle. You may have heard it before, but if you're stuck in the same rut I was, you didn't listen.
This isn't some broad generalization about having a clue who's buying your services. This is about knowing exactly who you're targeting with your content. Build several (or many) complete profiles of the audience you're trying to reach. Include age, income, interests, challenges, opportunities, background. Make up their families' profiles too. Describe who they influence and who influences them. If you've ever played an RPGs (role playing games) this is like making up characters, or maybe you're the Game Master and these are NPCs (Non-Player Characters).
Thinking of it as a game is actually a good way to approach it. Don't be too serious or you'll burn yourself out worrying about the targeting. You can adjust on the fly based on who actually reacts.
Give your customer profile a name and treat it like a real person. Tailor your pitch to appeal to that specific individual. As you're writing, consider each profile you've created and how it's likely to react to your content.
Oh, you didn't realize there was writing involved? There is. Lots of it.
2. Create compelling content to appeal to your audience.
Maybe writing isn't your best skill. That's okay. These days video has a greater impact.
If you're stuck for what to say, you haven't been engaging with your audience enough. Just think back to the last few conversations you had with clients and what they struggled with, what questions they had, where you noticed them losing focus and tuning you out. Those friction points are a great clue to what interests them, what doesn't, and what they need help with.
If you don't think of yourself as a writer, just fire up your video camera and start talking in a pure stream of consciousness way, as if you were answering questions that a client just asked. You might want to create a list of questions and use answering them as your guide through the process and to maintain focus. When you're done talking, stop recording. It's that simple.
There are quite a number of consumer-focused applications for editing video. I use Blender - a free open-source editing suite for everything from 3D animations to images to video, but most people won't have the time or patience to climb that learning curve, so just pick something that appeals to you and is simple to use.
Loom - https://www.loom.com/ - is a great inexpensive way to make screen capture videos with a little "talking head" bubble in the corner. Their plans start at 5 bucks a month.
Once you've made your video, your article writes itself. Just type out a transcript of your talk using your list of questions as headings.
You can also go in the other direction if writing is something you're good at: write an article and then use it as a script for your video. If you're skilled at video editing, you can jazz it up a bit, too.
Here's an example that answers a question someone had for me just a few minutes ago, how to create a product listing in Facebook Marketplace - instead of trying to talk her through it, I just made a video and showed her:
As you can see, the bar is set pretty low in terms of production values, but the slicker you get, the more it helps your positioning.
3. Guide your audience down your sales funnel by creating "Buy Opportunities" that are included as part of your content
This is different than making a pitch. Selling is inherently annoying to just about everybody. Being confronted by someone pushing an agenda to further their own ends is just off-putting.
What you want to do is give the impression that "this person I'd be lucky to be able to work with, is offering me the opportunity to work with him or her. It's my call, but this is a great opportunity! I should click that button!"
Of course, nobody not in a commercial is going to think exactly that, but that's the gist of the impression you want to convey.Need Help? Let's chat!
A button with a simple call to action will do it. You can see how it performs and adjust accordingly, but that's it. A high-pressure "squeeze page" approach will only turn off the kind of customers you want to attract. This isn't about tricks and gimmicks, it's about being real and genuine about your abilities and what you have to offer.
High-pressure marketing tactics may work, but they're a great way to look like a sleazeball to clients with half a brain. The people who fall for those are usually looking for a quick fix, something for nothing, snake oil solution. You don't want that action, believe me.
4. Offer results, don't sell your time
This is the most important bit.
Time is a trap. Time doesn't scale. Time is a finite, non-renewable resource. Don't sell your time.
If you want a business that can scale, that doesn't keep you enslaved to the clock and allows you to set your own schedule and act independently, you need to have systems in place to produce the results your clients want and are willing to pay for. You need a well-defined stable of offerings that produce guaranteed results that are consistent and measurable and don't rely on the whims of individuals.
For instance, a set of "toe in the water" services to offer first-time clients might look like this:
So to summarize:
Know your audience.
Create content targeted to your audience for your website and social media presence.
Embed buying opportunities in your content, not sales pitches.
Offer results instead of selling your time.
How do I know what I'm talking about?
I've put in almost 30 years in the industry, I'm in the middle of executing just such a pivot myself, and this is what I've learned so far.