If you are in consulting work, you have heard the phrase “I don’t have a big budget” or “give me a good price”. I often wonder if this is a Kenyan behaviour or a general budget management tactic. It’s become too huge of a Kenyan culture to pay the least for anything and even get it free where possible. Granted, some circumstances will necessitate frugality, for example now in AC (age of COVID-19). However, there are things that can’t be reduced too much especially if others around you have taken proper advantage of the situation. Are you cutting certain costs because you need to or because everyone is doing it? A friend of mine often reminds me that if you must do something, you had better do it well or don’t do it at all. Even in this season, compromising on quality will have consequences one way or another.
I could not pick only one story where I was on a project that we gave our all only to have the client a) renege on payment, b) copy the idea and give it to someone else to execute or c) have the idea trashed, substituted for a weaker one that failed then revived the original one with someone else taking the credit. There is scenario D which is the worst- you do all the footwork then at the last mile the onlooker swoops in taking the credit. Life really is a group project and there is more than one person always showing up at the last minute to reap another’s sweat. In your different workspaces, you have for sure met the employer, employee, client and contractor wanting the free lunch whether it’s in terms of unpaid interns, bare minimum efforts, substandard work or the cheapest supplier. In the art industry, you have seen the memes (or mehmehs in the new Kenyanese) from artists and writers on why exposure is not a viable payment method. But the nature of the free lunch is to look for free art but pay a lump sum to an entity that benefits those who need it the least.
There is a common comment I’ve heard that “lawyers are so expensive and yet it’s just writing”. Wrong. If there is one thing I have learnt in working with different fields is that every profession is a language on its own.
I have been following some lessons on business development and the trainer makes a very good point on how to answer to your worth. Business or individual, what exactly is the basis that you are too expensive? As a lawyer, your price for drawing up a contract will be questioned based on “but I can get a template for free”. There is a common comment I’ve heard that “lawyers are so expensive and yet it’s just writing”. Wrong. If there is one thing I have learnt in working with different fields is that every profession is a language on its own. Most of us are at the equivalent of knowing how to say hello, thank you and goodbye in Spanish, French, Japanese, German; i.e we know the most basic terms of the most common fields. It takes time, practice and consistency to be proficient at business French (we all did french in high school and forget business french is the big leagues), dedication to read and write mandarin and focus to know the difference between Portuguese and Spanish. Your profession is your business French, your specialisation is knowing the difference between sub-languages. Your worth is based on how much time and effort you have put into building your skills.
Back to the business development lessons, he pointed out very validly that most of the time you will be deemed too expensive based on the client’s estimated budget built on a limited understanding of your work and value. The advice from this lesson was stick to your price, of course from a valid justification of your worth. Your years of experience, your level of exposure, your training and continuous learning build towards better quality work, emotional awareness and soft skills cook up quality delivery and all this together build your value. Should you cave in, you are selling out all your hard work and ruin your own market. On the flip side, I am aware that we are emotional beings, perceptions and opinions hold us hostage to a certain level. There will be a compromise, the question is how far are you willing to let go.
Basically, in your organisation, everyone is there for a specific purpose because of a speciality that is tied to the core of your business or service.
It is all well and good from the consulting side to know your worth but let’s take it back to the client’s side. The purse strings that make or break an industry. Back to my language analogy. As the client, you speak Gaelic and can say… to level up a little let’s say “how are you?” in Languedocian. You want someone fluent in Languedocian to translate your Gaelic into Languedocian but you want them to be fluent in Gaelic as well. Well, this analogy is becoming more complex as I look for more specialised references but I will keep it in the article illustrate the discord. Basically, in your organisation, everyone is there for a specific purpose because of a speciality that is tied to the core of your business or service. Consultancy is not a daily part of your business but it is a big aide to making your business better in an area that is not quite at the core of your business. You will look for a consultant in a specific area because that area is not necessarily something that your firm can invest in or grow over time and it’s also not an area that you would need to commit to for a really long time. The consultant has made the time and investment to give you what you need in a fraction of the time that it would take you to build it yourself.
In E-Myth by Michael Gerber, one of the points I picked up was that entrepreneurs/business leaders get swept away by either being too controlling or being too loose- leading by abdication. When dealing with consultants, one too many entities engage on the basis of their budget and not their need. A friend of mine who runs their own business was very dismayed to lose out on a job because the client chose a foreign firm that cost more and implied that a local company could not possibly hit the standard of a foreign company. Here is the kicker- the client actually gave the foreign firm the idea that came from the local firm. Oh, the irony. The controlling person will save on budget but stands to compromise on quality. The abdicator will splurge but chances on substandard work based on perception or over the convenience of having someone else do it.
When dealing with consultants, one too many entities engage on the basis of their budget and not their need.
From a webinar a few weeks ago, there was a panel with two advertising gurus who had worked together for 10 years in a client and agency partnership (I shared this webinar from AdAge on my LinkedIn feed). One of the gurus mentioned that his appreciation of the other was the ability to speak to the client needs as well as the creative solutions. Isn’t that a wonderful business relationship to have? I want to be that guy. I want to be able to bring value to my client without having to fight a devaluing environment at the same time. Value doesn’t come for free, let go of the free lunch mirage.