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EPISODE 17

How to Delight Clients by Being Invested in the Outcome of Projects

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This episode is a reading of a chapter from Secret Weapon: Attract the Best Clients, charge what you’re worth and fall in love with your work again titled “Being Invested in the Outcome.”

 

Chapter Text

Yeah, that’s not my problem.

She hung up the phone on me and I was shaking. I was so enraged. I was furious this woman had left me high and dry on a project, because she felt as though what I was asking her for was not her responsibility, even though she could have easily done it in less than five minutes. I now had to work through the night to meet a looming deadline, and wouldn’t have the one thing which could have saved me hours of work.

This happened in late 2013, and I remember it so clearly. I was subcontracting for a communications and media company who had a large number of people working on their client’s marketing and sales materials. The project was relatively simple. I had to create a thirty page website for a real estate firm with some advanced functionality and I was doing some really great work on it. I was pretty freaking proud of what I had come up with so far.

The last part of the job was coming up, and it entailed me entering over 150 entries into the property database section of the website. I had used some really nice effects on the gallery views and I was excited to see them in action with their real life data.

I had been told the client company had paid the media company to create this database, and they had it in an easy to use format I could use to simply import the data into the site – easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

So I called the lady who was in charge of creating the database and asked her excitedly if she could send me the file so I could import it, and we could show the client the next day.

We talked a bit about how she had created the database, and we eventually figured out she had used an archaic piece of software which unfortunately, wasn’t compatible with any sort of formats I needed it in. After more back and forth, I came up with a pretty good solution, it involved a different software as a go-between, where we could import the original file she created and then export a version I could use in my database.

She became increasingly agitated as I went through the process with her and outlined the steps she’d have to do, (in reality it should have taken her no more than 15 or 20 minutes). At the end, she huffed and puffed about how this sort of stuff wasn’t her job and she was strictly data entry, not data export.

No matter how much I tried to convince her it would be simple and I couldn’t do my part of the job easily without this file, she just wouldn’t listen. Excuse after excuse came from her mouth, until eventually she just shut me down completely, saying it wasn’t her problem and hung up on me.

I was shaking with fury when I put the phone down.

How could she not see that by refusing to do this small amount of work, she was making me re-enter all of those property listings myself, essentially redoing the entire portion of the project that was her job – all because she had a narrow view of what was and wasn’t her responsibility.

Frustrated and angry, I sat down to start entering the info myself, and ended up doing data entry for the next 6 hours so I could get the site ready to show the client the next day.

This experience is the most memorable for me, reflecting back on times I worked with service providers who weren’t fully invested in the outcome of their projects.

The main difference between a Secret Weapon and a hired gun is that the Secret Weapon is fully invested in the end result, the outcome of the project, and will do whatever it takes to get there.

It’s a big mindset shift from just doing the work and washing your hands of it when you’re done – to riding out the entirety of the project, and making sure your part of things goes smoothly, no matter what is involved.

I first heard this concept put into words by Trivinia Barber of Priority VA, she calls it, “owning the outcome” and as a former Virtual Assistant to some very big names in the online entrepreneurial space, she knows all about how contractors or service providers can develop tunnel vision when it comes to their specific tasks and responsibilities.

When you’re invested in the outcome, or when you own the outcome, as Trivinia calls it, you’re much more involved in the strategy and the why of what you’re doing, rather than blindly following a scope of work or a list of tasks. When a service provider is more aware of the overall strategy and end goals a client wants for their project, they’re better able to put on their expert hat and suggest improvements, changes, or tweaks to get that end result faster, easier, or with a smaller budget.

When a Secret Weapon steps up to the plate and is completely invested in the end result of a project, it frees them to state their opinions, and reiterate their expertise. We know our stuff, that’s why they’re hiring us. And when we own that and fully step into that role, it frees us to speak our mind and bring our full set of skills to the table.

Escaping the Hired Gun Mentality

The sad truth is, for many years I operated with the mindset of a hired gun. I was there to do a job, do it well, and then get the hell out of there. The constant search for new clients was my entire world, because I hadn’t yet realized the shift in mindset that stepping into Secret Weapon status requires. And that’s exactly how the majority of service providers work these days. They do the one job they’re hired to do, close out the project, and hop to the next thing, never going beyond the original scope of work.

They mistakenly believe the client, who wants this specific end goal, knows exactly what it takes to get there. But that viewpoint can often lead us astray. A client comes to us because they want the end result, not the specific project.

I’ll say that again – they want the result, not the project.

A client asking for social media management isn’t looking for someone to post for her each day. She wants a larger, engaged following who she can count on to purchase her products or services. They assume social media management is how they’ll get there.

A client asking for a new website isn’t needing a website. They want more leads for their business. They believe a website is the vehicle that will get them those leads.

A Secret Weapon knows how to dig deep to get to the reasoning behind the initial scope of work. They ask questions, they get involved, and they don’t worry about being too invasive at the beginning of working with a new client, because these types of questions are going to get them the info they need to do their job properly – getting that client their end result.

When a service provider doesn’t adopt the mindset of being invested in the outcome, all sorts of things can go wrong. The worst of which is we will do exactly what they tell us to do, and it does not get them what they really want.

For a hired gun, this doesn’t matter – whether the project or work they do succeeds or fails in the long run is of no concern to them, they did their part, and now they’re clocking out.

A client who’s looking for a specific outcome and doesn’t receive it, no matter the reasoning behind why, will most likely never work with us again. They’ll make vague excuses to themselves as to why they won’t come back such as, “our styles didn’t align,” or “she wasn’t a good fit,” or my favorite, “I’m going in a different direction.”

But the real truth underneath it all, is that the end result wasn’t achieved and they’re disappointed.

It’s harsh, because we could have done exactly what they wanted, exactly to the letter. We could have even gone over and above and delivered more than we agreed to. And it still wouldn’t be enough. Because the client’s goal and what they asked us for were different.

When we’re not invested in the outcome, this leads to the wrong execution, the wrong delivery, or even the wrong project entirely for what the client wants to achieve.

Go From Expense to Investment

The other half of owning the outcome of your client projects is we become an investment for our clients, not an expense. Most clients see us as an expense. We’re a necessary thing to get the end result they want, but if they could possibly get what they wanted without us, we’d be the first thing to be cut.

It hurts.

Because I know that just like me,  you truly want to see your clients do well, (even if it’s just for the glowing testimonials or case studies), and the thought of being expendable certainly isn’t a check in the positive column for our self esteem.

But the bonus of making our clients view us as an investment falls to us, it’s not the client’s job to see us that way from the beginning, it’s our job to make them see. We do this by guiding the process of working with us in such a way that we properly communicate to them we are, in fact, invested in the outcome of the project, and want to make sure we do everything we can to get them what they really want.

When you’re able to show up and tell them what they might not want to hear then you’re on the right path. When you’re brave enough to tell them that if they want result X, then they shouldn’t do project Y, that’s when they start to see you in a different light. They feel supported and understood. Our effort up front to understand what they truly want elevates us from expense to investment, because they know we’re working towards the same goal they are, not just doing what we’re told.

One side benefit of this mindset shift is that we don’t experience as much customer churn as a hired gun does, and our clients stick with us for the long haul.  We don’t have to worry about being told we’re just not the right fit, or that our styles don’t match. Because our style and the way we fit is perfectly aligned with what the client wants to achieve.

This helps the client feel supported and ready to invest in us, and it helps us move away from the constant client hustle a hired gun is locked into – always needing more and more clients to fill the queue, because they can’t count on their existing clients coming back to them. We break the cycle, simply by shifting our focus from the project to the outcome.

Shifting to Being Invested

I’ve mentioned how shifting from a hired gun to a Secret Weapon takes more mindset than anything else. And in this aspect, it’s more apparent than any of the other topics I’ve talked about so far. When we identify as a Secret Weapon, when we truly see ourselves as invested in the outcome of our client’s projects, and when we’re ready to view ourselves as the investment and not an expense, then we’re ready to take the actions necessary to back that up.

Taking responsibility for achieving the end results our client wants is the hardest part. A hired gun is one who wipes their hands and says something along the lines of, “not my problem,” if what they created doesn’t achieve the end goals. But when we become a Secret Weapon, we need to realize this IS our problem, and it is our responsibility for helping the client achieve their end result.

A quick little note here, because I’ve had lots of conversations with service providers who thought they did what we’re talking about here. They believe they invested in the outcome, but some of the items or tasks to achieve the goal weren’t in their wheelhouse or perhaps weren’t their responsibility.

And I can absolutely sympathize, so we’ll examine how you can both invest in the outcome, but not be stuck in a trap if someone else doesn’t live up to their end of the deal.

When I was primarily creating websites, back in about 2012, I worked with a wonderful woman who had a sustainable, give-back model jewelry company. She purchased jewelry made by low income women in countries such as Thailand and Nigeria. She sold pieces that were absolutely beautiful, and helped these women create incomes for their families, send their children to school, and pay for village necessities like clean water and seeds for crops. These women essentially owned their own business and my client purchased their jewelry at reasonable rates, and sold them via her online store to a western market.

I was 1000% behind her mission, her values, and her business model. I even offered her a non-profit discount, because while she technically wasn’t a non-profit, her company aligned with those values and I wanted nothing more than to see her, and the women she supported, to succeed.

I poured my heart and soul into the website, and it was absolutely gorgeous. I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of a site than I was of the one I created for her. It communicated her mission, it spoke of her values, and it showcased the jewelry in ways that for someone who was her ideal client, it was a no-brainer to purchase (and easy to do so!).

We launched the site to much fanfare and there was a great initial reaction. There were articles written about her, and she went on to create a very successful initial sales campaigns based on the new site, and the content she was creating for it.

But then she stopped promoting her business.

She got lost in the weeds of who the products were for, and who her ideal client was. She stopped creating content for her site, and on her social media accounts. It was radio silence from her company for a period of six months after her initial campaign.

After that six months she approached me asking why the sales on her website had fallen off, and what we could do to fix it. I immediately went to her data to see if there was something wrong with the site, and noticed there was a drastic decline in people coming to the online store. When she launched, she had an average of 50-100 people visit her site each day and when we spoke six months later, that traffic had dropped to 3-5 per day.

The reasoning behind it was obvious to me, and I tried to explain to her that no matter how great her website was, if people weren’t coming to it, it couldn’t perform as expected. I tried to show her how she could use some paid advertising or partnership opportunities to increase the traffic, how she could use social media to get more customers and grow her audience. I went over and above giving her a plan to accomplish all this. All she had to do was put in the effort of creating the content and doing the posting, so she could connect to the people who would buy.

But she had excuse after excuse as to why it simply wouldn’t work for her. No matter how I phrased it or how I over delivered to help her achieve her end goals, she kept coming back to the fact that somehow it was the website’s fault.

I was frustrated, a bit heartbroken, and disappointed that no matter how I tried, I couldn’t make her see past her self-imposed limitations. In the end she went out of business. A beautiful business model, helping scores of women around the world and it went under because she didn’t want to do the work required to make it succeed.

In this case, I absolutely was invested in the outcome of this project. But no matter how badly I wanted it to succeed, and how much I fought to realize her end goal, there was little reciprocation from the other end.

I assumed I did everything right. But after further reflection I realized I had made some key mistakes at the beginning of the project, which had snowballed into the disappointing end result. Can you think of what I did wrong?

Let’s go over some of the practical steps to bring this mindset and practice into your business, and then I’ll point out where I went wrong with this client, so you can see how even when we think we’ve invested in the outcome, we actually may have glossed over some vital steps which led us to a failed project down the road.

Identifying Clear, Specific And Measurable Goals – No Matter How Hard It Is

The first way to change how we approach client projects so we become more invested in the outcome is to clearly identify the goals of the project. No matter how hard it can be, or how vague our client is in the beginning.

How many times have you started to work on a project for a client, and when you ask them about their goals they say: to be successful, or to make money, or to get more followers.

These are not goals, they’re wishes.

Drilling down into specific, measurable goals, is where we can be confident about whether or not our skills or final piece of work can actually attain those goals. When we know for certain our client wants to achieve an extra $500 per month in revenue from their website, or they want to build their newsletter by 400 people in the next month – these are specific goals we can define. When we know the specific goals we can say, “Sure! This project can certainly help you achieve that goal,” or “No, sorry that goal is not aligned with what this project can actually do for you.”

We’ve all heard of SMART goals right? And despite how much we all groan a bit when we hear the term, nonetheless, they are incredibly useful when we define and create end goals for any of our projects.

When I was first talking to the lady who owned the ethical jewelry business, she was very vague about her goals. She wanted “to make more money” and to “get the word out” about her company. And while those are good sentiments, there’s nothing substantial about those. I couldn’t wave a magic wand and know how much is “more” money and what exactly getting the word out actually meant in terms of measurable data.

A good goal is something that is Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time Bound. We need four of the five to get a concrete plan in place for making sure we can remain invested in the outcome of our projects  (Homer Simpson might actually have gotten it right when he so famously sang, “SMRT”)

As service providers – we take care of the actionable part of the equation, so we need to clearly define the SMRT part of the project’s goals, before we can make progress on understanding what we can and cannot provide to achieve it.

The goal needs to be specific. We can’t just let them leave it at, “I want to be successful,” we need to get them to go deeper into something we can work with. Growing revenue? Perfect. Increasing website sales? Excellent. Decrease site bounce rate? We can work with that.

After we get specific, it then needs to be measurable. How much do they want to increase their revenue by? How many sales per day are they getting on their website right now, and how many more per day do they want? What’s their bounce rate currently and how much should we aim to decrease it by? Once we know this, the end result becomes growing revenue by 10%, increasing website sales by 25% or decreasing bounce rate by 37%. Getting much clearer now, aren’t we?

Once we get specific and we get measurable, then comes the realistic part – is it possible to achieve these goals with the project they’re proposing?

Is increasing their revenue by 50% not going to happen with a website redesign? Can we honestly get our client 10,000 new Instagram followers in 30 days? Do we feel there’s no way we can get more than 15 sales per day for their novelty cat harness with their current ad budget?

The realistic portion is where we get to flex our knowledge, instincts, and expertise in what we do. They’re coming to us to help them, and we can’t do that if we tell them they can achieve an unrealistic goal. Gone are the days where a project fails and we get to say, “well what they wanted was unrealistic in the first place.” It’s now our job to tell them even before we start that they need to adjust their expectations, or realign their outcomes with something more feasible.

Once the first three parts of the SMRT goals are done, we can lock it into place with some timelines. When we say it needs to be time bound, we need to put some guidelines around it in terms of how long it will take to achieve this goal.

The purpose of this is two fold. The first is to make sure we have enough time to actually achieve what we’re promising. Will it take us 30 days or 3 months? If the client wants goal A and they want it in 2 months, but we know it will take longer, it’s our job to tell them. Perhaps we can adjust their expectations or adjust timelines to suit, but if there is any aspect of that goal which won’t fit in a certain timeframe, then now is the time to speak up. We don’t want to be frustrated or rushed, feeling as though we don’t have enough time. We also don’t want our client to feel disappointed when we aren’t able to deliver in the time we initially set.

The second purpose is to prevent run-away projects. We know the dangers of scope creep all too well, but we’ve also experienced time creep. When our client takes forever to get us the materials we need, or the review process took far longer than we allotted for, or we got caught up in another project and pushed this one back. This always leads to the end of the project feeling rushed or us feeling pressure to deliver when the timeline wasn’t respected from the beginning.

When we set specific dates to both end of project and the phases within a project, we bring in this time bound nature and can stop the run-away projects which eat up far more time than they should.

When we run through the SMRT process of creating goals for each of our projects, we’re able to invest in the outcome. We can clearly tell whether or not we’ve reached the end goal. And if we’re off track, we have a benchmark or goal post to guide us back to where we need to be. When we create goals for each project we’re working on, we become known as a service provider that gets results. We can easily create amazing testimonials and case studies, because we have measurable data to work from. And when a new prospect asks if we have experience doing a particular project we can say, “yes, I helped client X achieve Y,” and be solid in owning the fact we achieved that for them through our services, and how we are invested in the outcome of our projects.

Visually Map Out The Project or Process

Most people are visual. I’d hazard a guess over 80% of people think better in visual term as opposed to verbally. As an online service provider, it can be tough to put into words what we do outside of the data that results in the projects we work on.

If there is any way we can bring some visual elements to represent the work we’ll be doing for our client, we should take the extra effort to do so. I stumbled on this quite by accident when I was creating a complex marketing funnel for one of my clients back in 2015, and just how much better this was able to communicate what I was doing, and how much work went into the project was astounding.

If you have any experience with funnels online, you know there are a lot of moving parts. It can be quite easy to forget to create something, or leave out a key element, if you don’t have it properly mapped out. Since this was the biggest funnel I had ever worked on up until that point, I really didn’t want to forget anything, or leave anything to the last minute. So I created a visual map, drawing out all the parts of the funnel in great detail, so I could be sure nothing slipped through the cracks.

When I showed it to the client, and explained exactly what portions I was creating and the ones they were responsible for, plus how it all fit together into one big piece, they were floored. It was right there in black and white, and clearly showed how invested in the outcome of this funnel I was.

It also had a lovely side effect in that when it was laid out visually, it was very clear the money I was charging for my portion of this project was well worth it. You can talk about what you’ll create in a funnel all damn day, but when you visually map it out, it becomes very plain the amount of work that needs to be put into it. I don’t think I’ve ever had to negotiate a price with a client after presenting the project visually, because the value it brings them is very clearly communicated.

The positive implications from this method works in our favor, because it also lets us better plan our projects. If we create a social media calendar with the number of posts, images, and assets we need to create mapped out visually, there is no second guessing how much work it will be. If we create a visual site map of the website we’ll be creating with the features, then we won’t forget to allot time for feature X or page Y.

Try it for yourself, and see if mapping out your projects visually helps increase the communication factor of the end results of your projects. Doing so will help you become fully invested in the outcome, because once the project is mapped out, you can see the end result right before you – you just need to start building.

Tie Yourself to The Results, With Blood (Not Really, With Money)

Some think money is the ultimate motivator. While I don’t necessarily agree, I do know money can put one hell of a fire under a person’s bum when the results of a project is tied to their income.

This idea is a bit novel, outside of any sort of sales-driven position. Not many service providers operate on this type of level, but it’s something worth playing around with to see if it works for you.

There have been commission-based salesmen for the last hundred years, and the idea of working on commission in the online service provider space is not one we’ve dived into, because up until this point, most service providers have operated from a hired gun perspective.

Working on commissions lends itself to the idea that we would be tied to this project in perpetuity, or until we renegotiate a different setup. That irks a hired gun, because they want to move on. But a Secret Weapon is invested in the outcome of a project, and works towards being invaluable to their clients. The idea of sticking around is not a bad one, it’s the whole point.

What better way to do this then to tie our success to the success of the project we’re creating? We could negotiate a percentage of sales, we could negotiate a flat payment amount per number of users or purchases each month, we could even stretch out the initial project fee over several months, and get payouts as we hit key performance milestones.

The ways we can do this vary as much as the types of clients and projects we work on. Keeping an open mind as to how we can accomplish this is worth considering. The success of the project equals our success, and the more the client makes, the more we make. It seems like a very fortuitous arrangement, if we can get it right.

The first client I ever did this with was a safety based company, who created handbooks for various trades in Canada. They did a brisk business for the sale of their printed books, and thought that getting their materials in an app form would be a good idea, to keep up with the times.

In 2011,I created the first version of their PipeFitter Handbook app, and in 2019, that client is still with me. We negotiated a profit split, and every month I keep 50% of all app sales he has.

Is it a crazy amount of money? No. The apps are definitely a very narrow target market, but it certainly has more than paid for the time I spent creating and updating his apps. Plus I get a nice little amount every month, which can technically go on forever as long as his apps are for sale in the app store.

Do you think you could institute some sort of profit sharing or commission-based payout schedule with your clients? Or perhaps for certain project types you offer? Examine this idea a bit more, and play around with it. When you’re tied to the financial outcome of a project, it’s much easier to become invested in the outcome. It also has the potential to lead to more profits in the long run, than if you were to just do a per project price.

The Outcomes Are Your Results

When most hired guns finish up a project, they pat themselves on the back and move on to the next one. A Secret Weapon on the other hand, is so invested in the outcome of their projects and determined to help their clients reach their goals, that it becomes a sort of badge of honor when they display the results they get.

Which do you feel would be more enticing to a prospect – if you were to say, “I helped my clients increase sales from their email marketing campaigns by 20% over a period of three months,” or “I created email marketing campaigns for my client?”

If I was hiring someone, I would totally go for the former and feel like I had to get more info from the latter.

Having specific, measurable results isn’t just fantastic for the projects themselves, they’re amazing when you use them in your client testimonials, results showcases, and just plain showing off your skills around town and on social media. The more invested you are in the outcome of the projects you work on, the more likely you are to have these types of amazing success stories and client testimonials.

It’s hard for us as service providers to make this switch in our mindset. It requires more up-front work, it takes a bit more effort and forethought to make sure we get these things right in the beginning. But the payoff for this extra effort is amazing success stories, higher satisfaction with the work we do, and clients who keep coming back to us again and again. They come back because we’ve proven to them we get results, and care for their business success as much as we care about our own.

Examine how you can bring this mindset and way of working into your own business, and commit to being invested in the outcome of your client’s projects. You’ll start seeing a big difference in your business, and soon all your clients will be calling you their Secret Weapon.

 

TL:DR

  • Investing in the outcome is a mindset shift that takes you from hired gun to Secret Weapon by having you truly care about the end results each project you work on achieves.
  • When you’re invested in the outcome of a project, you become more of an expert regarding the strategy and execution, and less worried about crossing tasks off a list.
  • When you invest in the outcome of your projects, you transition your services from expense to investment.
  • Taking the time to discover your client’s true goals and making sure they are specific, measurable, realistic, and time bound will make it more likely you’ll achieve them.
  • Visually representing your projects can help you clearly communicate to your client both the scope of work, and helps you plan to achieve the outcomes easier.
  • While a bit ‘out there,’ look into how you can tie yourself financially to the outcome of a project. Whether it’s commission based, percentage based, or profit split, when you have money riding on it, its easier to invest in the outcome of a project.

When you fully invest in the outcome you get better success stories and your clients come back to you again and again.

 

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