Rule of Work: If you must choose, sell more rather than save more. Both are good, but it’s a matter of priorities.
As I contemplate “quitting the day job” (OK, so I’m not quitting – the project is at completion and I’ve finished – but I’m referring to not replacing it with another one), I am automatically cutting costs, and preparing to cut others. The obvious large chunks. Some of the small ones if they take no effort to dismiss.
The other night I spent an hour to save more than $100 in the coming year, for instance, and am feeling pretty good about it. It’s money I had no need to spend. However, let’s analyze that. At $100/hour, someone who does contract work might be feeling pretty good. In fact, it might be tempting to say it’s better than $80/hour working. I’m not so sure. Cutting a cost didn’t enhance my marketing. It didn’t send me referrals. It didn’t add to my portfolio or create the potential to add value for added fees. All it did was remove something.
To further illustrate this, who of us hasn’t spent more than $100 on our marketing? If not, what are you waiting for – this isn’t Field of Dreams. How much would you spend to get a client? Per client? $100? I might. Especially if I was hungry, I might. So which would be better – saving $100 or getting a client?
I’m a fan of cost cutting. I respect cost cutting. I have to engage in cost cutting or my business will die and I will end up working for someone else’s business, helping them… hmm…. I won’t be helping them with cost cutting. Most likely, I’ll be helping them sell. That’s the only reason to hire me – I can sell at a time when businesses are cutting costs.
So the point is to turn that ability into an asset for one’s own business. All of us can sell, or else we employ really good people who can sell for us. But we’re all in the business of selling something. Products, services, or just our charm and good looks. Well, actually I don’t have much charm. It’s a question of focus. The focus, especially now, especially when this economy can rear up and try to scare us, and the temptation to make it about cutting costs pokes at us. Again, if we focus mainly on cost cutting and not sales, we’ll be out selling someone else’s widgets before long. This is exactly the time to be selling our own – to spend our “off” hours not dozing, not lazing around, not waiting for clients, and not even searching for that last penny to save. It’s time to beat the bushes harder than ever.
You remember the parable of the talents. I hate to use a religious metaphor so soon after having used another one, but it’s that or a reference to Disney, and they’re not making metaphors as well as they used to. You can bury that talent in the ground, and not spend a darned dime. You can cut costs so low that nothing costs you anything, and hang on to what you have. Or you can do what the righteous do. You can go out and invest. Invest in your business. And seek the reward that comes to the faithful steward. Remember, your business is something to which you have a responsibility to be loyal, faithful, dedicated. You owe it, in the same way you owe praise to whoever cooks your dinner. So you can’t just bury the coin and sit on it. Faithfulness to your business means tend the crops, thresh the grain, bring in the new wine, and so on.
For those of you who are religious, I’m not saying your business is the highest good in the universe. It’s just the highest good when it comes to your work, if you happen to be a business owner, precisely because it belongs to the Chairman of the Board – and I don’t mean Frank Sinatra. Food is meant to be eaten, it’s for the good of your body and soul – it’s not for putting in a glass case and gawking at. Same thing with your business. Nourish it, tend it, and let it nourish you back. At least, that’s what I’m going to do.
I’m not really giving advice, even if I seem like it. So don’t go thinking I know anything about where the market’s going and all that. I’m pretty pessimistic about that. I’m optimistic about where I’m going, and partly because I choose to see this market as an opportunity. I’m really writing so I can ponder the things I’m going to do to not merely ride through, but to try to prosper during a flood. And if I borrow a religious metaphor or two, it may be because I find myself praying quietly “Lord have mercy”, because it’s an awfully audacious thing to set out to do and, if there’s something I’m afraid, of it’s pride. Arrogance? No. But pride, yeah – that’s one expense I can’t afford. What I can afford is the determination to market my work with more effort than I use to protect it or myself. It’s a risk, but this seems like a moment when gamblers bank on rules like this one which, put another way is: sell yourself long when the chips are low. But I like to keep my rules metaphor-free: sell more than you save.