I was sitting in Starbucks today when another patron spotted my iPad and asked how I liked it. In less than five minutes, I had found out more about her business and been asked for a quote for web and mobile development. These kinds of occurrences aren’t rare for me; I frequently meet people randomly and end up working with them in some capacity.
After she left, I got to thinking about clients in general and why I don’t worry too much about whether I’ll have work in the future. I know that sounds conceited, and there are many things that could prove me wrong (like the economy cratering, disability, etc), but I just feel so much more confident about my career than I used to.
What changed? Well, I used to think that career development was about technical skills development. And for some people, that might be true, at least to some extent. But I would bet that for most people in most careers, their technical skillset isn’t really what needs to improve before they can improve their career. People are remarkably adept at learning as they go. If you’re reading this right now, there’s a very good chance that you already have the technical skills to be making more than what you are, whether as an employee, freelancer, or entrepreneur.
You need to just learn one thing really well:
That’s vague, I know, but it has much less to do with technical skills and much more to do with both listening and hustling. Clients rarely hire me for my technical skills. They hire me because they have a problem, and I can solve it. They rarely care about the details, and in fact they’ll usually pay more to not have to worry about the details. Few clients want a WordPress site or an HTML5 app, and they really don’t want to have to decide which they should have. They want someone to help them get more leads, sell more widgets, or get more signups.
If you want to make more, take the next month or two and really try listening and trying to understand the client’s (or manager’s or customer’s) needs and true problem, and then hustling to find the right solution. Be warned: it’s not easy. You have to figure out what they want and then be proactive and offer a great solution instead of reactive and waiting to be managed toward one.
There’s one more important step you can’t forget: once you’ve done all that and blown people away, demand to be paid for it. It won’t be hard; people who genuinely solve problems are rare.