Better Than It Has To Be

Amalie Motor Oil’s slogan is “Better Than It Has To Be…Since 1903”. That caught my eye recently when I was searching for the best hydraulic oil replacement in my Kubota M5–111.

That’s a cute slogan for an oil company, but I’ll bet many of you could embrace that sentiment, too. Here’s the problem, though. Up and down the professional service ladder you’ll find an interesting inverse correlation:

The more invested you are in the work itself, the less money you make.

In that world, the clients are fun, interesting people…who give you fun, interesting opportunities. Your duty to them isn’t just to do work that meets their expectations, but rather to do work that meets your peer’s expectations, too.

Folks like you care the most. Then maybe architects. Then engineers. All the way up that professional service ladder.

It’s this curse: you simply cannot care less than the job requires. Your reputation is on the line, and not only with peers but with employees.

What you tell yourself is that you can’t under-deliver because you’ve literally built your business on prospective clients noticing the great work you’ve done, which keeps leading to more and more opportunity for you.

But the cycle continues nevertheless, and it looks like this:

  1. Client gets you excited about the opportunity.
  2. You agree to a price that is good enough but doesn’t really cover the glorious landscape your client described originally. It’s a bit more pedestrian.
  3. You deliver the work. It doesn’t just match the amount of money agreed to–it actually meets and possibly exceeds that glorious vision the client described!*

*And the client doesn’t even notice the difference in what you did for them.

I don’t have a solution for this. I’m in the same boat you are. When I’m consulting with a client, my hopes are high and I’m very engaged. I can’t mail it in. I have to stay on the ragged edge and keep learning and leave everything on the table.

While I don’t have a solution, I’d urge you to think about these three bar graphs and how they impact you, your clients, and your employees.

You are a craftsman and you’re going to do the things that nobody else will even notice. That’s what you love about your work. But it needs to be balanced if you’re going to do this for decades.

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