The client thinks you’re a tool!


To clarify, when I say tool, I’m not talking about you being an idiot. I mean an actual physical tool (like a screwdriver, or a hammer).  The reason they think you’re a tool is based on their perception of you or your brand. Perception affects who will talk to you, how much you will be paid for your next project, and how you will be treated by your client. Whether you’re a freelancer or business owner, you need to consider how you market yourself. In other words, what is your message and how does it relate to your audience?

I’m not saying I have all the answers, but I have done my fair-share of helping clients brand themselves. This has taught me a thing or two about positioning other people’s businesses. Only recently did it occur to me that the tactics we were using for our clients weren’t necessarily the right ones for ourselves. This comes down to how we are thinking about potential clients, and what they need.

Let me give you an example of how perception can affect how you are viewed by your clients, then I’ll get back to Kodis.

A little story

An acquaintance of mine recently posted on a forum asking for input from the community about an issue that he had in a meeting with a client. The issue: he had asked the client an important question about their financial picture in order to gain insight into the business issues they were trying to solve. The answer was key to how he would approach the project. This individual got a lot of valuable feedback from the community, but there was a bigger problem that wasn’t being addressed.

The problem was that when he asked the client his question, the response was something along the lines of “why do you need to know this information? I’m the business person, you’re the developer; you don’t need to worry about the inner workings of my business.” This tells me that the client saw this skilled consultant as nothing more than a tool for him to use.

So, what’s the point? Since the business owner didn’t perceive the consultant for what he is, it tells me there was a disconnect long before this question was posed. That disconnect may have come from how this consultant positions himself on his website, or how another client or peer relayed his qualifications to the client. Either way, the potential client saw him as merely a tool to be used and discarded upon completion of his task.

You’re a tool and don’t even know it!

Let’s use an analogy: When I go to the hardware store to buy a hammer, I don’t spend much time thinking about which one to buy, because most are seemingly the same to me. I can see that they all have various options, but are all generally the same. As long as it will drive a nail into a board, I don’t much care which one I buy.

If you’re a freelancer or business owner, you may have found yourself in the same position as the hammer. You’re sitting on the shelf waiting to be chosen amongst all the other hammers. Maybe the only difference in why you didn’t win a job was because competition had a green handle and yours is blue. Now you might be thinking to yourself, “But, blue is so much better than green!”…and this is where I need to stop you… The issue isn’t whether blue is better than green. The issue is that you’re on the tool shelf with all the other tools (see what I did there?). The issue is that you’re being seen as a tool when you might actually be a magic wand (and who doesn’t like magic? Magic is rad!). But, guess what, you don’t look rad because you’re being perceived as something other than what you are.

Since this is an agency blog I’ll speak to what agencies do that makes them seem like a tool, including Kodis Agency. Raise your hand if any of ways to define yourself seem familiar.

  • You think your awesome portfolio will help you land clients.
  • You anchor your approach on the fact that you have won awards.
  • You have a cool office which will wow the client into hiring you.
  • You tout that you have the the best technology available.
  • You think being creative will allow you to beat out the other creative people.
  • You think being skilled will define your expertise and make you the obvious choice.
  • You think using the same tactics the everyone else uses will get you noticed.
  • You think having a killer process will make you more desirable than others.


The lightbulb moment

Guess what! Some of these things help, but the client still doesn’t know if you’re right for the job. Do you know why? It’s because you’re selling awesome and the client is trying to buy a solution. I’ll pause for a second so you can let that sit in.. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…..Typical agency thought process: “What! The client needs a problem solved, but I have a Webby. Won’t fix that problem for them? No? You’re joking right?”

Like many agencies and freelancers you’re showcasing your arguments for your awesomeness. Yeah, it’s great to see a project that works or looks good, but is that what a person thinking about engaging you is looking for? Probably not. Afterall, they’re not skilled in the same fields and they don’t put the same weight on the what you can do as you do. Remember the hammer analogy?

Potential clients want to know that you can solve whatever problem they’re having. So, market yourself as a problem-solver who will act as a consultant to their businesses and make “product x” work better for their business. Stop marketing yourself as a tool.

You see, selling awesome doesn’t tell a client if you can solve their problem it just tells them that you’re a shiny tool. You’re selling features or capabilities like a tool but not expertise like a consultant. A tool only has specific functions it can’t do much more than what it’s made for. You, on the other hand, are a living thing capable of so much more than just taking orders and being disposed of. How do you want to be viewed?

If the other kids jumped off the cliff, would you?

So, why do we all think this way? In school you were taught that to get a job, you need to have a good portfolio. A good portfolio means you’ll get hired and someone will pay you lots of money to do awesome things, like make fonts and colors appear in an appealing way. The error here is that the same logic is applied when you’re a freelancer and, for some of us (cough “Kodis Agency,” cough), we’ve been using that same thought process to get hired by clients. Thus, we completely miss the point: getting hired by a client isn’t the same as getting hired by employer.

When you want to get hired by an agency, they want to see your talent. When a client comes to you, they have a problem that they would like for you to solve. Just being awesome doesn’t mean you can solve a problem. That’s part of the reason so many of us have spent so much #$%$## time doing @#$#@# RFPs (that you rarely win). In the RFP, the client is seeking someone who can solve an issue. Are you really telling them what you will do to solve their problem, or are you just telling them how your hammer has the perfect shade of blue?

Once more, with feeling…

Let’s recap. The client has a problem, but you haven’t positioned yourself in a relevant way, and the client thinks you’re the same as every other vendor out there. This means that you may win some projects and you may lose some, but you probably do so without ever really knowing why. You’re just floating along, blissfully unaware of what is making or breaking you. It’ll all work out, right?

What’s the answer? You need to position yourself in a different way. In our case we will be re-examining everything we do, and how we say it. We are going to try to get more specific in how we have helped clients, how we helped to improve their businesses. More importantly, we are going to stop presenting ourselves like all the other tools.

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