Refining your craft won’t
get you more clients.

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

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Before you start objecting, bear with me for a second.

Are the most successful individuals with the most clients, page views, followers or conference attendance numbers the absolute best at what they do? No.
Is the most intelligent trainer in the world the one with the most clients? No.
Is the most talented singer in the world the one with the biggest concerts and the most fans? No.
Is the financial advisor who knows the most about market and investment intricacies the one with the biggest book of business? Not always.
Is the business owner that knows the most about his or her industry the most successful person in their field? Probably not.
Is the most technically skilled writer also the most published author? Nope.

What the hell are you getting at here, Lorenzo?

Knowing more does not translate into attracting more business. Technical proficiency and scale of success are not causally connected in a linear way. Investing in getting better at the technical side of your craft might not be the best use of your time and money. Spending money to know more about your craft doesn’t directly translate to making more money on the back end — at least when growth and building value are concerned.

Allow me to explain, using myself and some personal training colleagues over the years as examples.

For a while, I thought I needed to spend every effing dollar I made on some form of continuing education so I could have the competitive advantage of knowing more than other trainers. I was convinced knowing more would automatically mean more people would want to work with me. When I finished my latest workshop, more business would materialize. Not true. Whether you’re a personal trainer, yoga instructor, chiropractor, writer, freelance marketer, Social Media manager, Financial Advisor or dog walker, simply being more technically qualified will not get you more clients, more business and more money. The questions might then become, “How do people know how much you know?” “Why should they care?” “How does your knowledge translate into an effective service?” “How does you knowing more benefit anyone?” “Why can’t I just hire the cheaper alternative?” and (more importantly), “When might the desire to ‘know more’ be a clever tactic to hide and avoid challenging your fears?”

I am not saying you shouldn’t place high value on exchanging your money for tools, resources and knowledge that will make you a better version of yourself and whatever it is you offer. It’s a sign of humility to be willing to trade money for understanding. You have to be convinced there are things you don’t know but are willing to pay to understand. I’m not poo-pooing more education, so if you think that, keep reading. If you already know everything and have nothing left to learn, then keep your money and stop reading this article. I like growth and evolving and if you don’t, I have nothing of value for you. If you value learning and education I’m not saying you need to stop doing what you are doing or stop spending money on things that will improve your technical skills. In fact, keep spending more if you’d like! What I am recommending is you get really clear on what results you are seeking and take the appropriate next steps that are immediately relevant to that result. This isn’t a black-and-white problem so let’s check the black-and-white thinking at the door. If you want measurably more business and more clients, then going to a certification is not the most immediately relevant next step. Does that mean that it isn’t a good idea? No. But if you want more business and more clients, you must engage in activities that are directly related to helping you get more business. For example, communication and appointment-setting skills, selling skills, how you market what you do, how you approach people to potentially work with, how you network and possibly the most important of all, your fundamental, underlying perceptions of selling, marketing and business. Your perceptions of what you think you need to do might not be what will actually get you the results that you want.

I see this in fitness and health all the time. A lot of people still believe if they just eat less and do more cardio and elliptical they will be lean, firm and svelte with a nice butt. What they think they need to do is not what actually works. (At the very least, it is not what works best.) These folks are simply suffering from the cognitive bias known as the commitment consistency bias: You are committed to a particular way of doing things more than you are committed to the end game goal itself. You are romantic about your approach, even in the face of potentially better solutions. You want to take a journey you want versus the journey that will actually get you to the destination you talk about wanting. In this case, there are two options: change the journey or change the destination. If I want to lose 10 pounds before my summer trip but want to keep having dessert after every single meal, my journey is not mapping to the destination I want. So I either change my journey and stop eating the cake or I change the destination and stop wanting to lose 10 pounds. You need to be honest and you need to be practical. All of us must obey the laws of physics and the rule of cause and effect. No one is exempt. You’re not special. I’m sorry. You’re parents were wrong. It’s very possible what you think you need or what you want to think you need is not what you actually need.

If you’ve already invested thousands of dollars into your set of skills and education but are struggling to find the clients you want, this might be a sign you need to redirect your efforts and resources. I’ve seen many a trainer and pilates or yoga instructor suffer from this. I’m going to throw something out there, not because I believe it is a universal truth for all people, but because I know I and some others out there had this experience or felt this way. Spending time and money on continuing education, on tactics and strategies and on specific knowledge is a great way to hide from the often uncomfortable emotional effort of communicating with people and doing the real work. It’s legitimate work no one would question, except me — and Seth Godin. (Seth Godin talks almost exclusively about this in his book, Linchpin). Physical effort and intellectual effort are very different from emotional effort. You can be super busy with emails and phone calls and scheduling and super busy with workshops and books and intellectual activity, yet be totally and completely avoiding the pivotal actions that will lead to the results you really want. Sitting in a workshop or training is not as emotionally challenging as reaching out to potential clients, setting meets and trying to communicate with another person in real-time with the risk they will not find you credible, want what you offer or a myriad of other things. It’s not the same as looking for opportunities to start cultivating the characteristics you need more of to get the results you actually want. A serious gutcheck and audit of where you’re at, coupled with the most honest version of yourself you can bring to the table are a good starting point. Lying does absolutely no good here. If you find yourself claiming to know why you’re not getting the results you say you want, stop it. What if you don’t know? What is so bad about saying you have absolutely no idea why you can’t get the results you want?

I’m going to cheat and give you one of many answers. One possibility might be if you actually admit you have no idea, you’ll have to go out and ask for help. And if you have to go out and ask for help, then people will definitely know you have no idea what you are doing. And if people know you don’t know what you’re doing, they won’t take you seriously forever. And that means no business. You want to figure it out yourself so you can have whatever good feeling you’re going to give yourself by believing it’s only you that knows how to solve the problems you’re facing (these are the people that hate coaches, consultant and scoff at personal and professional development). FYI: This is how your health, ideas, projects, relationships and businesses die. You might not know anything other than using education (or anything else for that matter) as a tool (crutch) to get by. If I just knew more, people would take me seriously. If I had better equipment, people would want to work with me. If I can get a few more certifications, then people will see that I know what I’m doing. We’ve been sold this story for a long time. If you just get a college education and make sure you have an $80,000 piece of paper proving you know stuff, then you’ll get the job, money, experience, opportunity, the good life, blah blah blah blah.

I’m here to say it’s gonna take more than that. How much more? I have no idea, even for myself, because I am still figuring it out every day. In the past, I hired numerous trainers that had advanced college degrees or certifications in some field of study that sounded really impressive when they said it out loud. But these same smart people were often unwilling — or struggled immensely — to enthusiastically have tons of conversations with strangers, risk being turned down or feel awkward because they didn’t know what to say next. They struggled to implement systems to measure their efforts and results and fail again and again until they got it or give up completely on their current way of doing things only to adopt an entirely new approach. Why? Because education isn’t always the solution; it’s a part of it. You can be the most intelligent human but if you are socially inept and emotionally weak, you might just be SOL. But hey, you know big words! Once again, I’m not disparaging education or knowledge at all. I’m simply offering up this idea: To believe that simply being educated causes success automatically is a farce. Education + Context + Emotional Effort + Repetition = Success might be a more accurate equation, but I’m limited to my own perspective so the equation might be totally different for you.

So what am I advocating for, exactly? Lots of question asking. What if what you need is a coach or outside resource to help you ferret out ways to operate your health, business, project or idea that you couldn’t have thought of yourself? Well, that only makes you like every other astronomically successful human. They build teams around them to shore up their gaps and limitations. What if what you actually need isn’t more education but rather systems and a structure to channel your existing knowledge into actions mapping towards selling what you have to offer to potential clients? What if what you need is a better sales process? What if you need to simplify what you tell people it is that you do and offer? What if you suck at networking but need to meet more people? What if what you need is the thing you’re convinced you don’t need? Then go and do those things! Or don’t, but then you forfeit the right to complain. (Well, you can still complain, but it’ll sound even sillier.) If you feel fear at the idea of doing these or any other activities unrelated to learning more technical skills, you might be on to something. In a recent conversation with business owner and avid networker, Mike Nelson, he dropped this nugget of wisdom I think perfectly summarizes what I am trying to say: If you don’t have time to meditate for 20 minutes every day, you should meditate for 40 minutes every day. Whatever reason you tell yourself for not being able to do something probably justifies why you need to do that thing more. Time and money are not reasons not to do stuff so stop using them.

Here’s another thought experiment you might try. What if you could never learn anything else about your business that would give you an intellectual competitive advantage? How would you spend your time? What would you do? Perhaps after a time, you would find all the ways to get good at all the other stuff that would allow you to deliver your thing to people in a way that everyone felt good about. Again, for the black-and-white thinkers, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have expertise, technical skills or product knowledge. Of course, you need these things. But you could be the most intelligent person with widget ABC and what it offers in terms of features and benefits but if you suck at communicating and you’re terrible at asking people the right questions to find out if you can help them with widget ABC or whether or not it’s a fit for their needs, wants, and desires, and you avoid networking, then all your knowledge is for naught. Conversely, let’s say Person B (we’ll call her Sally) has entry level, rudimentary knowledge of Widget ABC but loves people, conversations, sharing and communicating in a way that tells stories, inspire and motivate. Let’s also say Sally knows her widget is not for everyone and actively seeks to weed out the people that aren’t a fit or will never use Widget ABC. She only looks for the select few, the edges — according to Seth Godin — the early adopters  — according to Simon Sinek — and nerds, that will love Widget ABC. She might have half the technical knowledge that you — the “expert” — have, but she might just do dramatically better. She spends time on emotional effort and people, not technical expertise and certifications.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be pursuing enhancements to your knowledge. It’s just that external resources and strategies are not the same as internal qualities and characteristics. Only you can know if you are using the I need more knowledge statement as a tool or as a crutch to hide from effort that scares you. A lot of you won’t have the strength or willingness yet to be that honest and, that is okay. At least you know what you’re willing to do or not do right now. A lot of people aren’t willing to admit they actually don’t want to be healthier and that it is the real reason why they are not losing weight or getting stronger or faster. They like the comfort and laxity of eating whatever they want, drinking those cocktails or doing the same exercise routines yet again. Just like some of us like staying in our comfort zones and not doing things that make us feel like we are going to melt or explode. You might talk about wanting it but you don’t actually want it. I really mean this: It’s okay. You can’t expect yourself to be a hero if you haven’t been practicing. You’re not good at the things you’re not good at for a reason. No one is mysteriously shitty at doing stuff. You suck because you don’t or haven’t done that thing enough times to figure out how to be better or different. Crossfitters are known for embracing the suck and I think this applies to anything else you want to be more fit with. You’ll need to be uncomfortable, terrible, scared, awkward, unskilled or hesitant for however long it takes until you figure out how to be another way.

So, what specific result do you want? What activity has the highest likelihood of directly causing that result? Are you doing that activity? Are you doing that activity enough and with consistency? How are you measuring that activity? If you’re avoiding that activity, why? What are you choosing to do instead? What are you telling yourself out loud or in your head to justify why what you are choosing is a better option? Who is holding you accountable? If no one is, why not? I’m not saying you are going to miraculously change your life circumstances starting tomorrow because it might take time and practice. I’m also not saying it isn’t possible. What if the scary thing you tell yourself is going to happen actually isn’t going to happen? And for those of you still arguing in your head with me that the bad thing will happen, so what? You do realize the people most okay with being physically sore are the people who are physically sore most often, right? If the bad thing happens enough and you get emotionally sore, you will eventually realize that is actually how you know if you are pushing yourself in a meaningful way or not. If you work out all the time but you’re never sore, then you’re not working out hard enough. Sorry, but put down the barbie weights and do some actual work. If you’re trying to find clients for the work you do but aren’t scared, overwhelmed, confused, awkward, hesitant or terrified every day, cut the shit and start doing some real work. That’s it. Super simple.

And just in case in makes you feel better, this article exists merely as the summation of a bunch of journaling I’ve done with myself to move myself in the same direction. In reality, I’m actually writing this to myself so I can keep workshopping and thinking of ways to change how I work with myself to put forth better effort. In effect, this article is mostly for me. Selfish? Perhaps, but hopefully you take something away from it, as well. We lie to ourselves on a scale that is truly baffling and keep letting ourselves get away with it. Today might be the day to call your bluff and cut it out. The difference could be more of the same or more of something better than you can possibly imagine. You choose.

 

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