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5 Reasons Your Work Isn't Worth What You Think

If you find yourself complaining about how customers or employers don't value your work the way they should, you are not alone.

You are also wrong.
A lawyer friend (two words that rarely appear in the same sentence) constantly whines about changes in his industry. Online services like LegalZoom have siphoned off much of his gravy work: Forming corporations, filing straightforward divorces, filing trademark applications, etc.

He charges about $1,500 to form an LLC. Online services charge between $100 and $400. He thinks the problem is that people who don't value his work properly, but the real problem is his perspective.

Here are five reasons your work may not be worth what you think:

  1. What you do can be reduced to a set of guidelines, rules, or checklists. What Daniel Pink calls "left brain dominant" skills -- processes or tasks that can be captured in a series of steps or scripts -- become increasingly less valuable due to automation, outsourcing, and an abundance of providers. For example, forming a corporation involves a series of steps, and automation allows any of us to accurately complete those steps.
  2. Your perception of quality differs from that of your customers. The BNET BizHacks post Make Web Designers Battle It Out For Your Business prompted a number of comments from graphic design professionals who feel crowdsourcing competitions -- in effect, lots of low-cost providers -- devalues their profession and results in low quality work. But quality is in the eye of the customer: When a customer is completely satisfied with what you perceive as low quality work, is the customer wrong? If I'm happy with an off the rack suit the folks at Prada can turn up their noses all they want, but I'm right.
  3. Customers value specialization, not bundling. Many service providers tout "one stop shop" capabilities, but many customers prefer a la carte purchasing so they only pay for what they need. Bundling creates cost efficiencies and synergies that often benefit you, not the customer. The fact you provide in-home water treatment systems and complete bathroom design services is irrelevant when I just need a plumber to fix a leak.
  4. Customers and employers see your work as a commodity. Process control and automation have also turned many skilled professions into commodities. Web design, for example, is now in large part a commodity. Same with accounting, legal services, medicine... not because those professionals aren't highly skilled but because customers can easily receive similar levels of quality and service from a variety of sources. Are some providers better than others? Absolutely -- but to most customers, "good" is sufficient for their needs. Why pay for "great" when I only need "good"? When I only need "good" I view your business or skill as a commodity.
  5. Technology lets customers perform a reasonable facsimile of what you provide. I can build a WordPress site in the morning, create a corporation in the afternoon, and set up accounting for a new company in QuickBooks while I'm eating at my desk -- for a lot less than what I would pay a web designer, a lawyer, and an accountant. Plus I learn things in the process that I wouldn't if I turn those jobs over to you. When I can do it on my own and be satisfied, your company can't charge as much -- or pay employees as much.
Take a look at your business or profession. Do any of the above apply? If so, change your perspective. Stop wishing for the good old days -- they're gone. You are only "worth" what customers or employers are willing to pay. Focus on providing the kinds of services customers gladly pay a premium to receive, or on gaining the skills employers pay a premium to have on staff.

Think about it this way: I may know how to set up Quickbooks in twenty minutes, but I don't know every accounting and tax strategy that will save my company money. That's why I need my accountant -- and why I gladly pay for her help.

Specialized knowledge and services will always be valuable. Make sure you take advantage of yours.

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Photo courtesy flickr user Zach Klein, CC 2.0
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