The Power of Teaching

December 2015 update: I wrote a book on freelancing/consulting with my mastermind group. Learn more about that here.

If you're a freelancer or consultant, you probably wouldn't mind closing more deals with prospects, right? The more deals you can close, the more you can charge, the more selective you can be, the more enjoyable your work will be, the less you can choose to work...quite the domino effect. Want to know about the most powerful tool there is for closing more deals? It's teaching.

I follow a guy named Patrick McKenzie online. Some of you may know him as patio11 (that's his username on twitter, Hacker News, etc.). He's extremely intelligent, and more than that, he's extremely generous with advice and insight. You should probably go read everything on his blog. Wait! Finish this post, THEN go read his blog.

David vs. Goliath

One of my favorite stories that Patrick tells is about the time that he was dealing with a prospective consulting client. [Patrick, if you're reading this and I've gotten some of the details wrong, please let me know! Hopefully I've conveyed the idea accurately] At the time, this would have been a fairly big client for Patrick. As he always does, he talked to the prospect, learned about their pain points, their business goals and needs, etc., and then told them how he thought their problems should be solved. As it turns out, Patrick was up against a major player in the industry: IBM. When his prospect talked to the folks from IBM, they told them how Patrick had proposed the problem be solved, and point-blank asked if IBM would solve it the same way. They said no, so the prospect promptly hired Patrick for the engagement. That's the power of teaching.

Update: Patrick notes "the competing firm was not literally IBM, but that's the right flavor." Thanks for the correction, Patrick.

Wait, what?

Ok, so why did the client hire Patrick based on that? So his process sounded better to what? Don't misunderstand: it isn't the fact that they liked Patrick's suggestions better than IBM's (although they did). It's that by taking the time to explain exactly what he was going to do, Patrick demonstrated expertise and earned their trust. They saw that he was highly knowledgable in his field (probably unlike the sales drones IBM sent out), and that he held strong opinions about how to achieve their goals.

I don't have that kind of time

Now, you might protest that Patrick is at a whole different level – when he was still consulting, he charged five figures per week, so he could afford to spend a bunch of time meeting with and teaching prospects. You, on the other hand, might not quite be to the level of charging that much (I'm not either), so you have to do a little more volume to make up for it. Which of course makes it hard to justify spending a ton of time with someone until you've closed a deal. Hey, I get it! I hate wasting time with someone who's only kicking the tires just as much as you do. So, what to do?

Scale it up

You understand the power of scaling something, right? If you're reading this, you're likely some kind of designer, developer, consultant, or general web-person, so you get the multiplicative power of doing something once and then cranking the dials to make it work at a higher level. Well, that's what you need to do with teaching! Sure, you can't justify sitting down for hours with every new prospect that comes your way. But why not sit down for an hour or two a week and write a few blog posts, explaining some part of what you do? That way, any time you get a new contact from a prospect, you can send them your standard response, questionnaire, etc., but now you can include links to a few blog posts that fit their situation and have some helpful information for them.

If he can do it, you can do it

Want a great example of scaling up the teaching? Take a look at Bill Erickson's blog. He's established himself as one of the leading WordPress developers using the Genesis theme framework, and his blog shows why: it's loaded with development tips and tricks, lessons learned, and more. When prospects arrive at his site, within a few minutes they can see that he's an expert, so they don't have to worry about figuring out if he can handle the technical challenges that lie ahead.

Do you hear that?

It's the sound of even more new prospects. The nice little side benefit of all that writing you're doing? More traffic to your site, which means more prospects who, before they even contact you, have read some of your teaching-oriented writing and can see that you're an expert in your field. The result? They show up ready to throw money at you.

What did I miss?

Does this resonate with you? Want to do more teaching but don't know where to start? Post a comment below explaining your situation and I'll do everything I can to help you get started. Anything you think I should have mentioned? Speak your mind!