Where does your value lie?

Where does your value lie?

I woke up this morning to news analysis about the recent Instant Articles deal that Facebook made with nine big media outlets. Social media and the democratization of publishing have already turned us all into “journalists”, and this move further brings into question where news outlets fit in to today’s society and where their future lies.

Beyond the obvious concerns of journalistic integrity and professionalism is a simple truth: that media is a business like any other. News outlets rely on advertising to stay afloat. So if they are no longer even their own distributors, what will their value be to advertisers? Will they be cut out of the equation? And if so, what will they become? How will they survive? What will their value be?

My attention was then drawn to a tweet that only caught my eye because it dismayed at WordPress not getting a favorable mention in a certain article. When I clicked through and saw both the title “Forget Social Media! Build Your Very Own Website” and an example site about puppies, I almost cmd+w’d.

But then I remembered that I had a phone call to make. So I kept reading.

Essentially, the article goes on to vaunt the services of sites like Squarespace and Wix that give people a platform and tools to build their own websites. DIY approaches to many projects, web and otherwise, can be very empowering. And with limited budgets, it’s normal people seek out alternatives to hiring professionals. I get that.

This was exactly what the phone call I had to make was about, and why I started connecting these dots, asking myself, “Where is my value? Is my profession going to become obsolete too?”

Many professionals I’ve worked with are of the mind that they know best and customers should simply listen and abide. I am not of this opinion. I believe that client relationships are a dialogue and that everyone has something to bring to the table. Yet, there is a line to be drawn. There must be boundaries, and it is up to the professional in the relationship to recognize and enforce them.

When I tell my plumber that I want to move my washing machine from one end of the house to another, I expect him to accommodate me, but to draw the line when I ask for it to be done yesterday, or if I ask for it to also wash my dishes and make me coffee.

Clients have hopes and dreams (and sometimes fantasies). Professionals need to push their own limits in order to create great things, all the while keeping clients firmly grounded in reality.

I am several weeks into a new project, and was starting to have doubts that I had read the situation correctly. Some of the initial feedback we were getting was maybe disappointing, but was within acceptable boundaries. Until this week, when I started becoming concerned that the requests being made were undermining what we were trying to accomplish.

People hire us to create original websites that solve specific problems, and distinguish themselves visually from other sites. Had we accepted the requests we were getting, the site would have been transformed into just another site. It would have become something you could build with Squarespace, or with a premium WordPress theme. So what was the point? I was afraid she was ultimately wasting her money.

So when I rang, I just asked her, “Would you rather be doing this yourself?”

It was a risk I felt I had to take: To admit that she might better accomplish what she wanted by other means.

The conversation that followed was nothing short of amazing.

Ultimately people want boundaries. They need direction just as much as they need to be tethered to the ground.

Presenting the possibility that she might be better off on her own made her question what she really wanted. And as we went through the different requests, point by point, I made my arguments defending our work. I took the time to explain the reasons behind the choices we were making, and why some of what she was asking would be detrimental. We even went a little deeper and were able to cut away some fat that was lurking and weighing the project down.

After an hour and a half on the phone, not only did she sign off on our work, but we had made some great additional improvements. Together, by talking it out.

In the start of new projects, regardless of the experience level of the client, I always do my best to reinforce the notion that every web project is a process. It’s an adventure that we embark on together, with many elements known and others unknown. Much of it is less about building a site and more about facing fears: Where is my business going? Does this represent me and my activity? Will this help me achieve my goals? Is the investment worth it? How do I measure success?

It was at the end of this conversation that I had a very clear image of where my value lies. She said things like, “Thank you for talking me off a ledge,” and “You’re so good at holding my hand.”

This illustrated for me that most of the work I do—the value I bring—is not in the fact that I know HTML, PHP, CSS, JavaScript or the intricacies of WordPress. This actually has very little value to my clients. The value I bring comes from the experience I have in completing the process, and in my capacity to communicate that to clients from beginning to end. DIY sites can never replace the personalized service and attention that agencies and freelancers like myself bring to the table.

No, I don’t always get it right. Relationships take work, and not everyone is a good match.

What is important is the willingness to move forward with complete transparency. What is important is knowing how to listen, how to set boundaries and how to recognize when you’re not cut out for the job (or the client isn’t cut out for you).

Because ultimately, if I’m not bringing value to a project, then I’m just taking people’s money for nothing. And my mom raised me better than that.