It's time for us to sit down and have an honest discussion about what it means to provide value. Whether you're a photographer, a lawyer, a doula or a startup, it's what we all strive for.
Or, it should be.
Business is a wonderful balance of community and competition. How we compete is informed by the community we creative entrepreneurs are creating. Competition doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, competition should drive us to provide the most value we possibly can to stand out.
It’s a positive outcome of competition. When you innovate and grow, value increases. What that value looks like is shaped heavily by our communities. We may learn:
Thousands of creative entrepreneurs run their businesses with the utmost integrity, selflessness, and value because they are inspired and challenged by those around them. That is value you can't fake.
So when we stop going the extra mile—in how we communicate, carry ourselves, and treat our clients—the difference is pretty easy to spot.
Every now and then, we need a refresher on what it means to truly provide value in our businesses and services. If we don't constantly rethink how we do this, we'll become uncomfortably confronted with how much competition we truly have.
Value isn’t always a fix
Trying to explain what value is can be incredibly difficult. What is valuable to me can be useless to you. It’s what makes establishing a universal-ish guide impossible. There are, however, some common misconceptions about what may be perceived as value that we can dispel.
Many of us may think that our value lies in our ability to fix problems. Solving problems for our customers creates a precedence and establishes us as an authority. When people know you can solve their problems, we hope that means they’ll come back in the future.
Businesses are built on this principle, but there is something deeper we should be tapping into.
What value is not, is a "fix-it."
If you begin to associate providing value with how many problems you can solve in a little time as possible, it’s time for a reset.
True value, is almost never present in the easy or quick solutions. If you want to be seen as an authority on a subject, don’t try fixing everyone’s problems. Get there by being the person who empowers them to solve their own problems.
Doing this creates that association as a value provider you want for your clients, but in a more meaningful way. That’s because in order to empower others, you need to understand what I believe it at the root of true value.
True value comes from empathy.
There is a difference between understanding the problem someone is facing and understanding why they are facing it. What solution they need as opposed to why they are looking for the solution. That fundamental difference is at the very heart of true value. You understand that difference by seeking to empathize with your clients.
According to Webster, empathy is:
“the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”
Competition and empathy can exist together in a business. In fact, to stand out, you need to think about how you empathize better than everyone else; not just how you solve problems.
Once you get into the habit of looking to empathize with your clients, you begin to gain a far more valuable skill: you start to anticipate what things will cause them pain, before they even happen.
This may seem like an odd example, but let's take a look at Amazon for a moment. I assume most of us have experienced ordering on Amazon at some point!
When you are dissatisfied with your Amazon order (even if it has nothing to do with the order itself), Amazon could do one of 3 things:
If you’ve ever dealt with Amazon, you know they practice the latter. As you and I aren’t operating on billions of dollars of revenue, we don’t exactly have the same ability to be as lenient on what we are able to do, but it’s the principle behind that policy that is so fascinating.
Maybe we can't refund our clients without question, but in this situation Amazon chooses to believe that their clients are coming from a place of genuine need, for better or worse. On their massive scale, they are choosing to see be aware of and sensitive to the needs of their clients.
There is nothing stopping you from saying that product you ordered came 5 days late to get some Amazon credit. There is nothing stopping anyone else from benefiting from the empathy you show them, only to walk away. That’s the risk we take, sure. I’m betting Amazon thinks the reward is well worth it.
You will too.
Let's get smart about how we're providing value. Let's stop cutting corners and hoping that our clients won't recognize an obvious set up. More and more of our competitors are going the extra mile to provide value for their clients; don't get left behind doing what you think is enough.
Make yourself an expert on empathy and deep diving solutions. That is the type of buzz that will last.