Do the hard work – It pays well

Karl Palachuk

I recently met someone whose company works big jobs. For example, they migrate a few thousand desktops at a time. Or they install HIPAA compliant software across a three state hospital system all at once. They have about fifty employees total.

Hard-WorkI asked him how he finds such jobs. He said something very interesting: They only bid on jobs with the absolute highest level of difficulty, for which the barriers to entry are significantly above the norm. Why? Near-zero competition.

I have long advocated that you should “niche the rich” – In other words, serve the clients with the money. When you do this, you avoid all the conversations about whether your services are worthwhile or whether maintenance makes any sense at all.

But this approach, taking on the really hard jobs, is a twist on that.

Why only bid on jobs with a high barrier to entry? The quick answer was, “We want to pay our engineers very well and keep them around.” High barrier jobs pay a premium. Very few people have a resume that includes the kinds of jobs they do. So the price is high, includes high salaries, and includes first-rate equipment, and first-rate tools.

Taking On the Big Challenges

So let’s look at this approach for a minute. How do you make yourself valuable enough that you can bid on jobs with a high barrier to entry? Well, you’re going to need six things that separate you from the masses. Remember – you need to differentiate yourself in order to avoid being a commodity.

Knowledge-Base1. Knowledge. Whether it’s knowledge of a vertical market or specialized knowledge on a product, knowledge will always elevate your value to prospective clients. In a very broad sense, technical support is a knowledge business.

The collective “we” know about computers, networks, security, and databases. We know about cloud services and hosted email servers. We know all kinds of things. But what do you know that sets you apart? Are you a specialist on HIPAA? On migrations?

Remember that even experience is a kind of knowledge. Think about how sports teams to get to the big playoffs. Knowing how the Super Bowl is different from every other game is a kind of knowledge that you just can’t teach. It’s learned from experience. Which big jobs have given you knowledge that others do not have?

tools2. Tools. For most of use, the tools of our trade are very similar – and very basic. But sometimes tech support is a little like car repair, and you need a specialty tool to accomplish the job. At the simplest level this might be a signal tester. At the higher end, it might be a $10,000 piece of equipment or an expensive software subscription.

Most people in our business only invest in a few high-end tools because we rarely have a use for them. Turn that around and think about the kind of work you might have if you only focused on jobs that require a high investment in tools or software. You already know that most potential competitors won’t follow suit.

3. Techniques. Part of your branding is your approach to problems. How do you deliver services in a way that stands out? For example, we excel at documentation. We know that most consultants are not willing to put in the time and effort to fully, thoroughly document a network. Anyone could do this. They simply choose not to.

Think about the processes and procedures that make your company stand out. Which of these can you take to the next level? What do you do (or what can you do) that can elevate you into a “world class” level of operation?

Happy-Employees4. Employees. One of the key elements that my friend mentioned was the ability to pay his engineers a high wage – and keep them around. His engineers have been with the company an average of seven years. That’s almost unheard of today.

Gathering, nurturing, and retaining good employees takes a lot of hard work, planning, and money. Obviously, the money piece goes hand in hand with being able to charge very high rates. You can always kick start this by charging more and then hiring good employees, but maintaining awesome employees who deliver solid service is a long-term commitment.

5. Relationships. As with any business, a high-end business needs to rely on strong relationships. That means you spend more time managing the client relationship than selling the next job. Make your high-end clients happy and they will tell their friends.

Think about how this works at the highest level: Pretty much no one else can do a specific job. If you do a poor job, people will not refer you. If you do a good job, then a natural referral system emerges. Your client hangs out with others in their industry. When someone comes to them and says “Who did you find to do that impossible job?” they begin to talk about you and your awesome company.

But it’s up to you to loop back and communicate with your client. Maintain that relationship and keep yourself top-of-mind. All business is “small” business when it comes to personal relationships. Nurture it and keep it alive.

Out-of-the-Ordinary6. Out of the ordinary. Finally, you need to really focus on what makes you different. Maybe it’s simply all of the above. But you should solidify exactly what it is. Find a theme or a phrase that you can use internally and externally.

This piece is not some theoretical exercise so you can put a meaningless plaque on the wall. Just the opposite: This is an opportunity to explore the core elements that make your company better than anyone else. What drives you? Why do you exist? Who do you serve? When people inside your company get excited about what you do, what exactly are they excited about? That’s a very good hint about what makes you different.

It is impossible to differentiate yourself by saying you’re the best. I recently Googled the phrase “We are the best” in quotation marks. I got 552 million hits. (“We’re different” only got 61 million.)

Everyone claims to be the best. Everyone claims to have the skills and the experience. You need to build a company that is the best at what you do if you want other people to spread the message that you’re the best. When you truly perform at the highest level, you simply know that you “own” that space.

When you find yourself worrying about whether you’ve got the best tools, the best software, and the best people, it’s probably a good sign that you’re operating among the best companies in your field. And you don’t have to worry about finding good-paying work when you only bid on the highest-paying jobs out there.

Most of us spend too much time being the best company that’s just like every other company in our business. Maybe it’s time to consider being the best company that can be called on for the really tough jobs. After all, there’s a lot less competition when you focus on jobs that are very, very difficult to do well.

If you think about it, there’s no downside to being the absolute best at what you do.