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The Difficulty of Adding Value

A friend of mine is in the middle of negotiating a business deal.  We spoke last week, as he’s really excited about the opportunity but the terms are currently below his standards.  He wasn’t quite sure what to do.

The middle of the conversation went something like this:

Me: “So what you need to do is let him speak, ask good questions, listen well, and based off what he said – find ways to give him more value”

Friend: “Okay, but how do I do that?”

His question was good, and one that I’ve definitely had myself before.  In fact, this seems to be a bit of a repeated theme for me.

So what does it mean when someone tells you add value?  You know it’s important – but how about we go through some actual examples you can sink your teeth into…

The Best Way to Fail

First, let’s quickly cover what it looks like to not add value.

  • If you’re talking about your accomplishments and how great you are, you’re not adding value
  • Any “HEY LOOK AT ME, YOU SHOULD HIRE ME!” move is not adding value
  • Telling someone how bad their product is and insinuating they should hire you to fix it is not adding value
  • Calling yourself “aspiring” or “hoping” does not add value

There’s a small sampling of examples.  But it boils down to this – if you’re not giving to your potential client, you’re not adding value.


The best, easiest way to add value to a potential client is to freely give.  This takes advantage of the rule of reciprocity.

Never heard of this before?  Here’s a simple example:

If I buy you lunch for no reason other than the goodness of my heart and my caring for you, you’ll want to pay me back.  In fact, you’ll probably want to better my gift – you’re likely to buy me dinner in return.

That’s the rule of reciprocity in action.  Keep in mind, this completely falls apart if you’re giving just to receive.  If I buy you lunch with the expectation that you’ll buy me dinner – I’m just a douchebag.

I can even show you examples of how I use the rule of reciprocity on my website:

So how do you take advantage of this?

Good Questions, and Listening

To give value, you must know what your client actually needs.  This is the most difficult part of the entire process.  Unless you know your client well, you generally don’t inherently know what they need.

A great example of this is applying for jobs.  When you put in a job application, you rarely speak to a person.  When you’re only looking at bullet points it’s super difficult to know what the client’s actual need is.

But let’s say you get an initial phone interview.  What’s the biggest, most important part?

Asking good questions.

If you’re not asking your client good questions, then all you’re doing is trying extremely hard to sell yourself based off of your credentials.  The problem with this is that if you have great credentials, you probably don’t need to sell them.

Think about buying an iPhone when Steve Jobs was alive – did Apple ads ever talk about their features?  No.  You bought an iPhone because it was cool, because it felt good, because it would give you the best pictures, or some other experience with the iPhone was the best.  You could give a shit what processor it had – you just knew you’d get a snazzy product that ads promised would make you dance and party.

That’s exactly what you wanted – a snazzy phone.

So what does your client need, and how do you find out?

You ask.  Just like this…

“I’m really curious – what difficulties are you having right now?  What problems led you to open this position?”

In job interviews, that opens up a whole can of worms.

But what about when you’re not interviewing?  Once you have an established relationship with your client, lead out with the first half of the above question.

They’ll probably be surprised you asked, but if you express your genuine interest, you’ll get solid feedback.

If you’re even more awesome then you’ll give a follow-up question – like “Wow, that sounds super frustrating.  Could you elaborate a little more about the process of — ?”

Suddenly you’re off to the races.  I hope you have a notepad.

The Follow-Up

The most important part, after getting your client talking, is listening and taking action.

Write down the exact words your client says when they tell you about their problems.  Especially the bits you resonate with and know you can take action on.

These are the things you should repeat back to them, and can give support with.

At this point you either give freely to establish a better relationship, or you ask to be paid.  When you ask for money, you should know your price.

This process will look something like:

“So what I’m hearing is that you’re having real workflow issues, and these 5 extra steps you have to take are really slowing you down – is that right?

Yeah, I can definitely see why that’s incredibly frustrating!  But don’t worry – I’ve dealt with this exact issue before, and I can definitely help you out.”

At that point, it’s your turn to clearly explain how you’ll help them.  The actions you take and how long it will take.  You can even repeat this process with multiple problems they’re having.  If you do it really well, price will become a triviality.

I hope this process seems somewhat familiar to you.  If you’ve ever worked freelance before, parts of it definitely will – and that should be encouraging.  If you’ve never walked through this before, don’t worry, I know you can do it!

The best part – you can walk through this process with everyone.  Find out what your friends, significant other, family, or others need and just do it.  You’ll immediately find that your relationships drastically deepen and opportunities for you will grow immensely.

Best of luck!  As always, if you’ve got questions come find me – @adamtcroft

Copyright 2016-2017, Adam T. Croft, all rights reserved.