“I think the quality of the work is really all that matters.”
That’s from a comment on Twitter, on the topic of earning credibility as a soloist.
Before you read on, take a moment to ask yourself: Do I agree or disagree with that comment, and why?
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Got your answer? Good. Now let’s play a game of “Point / Counterpoint.”
Point: “The Work Is All That Matters”
In my experience, “the work is all that matters” is a point of view often held by people who are committed to the quality of their craft.
When you believe that the work is all that matters – or even that the work really matters – you’re naturally inclined to deliver value in every engagement. You want your work to play a significant role in helping your clients to achieve their outcomes.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, and it comes from a very good place.
But it may also stem from a desire to live in an idealized world – a world in which frauds and posers are revealed as such, clients aren’t fooled by false claims of expertise, and the cream always rises to the top.
The problem with this, of course, is that it doesn’t reflect the world we live in.
Counterpoint: “The Work Is Not All That Matters”
Imagine a restaurant that focused exclusively on the quality of its food. Each dish is toe-curlingly good, with flavors you can conjure up from memory months later.
But: The service is indifferent. The music is stifling. The décor makes your eyes burn.
Are you going back?
And how did you find this imaginary restaurant in the first place? It’s not doing any marketing, because, as we know, the quality of the food is all that matters.
Another mental exercise: There are dozens (at least) of musical artists whose work you would love, but that you’ve never heard.
Some of these artists are operating on the assumption that the music is all that matters; any form of marketing is thus “selling out.” (This was certainly the case for certain punk acts back in my college days.)
In these cases, and many others, “the work” won’t thrive on its own. It needs some help so it can live its best life.
So: Is the Work All That Matters for Soloists?
I submit that the work is not, in fact, all that matters.
And here’s an example very close to home:
I spent my client-side career in brand management. In that time, I hired a number of talented designers – which is to say I had confidence that they could do the job I was paying them for.
But that’s not all I was paying them for, and it’s not the only reason why I’d hire some of them again.
Here are some things that come to mind when I think about who I’d hire more than once:
- They’re pleasant to work with, including staying positive when things occasionally go sideways.
- They explain their design decisions well, linking directly to what we agreed upon in the creative brief.
- They communicate proactively and effectively.
- They listen well.
- They hit important deadlines, without exception.
- They can properly respond to a request for proposal.
- They aren’t flaky. They don’t miss meetings, they don’t overreact, and they don’t show up flustered and unprepared.
When there are many people who can do the job, characteristics like these can be the difference between earning repeat business and continually scrounging for work.
And, of course, I couldn’t have hired them the first time if I wasn’t aware of them. Marketing and networking certainly matter too.
So, by all means, do exceptional work when given the chance. But recognize that there’s more to earning the next opportunity than just “the work.”
Absolutely, the work matters. And it matters a lot. But it’s not the only thing that matters.
Your time is valuable, and I hope I’ve rewarded it. If so, your shares are greatly appreciated, as I try to spread the gospel to as many freelancers as possible.
I have a limited number of slots available for 1-1 coaching. I’m not some guy who’s been freelancing for a minute – I’ve been doing it since 1997, with brands you’ve actually heard of. Click here to find out more about how my customized coaching can help you level up.
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