Have the Values, have the Guts
A few days ago, I was astounded by the first phrase a new Codementor customer said to me as soon as we started our Zoom session.
You are one of the very few mentors who have the guts to have their camera switched on!
It took me really by surprise. I was speaking with a person, experienced with Codementor sessions, who was so disappointed by mentors who didn't deliver what they promised to.
Not only that, my customer had developed a sense of predicting what he could expect from them: mentors who didn't want to show their face had increased chances of failing him.
Why don't you have the guts to show your face?
There is only one good reason for you to hide:
N O N E
Would you wear a mask if you were to visit your customer's premises to work in their offices? If not, why would you do it while in a remote session?
When you hide your face, you immediately send negative vibes to your new customer.
Your customer, intuitively, is flooded with thoughts like you looking unprofessional or even worse, that you don't want your face to be remembered in case you don't deliver what you have promised to.
If you feel good about yourself, you don't have to be afraid of anything.
Feeling good about yourself doesn't come just like that. You need to develop and practice a set of values and principles that make you feel good.
Here is a list of values and principles I believe in:
1. Don't take money from a customer who is unhappy with you.
I am not talking about a customer who is unhappy in general. It's about customers who are unhappy with you in particular, for any reason, right or wrong.
Don't take their money and make that clear from the beginning. This approach will relieve both you and your new customer from considerable anxiety.
You are both investing initial time building a good long-term relationship. Both of you need a five-star review at the end. You will not get it if you only want to get their money.
2. Honesty and fairness.
Clarify that your customer understands your strengths and weaknesses. From the beginning. Spend time understanding what your customer wants and what your customer understands that you can do. Don't be afraid to say you don't know things. Nobody knows everything. The customer will highly appreciate your honesty.
3. Be humble, arrogance will bite you back.
You might be extremely clever and amazingly skilled in your field. But does that make you God? You need to behave humbly, without showing off. There is always another guy out there better than you are. Don't forget that. You will fail miserably if you fail with arrogance. Failing when being humble is a path to success.
4. Show empathy.
Understanding your customer and how they behave and feel, listening to them, will definitely increase the confidence your customer will have in working with you. Be open with your customer and the customer will be open with you. They need to feel comfortable and you need to feel comfortable with them. This is the only way the information will flow seamlessly and unobtrusively in both directions.
5. Don't just point out problems, bring solutions along with them.
If you don't have a solution ready, bring your ideas and your optimism forward. If you only send out complaints, problems, and criticisms without recommending ways of improvement and presenting the benefits of your advice, you will not be a person someone would like to work with.
6. It is you that doesn't know what the customer wants to do, not the other way around.
The customer always knows what they want to build. It is us, the consultants, selling our professional services, that don't know what the customer wants to build.
If you believe that customers don't know, this perception puts you in an arrogant position by definition. Change that mindset. We need to ask the proper questions. We need to help both the customer and ourselves specify the details.
No customer has to know every detail from the beginning. Make it obvious to them that there are open questions, but you are willing to work with them to clarify things. If you think it will take time, make that clear too.
Survey the risks, make sure that the customer understands them, and go ahead accordingly. Learn the business as much as your customer does. Walk the business learning path together with your customer.
7. Be a good team player.
The fact that you advertise as a freelance consultant does not mean you will be asked to work only on a team of one. There are many times where you will be asked to be part of a real team, with many members. You need to be able to be part of it.
Be prepared to be both a team member and a team leader. Don't forget that being a team member is as challenging as being a team leader. Follow the rules of the team you are asked to work with. Again, this is one more chance for you to show your humility and your listening skills, rather than applying your arrogance and your I-know-everything-you-know-nothing attitude.
8. Be a consultant, not just a developer.
There are many customers out there that want to hear your advice on how things should be done in terms of software engineering and business process engineering, as well as team management. Take this chance to offer more value than just blindly writing lots of programming lines of code. Discuss the business and the process with your customer. Many people can write code. Few can consult and advise the customer.
9. Comply with your sense of ethics.
Don't work for any job just for the good money. Think about which companies you wouldn't like to work for. When you are in an interview with a lead, ask about their values.
Do they have any? Do you endorse them? What do they think about your values? How do they see their work applied to the rest of the world? Do they treat their employees with fairness and empathy? Do they have policies that show respect to their customers? Make sure you understand their values and that their values are your values too.
10. Don't get overloaded with too many projects at the same time.
If we say "yes" to every good job, we end up working on many projects at the same time. Moreover, a day only has 24 hours, doesn't it? On an hourly rate payment scheme, it is tempting to work for the whole 24 hours of the day, 24-7, 365 days a year. You will not make it. Also, the quality of your work will diminish, no matter your intentions. Your customers will notice that and you increase the chances of losing them in the long-term.
11. Work for free.
We all want to make money from our profession and the services we offer. This shouldn't always be the case, especially when you have a new lead you want to turn into a long-term customer.
Try an hour for free with them. Or even two. When you see that there is potential for a bigger long-term project with that customer, a customer relationship that will last for months and, often, for years, working for them for a couple of hours is a good investment.
I am not saying you have to do it all the time. I am saying that you have to try that out. Trying that out, practicing it, will arm you with more confidence for future leads. The experience you gain in judging whether a lead is a good one or a bad one will pay you back and you will be able to pursue more good than bad leads in the future.
On another point about working for free, consider offering your services for free, from time to time, to organizations or people that really need them and don't have money to pay for them.
Is this a charity? Is this for young poor pupils or students? Is this for the community in your neighborhood? Is this just to have fun with others and teach new things? It is really rewarding and in the long-term pays you back too.
I have many pieces of advice I can give you as a freelance consultant, and I am sure you can give me much more too.
In any case, having these values and principles makes you feel confident and gives you the guts to switch on your camera.