The Struggling Writer

The chronicles of a freelance writer as he tries to make a living.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Dependability vs. Skill

I am constantly trying to turn my experiences as a consumer into lessons as a business owner.

Early in my writing career I decided to hire someone to take care of my yard, freeing me to focus on work. Phoenix has four million people and approximately three million of them offer yard services. How was I going to narrow the field?

The first thing I decided is that I wouldn't consider someone who didn't have a web site. Huh? I hear you saying. A web site just for someone to mow your lawn? Yup. Any idiot with hedge clippers and a truck offers yard work and too many of them are appallingly unprofessional about it. It is a field that attracts far too many people who play at working without treating it like a business, something that is also true of freelance writing. Web sites are cheap and easy and there is just no excuse for any business not to have one. Even a one-page website with an email address under your own domain creates a professional image.

Despite this, I certainly still had my share of unreliable people. Phone messages to dozens of providers went unreturned. One guy showed up for the initial cleanup and did really nice work but was spotty on the follow-up work until he just stopped coming.

The one I finally used was very business-like. His wife stayed home to answer the phone and do the books. I got invoices every month rather than the pay-as-you-go most of them do. He showed up promptly every two weeks like clockwork.

It's a pity his work was lousy.

I stuck with him for about a year. I cut him loose recently because I really can't afford the luxury at this point. I went back and forth over that decision because it's smart business to outsource things like that. I would have kept him if the work had been better but I couldn't justify the cost for him to do work no better than I can do myself.

His professional demeanor got him the contract and certainly put him ahead of the competition. However without the skill to back it up, the monthly cost wore thin.

I'll still need someone to come back about once a year for cleanup. So who am I going to call: the unreliable one who does a great job or the dependable guy who does mediocre work? I'm going to go for dependability and I think most customers feel the same way. I'd rather have second-rate work done than great work not done.


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