#3 - Should you learn on the job?

September 22, 2020

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Should you be taking on projects that you don’t know how to do and learning on the job?

Join Matt as he explores this “grey area” that exists in our industry.

He has three simple questions for you, that will define whether learning on the job is ethically right for you…. AND your client.

Hello friends! Great to be talking to you again. I’m Matt. And today, let’s have a chat about the morals and ethics of taking on projects that you don’t know how to do.

This topic is something that I see almost every single day on Facebook and internet forums, it’s asked a lot. Typically, there’ll be a problem where someone will ask: “My client has asked for x, I don’t know how to do this, how do I do x?” And for bonus points, they’ll even ask “how much should I charge?”

Look everyone starts somewhere, I totally get that. All of us who are in the web industry or design industry or marketing industry, we’ve all learnt the specific skills that we have. And we had to have a starting point. Sometimes that will be through some sort of education, whether you’ve taken a course, whether you’ve had further education, or college, or university, and so on. But your first time working on a project with that skill may have been a bit more tricky, it may have been a bit more difficult or may not have been something that flows so easily. And we get that everyone has to start somewhere. But that’s starting somewhere, doesn’t always have to be where you’re learning on the job. And you’re doing it in an immoral way.

Learning is important. We are always learning. Every single day we learn something new, and I am a huge believer in ongoing education. It’s something that I for many, many years have scheduled time into my week, every single week. So I’ve normally on a Friday, I scheduled in half a day. And I’ve enjoyed that time learning something new, whether that’s through a course whether it’s through watching YouTube videos on something, whatever it might be, but I always try and make sure I’m learning. I think it’s such an important thing for us to continue doing. And honestly, we’re going to continue learning until the time that we leave this earth. But is it right to be learning on a client project?

It’s disingenuous to take on work that you don’t know how to do. What we’ll often see in the type of posts that I’ve mentioned is that someone is going to go and quote their client, the market rate for the particular piece of work that they’re asking about. But they don’t know how to do things. And they’re starting things off in a dishonest way. They’re not being honest with the client, they don’t understand the process. They don’t understand what they’re doing. And they’re going to be learning on the job.

Think about if you needed help with your business, and you perhaps needed help with SEO, or perhaps some marketing activities, or perhaps website activities, design activities, whatever it might be. And you asked for a proposal from someone, and they came at you really confidently and said, “Yes, I can do this. Yes, I can do that. Yes, I can do that.” They just keep saying yes. And you feel really good. And then they quote your price, and that seems like a reasonable price, it’s the kind of market rate for everything’s good. You accept that project, and you’ve signed on the dotted line. And then you find out that a person can’t actually do what they promised they’d do. That maybe they’ve they’ve quoted for an SEO project, and they’re charging you $1,000 or $2,000 or $3,000 a month. And yeah, that’s fine for you to accept, that was inside the market rates. And then you find out that they’re learning by watching YouTube, so they know nothing about SEO. But they’re watching some guy on YouTube who has made a 60 second “how to do SEO in 2020” video, and they’re going to apply the techniques they see in that video to your website. Is that worth your $1000, $2000 or $3,000? No, it’s not, because you believe they were an expert, and you bought them on board to help you as an expert. Same thing, if you needed a website done, or an e-commerce website, whatever it might be. If you are taking on an expert, you want that person to be able to do what they promise. And it’s exactly the same situation for your clients, your clients believe that you’re an expert, and they want your help. And when they’re paying market rates for a project, they expect the project to be done well.

When you’re learning on the job, it does create problems for you. As I’ve just mentioned, you are starting your relationship with a lie. And that is never a good idea. Whether it’s a working relationship, a physical or loving relationship in the real world, when you start that relationship with a lie everything is doomed from that point. I’m sure some of you listening have been in that situation, whether it was in work or perhaps your personal life where you’ve started that relationship off with a lie and whilst things were okay to start with, at some point that like came back to get you. It’s kind of the the old situation of karma coming back and actually causing you a problem. I know many many years ago, as a younger person, I started a personal life relationship with a lie and whilst that went okay, a year or so later, the topic was bought up again. And when you tell the truth, unfortunately, that lie doesn’t work out for you.

You don’t know what you’re doing in the project. So whilst you might quote the client and be really confident in your approach, and send your proposal, you don’t actually know what you’re doing. Someone may have told you in a Facebook thread or on an internet forum, you may have googled it, you may have watched a YouTube video. But deep down, you do not have the skills or the knowledge to effectively complete the project.

It’s really, really easy for the project to go wrong. As we’ve just mentioned, when you don’t know what you’re doing, things can appear in a project. So you may hit a stumbling block, that is quite a common stumbling block. But because you’ve not experienced this situation before, it’s very easy for things to go completely wrong at that point. And you can be left in quite a dire situation.

And what are you gonna do when it goes wrong? Do you have a backup plan? Do you have someone else you could talk to? Do you have a team that can help you out? If you don’t, that’s going to be a very, very lonely place.

And when everything goes wrong when you’re in a lonely place, what does that do – that can lead to poor mental health? When projects go wrong, some people will have a tendency to be treading water while pretending that everything’s completely fine. And I can tell you from experience, because all of us have been in this situation I’m sure, it’s not a good place to be treading water. And certainly in 2020, you do not want to do something else right now, that can lead to worse mental health. It’s been a tough year for everyone already at this point and I don’t think you want to put anything else on your plate.

And the absolute worst case scenario? Well your client could take legal action. And again, legal action is not a fun thing to be in. I mentioned in our first episode, how one of my clients had a misunderstanding, not related to me learning on the job. But the point being that I spent six months having to have sleepless nights, I was feeling nauseous pretty much every day for six months, until the day in court came when I could explain my side of the story. And we could get things clear, we can come to a simple understanding, and the matter was resolved. And it was done. But at six months I waited for three hours in court, that was it. But I had that six month period, before I could spend three hours resolving a situation. You do not want to have your client take legal action against you, it is the worst case scenario. And it is not something I ever wish on anyone else in this world.

What about your client, you’re going to be creating problems for them as well. Firstly, they trust you, it is an important part of the relationship that you have. When you’re breaking that trust, and they find out you’re breaking the trust, the relationship is over.

Your client could be planning marketing activities, or promotions around the piece of work that you’re creating for them. They could have all sorts of things going on, depending on the type of work. But it could be perhaps a launch party for a website, it could be anything that’s going on, you have to remember that it’s not just you in the project, your client is involved in the project, and they have many elements to their business just like you do.

You’re costing your client money when you fail. So when that project goes wrong, and they’ve paid some money out up front, if you can’t fix the problem, if you can’t fix the situation, if you’ve caused this project to over run, if things have gone terribly, terribly wrong, you’re costing your client money. Is that something you’re morally okay with? I wouldn’t be. I don’t think it’s fair to be costing our clients money. I don’t think it’s fair to be letting clients down. They’re not a magical money pit. They’re real human beings with real human feelings.

And you can have severe impacts on your clients mental health, when you take on something that you can’t do, and you’re not honest with them. It’s not fair on your client, it’s not fair on you, as we’ve already discussed. So why are we doing it?

Finally, consider the frustration and anguish. As I just said, with mental health, we never know how any other person in this world is doing. We never know how any other person in this world is feeling. You can create so much frustration and anguish for a client, that you’ll make their life difficult outside of work. So they have a tough time at work, now they’re going home to see their family and the people they love. And they’re going home in a bad mood, they’re going home frustrated, they’re going home tired. It’s not just your client you’re affecting. It’s their employees, it’s their family, and we need to be conscious of this before we’re taking on jobs that we don’t know how to do in a dishonest way. We have to be more conscious about this.

But there are times when you can work on the job. If you know the journey and a desired outcome, then there’s a good opportunity here. What I mean by this is understanding the problem that the client has. So to give you an example, I had a job many, many years ago as an e-commerce job on a Magento store. And for this, the client asked me to set up a really complex shipping scenario in Magento. And this is way before there were off the shelf extensions that easy allowed someone to do this. I knew the journey that the client wanted to get to. And I had a rough idea of what we needed to do. But I’d never actually done what they’re asking for. And therefore I would need to be learning on the job to be able to complete the task. And what I did is I reached out to the client, and I was honest, I said “Look, I know how to do this. The actual elements that I need to put in place are not something I’ve done before. So I will need to learn on this, and it’s going to take a bit longer.” I proposed a slightly lower rate to them, to make up for the fact that the project is going to take a bit longer, because I was learning to do something. And I also knew this is going to help me in the long run, because I have other clients that need the help too. In addition to this, I made sure I had backup in place if things went wrong, I was good friends with a couple of other Magento experts, and we’d often help each other out if there was something we needed but were not knowledgeable on. So the end result of this project? Well, it was a project that was delivered successfully with both parties in full understanding, and very happy with the outcome. Now, I’m not going to say there weren’t any teething problems or issues along the way. There were a few things that , you know, could have been done a bit better. But because we had a good understanding, and we were able to communicate effectively, openly and honestly, we were able to get things done.

And honesty breeds confidence. Being open, honest and transparent with your clients is one of the most important things that you can do. It’s something that Mel and I literally preach about all the time inside our own business, because it’s one of our main principles that we follow. We always aim to be as open, honest and transparent as possible. We feel that it creates a better relationship with our customers, and ultimately, it’s respect. It’s about respecting the people that you work with, it’s about respecting the people that pay you money, it’s about respecting and building better relationships.

When you’re honest, your clients are going to be more confident in you. If it’s their first time working with you, your honesty can mean a lot. On the flip side, obviously that could mean that perhaps you don’t work with them, because they need someone who is an absolute expert. And that’s okay. We don’t have to get every single job that’s offered. Sometimes there are jobs that are outside of our remit, or outside of our current skill level. And it’s better to let those go, rather than to have a half assed attempt to trying to get something right.

You’ll have a better relationship, when you’re honest. As I’ve just mentioned, it’s so so important to have that honest relationship. And everything goes better when both parties are on the same page and have the same understandings. Honesty sets you up for success. There’s nothing better than starting with a clear conscience and knowing that you can do this, and you’ve got honesty on your side. You’ve been open and honest with your client, everyone’s got the same understanding, and you’re going to achieve your goals, because you set things out on the right path.

And finally, you are doing future you a favour. If you haven’t listened to the first episode of the podcast, go back and listen to that. This will make sense to you then, and hopefully will be one of the most important points that resonates with you in this entire episode.

Now, I believe you can learn on the job, but only when you’re honest about your knowledge and the project with your client. As I mentioned with the example I had, I didn’t quite know how to achieve something. I did understand the journey, but I didn’t know how to get the pieces of the puzzle in the right place. So it was going to be something I’d have to play around with and have some tests and trials and figure out the best answer. I spoke to my client about it, we agreed a slightly lower rate, so it’s a bit fairer to them. We don’t want to charge the market rate for a job we’re learning on. And we also explained that it may take a bit longer than we’d normally expect it to. So there was a clear understanding of how long the project was supposed to take. And finally, I had backups. I had other people who were able to help me if things didn’t go right, and that’s really really important.

So if you want to learn on the job, I’ve got three simple questions for you. One, do I understand the journey or the process that the client wants me to complete? Two, have I been honest with my client? And three, do I have any backup if something goes wrong? If you can answer yes to all three of these questions, it puts you in a great position to be able to successfully complete the project.

So as a quick summary of today. It’s wrong to take on a project that you don’t know how to do and to charge full market rates to your client. You wouldn’t accept it if someone did that to you. So you should not be doing it to a client. It’s wrong to start your working relationship off with a client with a lie, or to suddenly introduce lies to an existing relationship. It is possible to learn on the job. We are always learning after all, but it comes down to honesty. And I believe that you can learn on the job if you answer the three simple questions that I’ve posed to you. Now I’m not giving you the all clear and saying it will be a home run every time. It is up to you to do your due diligence. But there’s a good chance it will be successful because all parties clearly understand what’s happening.

If you’ve got a great story about learning on the job with a positive or negative outcome, I’d love you to share that with me on our website – nurtureflow.com. Leave a comment on today’s episode and let me know what happened to your project.

As always, if you enjoyed this episode, please feel free to subscribe in your podcast player of choice. I’d also be honoured if you’d consider leaving a rating or review if you feel the content is valuable to you. Finally if there’s someone who you feel would benefit from the content we’re sharing, I’d love it if you’d consider sharing with them as well as it’s always good to try and help as many people as possible.

Have a great day ahead, you’re awesome, take care!

Transcription by Otter.ai

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