In the summer of 2017 I spoke at Turing Fest in Edinburgh, Scotland for the first time. All the speakers stayed at the same hotel so it was inevitable we’d run into one another. Sure enough on my way to breakfast one morning I ran into a fellow speaker named Supriya Uchill. Supriya had just transitioned from Amazon, having worked directly with Bezos on the Fire Phone project, to a role in the UK closer to family. We got to know each other over breakfast and I made sure to catch her talk at the conference.
Shortly after the conference, Supriya reached out and asked if I’d come to Manchester to spend a day working with her teams. I was thrilled to be able to collaborate with her, get to know her teams and their work and, if I’m honest, visit Manchester. I’ve developed a bit of a soft spot for it over the years of going there for conferences and workshops.
We set a date, determined an agenda and planned logistics. I flew in, worked with her teams and stakeholders and went home. I felt it was a successful engagement by any account. When the dust had settled, Supriya asked for a retrospective call. On the phone she shared with me her observations of being my customer. While she shared many insights and reflected her customer experience to me, one thing she said to me has stuck with me ever since, “Outsource the work you hate. It shows.”
I have to admit I was a little taken aback over this comment. I try very hard to stay professional, positive and receptive to client needs and requests. I work to ensure that any personal feelings stay out of the conversation to ensure the best collaboration possible. And yet, here was one of my clients telling me that it was clear that there were parts of my work that I hated and that it created a poor experience.
She was right, of course. There are parts of my job — in this case the early sales calls and email tennis of call scheduling — that I truly don’t enjoy. It turns out this was coming across clearly in my communications. Scheduling emails were terse. I tried to get as much of the detail of the engagement figured out over email rather than on one-to-one calls. On the phone I would dodge difficult questions and push answers to email rather than deal with them head on in person. The net result was my prospective client having the sub-optimal experience of dealing with my quirks rather than focusing on the potential success of our collaboration.
This was a wake up call for me. Immediately I began a search for an assistant and, even before I found the right person, I’d made a list of all the tasks I was planning on outsourcing to them. Interestingly, that list wasn’t nearly as long as I’d expected it to be. I didn’t trust someone else to do the work as well as me. But now, 3 years later, I’ve learned to trust my assistant and to delegate a much bigger slice of my work. Along with my assistant I’ve expanded the work I outsource to my accountant, a social media marketing team and a growth hacker. I’m fortunate enough to have a successful enough business to do that. I realize that. However, I wonder if it would be as successful if I was still doing all of that work myself knowing full well the client experience it was creating.
I am forever grateful to Supriya for taking the time to share her feedback with me and challenging me to get better. The post-it note I wrote with those words, “outsource the work that you hate, it shows” still hangs on the whiteboard in my office 3 years later. And, if you’re reading this and have been one of my clients and have had a great experience, know that part of that was due to that chance elevator meeting in Edinburgh.