The world has need for the amateur and for the professional, but the amateur professional? It’s like a corn dog. Neither corn nor a dog (whew!), it’s a confused food on a stick. In select situations, it suffices, but it’s no substitute for the real thing. And so it is with the amateur who doesn’t know it.
The Professional has either achieved this status by completing schooling, by extensive real-world experience, or by a combination of both. A Professional is engaged in a learned profession, whether that learning came through formal schooling or the school of hard knocks. The Professional is the end of the chain. He has arrived at Wally World, the park was open, and he is getting paid for the ride because he’s just that good.
The Amateur is working towards being a Professional. An Amateur has no problem being an Amateur because she knows that life is a highway and she’s going to ride it all night (and all day) long. She takes the successes and failures and adds them to her repertoire and counts it as part of her education. She charges her clients accordingly, doesn’t undersell herself, goes after the project or opportunity just out of her comfort zone to exercise her skills, and inches closer to being that illusive Professional. She has focus. She might not have the skills and connections of the Professional just yet, but she knows it will come and is willing to pay her dues.
The Corn Dog
The Corn Dog is an Amateur at the core, wrapped up in a gritty veneer of cornmeal Professionalism. He gets hired by friends doing him a favor, underselling other Amateurs by throwing in a free stick to make sub-par work more marketable. The Corn Dog is insecure; he doesn’t feel like he’s enough on its own, so he tries to be meat and bread and vegetable and convenience all at once. He thinks being a jack-of-all-trades and master of nothing is the most economically viable option, and never perfects any one particular skill. The Corn Dog gets false hope from a long list of clients who only want the Corn Dog because he doesn’t cost much.
The Professional is less bothered by the fried Corn Dog. The clients the Professional attracts are those ready to pay for and receive Professional-grade services. The Professional has no need to be a part of the circus where a Corn Dog is normally found. The problem mainly becomes one of the Amateur struggling for a chance at the same plate as a Corn Dog.
The Corn Dog is cheap. It tastes pretty good at first. It seems less messy, and a quick fix. It takes care of an immediate need. And technically speaking, it is food. The Amateur has a hard time convincing a client that while she is not a Professional, she is still better than that Corn Dog. Caught between the Skilled and the Cheap, the Amateur is left struggling to move up to the next level with becoming a Corn Dog herself.
The Corn Dog soon realizes that the marketing ploys of being cheap and being on a stick won’t work forever. Sooner or later a client will either naturally graduate up to wanting something more substantial, or regress down and want things even cheaper. Perhaps clients will get tired of always biting into the stick and move on towards the Amateur as a better alternative. All the mustard in the world won’t change the very nature of the Corn Dog.
OK, no, it’s not really about corn dogs.
It’s about finding focus on what you do best in an effort not to compete with everyone in existence, but in an effort to compete with yourself. Figure out what you do, and do it well. Market yourself accurately and fairly. No need to be and do everything. No need to undersell. No need to grab for every customer looking for severely under-market pricing and results, because they’ll only want more for less later on.
Aim for being a Professional and you won’t end up on a stick.