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Freelance's Value Proposition and Business Models: Profiling customers

Updated on May 7, 2015

Abstract

In the work of freelance, one of the biggest risks is the drift between the value perceived by the customer and the perceived value of the "producer". One of the aspects to always keep under control is the perception of value by the customer. It is possible the customer is unlikely to be interested in issues may be very refined, but which, however, can not fully understand. Maybe she does not perceive the need, while, by contrast, aspects regarded as important by the customer may appear as futile or not associated with a high priority by the freelance. My attempt is to try to apply a more "intimate" understanding so that the value provided matches the value purchased.

I would be happy to share my attempts to bring the relation between the freelance with his client at a better level, unleashing the value perception, that is, the value delivery. The methodology proposed bases itself on the techniques described in "value proposition design" and "business model canvas", by Alexander Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur at alt.

Source

Customer Profiling

Customer profiling allows us to collect information about “work-to-be-done”, “needs” and “opportunities” to whom, by means of our job, an answer will (or should ...) be given.

Let's try to define what exactly a customer is: what I've understood is that it not necessarily is "who pays the bills". As I often saw, any project has multiple stakeholders. Usually who pays is not the same person that consumes the service, and who will get the "operational benefits" often doesn't concern about payments.

Customer is at the same time single and multiple persons, that I usually identify (in ICT Industry) as:

  • Who buys or pays
  • Who will use the product
  • Who will manage and support the product

Keeping that in mind, I try to collect as much information as possible about "jobs', pains and gains of all my stakeholders.

I try to ensure that my work will always be in the right direction with respect to the needs of those who later have to “consume” the services acquired.

According to "Value Proposition Design", I start with the Customer Profile, and I try to detect at first all the details about the customer's "jobs to be done". A freelance working for a customer is luckier compared to a startupper, because startuppers usually try to guess and then test their hypothesis about their customers and their products or services, while a freelancer willing to enhance his value proposition have genuine people to interview, not a hypothesis to verify, and to whom I don't try to sell anything because they're already customers.

The jobs-to-be-done are often part of the requests on which I work for my client. For that reason collecting stakeholders' jobs helps to focus also on requirements. Part of the information collected in this phase will confirm and usually deepen what stated in the contract/order. Gathering information on "jobs-to-be-done" gives the opportunity to concentrate on stakeholder's words and language because establishing a common language is essential to show and make clearer the delivered value. The outcome is a collection of activities that is a rough set to be prioritized.

As an example of how to investigate on customer's job-to-be-done I can cite:

  • What is the main thing you have to accomplish necessarily? How can my product or service help to achieve this result? Does it fit or it's just part of a bigger program?
  • In what contexts in do you find yourself? Do your activities depend on the circumstances and in what measure?
  • What Activities involve an interaction with others (colleagues, suppliers, customers)?
  • What tasks do you need to perform? Are there problems you try to solve?
  • How do you judge your awareness about the problems related your activities?
  • Are there emotional implications for what you do? What activities give you a better sense of self-satisfaction?
  • Does any of your activities impact on your perception by others? Is there a way to improve these perceptions?
  • How do you want to feel? How can your activities help you to feel this way?
  • Do you play one or many roles in your working day? Are there any conflicts about your different roles?

The answer to these questions will contain the actual needs of your customer. It is important to do a review job with the stakeholder to establish a priority. After obtained and understood as much as possible about the stakeholders' job-to-be-done, I can concentrate on the "pains".

Pains

Pains usually contain the reason for which the customer commissioned the activity. In this phase, it is important to collect as much as possible bad outcomes, risks, obstacles to the jobs to be done. Pains are the aspects to whom you have to give an answer, without which what you do has a low residual value.

Typical questions useful to collect and understand the stakeholder pains can be:

  • How do you evaluate costs? Are they related to time spent, money or effort? Do you have any tolerance you apply to decide when a cost is getting out of control?
  • What makes you feel bad, related to the jobs you have to do?
  • How your current assets or processes underperform respect to your needs? What do you still miss?
  • What difficulties and challenges do you encounter? When you feel there's no possibility to overcome your difficulties?
  • How much you retain yourself or your organization exposed to a risk? What are the risks? How do you avoid these risks? What are the risks that you fear more?
  • What barriers avoided to adopt a value proposition to give an answer to your pains?

The investigation on pains enables to establish the minimal targets for the service or product to be delivered, the top priority pains should always receive an answer by the value proposition map. The third and last aspect of the customer profile is the gain.

Gains

Gains are the positive outcomes and the benefits that the customer expects, wants or desires.

Expected benefits represent the minimum result set that we necessarily have to deliver, Unmatched gains could drive a project to fail.

The investigation of customer gains can start from the answers to questions like these:

  • How do you evaluate savings? Are savings related to time spent, money or effort?
  • What in your current assets makes your working life easier? And what would improve it?
  • How do you expect the requests you made will make your happier?
  • How would you modify my value proposition to be more likely to accept it?
  • How much you retain yourself or your organization exposed to a risk? What are the risks? How do you avoid these risks? What are the risks that you fear more?
  • What barriers to your strategy would you overcome? To what achievements would you aspire?
  • How do you evaluate success or failures?
  • What do you look for most? Design/ergonomy? Do you need more features? A Fast learning curve would interest you? What about better performances?

All the three aspects (jobs-to-be-done, pains and gains) are then prioritized together with the stakeholder, so that it is possible to understand what is essential and what can be considered a less important.

The customer profile contains a statement of high-level requirements, both functional and not functional and are powerful value enablers when used with care.

Conclusion

This service allows us to collect information on “work-to-be-done”, “needs” and “opportunities” to whom, by means of our service, an answer will be given to the client, the users and the system operators. We aim to ensure that the work done will always be in the right direction with respect to the needs of those who later have to “consume” the services acquired. Of course, what we produced during the customer profiling activity remains the strict property of the buyer. We’ll use the collected data just for ensuring the delivery of the value required. The validity of what we collect in this context is subject to a time box, and it could not even cover the entire project duration. This activity does not fit in marketing activities, even though it inspires itself to a startup technique for value proposition design; it just aims to help us to deliver more value. I think Customer Profiling crucial, I believe it is essential for providing an adequate value; for that reason I retain this effort as a non-billable element.

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© 2015 Andrea Perniciano

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