The Cobblers Children

The tale of the Cobbler’s Children dates back to… well no one seems to know for sure. But most people are familiar with the story. Essentially, there lived a cobbler who was very good at making shoes, the best shoes in the village in fact. So busy was he making shoes for his customers that he neglected to make any for his own children, who ran through the village barefoot each day. The meaning of course, is that professionals are often too busy working on client projects to spend any effort on themselves; a story that all too well applies to Ottenhoff Consulting.

We’ve been providing technology solutions and building quality web sites for the better part of 18 years; however it was not until 2009 that we designed something decent for ourselves. In a similar vein, we can’t count the number of New Year’s resolutions we’ve made promising to start a blog or publish a regular newsletter; most of them promptly buried in the rush of paying work.

A quick search on Google didn’t turn up a single fairy tale related to the Cobbler’s Children anywhere in the first two pages. Those pristine spots are instead filled with articles about how the euphemism applies to professional organizations. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really make us feel any better. It does, however, highlight the depth of the problem and it prompted the following advice on how you might avoid becoming the next cobbler; and when it just doesn’t matter.

Does your business really need your skills?

Many of the articles about the problem of the cobbler’s children suggest that professionals practice what they preach. We’re going to echo that sentiment, but only weakly. If you are good at doing something, you’ll probably derive some benefit from turning that skill inwards but this isn’t always the case. In fact, knowing when you can benefit from your own skills is perhaps more important than making time to fix your children’s shoes. For some firms, employing the strategies you sell to clients isn’t necessary; or is even a bad idea. Healthy weight loss consultants, to name an obvious example, probably don’t need to follow their own wonder diets. Similarly, a world-class photographer is probably wasting their time decorating their own home with self-portraits.

In other words, unless your clients are going to interact with that part of your business identity in which your firm specializes, it may not be necessary to invest a lot in your own skill. After all, you don’t get paid to paint your own house. Frequently, a well-designed portfolio of impressive client work will mean more to prospective customers.

Attending to your children

For the rest of you, those for whom practicing what you preach will actually pay a dividend, there are some simple steps you can take to avoid the cobbler problem.

Be your own project

Client work gets done for one reason, you’re motivated. You know you’re getting paid, you know clients won’t wait forever, and you know that if you want to keep the client you need to meet deadlines. This same motivation is possible internally. The trick is to make yourself your own client. Put yourself through the same process as other clients. Build a project spec sheet, set deadlines, be decisive. Treat your own project just like you would any other work, and it’ll get done.

Be efficient and realistic

When you work through a client project, you’re constantly recalculating just how much to invest in the project. Clients pay a certain amount, and expect a certain result. If they want more, they pay more. Treat yourself the same way. Too frequently professionals think of their own projects as masterpieces of perfection wherein they can showcase their entire talent set. Approaching your own project this way, leads to missed deadlines, cost overruns, and ultimately failure. If you establish at the outset exactly what you want to accomplish (and make sure it’s reasonable) you’re more likely to actually get the job done.

Estimate your own value

Perhaps the single biggest reason professionals give for not attending to their own projects is that “paying work comes first”. If you have some idea of what your upgrade or improvement is worth to your bottom line, you’ll be more likely to remain committed. Figure out how many more sales that new website will drive. Estimate how much you’ll save by improving your workflow the way you’ve always dreamed. If the project is worth doing, it’ll have a positive financial reward built-in. Sometimes it’s a little tricky to figure out, like estimating the extra marketing value of improving your arguably decent social networking strategy, but understanding what you’re worth will bring your own project up to par with your client work.

Know when to outsource

Sometimes it’s not worth doing something yourself. Even the best lawyers usually hire an attorney to represent them in court or draft their will. There is value in objectivity. It can be nearly impossible to diagnose yourself. Hiring an outside expert, even one that does the same thing you do, might ultimately lead to a better end result purely because they’ll have no choice but to treat you like any other project.

Moral of the story

How do we know all this? Aside from the years of collective business experience under our belts, we just went through this process at Ottenhoff Consulting. This very newsletter has been a long standing goal at OC, but for several years it was one of the Cobbler’s children. We built newsletters for clients, we developed new tools for promoting and socially sharing newsletters and RSS feeds. We did everything, but write our own newsletter.

Over the coming months we’re going to be using our newsletter to showcase, and further develop, our publishing and marketing tools. Keep your eyes open for new announcements along these lines and if you like anything you see, just let us know. We’d be happy to build it for your company as well.

Editor

Kjeld Lindsted Kjeld Lindsted
Content Architecture, Copywriting, and Editing
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