The Difference Between A Professional And A Hack

If Turning Pro author Steven Pressfield were whispering in my ear giving advice on two recent projects, I’m pretty sure he’d have said: hire the pro—not the amateur—and never EVER the hack.

We got it half right.

Guy #1: The client needed to hire a “cheap” resource to shoot and edit a quick turn-around, 30-minute talking head interview video. None of my usual local resources was available or within his budget. So he went with an amateur recommended by a pal of his. We knew it could go bad—and he’d need to be closely managed—but the client wanted fast, local and cheap and pulled the trigger.

Guy #2: Around the same time frame, I was looking for a video editor for 44 videos—roughly three hours of content— for my new on-line training course. I chose a newish editor moonlighting (with permission) from his day job with a top-tier edit house. 100% pro.

You can see where this is going, right?

Guy #1 brought his mom to the shoot—she managed to cough and rustle paper at just the wrong moments. Then after topping off the camera batteries, he forgot to plug the microphone back in. He also neglected to re-shoot the intro to the segment they halted when a leaf-blower suddenly made an off-camera appearance.

When I reviewed the edited footage, the sound (of course) was amateur hour—but all he could do about the leaf-blower mishap with no extra footage to play with was to insert a fade-to-black to cover it up. Yep, right in the middle of the conversation.

That’s what can happen with an amateur—either a beginner or someone who isn’t paying attention to the details of their craft. And let’s face it, we all make mistakes.

But Guy #1 became a hack the moment he said: “I’m sure the client won’t even notice.” And then he certified his status by telling me about all the hours he’d spent on the sound trying to correct for his on-set mistake.

Contrast that with Guy #2. He discovered a glitch in the video recordings (my bad), brought it to my attention and suggested several viable solutions. Later, when he made a small mistake, he fixed it immediately and didn’t make it again.

Coincidentally (?) he finished my three HOURS of content in the same time it took Guy #1 to finish 30 minutes.

Both guys were warm and friendly and responsive. They both had about the same total years of experience.

You’re probably thinking Guy #1 must have been super cheap and my client must have saved a bundle.

But you’d be wrong. Guy #2 cost 25% more to finish 600% more content.

And that’s not counting all the unrecoverable time managing the amateur turned hack.

Hiring a pro is always the better decision.

The only exception I can think of is when you’re working with someone who is a genius-in-the-making (I’ve done that a few times and haven’t regretted it yet even though it’s usually more time intensive).

So how to tell the difference between a professional and a hack?

  1. A pro knows what he doesn’t know. He isn’t afraid to ask a question or admit he doesn’t understand.
  2. A pro has back-ups for pretty much anything “usual” that can go wrong AND has a good instinct for what to do when the hasn’t-happened-yet surprise inevitably appears.
  3. A pro may NOT have the hottest website—she may not have a website at all—but she has provable client stories and references.
  4. A pro never utters “I’m sure no one will notice” about a mistake that’s bothering the client. Even when it’s true because the client is obsessing about something terrifically small in the scheme of things, the pro will find a way to help the client feel good about the outcome.
  5. A pro gets engaged right from the start in working on your project or they turn it down. Pros are in demand—they can’t afford to waste their valuable time on something they’re just not feeling.
  6. A pro specializes to some extent (maybe a huge extent) and they will quickly send you elsewhere if they think you need different—deeper, wider—expertise.
  7. A pro sets fees that make sense—to them, to the client and for the results they’re being hired to produce.
  8. A pro can make a mistake—but they won’t sit still (or sleep) until they’ve figured out how to make it right.

The results don’t lie.

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  • anne

    When I was a freshman in high school, I received 45 minutes of detention because I stapled my English essay at a 90 degree angle in the top left corner, instead of a 45 degree angle as instructed.

    That was the day I learned there is no such thing as “no one will notice.”

  • Rochelle

    What a perfect story Anne–thank you for adding to the conversation!

  • Coincidently, I await the professionally shot video from my talk, “The Almost First 100 Days,” last Wednesday eve. Not having to worry about the “shoot” certainly freed me to concentrate on my presentation with no distraction. The next step involves breaking the video into segments (if that makes sense). Based on other recent conversations I consciously approached the presentation and its taping as an opportunity to showcase my commentary style.

  • Rochelle

    Congratulations on making the leap Corey!

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