The “growth hack” you need, but won’t listen to

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Quick disclaimer: This post is a kick in the butt. But if you’re like me, you’ll thank me for it, because this is IMPORTANT stuff. Maybe the most important.

Cool? Then let’s dive in…

Pretty much every post I write here on Millo is full of concrete, actionable tips anyone can start using right away. And I’m very proud of that, because I hate things that tell you “what” to do but not “how.”

But today I listened to a segment of an interview with Steve Martin of all people, and realized there was a part of business I needed to hone in on that’s even more important.

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Everyone is always on the lookout for “tips” (me included).

  • That one “tip” for getting new clients…
  • or that one “thing” you say in a sales call to convert a prospect…
  • or the “magic formula” for getting more clients from your website.

Honestly, looking back on that last sentence, I’d have trouble NOT clicking on a blog post that promised any of those.

Wouldn’t you?

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But in that interview with Steve Martin, he said something that re-focused me on a different part of business. He said, to paraphrase:

Whenever people ask me how to make it in show biz, they always want me to say ‘this is how you get an agent’ or ‘this is how you write a script.’

No one pays much notice to my advice because it’s not what they want to hear. But I tell them, ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.’ Be so good they can’t ignore you – then they’ll come to you. It’s much easier that way.

And the lightbulb went off in my head.

Even more important than your marketing plan and your sales strategy is this: getting BETTER AND BETTER at what you do.

You have to be able to answer these questions with flying colors:

  • What did you do this week to become the absolute best in the world at your job?
  • What did you do to become so good that you DESERVE to get more business?
  • Why do you deserve it at all? What do you do that’s so special? 

And even more importantly: What more could you have done that you didn’t?

That last question is so important because you have to take yourself down a notch.

You have to realize that if you’re not improving and growing and evolving all the time – then you don’t deserve clients. They deserve someone better.

You have to constantly prove to the world that you’re worth it. And you do that by growing and evolving EVERY DAY of your life.

If the work you produce today looks like the work you produced even last month – something is wrong.

Imagine if the iPhone 7 was literally the same as the iPhone 6. Even Apple is only “hot” because they are constantly proving to the world that they’re worth it. They took huge market share from Microsoft because Microsoft STOPPED proving that. They got lazy.

Your work should grow and excel so much that if someone saw what you did last year, and today, they’d think it was two different people because the skill gap between the two is so large.

Or maybe your unique style would prevail, but nonetheless, there would be a very noticeable difference in quality.

Quality clients want QUALITY. It’s that simple.

And the more attuned to quality they are, the more they can sense if you have it or not.

Clients who live by these principles seek to work with others who share them. And they can tell the moment they see you or hear your voice if you’ve “got it” or not.

Now, I can already feel some protests coming on:

“But clients want it cheaper, faster. They don’t care about quality, why should I?”

Here’s my answer:

You can disagree with me if you’d like, but from my experience in becoming more and more successful every year I’ve been in business, I’ve come to realize that every business has an intangible “energy” it puts off. This “energy” comes from the care or lack thereof that it puts into what it does.

Companies that are always pushing to get better, better, better feel better to do business with.

There’s an intangible “feeling” you get from them.

That’s why the moment you walk into some restaurants you fall in love, and when you walk into others, they just feel “dead.”

And it has nothing to do with how many people are there. Some places can be empty, yet they feel so alive and buzzing. Others can be full, yet they still feel dead and draining.

That’s because if you don’t work on this part of your business, people sub-consciously “feel” it through your website, your emails, your phone calls. People have a sixth sense for it, just like you do.

So yes, you’re right, you will only attract clients who want it “cheaper and faster” if you’re not actively living this way of life. And it’s a hard truth to accept that it’s you attracting them.

But it’s also a liberating truth. Because if you’re attracting them, then you can repel them, and attract someone else, right?

We and many people we work with are living proof of this. After all, do you know how many people we attract like that?

Not many.

Because we always PUSH to grow.

Every. Single. Day.

If someone asked me, “Why do you deserve the work?” I’d have a text book worth of answers to give them.

Yet at the same time, things happen every week that take me down a notch and make me see I still have TONS of room left to improve. 

It feels awful to realize you’ve been making mistakes and not doing things as well as you could have. But that’s the only way you grow and keep your business’s energy “alive.” You accept it like a pro, make changes, move on.

And as a result: on the occasion when people do come to us who are like that, just looking for a quick deal, we stand behind our value, because we look back at all the work we do every day to get better, and we know we’re worth it.

Some pick up on that. Suddenly their attitude shifts, and they pay our higher prices.

Others aren’t ready for it. So they walk away.

My point is this: If you’re not working on yourself, no “tip” will help you grow.

On the other hand, if you are, you’ll find almost every tip yielding incredible results.

Which path will you take?

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About David Tendrich

David Tendrich is the co-head of creative agency Unexpected Ways, as well as the co-founder of Reliable PSD: the first-ever PSD to HTML & PSD to Wordpress service run by designers, for designers. He co-runs his companies from Portland, Oregon with his lovely wife and biz partner, Lou Levit.


More about David’s business: David is co-founder of Reliable PSD – what happened when a group of designers got fed up with PSD to Code companies… and created their own. Check them out, and see why freelancers & agencies are head over heels for this amazing new service.

Leave a Comment



  1. AB Web Development says:

    Excellent post David! It’s one thing i have certainly been working on for a few months and i can honestly say that when pitching a project the clients are seeing the quality of work which is really helping with increasing prices and overall growth.

    I would also say constantly focusing on improving has meant that i may spent less time going back to projects just to fix small errors or things i would do differently now. In the long run that has certainly meant i have more time to focus on existing projects.

    Always room for improvement and that’s something i am constantly working on.

    • So glad to hear you’re already seeing the tangible results this approach creates 🙂 I don’t think you have to be the best in the world at what you do, but when you’re on the path to trying, people pick up on that, and they greatly appreciate it and want to work with you.

      “Always room for improvement and that’s something i am constantly working on.”

      Yes, yes, yes 🙂


  2. “So yes, you’re right, you will only attract clients who want it “cheaper
    and faster” if you’re not actively living this way of life. And it’s a
    hard truth to accept that it’s you attracting them.”
    So true! In business and in life generally.
    If we attract the wrong kind of people and clients continually, it seems that we send wrong messages. Maybe we need to improve or to become more confident.
    It’s as simple as that: either we provide quality or we are cheap and fast.
    I am convinced that if we are good at what we’re doing (and become better every day) there is no way we would choose to be among the “cheap and fast” professionals.

    • 100%. Couldn’t agree more.

      “If we attract the wrong kind of people and clients continually, it seems that we send wrong messages.”

      That’s the key right there. It’s so easy to blame the world, but things change so fast when we actually suck it up and look at ourselves.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙂

  3. I couldn’t agree more! I’d say I’m a “veteren” in this business. And yet you remineded me to go back to the mindset I had on my first day, at that first ad agency. I was eager to do the best work I could, to show my creative directors, that I could handle better and better projects. Back then, I really wanted to grow and excel as a designer.

    30 years later, who’s to say I can’t keep growing by pushing to do my best work—again, and again.

    Thanks for the post.

  4. Hi David and readers.
    I’ve been stuck a couple minutes after reading your post, thinking about the theory and the practical side of “being better and better”.
    Based on my own experience, I must say something like “be careful with being better every time”.
    Why ? because “being better” doesn’t always means the same thing for you and for your clients.
    Let me explain that with a recent work I did. Recently, a new client asked me if I could do some motion design every week for a TV channel and he send me a sample. I’m so good at this that I told him I could do the job in one day. He agreed, and I started that new weekly work.
    After a couple a weeks, I understood that he used to give that job to a company that needed 3 or 4 days to do the same work.
    Let’s looks at the money side now : even if I charge the double for a day work compared to the other company (I charge 1000€/day, the company they used to work with charges 500€/day) , I only charge for ONE day of work while my competitor charges for 3 or 4 (let’s say 1750€) for the same work.
    So what does means “being better” for my customer here ? Simply that I can do the same for less money: I’m more profitable.
    And how is my calendar filled up with projects ? Well, less than my competitor.
    So, what’s wrong here ? Many people would tell me “charge more for that day of work”. But the fact is that it is impossible, my clients don’t use the same “scale” or “reference”.
    How many time did I heard things like “we cannot work together because your daily rate is too high!”. I used to tell my clients “Yes, but in the end the project will cost less for you.”. But they don’t care… because they can’t justify themselves why they should hire somebody like me (at that price) while they only charge half for their own work. I am suddenly “out of scale”.
    I’ve been trying to charge less with a higher number of days. But how can I explain my accountant that I’ve been working 50 days a month?
    That’s a torture.
    So, be careful, being better and better with the same client is ok because he will see a qualitative evolution, but “being better” than other all relies on the reference point.
    By the way, thank you David for that point of view.(and forgive my poor frenchy style english)
    Carlos Matias.

    • Hey Carlos,

      So I read over your comment, and I think there’s an important distinction to be made here. I think your problem lies not with getting “better” at your craft, but in *not* getting “better” at the business side of things as you grow and evolve your craft.

      Iit sounds like either you’re having trouble communicating your value (thus people pushing back on price), or the clients you’re communicating to simply aren’t sophisticated enough for where you’re at, and it’s time to get some new ones 😉

      This does raise a good point though that I should have covered: as you get better as an artist, you have to also get better at the business side of things, too.

      You have to get better at communicating your value, and attracting clients who will appreciate it. That means updating your marketing, your sales process, your proposal / agreement process, everything. It all has to reflect where you’re at now, not where you used to be.

      I’d consider taking a good, hard look at your sales process because the fact that people are objecting to your prices so much and the fact that they won’t pay you more for better work done faster raises a few red flags for me.

      It’s possible they can’t afford you – but when you really do communicate your value properly, and someone can’t afford you, what you’ll typically hear is:

      “I get it, you’re really good, and I wish we could hire you, but unfortunately you’re still out of our budget.”

      What you typically don’t hear is:

      “I still don’t understand how you can charge that much for this work”

      That’s more of a sign of something gone wrong in your sales process.

      Hope this makes sense 🙂 Again, not enough info to make a 100% accurate assessment, but this is my advice given what you’ve told me.

      Best of luck,

      • Hi David.
        Thank you for giving me your advice about my business side.
        I’ve been talking about your post with a friend of mine witch owns a small company specialized in making 3D movies, and he agree with me on the fact that when you get better at your job with a customer, that client is happy until you charge more. He told me that one of his clients said “you shouldn’t charge more because if you get better it’s because of the jobs I gave you !”.
        But there’s something to be kept in mind : I’m a french freelancer working mainly for french customers, and that makes all the difference about your point of view.
        That friend started to work 2 years ago for some producers in Hollywood, and it’s clear for him that the cultural way of doing business in USA is completely different from french business. French companies won’t hire you because you can bring something new to their business and help them grow, they only hire people for the profitable side.
        Let’s face it : french companies don’t look forward to make better things, they just look for better profits.
        I’ve been working as a freelancer for 24 years, and there’s something I still don’t understand : french client will only call you because there’s something wrong with what you did or because they forgot to tell you something important about the job (after the work is done, of course), while clients from other countries use to call me just to say “nice job, thank you!”.
        It’s seems that from the french client point of view, you always have to be accountable for the work they give you and the food on the plate you couldn’t get without them.
        Perhaps I should move oversea.
        Thank you again David, and keep being smart, I like it.
        Carlos Matias

        • Hey Carlos,

          I totally understand where you’re coming from, but would still like to offer you another perspective… and I’d still like to encourage you to change up your marketing / sales to attract newer, better clients.

          Here’s why:

          We have clients all over the world, including France and throughout most of Europe, and people are willing to pay our prices exactly because of what we bring to the table (not everyone – but about 50-60% of proposals we send get approved – and we send a lot of proposals).

          I think it’s because: a) we provide tremendous value, b) we’re good at communicating it through our marketing, c) we’re good at communicating it through our sales process.

          On the other hand, if I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say, “The clients in my area are just different – that won’t work for me – there’s nothing I can do,”… well… I’d have a lot of nickels 🙂

          I hope you see what I’m getting at.

          Just something to think about 😉

          Best of luck, and thanks again for sharing your thoughts,


  1. […] you strive to be perfect, which, of course, you never will be, it does mean that you are always attempting to improve on what you are doing. This provides the opportunity to come up with some truly impressive […]

  2. […] And no matter how amazingly well (or not) you write, you can always improve. […]


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