Engineer, are you a commodity?

(Hint: The default value is YES.)

Here’s a blog post well worth reading, entitled How to be a freelance engineer. Very insightful.

I would have prefaced it with two questions:

  1. Do you know the currency value of the skills you will bring to the marketplace as a freelance engineer?
  2. If the answer to Question 1 is yes, are you still sure you want to be a freelance engineer?

Author Seth Godin likes to ask people if there is anyone else in the world that can deliver the same goods or services as you, for the same money (or less).

If the answer to that question is YES, he will tell you that you are on a race to the bottom.

A race in which there is always someone somewhere in the world willing and able to do your job for less money. Your employer is desperately trying to find that person. (And then the person behind them, willing to do it even cheaper.)

If you’re in a race like that, you’re a commodity. Perhaps a highly-priced commodity at the moment, but still a commodity.

It’s well worth asking yourself the question:

Am I a commodity?

The answer may be YES, and that answer may even be acceptable to you for the time being. But never forget the fact. Your value may be acceptable now. But as long as the internet is the internet, there will be downward pressure.

As long as someone can put a currency value on you, that value can go up and down. (More likely, down.)

The trick is, How do I make sure my value continually goes up?

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Retain control of who, when and where you work. (Being an employee makes this harder, but not impossible.) The moment someone else can control you, there’s a price on your head.
  2. Have a few high-paying and reliable customers. Not just one.
  3. Make the supply-and-demand balance work in your favour. Have qualifications and skills that customers are chronically screaming for.
  4. Do work that cannot be given a currency value, but that customers nevertheless highly appreciate. (Then the money you make comes down to negotiation.)

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