Proof train car #3: the guarantee

We’re sitting around a hobo trash car fire, watching the ole’ proof train roll on by.

Lefty is blowin’ on a dented C# harmonica he swiped in Needles, CA, Blinky is sleeping one off, Two-Teeth is picking something out of his beard, and I’m typing this email about proof elements.

The third car in the “proof train” is a guarantee of some sort.

A strong guarantee provides proof that your claim is believable. It’s not the only proof element you should include, and your claim is not inherently unbelievable just because you lack a guarantee. But a guarantee is a very helpful proof element because it demonstrates your own high degree of confidence in your claim to be able to produce certain results or your confidence in your own expertise.

A guarantee is also a way of sharing part or all of the risk with a client. This is strengthens your position.

The notion of a guarantee brings up a few questions that have no simple, clear cut answers.

Do you guarantee inputs or outcomes?

For example, do you guarantee that you will do your best? Act as a professional? Follow accepted best practices?

Those are inputs to the process of client work which, by it’s very nature, is often a collaboration of some kind between your company and your client. Guaranteeing the inputs is guaranteeing the things you control.

Or do you go big and guarantee the outcome(s) of that collaboration?

xx% improvement in some key metric. yy% reduction in some other metric.

Those are outcomes, and it’s obviously more challenging to guarantee outcomes than inputs because with outcomes you don’t control all the variables. You could do everything necessary to deliver a 25% improvement in sales and then your client’s sales tank for the quarter and poof!, your 25% improvement becomes a 14% improvement that entitles your client to whatever your guarantee stipulates.

A sort of middle ground here is to guarantee improvement rather than a specific amount of improvement.

What remedy do you promise in your guarantee?

A strong guarantee reverses the damage caused by hiring you.

Usually the most you could do to reverse damage is to refund 100% of your billings/fee and clean up any mess that was made.

I know there were times in my business when I couldn’t offer that kind of guarantee because I lacked the financial liquidity to do any kind of refund. I think that’s pretty a pretty common situation among freelancers because so many of us have a revenue mix that is low-volume + high price point. So I’m not saying the only remedy you can offer is a 100% refund. But that is probably the strongest remedy you can offer.

The longer you hold on to a client’s payment, the more painful it becomes to refund it. So if you do use a moneyback guarantee, you’ll be naturally incentivized to thoroughly explore whether you’re a good fit for your client’s needs before taking on the project, front-load the project with risk-reduction activities like a paid discovery phase, and communicate with your client in a way that minimizes the chances of things going sideways. Those are good things anyway, and they make it easier to promise a moneyback guarantee.

There’s more I could say about guarantees, but the proof train is rollin’ on, and Blinky just woke up and said I need to get busy heating up that can of beans, so I’ll wrap this up for now.

If you need a value proposition worth guaranteeing, check out:

Talk to you soon,

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