Are You A Commodity?


I’m no economist. I did study ECON101 in the first year of my first degree. I got a C- which is technically known as a ‘restricted pass’. The practical implication is that I passed but that both the university and I agreed that I wouldn’t be doing economics anymore. (I’m not sure if it’s an economic term but I believe that was a ‘win-win’ scenario). I liked economics at high school when it was about supply and demand, and the decreasing marginal utility of eating multiple ice creams. I related to that and my teachers made it interesting. If my university experience of economics taught me anything, it was to never be as boring, abstract, unrelatable, and seemingly irrelevant in my own career helping people learn. I have something of an OCD-ish behaviour where I’ll shade in the letter o in texts if I’m bored. (I’ll do it in front of you if you’re talking to me and boring me). My ECON101 textbook had all the o’s shaded, plus every other letter with anything resembling a shade-able space. a b d e g p q and it got a point where I was tracing over every letter that was just lines.

Something I did learn when I was still learning economics was the definition of a commodity. (Goods that were tradeable and interchangeable). Lots of businesses sell milk powder by the tonne. Logically, I buy the cheapest because it’s all the same. The problem was that ‘cheapest’ part. If you rely on selling commodities you’ll always be competing on price and that is a race to the bottom where even the winner loses, especially if you’re small fry because larger producer-sellers can live with smaller margins on higher volumes. That logic and maths I understood, even then.

Decades on, I don’t sell goods. I’m a lone wolf, self-employed, freelancer selling the services of speaking and training. Today, especially with technology, services too are increasingly commodified. If you’re selling speaking or training, you’re competing with online courses from massive global institutions some of whom are giving those courses away. There are TED talks too. AI means even expertise can be automated.

A necessary mindset shift for people in my position (and I’m mainly talking to myself now) is to not think of myself as selling services. I am selling me and you are selling you. Thankfully there’s only one of me. Another economic term is differentiation. That’s more important now than it ever has been. Are YOU a commodity? Are YOU human milk powder? If not, what are ya – specifically? What aren’t you?

Here’s a mindset shifting activity. If your gig marketplace was a bookshop and you were a book, what books are similar to you so that you can compare yourself to them so prospective book buyers know what the hell you’re on about, BUT how are you different / better than those comparable books?


About Terry Williams - The Brain-Based Boss

I'm all about engaging people and helping you engage yours to influence behaviour to improve results - at work and at home. Maybe you're a manager, a salesperson, a leader, a parent, a presenter or an event organiser? You need to grab your people's attention, create some rapport, be memorable and influence behaviour change. How can we do that? I'm originally a trainer by trade, turned manager, turned comedian and partway back again. Author of 'THE GUIDE: How to kiss, get a job & other stuff you need to know', I write and speak about how to engage people, be they employees, family or yourself. How can we connect with people’s own internal motivations and help them use their own inner passions to drive towards productivity, success and happiness? And hopefully have a few laughs along the way... As a trainer facilitating learning and development in others, I find myself drawing on my own extensive business experience. I specialise in the delivery of high impact, customised training solutions for organisations that are serious about improving the performance and lives of their people.

Posted on January 30, 2020, in Employee Engagement. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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