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Five Roles Demystified for Solopreneur’s – RFG 4

In the previous section, you heard that the easiest way to raise your rates was to own your role and demonstrate the value you play in the system.

That’s hard to agree with at first, but it makes sense once you understand the five roles in detail.

So follow along as we dive into these 5 naked roles we’ve been talking about.  And remember, as we move through this, you are in these roles while subcontracting and while being direct to client.

Realize that you see yourself as playing a role and so does your client.

The trick here is that you and your client may not be seeing the same role and that’s the critical insight here. So you need to know all five roles.

Don’t jump or skim here.  Read this top to bottom.


As a novice you’ll be revealing a lack of depth in the required client project work.

It’s easy to spot a novice when you see them in the form of internships, university projects, and when they directly state not knowing the specifics (even if when capable of figuring them out).

It’s more difficult, though, to see the client’s view of novice.  Experienced client projects (both direct or as a subcontractor) can talk to you and label you a novice even when you may have assumed a different role.

The naked truth is that you are a novice, and you know it, when the client project requires work you have less than 100 hours of experience actually doing.  This is time on task, hands on hours logged doing it.  Use caution when presenting yourself as any other role than a novice on these tasks and be prepared for unseen issues, time sinks and fulfillment challenges.


As a specialist, you’ll be revealing a narrow but noticeably deep knowledge in the required client project work.  Your skills, capabilities and experiences will lead you to have specific guidance, feedback, and problem solving action-steps.

It’s easy to spot a specialist when you see them listing required steps, processes to follow, specific time allocations for tasks, and focused discussion within the client project work at hand.

It’s more difficult to know you are a specialist if you have identified multiple possible routes to achieve a desired outcome but have not necessarily made any one method your primary method to achieve results.   In otherwords, you know a few ways to skin the cat, but haven’t done any one way enough times to know which is truly best, but you can definitely do the task at hand without much uncertainty.

It’s difficult for clients to see you as a specialist if your specialty is outside of their understanding or can be easily paralleled with another discipline they understand.  For example, you may be a specialist with vector artwork or with PHP programming or writing sales copy, but if the client has specialized knowledge of photography or ColdFusion programming or advertising they may not see you as a specialist for their needs because they are substituting “like” terms as if they were “precise” terms and you are both speaking the same language, but not seeing the same details and specifics – often assuming elements of the conversation.

The naked truth is that you are a specialist if you can offer specific examples and methods to generate desired results in the client project work at hand, usually as a result of 500 to 1,000 hours of time on task in that area.  More time here creates depth – continuing your specialist role.

Be careful to not reinforce this role when you are entering a related area you have little to no experience with.

For example, if you have been a writer and you are presented with an opportunity to write a series of sales letters, despite having hundreds or thousands of hours writing, if you have never written a sales letter, you are a novice at sales letters not a specialist at sales letters.  Make sense?


As an expert, you’ll be revealing both a wide view of the work at hand as well as deep domain knowledge and experience.  Your real-world experience will show in your ability to connect multiple points, topics, and variables to the same problem.  Your ability to offer feedback on situations, inputs and outputs around the work at hand, as well as specific details on accomplishing the task will open up your expertise.

It’s easy to spot an expert in their story-telling and comprehension of problems and the work to be done.  Usually this results in fast rapport building and accelerated confidence by the client because of the obvious intimacy of the work required for the client project long before all the client project details are discussed.  This is the natural intuition of expertise – to be able to see where things are going farther down the line even when engaged in early stage discussions.

It’s more difficult to know you are an expert if you have exposure to a very wide set of disciplines that are not easily connected.  In these cases, you may have many hours of high contact exposure, but be diluted across many disciplines which makes you very wide, but not deep enough in any one area to be seen as an expert.   Generalists often struggle with this confusion.

Clients will struggle to see expertise if they do not know how to value knowledge or understand the problem facing them.  Often experts are misdiagnosed by uneducated client projects who do not realize their needs require expertise.  Substitutions at this level happen a lot due to this paradox of low understanding clients with high understanding expert providers.

An additional concern here is that many people, especially in the solopreneur space, claim expertise when they are actually novices, generalists or specialists.  The result is that your client project has likely experienced an “expert” or many “experts” that have failed to deliver.

The naked truth is that you are an expert when you’ve applied more than 3,000 hours on the required task required for the client project work required.  


As a generalist, you’ll be revealing a broad and more generalized set of skills, capabilities and knowledge.  You probably won’t consider yourself a generalist, but you’ll see that in contrast to the other roles you do not have all the requirements of time on task.  In this case, you’ll look a lot someone who is capable of a lot of things, but not necessarily specialized or with great expertise.

Your ability to connect dots with possible solutions and your willingness to do it and figure things out will be obvious. This will be one of your greatest client project strengths especially in the initial stages of securing the work, but will also create production and fulfillment challenges down the line.

It’s easy to spot a generalist in their “book” of work.  Generalists will have a wide variety of things they can show, but generally do not have a lot of any one type of work.  Generalists will typically focus on a “get it done” approach to the work and rely upon their brawn, commitment to spend a lot of time for limited returns, but will demonstrate an ability to deliver something – anything, and this often works for the client project.

It’s more difficult to see generalists when the work at hand is very specific and the generalist has exposure and experience with the specific client project.  In these cases, the generalist can erroneously appear to be a specialist or even and expert to themselves or to the client, but in truth, may not have the deep domain knowledge that seems obvious.

Clients will struggle with generalists because the generalist sees potential in a lot of problems and will often offer many relevant options without being able to clearly zero on one in as a way that registers with the client as a true solution.  Often clients can settle on generalists but become discouraged by the hands-on required to get the results they desire.  This is obvious by clients who say they “have a guy”, but “need a pro” and in these cases, even long-term relationships can be supplanted by the offer of true expert or specialists.

The naked truth is that you are a generalist when you spend a lot of time to get a job done but do not retain the knowledge to continually build upon or cannot efficiently repeat the same process later with efficiency and effectiveness.  Generalists often have 100’s if not 1000’s of hours across a lot of client projects but typically lack systems, proven processes or a clear vision of how to get a specific result, yet are still capable of getting results.


As a broker, you’ll secure and direct client projects by demonstrating an understanding of client project needs and how to meet them.  Your understanding of the desired outcome and the ability to connect people, ideas, and results will show you as valuable even when the path is unclear and you are not the one doing the work.

It’s easiest to see brokers as sales people, but in reality, brokers tend to be high-level problem solvers with a focus on not actually being in the middle of the work, but instead, getting the work done as needed for the client project

It’s difficult to identify brokers when the broker has high level experience and deep domain knowledge of specific problems to solve.  In these cases, the broker often appears to be an expert or specialist.  At times brokers can take on strategist and consulting positions and in these cases can be confused as experts, but they do not actually have the intimate knowledge of implementation or production needs. It is also easy to confuse brokers as generalists when it’s unclear what the broker actually does with regard to the stories, past work, and results they represent. Weak communication skills will hurt brokers.

Clients struggle to understand brokers when it comes to specific examples, visual points-of-reference, and proof of getting the work done.  Often the emphasis is on results and telling success stories, but clients can be hesitant to engage and will commonly apply pressure for transparency with other parties involved and try to peg exactly where you fit in the client project work.

The naked truth is that you are a broker when you avoid doing the work, avoid accountability for the work being done until the end, and primarily focus on your connections and ability to make things happen over your understanding or execution experience.  Brokers tend to have 100’s if not 1000’s of hours in client service capacities more-so than production or execution time on task.

Role Call

See how roles work now?

It’s actually very common for you to go in and out of these roles on a regular basis.

Always remember to keep perspective on what system you are plugged into; subcontractor or direct to client.  The system has a lot of influence on how your role is executed and the rates you can charge.

It’s best to not claim a role you don’t actually fit in.  When you do, do not be surprised if it cost you time, money, sanity and even the client project.

Now, that you know your role, you can focus on what you do in that role, how to move into other roles, and how to prevent being seen as playing one role when you see yourself as playing a different role entirely.

Your role says a lot about the work to be done and how you will go about it.  Do you know you role?

5 Roles, 2 Systems and Why You Aren’t First in Line – RFG 3

Welcome to part 3 of the Role Fitting Guide! Hopefully you’re reading this in order of the series for maximum benefit and you have just learned in the previous series how roles work as a part of a system. Now to discover the 5 roles and how they work directly in your business.

As a solopreneur, the title doesn’t matter – not one bit.

You’re the customer service rep, the troubleshooter, the CEO and the grunt. Soup to nuts, it’s all you.

Actions and the work we actually do, our true output – that’s what matters most as a solopreneur.

It’s time to strip away the emperor’s clothes and get down to the hidden truth.

Naked Roles.

Your Business Has Five Primary Roles:

  1. Novice
  2. Specialist
  3. Expert
  4. Generalist
  5. Broker

Wow. Were you expecting something else?

Well, you’d be surprised to learn how misunderstood roles really are even these five.

As simple as the list may seem, you don’t know what these roles really mean to your business, atleast not yet.

Why, because these roles plug into a business system in a way you probably don’t expect or understand, but you will soon.

So, before we dive into the five primary roles, let’s establish the importance of the business system these roles plug into.

The Two Primary Business Systems:

  1. Direct to client
  2. Subcontractor

Simple, deceptively simple.

That’s the whole problem.  This is so easy to overlook it takes people years just to figure out these two business systems and how to Role Fit properly. And as a solopreneur, this is a huge part of your business and you may very well be plugged into both systems at the same time.

It’s possible to have the same role in either system, yet have totally different experiences based on whether or not you are working directly with the client project or not.  This can be a maddening experience if you don’t understand it.

Follow along as we map this out.

Direct to client

This means you are working directly with the client (owner or decision maker) and you’re required to interface with them directly for the work being done.  In this case, the client knows you and has direct expectations of you and your work.


In this capacity, you are directly interfacing with another person on behalf of the actual client project. In this case the client probably does not know about you and you most likely have two sets of expectations on you – your direct client (the person who subcontracted you) as well as the client’s expectations which is being screened and filtered to you through the person who subcontracted you.

Clearly these two systems are not the same and they both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Here’s A Hard Pill to Swallow, Are you Ready?

A majority of your challenges will stem from understanding your role and your approach to the business system you are pluged into.

Now for the Real Tough Love.

Are you ready?

It’s. Not. About. You.

When it comes to the customer, the person who is paying you, it’s never about you – it’s about them and this is why role fitting is tremendously important.  Not only is it about the customer, but it’s about what the customer thinks they are getting for themselves through you (your role in the system).

There just isn’t room enough for it to be about you and about the customer – so the customer is always first in line.

It’s not uncommon to approach everything like it’s about you and your business. Aren’t you so special the client project wants you? Nope, not yet.

But if you skip yourself and just go straight to making it about the customer then you are able to see yourself as they see you and you’ll be able to show them exactly what you want them to see.

Let’s dig deeper into these two business systems.

So, if you are working direct to client you’ll behave differently than if you are a subcontractor through a third-party.  All your communications, expectations, accountability and execution will all be affected by this.  You’ll have the same roles, but act differently because they are very different business systems and the system dictates expectations and roles.

Picture yourself directly with the client for a moment.

It’s you shaking their hand, chatting with them on the phone, trading emails and discussing client project matters.  It’s the two of you rapport building and developing a relationship and discussing what’s worked or failed. It’s you creating context for the client project.

It’s also you answering the hard questions, doing the follow up calls, overcoming challenges and talking through hot topics.  It means you and the client project are a team trying to get the work done.

Your working with their staff and getting to know all the people and things that are directly related to the project and usually a lot of other things that are on the outside including people’s personalities, work style, and interest (or lack of interest) in the client project.

Who’s in charge?

This direct to client system brings about all sorts of considerations on whether it’s you or the client leading the way.  Who is doing the asking and telling? Who is making the decisions and creating expectations.  In short – who’s got what role?

Ok, got it?  That’s working directly with the client.  That’s the “direct to client” business system.

Now then, picture yourself for a moment as the subcontractor.

Who’s your client here?

If you said “both” you’d be right. You are now the proud owner of two clients – the one that brought you in as a subcontractor and the man in the ivory tower who doesn’t even know you exist, what you’re good at, and what you bring to the table.

You’re now dealing directly with a secondary person who “owns” the client project.  This can be fantastic news for you. It could result in highly efficient conversations, little to no hand-holding, and a much appreciated “I trust you” business relationship.

You very much need to ‘win’ your relationship as a subcontractor and the way to do it is very different than it is when dealing directly with the client.

As a subcontractor (remember this is a system not a role) you are trying to meet client project expectations plus make your direct contact see you as a great resource to be included over and over again.

Do this right and the flood gates can open resulting in a steady stream of client projects!

Do this wrong, accept the wrong role, or misunderstand your role and see this dry up like a desert before your eyes.

So in this situation it will still come down to knowing who is in charge? Who’s calling the shots and knows what’s right and what’s wrong?  Who as final say?  Who’s got the higher bill rate?

Want to Raise Your Rates?

The easiest and most effective way to raise your rates is to own your role and demonstrate the value of the role you play in the system.

As you just learned, the dynamics of each system vary.  So the things you do to enhance your value differ.  What never changes is the fact that it’s always about them, the customer.

When you are a subcontractor, you have two customers.  And don’t you forget it, so many subcontractors do then they wonder why they lose future business.

And remember, you’re always there to make the customer look good, to take problems away, not add to them.

So, now that you know the two business systems, let’s talk about your roles.

Your naked roles.

We’ll cover that next. But for now, let’s close out this section with a quick recap.

You have five roles available to you and you’re plugging into the “direct to client” business system or the “subcontractor” business system.  Your role may vary for each of those systems and the expectations definitely vary according to which system you are plugged into.

On the next section, we’ll dive deep into each of the five roles of the Solopreneur and how to intentionally be the lean mean Lion without accidentally becoming the fat lazy Buffalo.

In the mean time, Can you see how these systems have a huge impact on your business?

The Unknown Truth About Roles in Business – RFG 2

Welcome to part 2 of the Role Fitting Guide series, where we will now drill into roles as relate within the business system.

As you’ll discover while reading the Role Fitting Guide series, the information builds on itself bit by bit.

Your ability to take advantage of roles and leverage them for yourself and your business is important, so follow along closely.

Sure, you can scan and jump around.

But you’ll find that the compounding effect of reading in order of the series builds a clear view that sheds a whole new light on roles and the business system and how to exploit it for your gain.

Being Hired To Death, was the first in the series and it’s whole purpose was to illustrate the importance of roles and what happens when you play the wrong role.  It can be a killer.

Hopefully you learned that introducing yourself as the wrong role or allowing the customer to define your role can kill your business, project or both! Just ask the frog and the scorpion.

So, let’s build on that with the next section in the Role Fitting Guide Series.

Let’s talk about you and what you need to know.

These terms and key concepts below allow you to lock and load on the unexpected truth of roles.

You’ll be surprised to find that a simple idea of roles can actually be the foundation for how you do business and grow to new heights.

Hard to believe, I know.  You’ll see the picture become clear soon.

But first.

What’s a role?

A role, in this case, is the position you are playing in your business and in the business of your client.

You may or may not know your role at any given time.  That’s okay for now, but you should know soon – your business depends on it.

Your customer may not be able to tell what role you play in their business.

This is a bad thing because that means you may not know your role either and you definitely do not want them coming up with their own role especially when it doesn’t match yours!

Why do roles matter?

In business, especially a solopreneur’s business,  you need to know the five critical roles described in the Role Fitting Guide. If you have a misunderstanding of your role or a mismatch of roles, it can kill your business.

Roles determine the path of your business and your services.

Ultimately, this guide reveals how you can run the “system” of roles and be the lean mean Lion not the fat lazy Buffalo as described earlier.

How Are Roles Also “Systems”?

Roles get plugged into a system.  Roles can also change how systems work.

Picture the typical family roles for a moment.

Just like a parent plays the role of mom or dad, they are also relying on the parent / family system.  The actual way mom’s and dad’s work in real life within the family.

Picture the family as an illustration of the business and the mom or dad is an illustration of a role inside the business.

Continuing this for illustration sake, dad is playing the dad role, mom the mom role.

These roles are defined by their parents and the experiences they had as children and by peers around them who help them refine their role within the family system.

Think about that for just a second.  The role is defined by other parents and by other peers. Thus, the parent system is there to support the roles you play, but they are not new roles instead they are known roles with known expectations.

Dad’s talk to other dad’s about being a dad – and the system reveals itself.  The dad role in the family system means something different than the mom role and both of those are a part of the family system.

Not very often do the roles switch – generally speaking.

Roles can be downgraded by demonstrating unfit parenting skills or inability to care for kids.  Or the roles can be upgraded by becoming foster parents, grandparents, or specific care providers for special needs kids etc by demonstrating fit parenting and childcare capabilities.

Great dads are noticeably different than an unfit dad.

Business is the same way. 

The role you are playing – either your defined business role, or the client’s definition of your role – give us special access or limited access to the system of business depending on our role.

This is explained more later, but can you see how you are either fit or unfit with your role in the business system?

Is The Role Fitting Guide for me?

All Upgrade Renegade material assumes you already are (or fast becoming or deeply invested in becoming) a professional running a small business that focuses on digital services of some sort.

You’re probably self-employed, a solopreneur or trying to become one.

You’re doing work that matters (while probably working from home) for a limited number of clients, projects, or “gigs”.

You are a consultant, designer, developer, blogger,  strategists, SEO provider, content creator, or fit in the “web people” category know for doing  “web stuff” for a living. In short, you’re a solopreneur.

The Role Fitting Guide is specifically written for digital professionals to grow their business and win client projects.

What is a Client Project?

Depending on your business, you may or may not take on clients or projects.

Often designers and developers are looking for projects where as consultants and strategists are looking for clients.

As you read the Role Fitting Guide, just know that paying work is simply called “client project” – like client / project because that’s the easiest language to use that can apply to both types of people who need to know about these roles and how to apply them in applicable business situations.

A Few Business Assumptions.

Can we assume you provide some sort of “web service”?

Can we assume you want to earn paying work and are willing to advance your skills to do so?

Ok good.

The Role Fitting Guide also assumes you have a fundamental knowledge of business and accept responsibility for directing your business affairs, which includes earning client projects.

About Paying Work.

This whole guide is based on your responsibility to earn client projects no matter if you see yourself as a craftsman / worker or a service provider, consultant, speaker or whatever.

You alone must earn your client projects either directly in person or by the materials you create.

Perhaps you don’t see yourself in a sales role, but you definitely see yourself as being responsible for your business and your clients.

Win in Business.  Win in Your Business.

Because you want better clients, better projects and sanity in the way you run your business and how you service your client projects, you’ll want to be able to know and exploit roles.

Because you want to have a few tricks and a unique way to see the business world like no one else, you’ll want to know the five roles and how they allow you to lock and load within the business system so you can have more discipline, structure, and direction in your business building activities while winning the right client projects.

Why you want to be a Lion in Business.

Because lean mean Lion’s have a clear view of the prey and the lay of the land and  know how to catch even the biggest prizes and feed the whole pride with bigger feasts than they need to survive.

Because Lions have healthier businesses and no one wants to be a fat lazy Buffalo.

Because Lions are the king of the jungle, and that’s a damn fine role to play in the circle of life don’t you think?

The next post will show you why titles don’t matter but actions do.

You’ll also discover the five roles that matter in your business.

Happy hunting fellow lions.

Hired to Death – RFG 1

Part 1 of the Role Fitting Guide Series.

Hooah!  You got yourself a new client project.

As the client project shook your hand to start the work, you sighed with bitter relief.  You’ve got more client projects and it’s great to be getting more work even if it kills you to do it.

Which brings me to the children’s fable, “The Scorpion and the Frog.”

The basic story goes like this.

The scorpion is on a journey and decides he wants to cross a river and beckons a frog nearby to swim across the river while the scorpion rides on his back.  The frog questions why he would do this – scorpions kill frogs after all – and the scorpion assures the frog that he should do it because the scorpion cannot swim and they would both die should the scorpion attack the frog during the swim across the river.

Being sensible and understanding the scorpion’s logic, the frog agrees to help and the two perish mid-stream as the scorpion indeed attacks the frog. “Why”? The frog asks as the two begin to sink to which the scorpion’s only response is, “I could not help myself, it’s my nature”.

How’s that for being hired to death?

In business, if we approach the client project looking like a scorpion and acting like a scorpion, then that’s our role and the system will plug us in accordingly.

This literally means that it doesn’t matter how hard we try to act another way or be seen in another way, we are just a scorpion to the client project.

Now – one more time in plain business speak.

If you approach a client project looking like a designer, you’ll be treated like one – regardless how much consulting and strategy you offer – even if it’s wonderful work.  Throw in some great SEO too and it wont matter.  The client project sees you as a designer and you’ll be treated accordingly.

Your role is defined by you or the client and your now limited to that role within the business system.

There you go – “roles” in action and why the Role Fitting Guide is so damn important.

Now, the trick is to know your role and make it work for you, not against you.