Erik Reagan

Standards: People Over Profits

Our company doesn’t have Core Values. My theory is that you can’t hire someone then dictate what they value. Sure, you can limit who you hire to only those who already value what you do; but I don’t like that limitation. Rather than defining and pushing Core Values on team members, we have a set of Core Standards. These are standards we hold one another to, and strive to push each other to continually improve upon. They serve as the foundation of behaviors that drive us to challenge our own status quo. This article is part of a series walking through the Core Standards at Focus Lab.


You’ve probably heard the phrases Business to Business and Business to Consumer. These are categories that define who a product or service is geared towards. They have purpose and make sense to me. I’d like to offer another category though. This is a category that every single one of us falls into, regardless of what we do for our clients.

This is the People to People business.

Everything we do has a person on the other end in some form or fashion. Whether we’re building cars, baking foods, selling in a retail environment, or designing websites. People are the common denominator.

“’s people who impact the profits; and profits that keep the engine running.”

If you’ve been in any kind of business for long, you’re familiar with the importance of profit. Profit is the money left over after you’ve covered your costs in doing a job. Profit is what gives freelancers and businesses the means to invest in what they want. Whether that means money you take home or opportunities to invest in new ideas. Profit is the lifeblood of any business.

So we have two key pieces to business we’ve identified: people and profits. They’re not directly related all the time, but it’s important we consider the relationship as often as possible. After all, it’s people who impact the profits; and profits that keep the engine running.

There are three main ways we place priority on People over Profits.

Prioritizing Self over Profits

Have you ever been so busy that you can’t imagine taking on a new client immediately—but then an “amazing opportunity” comes your way and you can’t see yourself passing on it? Either the money looks great, the client name, the project context, or whatever? This is a tricky scenario to work through because taking on more work can be detrimental to many things.

I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one who has overloaded myself with work and had my health suffer as a result. It didn’t take too long for me to realize my physical and mental limits and allow those limits to inform my decisions. Sometimes you just have to put your own health and wellness over income opportunities. After all, what future good are you to yourself or to society if you’ve worked yourself to death?

Prioritizing Team over Profits

Another way to look at People over Profits is in how a financial desire or need impacts a team of people you work with. Whether that’s a team of other freelancers, or a team you manage, your financial decisions can often impact them. Sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

An example of a Team over Profits decision might be in working with a difficult client. The reality is that sometimes we don’t do a stellar job at pre-qualifying clients and making sure they’re a good fit for us. Or maybe we learn mid-project that they’re just flat-out rude and disrespectful to everyone. In my book that’s someone who has to go. Their interactions are negatively impacting the whole team. That impact often seeps into other projects and even time away from work.

In a situation like this, I would place more value in a healthy and happy team over the profit that the project might bring in.

Prioritizing Clients over Profits

The final major way we keep People over Profits is by respecting our clients, old and new, above opportunities for profits. This comes in a few shapes and sizes but I’d like to share one example that probably crystallizes it best.

A couple of years ago we were hired by a guy who was ready to build the app and business of his dream. He was bootstrapping it himself, which always makes it a little more personal and close to heart. We did some fantastic work with him and everyone was excited about the results.

Fast forward about 9 months and a major U.S. network reaches out to us for near-identical work. It turns out they saw the work we did for this client and wanted to hire us to do the same project for them. As you can probably assume, they had a much larger wallet to pay for the work. It was quite the lucrative opportunity.

Now, we didn’t have any type of exclusivity agreement in place with our original client. There was nothing legally stopping us from doing work with the large network corporation. That said, they would be a direct competitor to our client. They wouldn’t have any trouble burying him in a business and market share sense. We felt like taking the job would not be the right thing to do to our client. So we opted to pass on the project.

We then took it one step further. We were able to connect the large network to our client directly. Our intention was to see if there was an opportunity for partnership in some way between the two. We had no idea where their conversation would land: a partnership, and acquisition, etc. But we at least wanted to go the extra mile in trying to help our client out.

In the end, nothing happened. We didn’t take the work. There was no “amazing story ending” with our client and the large network. But we know we made the right move. Our relationship with our client, and our character as a whole, was more important to us.

“Rather than defining and pushing Core Values on team members, we have a set of Core Standards.”

What Are Your Priorities?

I think People over Profits is a standard everyone can and should hold themselves to. Do you? Where and how? I bet if you think about your career so far you can probably come up with a thought or idea you’ve had—or even an action you’ve taken—that demonstrates People over Profits.

Give it some thought and share it with someone today.

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