Article Archive

If getting better at attracting opportunity via your expertise is interesting to you, these articles will help.

The view from the side

This is Scott Rao making fun of baristas who pour pourover coffee in an theatrical but ineffective way.

- Experiential marketing learning for independent consultants


Well, he’s not making fun of them as much as he’s saying “don’t do it this way”.’

The way he’s saying to avoid involves vertically raising and lowering the kettle spout as you move it horizontally in a circle.

The interesting thing about that, even if you care nothing about V60 pourover technique, is that it’s much easier to see this mistake when you’re looking from the side. In other words, it’s much easier to see it when you’re not the one looking at it from above, which the person doing the pourover inevitably does.

The view from the side, and the insight it brings, is one of the benefits of being an outsider.

Keep building; keep taking risks y’all,


I wish I’d had this bit of thinking figured out back in February of this year when it was more front of mind for folks, but better late than never. This is my best effort at offering guidance around how folks with a platform (email list, etc.) can think about using/not using that platform to respond to distressing stuff happening “out there” in the world:


- Experiential marketing learning for independent consultants



Have a good weekend,

Forward motion

What you are up to — notes from readers

I’m streaming a live talk today (9am Pacific/5pm GMT). The question I’ll be speaking to is how do you approach publishing during times of social or economic distress? I won’t have a recipe for you, but I’ll have a framework for thinking about this. To attend this talk, just show up at at go-time.

Jeff Gable is hosting a free webinar for med device Project Managers on how to avoid common mistakes when managing software development efforts for a new medical device. It happens Friday, November 20, 2020, 9:30am – 10:30am PST, and if you want to attend you can register here:

The videos from MapCamp 2020 are now available here: I previously linked to the YouTube playlist for these videos, but the above link is more nicely organized.

From Jim McDannald: “I help podiatrists grow their practices. My advisory services provide the knowledge and structure to build a marketing system that benefits their practices and patients.” Keep an eye on Jim; he’s somewhat new to advisory work and a good one to watch if you want to see someone grow an audience-based advisory services business:

From Alastair McDermott of Marketing for Consultants: “I’m doing ‘a month of livestreaming’ over on YouTube & Facebook. Its to challenge myself to proactively create content and get myself ‘out there’ after 8 months of being in reactionary mode. The livestreams are all related in some way to marketing for consultants, including positioning, web design, getting more website traffic, etc.” More details:

To share your news, projects, and events, fill out this mercifully brief form and I’ll share the relevant ones back to this list:

Keep building; keep taking risks y’all,

Interviewing authors

If anyone wants to conduct an interesting, differentiated interview Annie Duke, set a 5-month reminder for yourself to send out the ask. She’s just released a new book, and in 6 months she will have been on every podcast that has a pulse and a scrap of ambition, and she’ll be tired of hearing herself say mostly the same stuff over and over again to a cadre of mostly mediocre interviewers.

In 6 months (thus the 5-month timer) she will be absolutely primed to talk about something – anything – other than the topic of her now-6-months-old-book.

If you do your homework, you’ll get the most interesting interview with her anybody has heard for the last 4 months or so.

I’m using Annie Duke’s name here, but this isn’t really about her; it’s about almost any modern author you might want to interview and when in the lifecycle of their book publicity efforts to show up.

Keep building; keep taking risks y’all,

Research on photography sites, innovation, theater vs. cinema, and baby possums

What you are up to — notes from readers

Please share what you’re up to with this list!! I really love promoting the work y’all are doing, especially if it involves building something, taking risks, personal growth for you, or turning your expertise into an impactful gift for those you are focused on serving. Fill out this mercifully brief form and I’ll share the relevant ones back to this list:

Keep building; keep taking risks y’all,

Armchair quarterbacking


A good question from my post opt-in survey:

We are just starting and its a new industry for us, so my question would be how deep should we specialise and how do we know when we’ve reached it?

Here’s the short answer. I’ll elaborate a bit on it below:

  • In your description of how you’ve specialized, be clear about what single industry you’ve specialized in, and be clear about what specific service or form of expertise or result you can create. So at first, specialize as deeply as you can, and let your discomfort or lack of clarity with deeper specialization serve as a restraint. Don’t fight it, just find the natural level of specialization where your clarity about how you could specialize balances out your discomfort with specializing more narrowly than that.
  • As you further specialize every 18 months or so, there are two metrics to track to know if you’ve specialized narrowly enough:
    1. Rate of acceptance for talk or article submissions.
    2. Level of “I’m so excited we found someone who does _________!” enthusiasm in your prospects voice when you first speak to them.

That’s the short version. There is, of course, a longer version. 🙂

Data is often profoundly useful. Vital, in fact. And in other contexts, data is a song we sing ourselves to create a certain mood. In those contexts, data is a high school football team fight song, or the heavy metal song we sing ourselves to get pumped up for decisive, bold action.

“how deep should we specialise and how do we know when we’ve reached it?” You’ll know when you feel it.

Two things stymie attempts to measure how narrow a specialization should be:

  1. So much of the value of a specialization is based on insight into the market’s needs, and when you start out on your specialization journey, you only see the surface level of these needs. So you have to implement a specialization in order to gain the information needed to decide if further specialization would be valuable.

Armchair quarterbacking gets you nowhere with specialization because it’s an iterative process based on feedback loops that don’t feed back information unless you actually take action.

  1. So much of your success with specialization is based on how it makes you feel. It’s like data that way. A little bit of wrong data that emboldens you to take action might be far more useful than a lot of correct data that lulls you into inaction.

A somewhat broad specialization that helps you feel confident and unlocks ideas about how to communicate effectively with your market might be far more useful than a hyper-narrow specialization that looks cool on your website but makes you feel like a fraud and therefore causes you to hold back from pursuing opportunity.

You can’t know in advance how narrow you should go with your specialization because you can’t measure this stuff outside of some fundamental guidelines, and for that I refer you here:

So instead, you use an iterative, experiential process. At first, specialize as deeply as you can, and let your discomfort or lack of clarity with deeper specialization serve as a restraint. Then, experiment with more narrow specializations and see whether the results of those experiments increase your confidence.

If they do, dive right into that deeper form of specialization.

Keep building; keep taking risks y’all,

Content Creation *Is* Client Work

Several folks nodded their digital heads in agreement with this:

Another way of thinking about this: the content creation is client work, it’s just for clients that haven’t shown up yet and who – because of the content creation work – will be more profitable to serve than if I hadn’t invested in the content.

For this to be true, there’s a pre-requisite condition, which is that you approach content creation in a way that creates value for future clients. That means you do more than just “create a lot of content”.

Generally, you do one or more of the following:

  • You use content creation to commoditize your own expertise
  • You orient your content creation towards areas of high uncertainty or high potential for harm, further scoped to areas that are important to your clients

If your content creation work helps move things from higher to lower uncertainty, and from disorder to order, it is the beginnings of advisory work for future clients.

This means you can’t just write about obvious stuff, and you can’t just promote your services. You have to explore the unknown and take risks.

If you do that kind of exploration and risk-taking in content that is published on the open Internet for anyone to see, it will feel unsafe.

That, of course, is part of the deal. Advising clients and seeing someone else implement your advice (and pay the price if any of dozens of things go wrong along the way) doesn’t exactly feel safe either.

May as well start getting used to that feeling now.

Keep building; keep taking risks y’all,

What you are up to

What you are up to — notes from readers

To share your news, projects, and events, fill out this mercifully brief form and I’ll share the relevant ones back to this list:

Keep building; keep taking risks y’all,

Change a happy balance?


A good question from my post opt-in survey:

I LIKE creating marketing communications materials as well as developing strategies and systems, yet several of the teachers I follow–most notably Jonathan Stark and David C. Baker–talk about doing “hand work” or “Implementation” as if it’s a bad thing. I want to do and be PAID TO DO both. Is there anything wrong with this picture?

Nope! If you can get what you want out of your business, that’s an accomplishment you should feel good about.

To generalize this a bit, let’s think about the solo indie consultant. What about them? There are 4 aspects of that business type to think about in light of this question.

Can you do both strategic work and implementation work while meeting your revenue goals and avoiding working too much and avoiding the feast-famine cycle that can come from insufficient business development work?

If you can, great! If you can’t, then you may need to choose a different tradeoff between those 4 things. Elaborating a bit…

There are 4 things at play here:

  1. Strategy work
  2. Implementation work
  3. Business development work
  4. The limits of your time and personal energy level

If you can meet your revenue goals (now and in the future) with your current balance of those 4 things, great!

I consider #3 and #4 relatively fixed. You might be able to build a sustainable business without doing any business development work, but I doubt it. The age-old recommendation is that nearly 50% of your working time will be invested in business development.

You might be able to increase your time and personal energy level for a while, but most of us can’t dramatically increase those things for a long period of time (years or decades). In fact, most of us naturally experience more demands on our time and a gradual decline in our personal energy level over time.

So if, as a solo indie consultant, you reach a revenue limit with your current balance of those 4 things, there are only 2 places where you have significant latitude to make changes: do less strategy work, do less implementation work, or make one or both of those 2 things more profitable.

If our questioner and I were in a realtime conversation, I would ask: if you’re happy with the status quo, why are you seeking outside input on how you run your business?

My guess is either that you’re bored, or you’re curious if you can get more out of your business.

David and Jonathan are presenting proven ways to get more out of your business! It’s good advice!! I don’t have much to add to their advice, other than to reassure our questioner that if you’re not wanting to get more out of your business, you can ignore my advice along with David’s and Jonathan’s.

If you’re happy with how things are, don’t screw things up with endogenous change to your business! I really mean that.

Endogenous change is not the only kind, though.

We all exist within a larger context, and sometimes that larger context forces change upon us. Or rather, the larger context changes without regard to how we might be effected, and we get to choose whether or not to change in response. Exogenous change isn’t personal; it isn’t about us; it just… happens.

Sometimes we have a happy balance, exogenous change happens, and it upsets our happy balance.

In that case, we have to choose how to respond.

I really like the option of doing less implementation work and more strategy work. I agree with David and Jonathan on this point.

If the exogenous change in question is commoditization, then moving up the value chain towards strategy work is a good way to respond because while implementation work done in a pre-commoditized context might be fun and challenging, that same kind of implementation work done in a post-commoditization context is often less fun, less creative, and less personally challenging. And less profitable for a soloist!

So if exogenous change happens and makes your implementation work less fun, creative, challenging, and/or profitable, then you might be forced to consider change.

One possible change is to find another kind of implementation work that exists in a pre-commoditization context. Software developers do this frequently when they leave a stale skillset behind, re-skill, and ride the next wave of demand for pre-commoditized skill. This could be a solution for you.

Or, you can decide to move away from implementation work altogether and towards strategy work.

Let me leave you with an urging to consider the context and the timeline of your career, and to try to “skate to where the puck will be” as much as possible.

Invest now in building what “future you” will want. 🙂

Keep building; keep taking risks y’all,

Curation -> ROI

Events Of Note

Liston Witherill’s ClientCon speaker series is wrapping up this week, and you can catch a few more live talks if you want: Or, you can use that same URL to get access to all the previous talk recordings.

I’ve long believed that the best business investment out there is… you. Me. Ourselves. I know what’s holding my business’s performance back right now, and it’s not COVID or the remote location I choose to live in or which political party holds power or what kind of computer I use. It’s me and my ability to create value within a changing context. Or, my inability to do so.

There are lots of ways to move from inability to ability, and investing in ourselves through learning is one way. The Internet has supplied us with such a surplus of volume and access when it comes to learning experiences that the main challenge is not supply, it’s curation.

When the cost of something is $0, then the ROI is dictated by how much return you get from the time and effort it takes to find, consume, and unlock the personal value of information. That’s why curation is now so critical.

I think Liston has done a good job of curating his talk series:

If you really, really… really commit to the cowpaths -> roads idea, then at some point the cowpath you are pursuing will feel like it’s headed straight for a cliff. You’ll wonder if you’re on the cusp of a significant innovation, or on the cusp of complete irrelevance to your market (and a complete loss of reader/subscriber value in what you’re publishing).

During this Friday’s TEI Talk, we’ll explore this fear and the very real tension that underlies it. Details:

All the talks from the recent MapCamp 2020 event are available here:

Keep building; keep taking risks y’all,