Insight for Independent Consultants

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    “I hate all my previous clients”

    From time to time, I get the following question from people who are trying to find a better, more profitable market position:“I hate all my previous clients or the market verticals I’ve worked in before. How do I choose a better market position?”This is one of the questions I tackle in The Positioning Troubleshooting Guide, which is included in version 2 of The Positioning Manual for Technical Firms.If you’re a TPM v1 customer, you’ll get v2 of TPM FO’ FREE. Version 2 should be out in the next 2 weeks or so. Actually I’ll be shipping a v1.8 so that my mastermind buddy Eric stops sending me the “ship it squirrel” emoji. And also because this information is super valuable and I want to get it in your hands ASAP. 🙂ImageAnyway, in the meantime, here’s an excerpt from The Positioning Troubleshooting Guide to give you a taste of what’s coming your way.Imagehttps://pmc-dropshare.s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/The-Positioning-Troubleshooting-Guide-JhGI1rQK3t/The-Positioning-Troubleshooting-Guide.pdf

    This absolutely *prints* money

    Have you ever heard the phrase “This will print money for your business”?It’s often applied to things like conversion rate optimization or lifecycle email marketing. And it sounds great…But it’s also applied to things that ask for attention without returning value. Or things that automate that which suffers from automation. Or things that systematize what should be custom.So watch out for things that print money and devalue the currency you’re working in.’Cause there’s a lot more of that out there than there are actual free money printing presses.This brings up the topic of a narrow market focus. Is that a “free money printing press”?I don’t think I’d describe it that way.It is a way to reduce the cost of acquiring clients who will pay a premium rate for your services. It is a way to shift the power dynamic in your favor. And it is a way to build a more robust professional services business.But a free money printing press? Nah…In fact, it’s a lot of work for most people. There’s the effort of doing market research. And there’s the emotional struggle of making what seems to be a high-stakes, low-certainty decision.I help you address both of those challenges (and many more) in: http://thepositioningmanual.com

    Excellent references available upon request

    List member Elliot sent me this amazing example of a complete lack of focus:ImageI see a ton of websites for software development shops that look exactly like this.Every possible service offered and the kitchen sink thrown in for good measure!If you’d like a head start on an alternate, highly-focused approach, check out http://1pageleadgen.siteIt’s a free site template I put together recently and have been steadily improving. It’s a great example of how to build a site that has 1 purpose only: to get you leads around a narrowly focused specialty.Don’t be the shop that sells floor refinishing and acrylic/pen and ink illustration and petsitting and…Focus on where you have the most impact. Where your services generate the most ROI.http://1pageleadgen.site might help with that.

    Three things I like about internet marketers

    If you’ve been on my list a while, you know that I really like to stick it to internet marketers.I like to call out random internet marketers on every lowlife, sleazeball, crappy tactic that crosses the transom of my inbox.It’s fun, and it’s good to have real life examples of taking things too far. And the world of internet marketing is full of that kind of stuff.But also… I find modern internet marketers a very valuable source of information about how you can market more effectively.That’s because of the first thing I like about internet marketers…1) They push boundariesAs a group, internet marketers aren’t afraid to try new things, exploit new market channels, and push much harder than I’d be comfortable doing myself.That gives me a model I can adapt or tone down.The Internet is a very direct response-friendly medium, and so useful marketing approaches can be found anywhere that direct response marketing is used, whether it be a pushy guy selling coaching services at massive scale or an old skool direct mail copywriter.2) They do things on the cheapAs a group, internet marketers are sooooo cheeeeap. They scrutinize any piece of software that costs more than $2/mo, prefer to do things themselves, and they prefer proven technology that often seems outdated by modern standards.And you know what? I think that’s healthy.It encourages a critical approach to whatever new SaaS flavor of the month is making the rounds. That new SaaS FotM is sometimes very valuable, but often it’s a way to avoid doing the difficult, unpleasant work you know you need to be doing. Shiny Object Syndrome, I believe it’s called.3) They’re lazyWhile some internet marketers are really just trying to sell you a more complicated way to be less successful at marketing your services, a fair number of them really are that fantastic combination of intelligent and lazy. And that’s a great type of person to learn a thing or two from!Because they’re actively seeking out those 80-20 solutions, and sometimes they actually find them.I’ve incorporated a fair number of 80-20 marketing techniques into: http://thepositioningmanual.com Check it out.

    “He shot himself in the leg. Twice…”

    The phone rang. It was Whitney… again.”I can’t make it to work on the deck today. My brother just shot himself in the leg twice.””Uh….. Sorry to hear that. Is he OK?”—Whitney was an out of work, unlicensed contractor my wife and I hired several years back to build a deck for us. He and his brothers were really into guns.One day Whitney showed us this rifle he had been saving up for. IIRC, it was a 50 caliber rifle.I kept track–for the entire duration of the deck project he never worked more than a half day despite every effort to the contrary. If it wasn’t a broken alternator belt on his truck it was an emergency room visit or his brother (literally–I am not kidding at all here) shooting himself in the leg. Twice.I don’t really know how that works, to be honest. I’m guessing you get really distracted while pointing a handgun at your leg? And then after you fire the first shot the shock of it squeezes off a second one?Or maybe you sleep with a couple guns under the pillow with the safety off and as you and your lady are gettin’ frisky one thing leads to another and before you know it you’ve shot yourself in the leg twice. Talk about friskus interruptus!Or maybe you’ve booby trapped your house to keep the boogie man from breaking in and you get carried away when your favorite sports team scores a point and while doing your victory dance you accidentally set off the booby trap and it only manages to shoot you in the leg twice?Like I said, I don’t know how shooting yourself in the leg twice works.But I do know that the sweet taste of the great “deal” Whitney gave us on the deck construction cost was quickly replaced with a) a frustrating experience of actually getting the deck built b) a few hilarious stories like this one.Having the budget to do things right is such a wonderful thing. Whitney didn’t have that budget because his market position was inexpensive out of work contractor who had to let his license lapse because he fell on hard times.If you would like to change your market position, I wrote a book that will help you: http://thepositioningmanual.comBang Bang!-P

    PROFESSIONAL CLEANING OF BEER TAPS AND LINES IN WA

    So I’m sittin’ there typing away on The Positioning Troubleshooting Guide for TPM v2 and my brother Chris sends me this AWESOME visual example of a narrow market position:ImageIt says: “TAPMAN.ORG   PROFESSIONAL CLEANING OF BEER TAPS AND LINES IN WA”Anyway, I thought you’d enjoy that visual example of a narrow market position. Wondering how the math works out on that? Me too!Let’s get our assumption hat on! Assumptions:

    1. Dude is a solo business owner
    2. He owns 40% of the market
    3. Only 50% of the market ever wants to clean their beer taps and lines (gross, right?)
    4. He’s able to group his service calls so that in a day he can see 4 customers
    5. He averages one “HOLEEE SHIT DUDE THE HEALTH INSPECTOR JUST LEFT AND WE NEED YOU TO GET DOWN HERE RIGHT NOW!!” call a week, and he charges triple for those and makes sure to book regular customers only 4 days/week to allow for that emergency call he know’s he’s going to get. That means he can see 17 customers per week.

    Now, to the researchmobile!

    1. http://factfinder.census.gov/ tells us that in 2014, the state of Washington had 14,874 establishments registered under NAICS code 722 (Food service and drinking places)
    2. http://www.beveragefactory.com/draftbeer/faqs/FAQ_CLEAN.shtml says you should clean your beer taps/lines at least every two weeks. That means each establishment should be getting 26 service calls/year from a tap/line cleaner.

    Now, to the mathmobile!ImageHouston, we have a problem. For this guy to own 40% of what I bet you thought was a MICROSCOPIC niche, he would need a year to contain 4,549.7 weeks. Maybe on Pluto the years are that long.So maybe he builds a team. Or maybe he limits himself to western Washington where my brother snapped this photo. Or maybe he only handles emergencies. Or who knows… point is his problem is not market size!Now… what niche market do you think is too small to support your business? Email me and I’ll do the math for you if you want.More narrowing-your-focus-goodness available at: http://thepositioningmanual.comBottoms up!-P

    A good week vs. a great year

    Are you working on having a good week or are you working on having a great year?I posed this question to my social media followers recently and was surprised by the response.The responses fell into two categories: people who instantly understood what I was hinting at, and those who didn’t.Here’s what I was getting at: are you focused on immediate concerns (aka working IN your business) or on longer-term concerns (working ON your business)?I know that running a services business requires both. But the real problem is if you’re so consumed by having a good week that you can’t dedicate any time or energy to having a great year. In my experience, having a great year requires consistent work that feels HORRIBLY UNREWARDING in the short term.I once went 3 months without doing any marketing at all for my business. Cashflow cratered about 6 months later, to absolutely nobody’s surprise.I wish I had some magic bullet solution for you. But I don’t. If I did I guess I’d buy some Facebook advertising and be this guy:Image(Aren’t any of those latop-on-beach dudes worried about getting sand in there?)But I do have a not-magic-bullet-answer-that-also-requires-real-work-but-actually-pays-off-handsomely: http://thepositioningmanual.com. If you’re ready to start working on having a great year, check it out. I can’t do the work for you, but I can help you do it more effectively.

    Don’t be a Red Kernodle

    Johnny Cash’ backing band was called The Tennessee Three. They were arguably one of the greatest in country music history.They had an original member, named Red Kernodle, who played steel guitar.According to Wikipedia, “By 1955, Cash and his bandmates were in the Memphis studio of Sun Records, to audition for owner Sam Phillips. Kernodle was so nervous that he left the session, not wanting to hold back the group.”I am very familiar with how Red Kernodle must have been feeling when he quit. And I’d bet you know that feeling too.That feeling of, “eeeeh, I don’t know if this is going to be good enough for _______.”Good enough for your audience.Good enough for your clients.Good enough for “the world” to see.However… I’m also reminded of a quote from the German romantic poet known as Novalis.A hero is one who knows how to hang on one minute longer.What if Red Kernodle had hung on 1 minute longer?How different his life would have been! How many great opportunities would have come his way if he’d pushed through the discomfort!I believe that one of the best ways for you to get leads coming in is to get out there and teach your ideal clients something.Doing this involves a lot of “Red Kernodle moments” where you can either “hang on one minute longer”, or quit in the face of discomfort.Which are you going to do?And if you don’t have any moments where you’re tempted to quit, it’s probably because you’re not engaging in “productive discomfort”–things that are hard to do but push your business forward.Positioning your business as a specialist is one of those things. Learn how to do it in The Positioning Manual for Technical Firms at http://thepositioningmanual.com.

    Meet me downstairs?

    In October of 2002, I quit my job as a Windows network administrator to go on a road trip across the United States.

    I left Nashville, where I was living at the time, and drove, and drove, and drove.

    I camped in almost every national park I’d ever wanted to see, including some Canadian ones like Waterton Lakes. I saw every town I was considering relocating from Nashville to.

    I avoided major highways and estimate I drove over 10,000 miles on 2-lane highways. I feel like I got to see a lot of America that way. I definitely got to listen to a lot of Tom Waits’ Mule Variations that way.

    In short, it was an AMAZING road trip.The first part of the trip was a bit of an adjustment. I had never spent that much time alone behind the wheel before!

    I’m an introvert, so it was OK, but by the time I reached Wyoming, I was still kind of lonely and missing social interaction.

    I think that’s why the next thing went down the way it did…

    When I rolled into Cody, Wyoming, I noticed there was a Sierra Trading Post retail store there. I wore a lot of outdoors clothing at that time, and I’d only ordered stuff from Sierra Trading Post over the internet, so I had to check it out in person.

    As I was browsing the clothing I was chatting in a very friendly manner with the sales clerk there. After all, I was kind of lonely from all those miles on the road. Talk talk, smile smile.I kept browsing until the clerk walked up beside me, slapped me on the shoulder, and said something that shocked me.

    He said, “how would you like to meet me downstairs in the bathroom?!”Oops. Looks like my friendly tone was misinterpreted!

    I was being friendly because of all those solitary miles on the road, not because I wanted to be some guy’s sex date in the basement bathroom of a discount clothing store.

    I’d never been hit on by a guy before, so I didn’t see it coming. I quickly said, “uh, no thanks” and was out of there in no time.

    I wasn’t offended at all, but it did sort of change the mood of things. And of course, it makes for a pretty good story now.

    I see software development businesses doing the equivalent of this all the time now.

    Not asking their clients down to the basement bathroom for a sex romp, but the equivalent level of miscommunication and inappropriate messaging in their marketing.The first wrong message is: it’s all about us.

    The most obvious symptom of this problem is a website where almost every sentence starts with “we”, “I”, or the name of a person at your company.

    This sends the message that you can’t get your eyeballs off your naval and onto the kind of important, urgent, or expensive problems you solve for your clients.

    Believe it or not, you can create a website that is 80% about your clients’ needs and problems and only 20% about you. This approach is dramatically more effective at generating leads.

    Another common message is: we are experts in how to do things, but we don’t really care about or understand why to do them.

    The presenting symptom of this messaging problem is a blog where you talk a lot about stuff like why test-driven development rocks, the ultimate Ruby/Python/.NET environment configuration, specific coding approaches, or other very tactical topics but you don’t talk about the business application of your work, the results it creates for your clients, or anything about why they should listen to you.

    Finally, I think about the sales implications of this. The store clerk tried to “close me” way too soon! He got the message that I was a hot prospect when that was not the case at all.

    Like me in that Wyoming store, your potential clients won’t get outright offended by a miscommunication or wrong message in your marketing content, but they will beat a path to the door pretty darn fast.

    Like I did, they’ll hop in their truck and keep driving until they find a development partner that clearly understands the business why behind the technical how.

    My Positioning Mentoring Program is one very excellent way to fix things if you are sending the wrong message to your potential clients. Simply hiring me to do it for you is another.

    Just bypass the factory solenoid!

    My second car had a massive design flaw that caused me to get yelled at in front of a puppet store.(My first car was a 1964 Jeepster Commando that had more rust than chassis. I actually installed my own seatbelts because it didn’t come with any.)ImageBack to that second car.After the Jeepster took a dirt nap (which took only 6 months and about $1000 in repair bills. My dad at one point called the car a “pit of vipers”), I got the most reliable car I could find on short notice: a 1984 VW Jetta.It was the most college student-ey car a college student could own.This Jetta was from before VW started making cars you might describe as nice. For several years, the kindest thing you could say about it was that it was reliable.And it was reliable. Until, all of a sudden one day, it wasn’t.I was parked in the Kroger parking lot and when I came out to crank up the Jetta, nothing happened.Turned the key and… nada. No click, no reassuring whir of the starter motor, nothing.This started happening more and more frequently until eventually, I realized there was a pattern at play. The problem happened when the engine was fully heated up from a drive longer than 15 minutes.I found two partial solutions. One always worked, and the other sometimes worked.The reliable solution was to let the engine cool down, which took hours. Not much of a solution!The other solution was to jump start the car, even though the battery was fully charged anyway. The extra juice from another car’s battery would sometimes get my Jetta to start. Also not much of a solution.This all came to a head one spring break on a road trip from Davidson, NC–where I went to college–to Asheville, NC.I was doing reediculous things like keeping the car running at fuel/food stops to avoid the jump-start dance.While cruising along I-40 my friend Karl and I spotted this crazy-looking store that somebody was running out of their house.It was called “Our Father’s Puppet Kingdom” and seemed to be selling puppetry supplies. (Apparently, they’re still sort of in business: http://www.ourfatherspuppetkingdom.com/).As curious college students on a road trip tend to do, we exited the highway to investigate.I pulled the car into the house/business’ circular driveway, stopped the motor, and we want to check out this bizarre business someone was running out of their home.It was closed. 🙁 So, we hopped back in my Jetta, turned the key, and nothing happened. The mysterious starter problem showed up at exactly the wrong time.That’s when I noticed that there was an automotive battery charger, just sitting there in the driveway, plugged into a crumbling old mess of a minivan.The temptation was too much for me. I looked around to make sure no one was watching, disconnected the charger from the minivan, and connected the terminals to my car’s battery, hoping that the extra juice would be enough to convince the starter to turn over so we could get out of there.I got back into my the driver’s seat to see if it would work.At that exact moment, the owner of the house/crazy puppet business pulled into the driveway. Oops…Busted! Caught red-handed!That guy was still yelling at us as we drove away after his battery charger–which I used completely without his permission–helped start my car. I’m pretty sure he was going to call the police if it took more than 30 seconds to unhook the battery charger from my car, hook it back up to his, and get out of there.I’ve never felt like such a boneheaded idiot.A few months later over summer break I took my Jetta into a shop and the mechanic was able to actually fix the problem.As it turns out, that year Jetta had a serious design flaw. The starter motor is very close to the exhaust manifold and the wire feeding current to the starter motor was a very small gauge.So when the starter motor heated up, the under-specced wire feeding it just couldn’t deliver enough current.The solution turned out to be simple.A $10 solenoid and $3 of heavy-gauge wire directly to the car battery was all it took to permanently fix the problem!I wanted to hug the mechanic who figured this out for me and installed the fix. He did not look like he wanted a hug, so I high-fived him instead.Years later when I started running my own business, I realized I had a design flaw in my business.I had thought through every aspect of my service except how I was going to reliably get new clients.I would often get close to the end of a project, raise my head to see what potential clients were looking for help, and… nada. No clients asking for help, no reassuring inquiries in the inbox, nothing.If that reminds you of your business, you don’t have to suffer from an unreliable pipeline. The fix might be easier than you think.It’s often as simple as finding the right mechanic.One who understands your business and what small changes will make prospective clients start showing up more reliably.I can be that mechanic for your software development business: https://philipmorganconsulting.com/services/