Insight for Independent Consultants

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    The math behind market sizing

    Are you curious about how to do the math to estimate the size of a niche market?I walk you through that here in this 8m screencast:positioning services - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultants( you’ve contacted me about doing some market sizing math for you, I’m working on it. I’ve got to get through this presentation I’m doing on lead generation and trust velocity for uGurus tomorrow, and then I’ll have more bandwidth to get you hooked up. :)In the meantime, if you’re wanting help with narrowing your business focus you should read the only book specifically written to help freelancers and small technical firms do that:

    What Jerry Springer can teach you about positioning

    So I’m watching this video a Facebook friend linked to. The video had the word “Jerry” in the name, and after the video was over Youtube queued up a related video.ImageThe video was titled: Mariah Comes Clean To Her Boyfriend (The Jerry Springer Show). I respect you too much to link you to it.I dunno, maybe I was tired. Maybe my defenses were down because I’d had to admit to my mastermind buddy Eric that shipping the next version of The Positioning Manual was delayed yet again. (Should be out in a week or two, BTW.)Somehow I found myself watching a few minutes of The Jerry Springer Show. And then I found myself reading the Wikipedia article on Jerry Springer.Did you know that Springer was an attorney, US Army reservist, 56th Mayor of Cincinnati, and US Congressional candidate who attempted to lower the voting age, hired a prostitute and paid using a check that bounced, was caught hiring the prostitute with the bounced check, came clean about it, and then later used his prostitute-hiring-confession as proof of his honesty during a failed run for governor of Ohio? Then he got into daytime television. (With a background like that, how could you not get into daytime television?)Sometimes it takes a while to find that market position where your business is firing on all cylinders. Maybe it takes a little bit of Jerry Springer-style experimentation.Jerry Springer seems to have found a positioning sweet spot for his media empire. I can help you find your ideal market position too, with less experimentation:

    Sorry, your GPA is too low for this position

    One of the first jobs I applied to after college turned me down because my GPA was too low.It was a very small disappointment, but one I’ve never forgotten. I just couldn’t understand why it mattered!The average of all the grades I earned for four years of hastily-written papers, procrastinated projects, and sleep-deprived exam performances seemed to have little or nothing to do with how well I could do this job I was applying for. Nevertheless…We all use heuristics and proxies to make difficult decisions (like selecting a vendor) easier and less risky. I certainly understand how looking at a job applicant’s GPA (or spelling ability) at least shortens the stack of resumes that you have to sift through.What about your clients?What heuristics do they apply to hiring you? What simple, obvious signals are they looking for?Is it how your website looks? Your level of skill with a certain technology?Or is it your ability to deliver the right solution? Your consultative skill in a planning meeting vs. your technical skill in a code editor?Or maybe it’s something else? There really are no blanket answers. There are just your clients, their needs, and their particular way of selecting a freelancer or firm to solve a problem.That’s why I wrote The Positioning Manual–to help you position your business in a way that matches your clients’ needs:

    Get a *mint* for that garlic breath!

    So this one time I’m at the eye doctor’s office, getting a regular exam for my regularly deteriorating near distance vision, and the front desk lady–who is also the doctor’s wife–walks in and asks him a question.The doctor says “WHOA… JEEZ, get a breath mint or something for that garlic breath!!”He’s sitting closer to the door than I am, and for a moment I don’t know what he’s talking about.Then, this TSUNAMI of the most intense garlic breath I’ve ever smelt comes washing over me.There are a couple takeaways from this.1) After you’ve been married for 20 years or so, I guess you can call out your wife’s garlic breath in front of strangers.2) Small spaces intensify the effect of things.Whether it’s garlic breath, or marketing your business with a narrow, focused value proposition, small spaces (like small niche markets) intensify the effect.Get help choosing the best narrow, focused position for your business:

    Another mega-successful startup takes my advice

    Another day, another mega-successful startup takes my content marketing advice.Yeah, I’m kidding. Baremetrics has probably never heard of me, but they’ve adopted what I consider a best practice for content marketing.That is the education resource center. Theirs looks like this:ImageThere are three important things going on here.1) Value anchoringBy using the language of higher education (it’s not a “blog”, it’s an “academy”!), Baremetrics is anchoring the value of their content against that of higher education, which tends to price their services at a premium level. When you sit down and think about it, the idea that some free content on the web is worthy of the name “academy” is kind of laughable, but that’s the thing about anchoring. Most of us don’t pause to think about it, and even if we do it still kind of works.2) It’s kind of just a blog, but the navigation is different and betterIf you look at the content closely, you’ll see the underlying structure of blog posts, categories, and an index page–all the usual hallmarks of a blog. But the way index page is laid out is different than you tend to see with blogs. It’s more oriented towards topics and not at all structured as a time-ordered list of articles.It encourages readers to explore content based on their interest in various sub-topics, and in so doing it projects value. The message is: “this is a comprehensive resource on learning how to start, build and grow your business”.3) Content selectionThe most important part of an education resource center is selecting the right topics. That’s where the real value to your business is: demonstrating to potential clients that you have valuable expertise.Check out what Baremetrics is doing with their academy here: you have any questions about how you could do the same for your business, let me know. Just email me and ask away!-P

    The “how many are there game”: digital agencies

    Quick! How many digital advertising agencies with 200 or more employees are there?That’s the question list member Ted posed to me after I recently issued my standing invitation to do the math on any market’s size.Ted’s company has some specialized skill in helping his clients escape “Excel Hell”, which is that delightfully awful situation where you’re using Microsoft Excel to manipulate data from dozens or hundreds of data sources to generate reports or some other form of business intelligence.While he could apply that skill to many different types of clients, Ted has wisely decided to focus on repeating a specific success story (which he’s wisely written up into a really good case study), which means he needs to know:

    1. Are there enough of these kinds of clients out there to provide strong revenue if Ted niched down to that market segment?
    2. Is the market small enough for Ted’s company to become known as the go-to for that market?

    Let’s find out! Ted said it would be OK for me to share with you 20 minutes of me talking this problem though via this quick screencast (and 30 seconds of my cat Ollie crying in the background):positioning services - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultants(Direct link if the embed above gives you any sass:, I’d be happy to do the same for you. Got a market you’re thinking about focusing on but aren’t certain about whether it’s the right “goldilocks” size? Hit REPLY, tell me about it, and I’ll do the math for you too.Market size is just one of several critical aspects of positioning your business effectively. I can help you with the rest in: http://thepositioningmanual.comJuuuuuuust right,-P

    Things fall apart

    My website exploded last night.It all started with some tweaks to SEO plugin to resolve a description formatting problem. The plugin was trying to be helpful but was making things worse.Tweak, tweak, tweak…”Hmm… why aren’t things changing in the header tags?”Clear cache, tweak some more…”OK, screw this. I’ll try a different SEO plugin…”3 minutes later…”HOLY CRAP! Why is my entire site one giant 404 page!?!?!?!?!?”Panic sets in, I try a bunch of different things, do a database restore, and then realize the whole problem was caused by a missing .htaccess file, which most definitely was caused by my SEO plugin tweaking.The technological process that’s happened over the last 100 years is phenomenal. After all, it was only 68 years between Gustave Weißkopf’s manned, powered, controlled flight of a heavier-than-air craft and the first human walking on the moon.Despite this progress, I’m reminded that there are still plenty of unsolved problems that can be addressed with better software. Off the top of my head:

    1. Full funnel attribution that doesn’t require programming chops. In other words, how can dumb-dumb marketers take their existing stack of marketing tools (email marketing provider, web site, various acquisition channels, list of people who’ve “converted” in some way) and get usable data and insight into what’s working, what’s not, and why? Seems like a real problem that has a potential software solution.
    2. Specialist web presence solutions. I’m seeing some special-purpose web solutions emerge. ClickFunnels is one example. I haven’t used it, but it promises an integrated website, email marketing, and shopping cart package that helps sleazy online marketers sell more stuff. 🙂 What about a similar solution that’s oriented towards lead generation? Or selling expensive services more effectively? My modest contribution to this problem space ( is still not a truly integrated solution.

    I think there are a lot more unsolved problems out there, including SEO plugins that are easier to use. :)My solution to the market position problem: http://thepositioningmanual.comTalk to you soon,-P

    7 ways that narrowing your market position is like getting your first nose hair trimmer

    I’m going to be 42 years old this August. A few months ago, it was brought to my attention that I should start using a nose hair trimmer, so I bought my first one.I’ve learned that this is actually a lot like narrowing your market position. Who knew!I’ve identified 7 ways in which narrowing your market position is a lot like getting your first nose hair trimmer.1) It’s a sign of maturityI made it through 41 years without having to use a nose hair trimmer!Many professional services businesses also get to the threshold of mid-life before they have to tackle the issue of market position. Maybe they ride an extended wave of luck, or perhaps doing great work and getting referrals is enough for a good long while.But eventually… age catches up with you. And then you need a tool to make things better.2) It seems like the damn thing might cut you at first until you actually try itHow can you just stick some machine with spinning blades powered by an electric motor into your nose hole and not get cut? It seems so risky, even though the packaging assures you you’ll be fine!Narrowing your market focus also seems very likely to harm you. How do you exclude clients? Won’t that give you a bad reputation, or cause a loss of revenue?3) It feels unnecessary until you are old enough to know that it’s not20-year old me scoffed at the idea of a machine to trim nose hairs! It seemed like something you’d get as an add-on to your Amazon dot com order of an extra-long 24″ Rosewood-handled shoehorn (so you don’t have to bend over so much as you’re putting on your patent leather old man shoes).But then… it gradually dawns on you. This is just part of running a mature services business! This is just the most direct way to make business development more effective.4) It removes multiple problems that you thought you just had to live withI’m going to spare you details here. Like a nose hair trimmer, a strong market position removes problems that might seem like a fact of life.Clients who don’t respect you? Always dealing with a crazy learning curve on projects? Those can be dispensed with when you occupy a desirable market position.5) How it actually works is a little bit mysteriousHow the heck does a nose hair trimmer cut the right things (nose hairs) without cutting the wrong things (the delicate skin inside the nose)? I haven’t disassembled mine to figure out so the mechanism by which it produces results remains a mystery to me.How does choosing a smaller focus turn into bigger business results?6) It makes it easier for others to be around you, and it makes you more attractive to your mating pool (clients, in this analogy)Why do law firms who charge $1000/hr remain in business when there are cheaper alternatives? Maybe if you’re looking at low price as a competitive advantage you could change that with a better market position for your business? Every market has room for a premium option at the top end.7) You use it more confidently with practiceThe first time I stuck my motorized nose hair trimmer into my nose I was veeeeeery cautious. Then I saw that it didn’t cut me, it didn’t hurt, and I gradually became more confident with using it.Now I use it like it’s a scimitar cutting down the enemies of the Ottoman Empire.With some help, you can use positioning just as powerfully to make your own business better: http://thepositioningmanual.comBreathin’ easy over here,-P

    Would you like to look under the hood of my email list?

    I’m sure you know that I’m a huge fan of email marketing because of its potential to scale trust-building.I use my own email list as a bit of a laboratory. I’m always trying to find ways to deliver more value. I’m also interested in how my email list performs over time from a marketing perspective.The blunt way to phrase that question is this: Is it worth all the time you put into your email list?I’m looking into ways to quantify this. Gross sales that I could attribute to my email list would be one handy metric I don’t quite have worked out yet.This week I reached out for help with another interesting list metric question: how much time passes between someone joining my list and their spending money on my book or my other services?I got the best help I could ask for in the form of Ari Lamstein, an expert R developer who helps other R programmers map open data sets (stuff like census data, etc.). Ari helped me take a bunch of CSVs and turn them into some pretty interesting charts.The one below charts out home much time elapses between someone joining my list and them making a purchase of some kind:Image(bigger version: are a few outliers beyond the 1-year timeframe, but I constrained this one to include the time from from 1 day to 365 days.You can see that there’s a lot of buying activity in the first 30 days or so, but there’s also a lot of buying activity in the remaining 11 months of this time period.My takeaway is that email marketing is a long game. One that generates a substantial share of the potential revenue over longer time periods. This reinforces my distaste for the “cult of the big launch” where undue emphasis is placed on hauling in big one-time numbers of sales from a big, splashy, high-pressure launch. There’s plenty of money to be made from developing long-term relationships with people over longer periods of time, or doing multiple smaller launches.If I don’t exclude a 0-day time difference between joining my list and buying something, I get this:Image(bigger version: absolute lion’s share of the buying activity happens on day 0. That’s because a fairly large number of copies of The Positioning Manual for Technical Firms have been sold as part of bulk sales. Buying the book also opts customers in to my list, causing a zero day time difference between purchasing something from me and joining my list.The final chart I’ll share is from day 1 to day 90, just to give you a closer look at the first 3 months:Image(bigger version: me, the most interesting plot is the 1-year timeframe, although the max time outlier is one purchase that happened 625 days after joining my list! Again, that 1-year timeframe is most interesting to me because it shows that sales continue to happen over the long term.And I think that long-term perspective is the most healthy way to think about my own business. Perhaps the same is true for yours?What could you start doing to build for the long term? What lead or client relationships could you strengthen by contributing more value? What partnerships could you be building with peers who are in adjacent or complementary positions? How could you invest more in the future strength of your own market position?Anyway, major thanks to Ari Lamstein for this insight. All I did was export some CSVs, and before I knew it he’d made an R program I could use to spit out these slick graphs.Ari’s got a lot to offer if you have any needs around R or data mapping using R. Check him out at: it for the long term,-P

    Ya’ just have to know where to look for it!

    In 2011 my wife and I bought 5 acres of stunning land at the Oregon coast for $80,000.To be honest, we didn’t know exactly what we were going to do with it when we bought it. We just thought the land was amazing, beautiful, and we wanted it.Not long after, we decided we’d build a house on the land, move there, and be blissfully happy. That meant we needed to make some measurements to figure out how much space we had to work with and where exactly the boundaries of the land were.I’m relatively handy, so I thought, “I can do this! The deed says there is a metal monument on the northwest corner of the property, so I’ll just find it and make my own measurements.”You can probably tell where this is going. Many frustrating hours later, I gave up. There was no way I was going to ever find that marker.So we called a surveyor.5 minutes after he showed up he had found the metal monument 20 feet away from where I thought it had to be.That seems to be how expertise works. Repetition and practice solving similar problems over and over again give you a “feel” for things. You see things that others’ don’t, and you find solutions way faster than those who lack your specialized experience.I felt great about paying the surveyor to do what I discovered I could never do on my own.If you’d like help with finding a way to specialize, develop more expertise, and have clients feel great about paying you for it, check out: