Insight for Independent Consultants

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    What is DevOps for?

    Really, what is the purpose of this new-ish, hard-to-define discipline?

    Expertise Incubator member Luca Ingianni is exploring that question via his email list:

    I think Luca’s answer to this question, “what is DevOps for?”, is going to land somewhere a lot more interesting than the Wikipedia definition of “a set of practices that combines software development (Dev) and information-technology operations (Ops) which aims to shorten the systems development life cycle and provide continuous delivery with high software quality.”

    Those with deep expertise seem to be able to articulate a larger justification for their expertise. They seem to be able to connect it to the context that surrounds those they’re trying to reach. They can answer the what and how questions as well as the why question.

    Luca’s emails are short, daily in frequency, very well-written, and well worth tuning into:

      • • •  

    I’m collecting resources that may be helpful to you and your business here: It’s just a domain redirect to a Google Doc.

    Please email me with any contributions you’d like to see added to that list.


    New TEI cohort beginning next month, in April. Information on the new program structure here:

    If you’re interested in a closer look at how the program creates change, this 14m video from Tom Miller is worth a look:

    IRL -> online education

    How do you take an IRL educational experience online? You don’t.

      • • •  

    Forgive the strongly worded headline there. To elaborate: How do you take an IRL educational experience online? You don’t unless you’re willing to re-design it for a fundamentally different medium.

    If you are willing to re-design, you have a lot of really cool options. But if you just want to treat an online setting like an emulator that runs the “code” of your IRL event without changing it, just don’t. It’ll suck.

    In this article, I’m going to speak to educational experiences generally. This covers conferences, speaking as lead generation, and explicitly educational events like training classes, seminar, and workshops. There’s much more to say about each one of these specifically, but I hope this article gets you thinking about the fundamentals that are important across all such educational events.

    Gains and losses: When you take an educational experience online, you lose important things:

    • The full bandwidth of body language signals
    • The energy of being together in the same room
    • The kismet of unexpected interactions
    • The mental and emotional distance participants have from their normal day to day routine
    • The (potential) enhanced focus of the group being synced up and gathered in the same space

    You lose other things too, but you get the idea.

    My first suggestion: mourn these losses and move on. Feel how it hurts to lose these things and resolve to adapt to a new medium, which means decisively letting go of certain aspects of the IRL experience.

    You may be absolutely incandescent when operating IRL. Good. You might not be so impressive at first in an online setting. Get over it. Trying to play to your IRL strengths in a setting where those strengths are impeded by the medium is a waste. Adapt instead.

    And realize that you gain some things too with a move to online:

    • Really interesting ways you can use time to augment the educational experience
    • Interesting ways you can use the abstracted nature of online to augment
    • Interesting ways you can use media to augment

    Let’s explore each of these online assets.

    Time: Gathering IRL has a money cost, a time cost, and an opportunity cost due to the travel involved. You can shed much of that cost in an online setting. This changes the parameters of meeting.

    Instead of meeting once for several days, you can meet periodically over weeks or months. This lets your event or experience leverage three powerful modes for your participants:

    1. Meeting/interacting mode
    2. Working on your own mode
    3. Reflecting mode

    If you’re taking what was an IRL conference online, it’s tempting to just use mode #1.

    The challenge in designing a powerful online experience is making use of all three of these modes. You’re wasting the power of the medium if you only make use of #1.

    In a conference context, what if you had your presenters give assigments to participants and then show up a day or two later to interact with participants again, this time as a peer educator, and hear them present the outcome of their assignments and give feedback? This is just one of many possible configurations that would leverage all three modes.

    Abstraction: They say public speaking is one of the most generally feared experiences. What about being alone, speaking into a webcam? That seems easier for most folks. How could you leverage this new freedom to speak coming from for folks who are normally intimidated by public speaking?

    The physical distance and somewhat abstracted nature of speaking into a webcam makes participation easier in an online setting. At the same time, the “everybody’s in their own private physical space talking to you on a multitasking distraction box” aspect of online events can make them feel lacking in cohesion.

    You, as the organizer, need to create that missing cohesion. Here are some ideas for that:

    • Structure is helpful. Make sure participants know what to expect out of any live realtime meetings you do online.
    • Variety and surprise are helpful allies to the structure. Balance the structure with some amount of variety and outright unpredictability, to keep participants on their toes. Don’t emotionally overwhelm participants by putting them on the spot in an unpleasant way, but also don’t let folks sleepwalk through your events.

    Media: The online experience flattens things and makes integrating a variety of media easier. Nobody has to scramble to find an adapter before they can present from their computer, because the ability for anybody to present almost any form of recorded or recordable media is built in to meeting software.

    I really like this Twitter thread from Amy Hoy: She emphasizes how when you take an educational event online, the standardized parts of the experience — lectures, primarily — can be recorded and distributed and consumed differently than in a live teaching experience. This is an example of leveraging the power of media, abstraction, and time.

      • • •  

    If you want something that’s more like a recipe, here’s the one I use for my online workshops. If it’s a useful starting point for you, great! Copy, paste, and adapt!

    • You can create a transformative educational experience with 4 weeks of somebody’s engagement. You’ll have to constrain the scope, but you can still create meaningful change for people, even if they work full time, with 4 weeks of their engagement via an online experience. This recipe will assume a 4-week long event.
    • Meet weekly for 60 to 90 minutes. Use Zoom if you don’t have a preferred product. At $15/mo for the lowest paid tier, it’s one of the best values going in online meeting software. Get the meetings on all participants calendars. Keep this part simple. I just set up a recurring event on my calendar for the meetings, make sure the Zoom meeting info is in the calendar invite, and then invite all participants.
    • Provide a single asynchronous way to communicate with participants. Slack is a reasonable default. Folks who are distracted by it have by now developed coping mechanisms, and folks who hate its shortcomings will use it despite those shortcomings. The company doesn’t seem to be evil, so Slack is a sane default async communication tool for the event.
    • Record lectures and distribute them in an easily accessible way. If on a Mac, Deckset is great for rapid slide deck creation and Screenflow is great for recording lectures over slides (though Quicktime is a decent free alternative). If visuals aren’t important, just go with audio only and consider distributing via a podcast hosting platform like Simplecast which can handle private podcasts. If visuals are important, Vimeo has been a good hosting platform in my experience. If you’re distributing media to folks who have paid for the event, don’t worry about protecting the media. They’ve paid for an experience and the benefits of having skin in the game, so don’t worry about folks sharing or stealing the private videos or podcast feed or whatever. Your focus and brilliance is needed in the experience design and content creation room, not the digital rights management room.
    • Assign homework at the end of each lecture. The homework should engage your participants reflecting, thinking, writing, or creating muscles. It should be a small, manageable amount of work to avoid participants falling behind. It might have to be a “scale model” of something rather than a full-size version of that thing. Describe the homework at the end of each lecture, give tips for approaching it, and also have a text version of the homework available wherever your curriculum exists online.
    • Encourage participants to sign up for presentation slots. This means they agree to present their homework during the next meeting. Make it both emotionally safe and physically flexible for them to present. Emotional safety comes from being able to prepare, knowing their contribution will be valued, and knowing critique will be couched in a desire to understand more deeply. Flexibility comes from knowing that there are a variety of ways to present, ranging from talking through some bullet points to presenting a quickly-made slide deck (people in my workshops seem to gravitate towards Google Slides for this). If you need to pre-arrange to have a “shill” demonstrate this safety and flexibility, do so.
    • Make it your goal to find ways to prime the participation pump such that by the end of the event, everybody has participated in a meaningful way. This might be done by individually recruiting people for presentation slots, asking challenging open-ended questions in Slack, or calling on people during meetings in a low-stakes way.
    • Again, keep the tooling simple. Favor stuff that’s reliable and easy to use. Zoom, a free Slack plan, and Google’s suite of tools are an excellent online education stack.

    That’s the basic recipe I use for my workshops. It’s been a successful one so far, so you can copy with confidence that it’s a good starting point.

    As I conclude this article, I find myself feeling really positive, even in the midst of a very tough time (pandemic, economic slowdown, etc.). This is because I can see a possible future where speaking to educate, inspire, or generate leads is:

    • Less demanding of great speaking-on-stage skills
    • Less costly
    • More accessible to more people who would have avoided it when IRL speaking was the best game in town

    Again, I’m not blind to the downsides of online vs. IRL, and I’m very aware of what you give up with the move online. But if you are willing to adapt to the fundamentally different medium, the move to online doesn’t have to be a loss.

      • • •  

    I’m collecting resources that may be helpful to you and your business here: It’s just a domain redirect to a Google Doc where I’m collecting these resources. Here are some recent additions:

    Please email me with any contributions you’d like to see added to


    New TEI cohort beginning next month, in April. Information on the new program structure here:

    If you’re interested in a closer look at how the program creates change, this 14m video from Tom Miller is worth a look:

    Great serverless info

    My cat would like some social distance from me.

    positioning services - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultants

    I was cleaning out the fireplace, accidentally left the grill open and looked away for like a second, and he gave himself a tour of the inside of the fireplace. He did not enjoy the bath.

    He got over it, though.

    positioning services - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultants

    May we all forgive others so quickly!

      • • •  

    TEI member Paul Swail has been publishing daily since joining the January 2020 TEI cohort, and he emails are really good!

    You can see what he’s been writing here:

    And sign up to receive his emails here:

    Paul’s focused on the serverless platform, and he’s chosen the perfect moment, I think, for a platform specialization.

    Some platforms become “rising star platforms”. Their popularity starts to surge faster than an ecosystem of support can develop around the platform.

    positioning services - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultants

    This is before they’ve crossed Geoffrey Moore’s chasm, so they’re still seen as risky, outsider platforms by most. Their swiftly rising popularity among early adopters creates an information gap that you can step in to fill.

    Folks who step in to fill this information gap can become overnight authorities: Because of their first-mover advantage, they’re well positioned to serve as pillars within the whole product ecosystem that the early and late majority demand.

    And finally, when the momentum starts to bleed out of the platform, their good timing has allowed them to to extract the majority of the latent value the platform offered, hopefully positioning them well to either move on to another platform or build a business that’s well-matched to the commoditization that sets in as the platform matures.

    Again, Paul Swail’s emails are very good. Well-written, educational, and useful! Sign up to receive them here:

      • • •  

    I’m collecting resources that may be helpful to you and your business here: It’s just a domain redirect to a Google Doc where I’m collecting these resources. I’ll feature seleccted new additions to that list at the bottom of my daily emails.

    Please email me with any contributions you’d like to see added to this list.


    New TEI cohort beginning next month, in April. Information on the new program structure here:

    Strategy in the time of pandemic

    I’ve been sick with what seems to be a garden variety chest cold. This feels, in a way, fortunate because rather than reflexively responding to the big pandemic energy of late and offering hasty advice to this list, it’s helped me take a beat.

    It seems likely that COVID-19 will get a whole lot more people sick, kill a terrible number of people, and have serious second-order consequences for commerce and other domains. I don’t know what I can say that doesn’t minimize the potential suffering, but I’ll risk saying there is nothing like sickness to make us realize what a blessing health is, and how health contributes to our resiliency.

    You don’t need me to give you common sense advice about social distancing or the like. Instead, I’ll offer some brief but thought-out reflections on your business strategy during a time of pandemic.


    A specialized market position is an asset you build up. It has weight and momentum. If you have a specialized market position you’ve been building up for years, don’t be tempted to start a re-positioning effort right now, even if you’re specialized in a vertical that’s suffering immediate damage from the pandemic (travel and hospitality, to name two).

    Even the best executed re-positioning efforts take time to shift the momentum of the previous market position. I’d bet you could use the energy it takes to make that kind of change elsewhere in your business.

    If I was specialized in a vertical that’s suffering from the pandemic, I’m not sure I’d trust myself to make a solid re-positioning decision right now. I’d want a few months for the dust to clear and some of the current uncertainty to be at least partially resolved.

    Is this a time to accept or seek work outside your area of focus? Absolutely, if that’s what it takes to keep the lights on. Stay in the game, even if it dilutes your specialization.

    Is this a time to specialize for the first time? Possibly.

    Seeking change is risky. So is avoiding change. 🙂 I’d like us all to embrace as much risk as we can while avoiding two things: 1) a level of risk that causes you to flinch and 2) risks that are likely to be business-killers (non-ergodic risks).

    Avoid specializing for the first time if it’s too much risk, or it’s non-ergodic risk for you. But if you’ve been sitting on the idea of specializing and have a shortlist of options, now could be a “rip the Band Aid off” moment for this decision. The fear and sense of urgency of this current moment in history could help you fuel a bold move forward in your business.

    Lead generation

    While it remains to be seen for how long large gatherings won’t be happening, there could be a 6 to 12 months window of time when picking up speaking engagements is somewhat easier and less costly for you because the events are virtual instead of IRL and event organizers are scrambling for a bit and willing to consider a less experienced spaker.

    Consider starting to speak for lead generation now if you haven’t already.

    Content marketing

    What content in your content marketing pipeline seems trivial or superficial in light of current events? Consider why you were ever considering publishing that content in the first place. Commit to go big or go home with your thinking. Seek impact through your content marketing. This may require growth. That’s OK.


    How can you extend generosity towards your clients? Now is the time for generosity and solidarity. Extend as much as you can afford, perhaps 10% more. Some of them will remember it and you’ll sleep the sleep of the generous.

    If you are focused in a market vertical suffering economic damage from the pandemic, I think client-facing generosity for the next month or two is a better investment of time and energy than re-positioning would be. To be clear, re-positioning means changing from one specialization to a different one and re-building the reputation asset that goes with it. That’s the investment I suggest delaying. Investing in your clients, even if they’re currently struggling, feels like a better investment now and for the next few months.

    If this is your first encounter with extreme volatility as a business owner, know that it probably will not be your last. Sear it into your memory and use it as motivation to face the next one with a more robust business with sharper positioning and a stronger pipeline.

    Finally, I’ll reiterate something I said about brand marketing earlier this week. How can your presence as an individual, your way of thinking, or some asset you are custodian of (relationships with other experts might be one example) create safe harbor in a storm for your audience? Storms don’t last forever, but there’s value in thinking through the sorts of “natural disasters” that effect your audience on a semi-regular basis (economic downturns, sector-wide PR bombs, etc.) now to prepare you for the next one where you can serve as a source of stability, safety, or simple emotional comfort during a difficult time.

    If there’s some way I can help your business, please don’t be bashful about reaching out.


    Brand marketing for the niche expertise-driven business

    File this away for the day when direct response marketing starts to feel icky to you.

     • • • 

    Sometimes I do the answer-a-question-with-a-question thing with my clients. I use this approach when there’s no 1-size-fits-all answer I can provide. “It depends” isn’t a very satisfactory answer in those situations. 🙂

    The question(s) I ask are meant to spur deep thinking. That’s almost always laborious. Sorry, not sorry.

    As I’ve explored brand marketing over the last year, I’ve defined it in a variety of ways. Art with a logo on it is the most fun version, but the idea of gift-giving is more central to the whole vibe of brand marketing. Gifts with a logo on them doesn’t have quite the same ring. 🙂 And neither one of those is couched in the specifics of our world, the world of the expertise-driven business.

    I’m wondering whether defining brand marketing as a contrasting force against the relatively more well-understood direct response marketing might be a better approach. With that, we get a definition like this:

    Brand marketing uses gifts rather than gates and focuses on aspirations rather than fear. Broad presence replaces narrow targeting, and this presence leads to insight that helps the marketer make better leadership decisions than the lagging indicator of data ever could. Direct response marketers chase markets; brand marketers shape them.

    That’s a mouthful! And it also encompasses a lot of the tradeoffs and distinctions in brand vs. direct response marketing. It ain’t bad.

    Here’s a quick Liston Witherill-style sketch:

    positioning services - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultants

    The caveat is that the binaries I’ve identified here don’t exist in reality. But you knew that, right? Reality is more nuanced, and these binaries represent opposing poles on a spectrum.

    Now for the answer-a-question-with-a-question part.

    If the question is: “How does my expertise-driven business do brand marketing, Philip?”

    The answering set of questions is this:

    • What does your audience aspire to? An improved version of themselves? A fundamentally changed version of themselves? Something else?
      • There is a world of emotional and mental content between an aspiration and our current state. This content takes the form of thoughts, emotions, judgements, plans, dreams, etc about the journey from here to there. What is the content that exists in the gap between your audience’s aspired and current state?
     • • • 
    • Data about individuals in your audience can be used to sell in a more personalized way. How could you make that data unnecessary by instead focusing on changing the thinking of your entire audience?
      • What metric or metrics could be leading indicators of this change in thinking?
      • Can these metrics can be assessed without individually personalized data? If not, how will you avoid the flawed conclusions, decisions, and actions that can flow from data collected on individuals?
     • • • 
    • What single gift would be valuable enough to spread by word of mouth alone among your audience?
      • That gift could be free. Or, you could charge for it. If you did, at what price point would it still have wide reach among your audience? And at what price point would buyers feel like they have “skin in the game” as a result of buying the gift?
      • How would that gift be packaged in a way that’s attractive to those you want to reach?
      • What tension between aspiration and reality might that gift create? What portion of that tension do you want to resolve with the gift, and what balance of the tension will you resolve with your paid services?
     • • • 
    • Dreams can be both powerful and fleeting. Sometimes we’re afraid of them because they seem so elusive — so out of our grasp. How could you serve your audience by reinforcing their commitment to their dream(s)?
      • How could you make their dreams more achievable? Your answer(s) to this question could lead you to education, motivation, analysis, standardized advice, customized advice, or customized implementation. All have value in making dreams more achievable.
      • Do you care if your services are the only way for your audience to move towards their aspired state? Are you OK with others being a part of that solution, or even providing a better solution for some in your audience?
      • Will you avoid overtly shaming your audience as you remind them of their dream(s)?
     • • • 
    • Where could your presence with your market be most effectively felt? How and where can you connect with them in a way that nurtures your leadership and insight?
    • How can your presence as an individual, your way of thinking, or some asset you are custodian of (relationships with others experts might be one example) create safe harbor in a storm for your audience? Storms don’t last forever, but there’s value in thinking through the sorts of “natural disasters” that effect your audience on a semi-regular basis (economic downturns, sector-wide PR bombs, etc.) now to prepare you for the next one where you can serve as a source of stability, safety, or simple emotional comfort during a difficult time.

    I’m sure you can see how these questions explore the space between the left and right columns in my drawing above. And you can see there are additional questions you could ask yourself.

    If your point of view as articulated through a voice medium moves people to action without you laying down a phat CTA, then what’s stopping you from moving entirely into a mode that looks like brand marketing?


    Reminder: I’m working on starting an April 2020 cohort of The Expertise Incubator ( If you’ve been considering it, let me know (just hit reply here) and we’ll see if it’s a fit for you.

    Brochure selling

    I've mentioned before that if you try to sell something using a web page that more closely resembles a brochure than a long-form direct response-influenced sales page, it changes the game for you. Among other consequences, it lays bare whether you are using fear to manipulate.

    Here's a nice example of someone with a strong personal brand using a brochure to sell something:

    (Image of the page in case it goes offline after the event ends:

    Just wanted to share this in case it's a useful reference for you.


    Reminder: I've got what seems like sufficient interest to start an April 2020 cohort of The Expertise Incubator ( If you've been considering it, let me know (just hit reply here) and we'll see if it's a fit for you.

    Coronavirus and you

    David C. Baker is doing something valuable for the business community y'all are a part of. It's a free AMA-style webinar on the possible fallout from the coronavirus (no recording, so you have to attend live). You might still be able to register; he just bumped his Zoom plan to allow 1k attendees since the 500 original seats got filled up quite fast:

    The way David's jumped into action here and invested in this webinar gets me thinking about brand marketing, but I don't want to dilute my simple call to action here, which is to urge you to attend David's webinar if you think it might be relevant. I'll talk about the brand marketing stuff later this week.

    Again, you can register for David's free webinar here:


    “Anxiety-adjusted returns”

    Smart people writing about risk-taking with investments is like candy to me.

     • • • 

    This article is the source of the mouth-wateringly delicious term “anxiety-adjusted returns”:

    A bit more context, via an excerpt from the article:

    Risk management is not about avoiding risk, it’s about getting the best deal for the risks you choose to accept. It’s not smart to pay with foregone returns for protection from volatility when it’s only the visibility of the volatility that affects your emotional comfort. Sometimes, shutting your eyes can open you up to otherwise overlooked opportunities.

    The most successful outcomes – the anxiety-adjusted returns that account for both investment returns and the investor’s emotional comfort – are determined not by avoiding complexity, but by knowing how to navigate it.

    For investors with very low composure, that are prone to panic-sell in response to any market dip (and especially for those investors that are also prone to track their portfolio more frequently, and therefore see more dips to panic about), limiting exposure to volatility might be a good means of managing their risks of poor ultimate returns. However, for many there is a better way. Taking risk without being emotionally derailed by volatility can be accomplished more cheaply for most by both preparing for, and reducing the visibility of, short term ups and downs. Why pay with lower expected returns what could be bought with tailored education, or changes to how financial information is presented, or well-timed reminders of the longer-term plan at the exact moments it’s threatened by short-term behavioural tendencies?

    If you do something bold and risky with your business, this advice applies to you.

    This especially applies if the goal of your work is transformation (rather than optimization). For us, the road to having the authority needed to effect the transformation we aspire to can be a volatile path.

    Here’s the “explain it like I’m a 5th grader” version:

    • If you automatically freak the heck out when the near-term future gets uncertain, lower your ambitions for your business. Trade stability for potential upside. Play it safer so that you don’t cost yourself money by regularly flinching.
    • If you can remain composed and avoid such freakouts — or just aren’t prone to them in the first place — be really ambitious with your business and regularly embrace risks that can help you increase visibility, trust, and authority with your audience.

    This is why I don’t think the mental model of an individual bet is a good one for business decisions.

    Bets are gambles on uncertainty that are resolved realtively quickly through a process we can’t influence after the bet is placed (and if we do find a way to influence the process by which the bet is resolved it’s usually considered cheating).

    Our business decisions have an implementation period during which there are multiple opportunities for us to influence the outcome for better or worse. That makes them much more like long-term financial investments, except that to a large degree we function as both the investor and the market. How we react to our initial decision during the months or years-long implementation period for that decision significantly influences the outcome.

    Can we learn from how professional gamblers manage a series of bets or a career of gambling? Possibly. Is that the best place to learn from? I’m not sure. I’ve got to keep thinkin’ on that one.


    Reminder: I’ve got what seems like sufficient interest to start an April 2020 cohort of The Expertise Incubator ( If you’ve been considering it, let me know (just hit reply here) and we’ll see if it’s a fit for you.

    The communication delta

    If your expertise exceeds your ability to communicate it, clients are taking a chance when they hire you.

    Clients always are, in reality, taking a calculated risk when hiring you. But their perception of that risk can be influenced by your ability to communicate expertise.

    The Expertise Incubator is, in part, about creating daily opportunities to get better at communicating expertise.

    I'm hoping to assemble a cohort of people who would like to start The Expertise Incubator journey with me in April of this year. You can always register your interest on the page describing this program:

    But you can also always hit REPLY and ask questions, etc.

    Either way, if you're interested in this journey of self-discovery, expertise cultivation, and authority-building, please let me know so that I can keep you informed as this cohort comes together.

    Have a great weekend,


    Experts travel, right?

    A newfangled take on an old question.

    Why do your clients hire you? If you've got 40 seconds to answer a few anonymous questions about why your clients hire you, I appreciate your input:

     • • • 

    This, from Mark O'Brien at Newfangled, is quite good:

    An excerpt to give you a flavor for the article:

    I want to be clear that this is, in no way, a case for not speaking at events. I want you to do that as much as ever. My intent here, though, is to convince you that simply attending could potentially be just as powerful. Over the past 12 years, Chris Butler, Lauren McGaha, and I have given many dozens of talks on big and small stages all over North America. We’ve also attended about the same number of events as ‘normal’ attendees. I’m not sure which we’ve ultimately gotten more business from, but I do know that the numbers are very, very close. I wonder if that surprises you as much as it surprised me when I figured it out.

    Mark makes some really good points about the value of physical presence at events where your buyers also are.

    I realize Mark's thesis could be reduced to rub shoulders with your prospects; yes, you'll have to travel to do that; suck it up and mine could be reduced to if you don't wanna travel, don't travel; just build a business that doesn't require travel.

    But you didn't sign up and stay subscribed to this list for easy, simplistic answers to important questions, did you? 🙂 Consider both perspectives and make up your own mind!

    Again, Mark's perspective is a good read: