Insight for Independent Consultants

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    Nom, nom, nom…

    positioning services - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultantsI know. I owe you an explanation for possibly starting your day with the above picture:From Wikipedia:

    “Saturn Devouring His Son” is the name given to a painting by Spanish artist Francisco Goya. According to the traditional interpretation, it depicts the Greek myth of the Titan Cronus (in the title Romanized to Saturn), who, fearing that he would be overthrown by one of his children, ate each one upon their birth. The work is one of the 14 Black Paintings that Goya painted directly onto the walls of his house sometime between 1819 and 1823. It was transferred to canvas after Goya’s death and has since been held in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.

    I think of this painting when I think of how we sabotage ourselves. Or how companies under-invest in innovation to preserve their legacy product line.What if, instead, you were willing to let your “children” (disruptive changes to your business, threatening new ideas, etc.) live instead of getting rid of them?One of my business mottos is: ship before you’re ready.That doesn’t mean to be sloppy. Just bold, assertive, and daring.It couldn’t turn out worse than this, wherein somebody forgot a human heart on a Southwest airplane, right?If you’d like to know what to do to be seen as a qualified expert, I’ve got a few seats open in The Positioning Accelerator Program.

    Mindset emerging from practice? Really!?

    I so badly want to agree with this piece from Tim Williams, but my actual experience offers at least one important point of disagreement.I think the one excerpt that best sums up Tim’s argument is this:

    At a time when many firms are attempting to upgrade their time tracking systems, they should instead be upgrading their paradigm. Selling knowledge work by the hour is a defective paradigm, which has spawned a multitude of faulty practices. The right mental framework (professional firms sell expertise and problem-solving, not time) will naturally engender and nurture the right practices. Change your mind and the practices will follow (it never works the other way around).Source

    My actual experience suggests some surprising exceptions to this idea, while also reinforcing it. :)Here’s one personal example where Tim’s general point is 100% right: money mindset.I’m working on mine right now, and it’s slower going than I’d like. But I realize that no matter how good my business is, the biggest restraint on my success is likely to be my own mindset about money.And here’s a surprising counterexample of practice leading to mindset shift: working in public.My version of working in public is this email list. Not every email does this, but in many I’m leaning all the way out on my skis, trying to push the envelope of my expertise. I’m mostly not pushing it wider, but aiming to go deeper, and more dense with a more nuanced PoV.Every person I know who has committed to publishing something of value 5 or more times per week has seen the following:Greater insight emerges from the practice of working in public through daily publication.I’d be happy to speak to anyone who has tried it for 3 months or more and not seen this outcome! But so far I’ve not seen any other outcome besides: greater insight, greater confidence (eventually; this doesn’t show up right away), and deeper connection with those who tune into your daily publication.So to me, this is a great example of a practice leading to a mindset shift. Maybe it’s the only good example of this, so maybe I’m being unfair to Tim’s argument. But it’s an example I can’t help but point out. :)David Baker recently published a very good piece that touches on this same issue from a slightly different perspective. At one point he says, “… you’ll never sharpen your thinking without the risk of public sharpening.”Mic drop.Again, David’s and Tim’s pieces are well worth the read.-P

    “I’m convinced that a small number of software people… will make a huge difference.”

    Quick tophat: I have long used what I refer to as “naked links” in my emails because I want you to know where you’re going when you click a link in an email from me. I asked ConvertKit–the email marketing service I use–if they could disable link tracking, which redirects links through their servers for the purposes of tracking who clicks what links. I would love to not subject you to this (despite it being broadly the email marketing norm), but ConvertKit can’t do it. They’re too busy handling a flood of Drip refugees, I think. 🙂 Actually, I think they did this on their end after they saw my request:positioning services - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultantsIt’s a very unusual request, I know. Anyway, my naked links don’t go straight to where I’m linking you to. They get redirected through a different server, and the more savvy spam filters see this as a phishing attempt. I’d prefer my emails not be flagged as phishing so, no more naked links in my emails. Thanks to all who reported the issue with yesterday’s email’s links.

    Part of the value of technology is creating pure technology products.But a much bigger value of technology is transforming non-technology businesses.Here’s a really interesting interview with Eric Schmidt, and here specifically is the part where he makes this point.”I’m convinced that a small number of software people applied to each of these industries, looking at how they operate, re-designing the way their business processes work will make a huge difference.” — Eric Schmidt in the above interview.Sounds like vertical specialization to me :)-P

    Interesting specialization example

    Justin Bergen shared this really interesting specialization example with me.It’s a cable and rigging company that specializes in splicing cables.Here’s a video of them splicing a chair lift cable at a big ski resort:’s their website:, I’ve got a few seats open in if you’re interested in learning how to differentiate your services from other consultants.-P

    100in35 – Update 3

    Hey, remember that “100 relevant subscribers in 35 days” experiment I mentioned a while back: ?Here’s my third update on the experiment’s progress:positioning services - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultantsVideo link: TL;DR:

    • I’ve got my action pants on. I’m connecting and publishing. Getting good results on the connecting, not-good results on the publishing.
    • I think I’ve figured out why The Resistance is biting me in the ass so hard on this experiment, and I spend quite a bit of time talking about this in the video update.
    • My friend and sales mensch Liston Witherill ( totally schooled me on the problems with my approach. I’m pivoting to a different approach (same goal, similar mechanism, different approach) based on his advice.

    If you want the full download check out the video link: if you’re just tuning in to this experiment, here are the previous two updates:



    Bring da *context*

    I’ve been listening to Wu-Tang Clan’s first album a lot lately. It’s help up really well over time, and so when I say “bring da context”, really I’m singing along in my head: “Bring da mother, bring da motherfuckin’ context!”Fred Ross wrote in with a terrific response to this, from last week: (Yeah, I know you thought we were done with Axell Grell, but we’re not quite yet.)What’s so great about Fred’s response is how it reveals my bias, which is to over-focus on the high-end music segment of Sennheiser’s audience while kind of ignoring the pro audio and consumer segments. Maybe that’s why Axell left in the first place?Anyway, Fred’s response, then some comments of my own afterwards:

    A possibly contrarian opinion based on poking around a bit. Sennheiser’s revenue is about half from their professional division and half from their consumer division. Grell was irrelevant to the professional division. That’s microphones, and monitors manufactured under another name. They’re not using audiophile consumer headsets. And frankly, monitors aren’t a position of strength for them. Sony really owns that space in professional. Consumer is headsets, but how much of that are the high end headsets that Grell was designing? That I’m not in a good position to estimate, but looking at the range of segmentations on their website under headphones, I’m betting it’s not that much. So in the audiophile space this may be a big deal, but that seems like it might be a pretty small part of Sennheiser. You could argue that there’s a brand position involved, but I think that’s not true for two reasons: the brand for professional is completely separate and Grell has no effect there, and non-audiophile consumer headsets is a market approaching commodity, and Grell doesn’t have any pull in that either. And, as you demonstrated in one of your emails, no one asks their audiophile friends for gear recommendations. 🙂 It’s a different play than Microsoft’s approach where they tried for mindshare among tech professionals because everyone asks their family member who’s good with computers for help.

    Thanks for giving me permission to share this, Fred!Again, what’s great here is Fred has brung the muthereffin context, and that contextual understanding is a critical part of expertise.My bias is to over-focus on the high-end music part of Sennheiser’s business, because that’s the part of their product line I personally care about. But a consultant to Sennheiser needs to be more objective than that. They need to look at the whole picture.That’s more what Fred is doing, and that’s what a consultant would need to do to be effective.It’s quite possible that demographic trends, economic changes, and other sea changes are showing Sennheiser that the real opportunity is in other market segments. Maybe they fired Axell because of this and his leaving was not a big deal at all for Sennheiser.Fortunately, I am not a consultant to Sennheiser, so my lack of objectivity and lack of clarity on the industry is not a problem. But for a tech consultant focused on that industry, that missing objectivity and missing context would be big problems.Fred’s email is a great reminder that our objectivity with clients is one of the more valuable assets we bring to the table.Need help getting more control over who you work with? might help.-P

    “If you keep just one new year’s resolution this year, let it be to not pour fats, oil or grease down the drain or flush anything other than the 3Ps – pee, paper and poo – down the loo.”

    It’s Friday and y’all probably need a break from me trying to make a point using Axell Grell so…I love absolutely everything about this article:’ll get to the fatberg part in a minute.First, there’s the measuring things with other things that aren’t actually units of measurement part.

    South West Water reports the monstrous clump lurking beneath the town of Sidmouth in Devon measures 210 feet, making it longer than the height of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, more than 13 end-to-end Hummer H2s and 42 feet longer than the White House.

    I’ve always loved this way of measuring things, ever since grade school textbooks would pull shit like measuring force in terms of “the force of 27 locomotives” or what have you.It’s a valiant attempt at trying to convey something abstract and inscrutable in more specific, recognizable terms, but who among us has stood athwart railroad tracks to measure with our human strength the force of even one locomotive? Not I, though one of the most visceral experiences of raw physical power I’ve ever had was standing on a pretty low bridge while a multi-locomotive train went underneath at cruising speed. Just the way is shook the air was impressive.Years ago, this way of measuring also inspired me to warn house visitors that my dog Malcolm would greet them with “the force of one hundred surprise birthday parties”, which always got a laugh. And he always did greet visitors that way.This measuring inscrutable things in terms of other inscrutable things reminds me of dev shops that feel like their “we build elegant solutions for complex problems” positioning statements are a big leap ahead in clarity.The article continues to detail the fatberg removal challenge:

    “It is the largest discovered in our service history and will take our sewer team around eight weeks to dissect this monster in exceptionally challenging work conditions,” Andrew Roantree, South West Water’s director of wastewater, said.

    I wonder how much the typical software project is like an exceptionally challenging fatberg removal project?Like you’re in there, sizing up the situation, and the client asks for an estimate and you throw out “around eight weeks” and then you quickly follow up with something like the bit below, and—although you are describing a software project, unbeknownst to you basically the exact same words have been uttered by a civil servant during a press release about a massive fatberg:

    “It’s the first time we have excavated a fatberg of this size and the confined space might mean it takes us a little longer or shorter,” SWW explains.

    And just like you are prone to sprinkle in some tech terminology to assure the client you know what you’re doing, so do directors of wastewater systems:

    It will take a sewer team using a combination of high-pressure jets and shovels and pickaxes to attack the fatberg, the company says in a statement.

    Here’s the actual statement, which not only conveys the main idea of massive fatberg and reassures residents that their bathing water is fine, it also has a nicely formatted FAQ describing many fascinating aspects of the fatberg situation: wording of the statement is even more exquisite than NPR’s reporting on the statement:

    Alongside high-pressure jets and specialist equipment, our sewer workers will endure weeks of manual labour, attacking the fatberg bit by bit with shovels and pickaxes.

    “Endure weeks of manual labor.” Really transports you there, doesn’t it? It’s almost like you can imagine yourself down there, shoulder to shoulder with those intrepid fatberg fighters, trading sweaty, anxious glances through your respirators and telling “your momma” jokes over your lunch break.So what is a fatberg anyway?It’s exactly what you’d think, that’s what. According to the NPR article, it’s “a giant obstruction made up of hardened fat, oil, wet wipes and other waste items”.If your stomach can take it, do a Google image search for fatberg. It’s… informative.And this most recent one in England is not the first by any means. It’s not even the largest ever.The article ends with this, which taught me the word “hathos”, which I will deploy in casual conversation at the earliest possible opportunity:

    A 130-ton fatberg was discovered in London’s East End in 2017. The massive chunk of congealed fat, oil, tampons and condoms elicited such widespread hathos – that is the attraction to something you really can’t stand – that it became a huge draw when it went on display at the Museum of London last year.The “highly toxic” pieces of sewage were eventually added to the museum’s permanent collection where they are being preserved “to fascinate and disgust future Londers” on a live “Fatcam.”In case you were wondering, the museum says:“Whilst on display the fatberg hatched flies, sweated and changed colour. Since going off display, fatberg has started to grow an unusual and toxic mould, in the form of visible yellow pustules. Our collections care team has identified this as aspergillus. Conservators believe that fatberg started to grow the spores whilst on display and now … these spores have become more visible.”

    If you ask me, visible yellow toxic pustules is exactly what you get for displaying a fatberg in a museum.Have a great weekend, y’all!-P

    Mailbag: “Why it matters that Axel Grell left Sennheiser”

    Daryle Gessner sent in a really great question about my “Why it matters that Axel Grell left Sennheiser” email:

    Hi Philip! Regarding Axel Grell leaving Sennheiser, why the crickets when I search for Axel Grell in ALL and NEWS on Google? This is important news.When I read your email mentioning Grell leaving, my first thought “Where is he going? Starting his own company? How do I get in on the products”So why the blackout? Where is Waldo… Axel?

    Despite Axell Grell’s move being a significant one, it’s only niche-significant, not globally significant.90% of the stuff that really matters in a small niche will never make the front page of any major publication or news aggregator.If DHH left Basecamp, it would be front page news on Hacker News and a few other niche-specific sites–and it would be considered a huge deal by those site’s niche audience–but I doubt it would make the front or even back pages of the NY Times or any other similarly prominent publication.If Elon Musk left Tesla, it would be front page news on every major publication. The difference between Grell, DHH, and Musk is not one of importance, but one of relative fame. Musk has crossed over from niche fame to mass market fame.This is one of the tricky things about vertical specialization. You might recall from my original email I said that if you were vertically specialized in the personal audio industry and you’d heard that Axell Grell left Sennheiser…

    You might reach out to someone you know at Sennheiser and say “Hey, I heard about Axell. How’s the mood over there? Anything you might need my help with once the dust settles from this?”Or alternately, you might say something like: “Hey, I heard about Axell. Does this mean Sennheiser is re-focusing on the consumer market and leaving the high end music market to Focal? If so, we should talk because [reason].”

    I didn’t elaborate on how you would know someone at Sennheiser.That’s because if you were specialized in this vertical, you eventually get to know people in the industry you’re specialized in. You just do, unless you resist it. It happens passively over time, and if you’re active and intentional about it it can happen even faster.As I like to say: “Unfortunately, you’re in a relationship business.” I say the “unfortunately” part with a bit of a knowing wink, because as a hardcore introvert myself, I understand that building and maintaining relationships can be real work for some of us. But without these relationships, you’re missing all kinds of opportunities. Opportunities that come with knowing people and understanding their specific challenges and desires.In the original email I also mentioned how I heard about Axell Grell leaving Sennheiser, which was through a small weird audio enthusiasts forum. The person who posted the news about Grell on that forum learned about Grell’s departure from Grell’s LinkedIn profile.That’s a perfect example of how being an insider to a vertical benefits you. You start to understand more and more vertical-specific context, and that context helps you… well, contextualize information like this German dude leaving the headphone division of this German company. Is this signal or noise? Who benefits, who is harmed? What does Grell leaving Sennhesier mean? Contextual understanding of the vertical is what answers each of these questions.Not long ago, Blair Enns posted a link to a really great piece of thinking. Blair said he considers it the single best piece of thought leadership he’s ever seen. Blair must not be a member of my email list, so I’ll let that slide. Still though, I read the article and it is really excellent: you read it I think you’ll see the overlap between one of the main points of that David Maister piece from 2001 and what I’m talking about here.And if you’d like help using trusted and battle-tested way to find your niche, then check out

    Worst outreach email ever?

    This is possibly the worst outreach email I’ve ever received:positioning services - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultantsIts sins are numerous and easy to spot.In brief, they are:

    • Completely not personalized. Could have been sent to literally any podcast on iTunes, and I’m guessing it probably was.
    • The most generic possible generic description of their business. Like it’s literally strenuous to come up with a business description that’s more generic. I guess “We help companies do stuff” would be worse, but not by much. 🙂
    • Seems clueless about basic podcast terminology. Someone being on your podcast is very commonly known as “guesting”, not a “submission”.
    • Didn’t do any homework at all.

    Most lazy podcast guest pitches do at least some homework before they click send, but it’s transparently lazy homework. They’ll listen to the last episode and pick out some super simplistic thing about that episode and work that into their outreach email. They’ll apply as little thinking as possible while doing this.So if this worst-ever outreach email had done even that small lazy amount of homework, they would have listened to the last episode which is the one where I say I’m putting the podcast on indefinite haitus.positioning services - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultantsThere’s tons of crappy outreach out there. Complaining about it is kind of pointless, because y’all would never send such bad outreach, would you?But it does give me the opportunity to contrast against one of the best outreach emails I’ve ever been on the receiving end of:positioning services - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultantsYes, it’s a bit formulaic, but the sender (from was clearly putting in work to connect with me in a generous and caring way.And… it totally worked.If you’d like help with this kind of stuff, my group coaching might be useful:

    Mailbag: “Out-of-left-field quiz for you”

    I got a really great response to my quiz question about Axel Grell leaving Sennheiser:

    Hi Philip,That’s an interesting question!One can’t help draw comparisons between Apple and Sennheiser, as both companies were built around the insight and vision of one man at some point.In the case of Apple, they seem to have lost a lot of what made them great, especially the passion and drive to captivate Apple users.I can only hope that Sennheiser has done what it can to keep the passion for continuous innovation and improvements in their products alive.This is an opportunity for them to bring in new and fresh ideas, while continuing to take advantage of the reputation the company has built in the industry. It’ll be important for them to ensure people understand that it takes a team to build such great products, and it’s not all the work of just one person.Of course, it also depends on what Alex does next. If he gets into the same line of work, but for his own brand or a competitor, it could put some bumps in the road for Sennheiser.All that being said though, I believe Sennheiser is in a better position than Apple was when they lost Steve Jobs as their primary driving force (from a public perspective). Sennheiser products are, in my humble opinion, not as closely associated with any single person as the Apple products were.All the best from sunny South Africa,Ewald

    Thanks for sharing this, Ewald!BTW, Ewald sent his thoughts to me before I shared mine. Great minds think alike!-P