Move Into Advisory Services Work

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    Airbrushed tee shirts and junky souvenirs

    When I was a kid, Myrtle Beach was defined in my mind by endless shops selling airbrushed tee shirts and junky souvenirs, miniature golf courses, full sized golf courses (more per-capita, IIRC, than any other place), and the campground where my family went for affordable but fun vacations.

    List member Karl Sakas sent this fun example of specialization:

    Turns out, Myrtle Beach has at least one interesting store now! Things do change.

    BTW, if you’re focused on trying to make your 10 to 100-person agency work better, maximize profits, or grow with less pain, do check out Karl’s services:

    If you’re celebrating Independence Day, have a good one and keep all your fingers intact!


    Talking about features, not benefits

    Alrighty, here’s our final member-submitted peeve (actually a list of peeves!). Let’s talk about how they might be developed into point of view (PoV) content:

    _In no particular order:
    – Email campaigns that don’t consider the individual
    – No emails whatsoever
    – A crowded/demanding UI
    – Talking about features, not benefits

    And they all relate back to how I get results for my clients. I help them identify the benefits their product provides to their customers, speak to those benefits based on an individual customer’s journey, use email to better communicate with those customers, and improve their UI in the process._

    Alrighty, let’s think these through.

    As a reminder, mapping them on this 2×2 matrix can be helpful:


    I know some context you might not: the member who submitted these peeves is very good at helping subscription-revenue companies use email to increase revenue. So I think we can pretty confidently place the pet peeves in the top row, meaning they actually are of relatively high importance to the client’s business.

    That’s the main hurdle you need to clear for PoV content. Your pet peeve(s) need to be relevant to important business outcomes your clients care about. I think in this case we’re good.

    Now for some more nuanced considerations about these peeves and their potential to become PoV content…


    Is it possible these peeves could become part of an emotional appeal? In other words, can they be linked to something that your ideal prospects feel, or something they feel strongly about?

    I think they have this potential, especially the last one (“Talking about features, not benefits”). People who have made some kind of product or service they are charging a subscription for are rightly going to feel some pride about the product/service’s features. Some of those features were ones the makers sweat blood over! So I think there’s going to be an emotional element to this discussion, and that can be good for PoV content.

    Data Stories

    Could any of these peeves be linked with interesting data stories?

    What’s a data story? I made that term up, but just now as I was procrastinating on finishing this email I came across a good example of one:


    Here’s the text from that tweet on case it’s not easily read via the image:

    _A European Research Council report suggests 79% of projects they fund “achieved a major scientific advance”, & only 1% make no contribution. Also, that they fund mostly “high risk” work.

    I don’t know what “high risk” means if almost e’thing is succeeding.

    Notice how that little bit of data was elaborated into a tiny little story. That’s a data story.

    I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess that several of the peeves above could be linked to several interesting data stories. In other words, there are probably reasonably credible numbers out there to support PoV content built on these peeves.

    Data stories make your PoV content more compelling.

    If you’re taking time off for the 4th of July next week, I hope you get those mental and emotional batteries fully recharged! As usual I’ll be haunting your inbox with daily emails. 🙂


    Trusting yourself

    This is an excerpt from a lesson in the Deepening Market Insight workshop in Specialization School ( Thought you might enjoy it. This lesson comes at the point in the workshop where participants are interpreting the findings of their interview-based market research.

    If you listen to how I talk about the role that specialization and expertise play in custom software development services, you may come away with the idea that you should never take on a project unless you are convinced it will be 100% successful, delivering massive ROI to your client in the process. I want to add some nuance to that idea because it’s particularly important at this point in the market research process to have a nuanced understanding of risk and ROI.

    Ideally, specialization combined with some years of experience as a specialist do get you to the point where you can deliver massive ROI and customer satisfaction to 99% of your clients (nobody’s perfect, right?). You’ll hear me talk about that desired end state quite a bit.

    The reality is that it takes time to get there, and as a generalist you may lack the specialized expertise it takes to achieve excellent ROI and low risk for your clients. This is 100% OK, because we all start out at this point. There’s no shame in being where you are in your business’s maturity as long as you’re committed to growth and improvement.

    If we take a step back and look at the larger world of technology, it’s very risky business. Something like half of IT projects fail, and so the industry’s “batting average” is well below where you’d like to be.

    Ultimately you want to have the kind of expertise that allows you to significantly lower the risk of a project and then share the “leftover” risk with your client. Guaranteeing your work in some way is one example of risk-sharing.

    If you focus only on this desired end state of being able to achieve great ROI, lower risk, and share risk, then you might feel a gap between that state and where you are now. You might feel less capable than you would like to be. I call this the “satisfaction gap”.

    If you combine that satisfaction gap with the research process in this workshop where you are possibly seeing problems you don’t know how to solve, you might experience a so-called crisis of confidence, where you start to feel despair about your capabilities in an overwhelming way.

    It’s understandable if this happens, but please don’t let it happen! 🙂 Instead, please choose to trust yourself.

    At some point in your life, you did not know how to:

    • Eat solid food
    • Walk
    • Poop into a toilet
    • Speak a language anyone else could understand
    • Write code (or insert your particular technical skill here)
    • Take action to improve your own business (like this workshop)

    As the old cigarette commercial said, you’ve come a long way, baby. You aren’t done with that progress. It’s incredibly important to have an attitude of possibility at this point in the analysis of your findings. An attitude that leads you to say the following kind of things:

    • “I don’t know how to solve this problem now, but with some time and further research/thinking I could prototype a solution.”
    • “I don’t know how to solve this problem today, but with my technology background and my ability to think in terms of systems and abstraction, I am in a much better position to figure it out than my clients usually are.”
    • “If a prospective client paid me to solve this problem, I would be fully transparent with them about the risks and unknowns, and I would structure the project in a way that delivers as much value with as little risk of total failure as possible.”
    • “I trust myself to communicate effectively with prospective clients so that they are fully informed about the risks of any project where they hire me to solve this problem for the first time.”

    Hopefully you get a strong “trust yourself” message from all of those items above. Not every prospect is going to want to work with you on developing an un-proven solution, but some will, and if you communicate clearly and honestly about risks and unknowns and structure the project to minimize those things, you can get paid to prototype possible solutions to problems that you currently do not have any solution to.

    More info on Specialization School here –>


    “Thousands of dollars worth of egg on their face”

    Alrighty, another member-submitted peeve! Let’s get right into it, then discuss afterwards:

    _Here’s one that’s been on my mind – the idea that creating a blog for your business is “free” and “risk free”. 

    I know you have a more nuanced riff on this subject than I do. 

    But I feel strongly about it because I’ve seen a lot (50 to 60?) clients attempt a blog. 

    Earlier in my career when I had less leverage in client engagements, often the decision to blog was never even discussed. It was tacitly agreed to once a UX designer reflexively stuck the word “Blog” into a wireframe or mockup. Or sometimes the client would request it casually, without that request being evaluated. Other times, I saw observed fellow consultants directly encourage or suggest a blog. 

    I see this less nowadays, but that’s my true pet peeve. I see it as preying on the client’s “redesign enthusiasm” in order to deliver what’s meant to be seen as more strategic consulting. But it can be really bad advice.

    I feel pretty comfortable asserting that I have not seen more than 2 or 3 successes out of those 50+ attempts. That’s a 95% failure rate 🙁

    As you know, a half-assed blogging initiative make a company look really bad. Once the company comes to this realization (if it does), there’s the painful process of admitting defeat, usually after many false-restarts. The cost in bad PR and burned staff time is enormous.

    Actually, I recently paper-napkin’ed the annual investment cost of a high-quality, lead generating blog at $ 30,000/yr , minimum. I used to say $10,000 but I think the stakes are so much higher now. Anyway, having a number like that helps with my default approach – to gently help deflate content marketing ambition…”how about instead of publishing a blog, just have a simple news feed? Have a junior staffer dash off a few paragraphs once a week” (which is what the “blogging” approach often entails anyway). My paper-napkin on a quality company news feed is  $5,000/yr but with much less risk.

    I disagree with some who say no one cares about a news feed; I think it’s a whole lot better than nothing. Just because a prospect may not say “Wow, Amazing Insight!”, doesn’t mean there’s not middle-to-bottom funnel value for a lead who already considering a company’s offering. New item about a new hire, or moving office? Mentioned in the news? That’s valuable to me if I’m considering your engaging with you; it creates some measure of trust.

    And I definitely disagree with pressuring clients into pursing content marketing that’s not realistic.

    Of course, if a true writing habit organically evolves in response to feeding that news channel – then great. I can work with the client to turn that into an actual content marketing undertaking. If not, that’s OK too. Either way, the client doesn’t end up with thousands of dollars worth of egg on their face :)_

    Let’s summarize the peeve:

    • 95% of blogs fail to produce good business results or even to be a good blog
    • Invest $30k/year in the blog or risk compromising your results
    • A smaller $5k/year investment in a company newsfeed is a good alternative if you’re not going to invest properly in the blogGreat! This is certainly a well-considered peeve. Let’s use the tools I shared in the last email to think it through and see what kind of “point of view content” (PoV content) potential it has.


    Is the success of a blog of high importance to your client’s business? I don’t think we can answer this for all companies globally, but for a certain type of company it would be, and I happen to know this member submission comes from someone with content marketing expertise, so for this person’s clients, this almost certainly is an issue that is of relatively high importance. So we can place this peeve in the first row (High Importance to Your Client’s Business).


    Now, what about whether this peeve is core to our submitter’s positioning? It possibly is, but I don’t know for sure. That’s really for them to decide.

    Here’s the bottom line: this peeve had definite potential to be developed into PoV content because it’s about something that is (or should be) important to clients.

    The next question we need to answer about this particular PoV is: can we talk about this PoV effectively in our marketing content or is it one that can only be demonstrated through actions?

    I think it would be pretty easy to talk about this in marketing content and demonstrate it. You could talk about all of the following and support them with various forms of evidence (surveys, case studies, other forms of data, etc.):- 95% of blogs fail to produce good business results or even to be a good blog- Invest $30k/year in the blog or risk compromising your results- A smaller $5k/year investment in a company newsfeed is a good alternative if you’re not going to invest properly in the blogYou could also do a pretty compelling demonstration of this PoV during a sales conversation with a prospect. You could show them two blogs side by side and ask them to give you their thoughts on which is probably most effective and then explain why they were right or wrong and then lead into how that’s relevant to their situation.

    So there ya go! Wouldn’t take much to develop this peeve into strong PoV content.

    Go get ’em,


    Demonstrating a demonstration

    Pausing the “parade of peeves” for a day to elaborate on something important.

    In the last few emails I’ve made a distinction between things you can explain and things you have to demonstrate because an explanation alone is inadequate.

    My wife just came across a great example of this I’m going to share with you today.

    But first, the classic example of “show don’t tell”.

    In the late 1800’s elevators existed, but they were widely viewed with suspicion. They were considered unsafe because… they were unsafe. If a cable broke–and they did break often enough–then it was a short, fast ride to the bottom with a dangerous, perhaps deadly, ending. Elisha Otis was motivated to fix this problem.

    I’ll let Wikipedia tell the rest of this story:

    _At the age of 40, while he was cleaning up the factory, he wondered how he could get all the old debris up to the upper levels of the factory. He had heard of hoisting platforms, but these often broke, and he was unwilling to take the risks. He and his sons, who were also tinkerers, designed their own “safety elevator” and tested it successfully. He initially thought so little of it he neither patented it nor requested a bonus from his superiors for it, nor did he try to sell it. After having made several sales, and after the bedstead factory declined, Otis took the opportunity to make an elevator company out of it, initially called Union Elevator Works and later Otis Brothers & Co..

    No orders came to him over the next several months, but soon after, the 1853 New York World’s Fair offered a great chance at publicity. At the New York Crystal Palace, Otis amazed a crowd when he ordered the only rope holding the platform on which he was standing cut. The rope was severed by an axeman, and the platform fell only a few inches before coming to a halt. The safety locking mechanism had worked, and people gained greater willingness to ride in traction elevators; these elevators quickly became the type in most common usage and helped make present-day skyscrapers possible.

    After the World’s Fair, Otis received continuous orders, doubling each year._

    That’s the power of a demonstration.

    There might be parts of your marketing message that are difficult to explain but easy to show. And there might be parts of your message that are true but remind your prospects of over-used claims that lead to disbelief rather than trust. These are two candidates for a demonstration.

    If you’ve ever painted the walls of a room, you know two annoying things:

    1. The tiny color swatches you get from the pain store are not very helpful in determining if you’ve chosen a color you’ll actually like once the whole wall is painted with that color
    2. Paint darkens quite a bit when it dries. This also can make it more difficult to choose a paint color with confidence.My wife came across a company that will paint the color of your choice onto a 12×12″ or 24×24″ vinyl decal that you can then apply (and re-apply) to any wall in your home. What really brings the benefits of this product alive is the video where they demonstrate it in use.

    If you go to and find the obscure “Watch Video” link on the home page you can see the video. Since it’s hosted on YouTube, I can link you directly to it:

    Notice at 15 seconds in the aforelinked video there’s this demonstration of applying the color sample decal directly over a portion of a wall pained with the same color paint as used on the color sample decal. Once the decal is in place you can’t easily see where it ends and the actual paint begins. It’s simple, but it’s also a really impressive demonstration of how accurately the color sample decal matches the “real thing”.

    It’s one thing to claim that these decals are great for the reasons I mentioned above, but showing them in action is a whole ‘nother level of power.

    So if you have something about your business that is truly special and difficult to explain, consider showing it instead.


    Real quick: there’s one day left to get the early bird discount on the July offering of the first workshop in Specialization School. If you’ve been thinking about it and are–like me–kind of a procrastinator, then don’t miss out on the opportunity to save $200 via that early bird discount. Hit REPLY and we’ll get things going.

    Also, I’ve improved the formatting of the schedule for all Specialization School workshops. You can see the improved schedule at

    An unreasonable obsession

    Alrighty, here’s the next member-submitted peeve that might be a good basis for point of view (PoV) content:

    _Here’s my pet peeve (when building websites for photographers): unreasonable obsession with SEO. 

    I often get emails from photographers saying that they want to rank higher for this-and-that, yet they have awful websites with functionality problems, ugly design, missing contact info, you name it. But they still only think about SEO as the solution. I call it “SEO procrastination”, and I wrote an in-depth article on my blog (and newsletter) about it:

    Going against the industry-favorite SEO wasn’t easy, but I really thought I had to get this contrarian view out into the open. And the reception for that article was fantastic, with many photographers emailing me on how it helped them change their mindset about it, and focus on bigger web-design priorities before doing advanced SEO work. 

    In my consulting calls, I also explain the same idea, and they also appreciate this new-found clarity and they reprioritize their tasks moving forward. 

    And we’ve discussed in our recording together, expertise leads to seeing the nuances and the big picture stuff. 

    That’s my pet peeve at the moment, and I won’t stop writing about it. _

    This is a peeve that Alex has already turned into PoV content, and I heartily agree that it makes total sense to do so. Let’s think through why.

    First, it’s relevant because it ties into a conversation Alex’s prospects are already having inside their head. In other words, Alex doesn’t have to convince his prospects that having an opinion on SEO matters. They already know this. They have their own partially-formed opinion, and they have often already invested time and effort in understanding other people’s opinions on the subject of SEO. As such, Alex is not trying to change the subject of the conversation that his prospects are already having. Instead, he’s showing up with a somewhat contrarian outlook on that conversation, and that’s why Alex’s PoV is relevant.

    As both Alex and I mentioned, his PoV here is somewhat contrarian. It is a well-thought-out opinion, and it runs counter to what might be conventional wisdom. This does several interesting things. It demonstrates strength of character because it requires courage to risk being wrong, and we’re conditioned to be influenced by the majority (

    A contrarian PoV segments in an interesting way by polarizing. Some will see you as more thoughtful than the majority, and some will feel a sense of connection or resonance with your viewpoint because they share it to, or they thought there was something suspect about the majority opinion.

    Finally, this peeve is one that is relevant to the results Alex gets for his clients. It does bubble up to the level of issues that are relevant to business outcomes.

    So I think Alex has done a wonderful job of developing his pet peeve into really good PoV content. It’s a good example to learn from!

    Additional resources you might find interesting:

    • Jonathan Stark and Rochelle Moulton discuss though leadership:
    • I interview Alex about how he moves the needle for his clients:’s one seat left in the first workshop of Specialization School and 4 days left to register. It’ll help you get clear about your best options for specializing, and if you’d like to apply hit REPLY and we’ll talk.



    Alrighty, here’s the penultimate member-submitted peeve I have to share with you:

    _My clients are in the shopify space. Any merchant has the opportunity to become a ‘partner’, though partners are often the contractors and consultants that make up the shopify space. 

    Recently, the shopify partner blog has been featuring articles talking about good design on mobile. I saw and read them, but was put off by the fact that the articles are primarily focused on mobile app design, not design for mobile websites. Shortly after, one of my clients sent the link over asking if I had seen it, prompting a long diatribe of points to why mobile app design doesn’t always translate well to website design. I am not sure why there wasn’t slight changes made to the article…it seemed like they just shopped the same ones to different blogs, but I really hate when people spread information that isn’t fully true or that they know may not apply._

    I think there is at least one way to elevate this peeve into point of view (PoV) content, and that would be to follow a common pattern in good PoV content.

    The pattern could be described as content that corrects a common misunderstanding. To tease this out a bit, it looks like one of the following:

    • You’ve been lied to or purposefully misled. Here’s the truth.
    • You’ve been given a summary. Here’s the full, detailed story.
    • You’ve been unintentionally misled by well-intentioned people. Let’s clear things up.
    • Your current understanding is wrong because it’s based on old date. New data is available, so let’s update your understanding.
    • This is what experts know about ________ but don’t tell you because _________.There are more ways to frame the “content that corrects a common misunderstanding” PoV content, but those are a pretty good start.

    So in the case of today’s peeve, I could see PoV content that looks something like the following:- Everybody’s thinking about design for mobile, but what about design for the web? That’s not the solved problem everybody seems to think it is.- Mobile best practices are not web design best practices. Here are the differences.- Could a mobile-friendly website hurt your desktop website’s sales?I’m not 100% sure all of those could be substantiated, but I’ve just focused on making them interesting and compelling. Take that too far, and you’ve got clickbait content, which is all sizzle and no steak. 🙂


    I’ll never make the 40 under 40 list

    I was browsing my Facebook feed when I realized I’ll never make the 40 under 40 list.Not the one some random Facebook friend just bragged about making. Not any 40 under 40 list.I’m 44, a late bloomer, and I didn’t understand the value of specialization until a few years ago. I just ordered freaking bifocal sunglasses.I must be old.I want there to be a prize for most profitable services business. How about this: an award called The 4 over 400.It goes to services companies with 4 or fewer full time equivalents that generate $400K or more in profit per year. Now that’s an award I’d be happy to win.How about you?What made up award would you want your business to win? (If I get some fun ones I’ll share them back with the list)-P

    Eyes staring back at you from the darkness

    I live in the country, on a few acres of land just outside Sebastopol, CA.

    As such there are no streetlights and stuff like that, so when I go out at night to do stuff like taking the trash to the trash can, I use a flashlight.

    Of course I’m a flashlight nerd, and have a pretty bright LED headlamp and LED tactical flashlight.

    Invariably as I step out the front door, I’ll see at least one pair of distant eyes staring back at me from the inky darkness. Often more than just one pair of eyes. Sometimes a whole family of deer, raccoon, foxes, outdoor cats, or possums.

    This is part of what I love about living outside the city. Here’s a recent snapshot of a young deer and mother snacking on fruit that falls from the tree in front of our house:


    Anyway, I think content with a strong, clear point of view is a little bit like my LED flashlight at night. Forgive the somewhat stretched analogy, but it gets your clients looking at you. You see their eyes staring back at you from the darkness.

    I asked y’all about pet peeves of yours that have a meaningful relationship to moving the needle for your clients. I got some good responses, so for the next few days I’ll summarize them (anonymized) and speculate a bit on how they might (or perhaps might not) have the potential to create a strong, clear point of view that gets your clients looking at you.

    In one of my emails asking you for pet peeves, I had joked about tabs vs. spaces. The first pet peeve submission I got was a list member telling me, no no, tabs vs. spaces is an issue of great importance. In fact, that it’s one of the foundations of human civilization. Of course they were saying that tongue in cheek, and it made me laugh. 

    The tabs vs. spaces thing is a great example of something lots of people have a strong opinion about, but it’s going to be difficult–probably flat out impossible–to elevate that into a point of view that helps your ideal prospects get excited about working with you. The connection between tabs vs. spaces and meaningful business outcomes is just too distant. In fact, this is probably true of lots of opinions you might hold about coding practices (or if you’re not a developer, substitute in some specific aspect of your craft that does make a real difference but is difficult to explain to someone with a capital letter C at the start of their job title).

    === Sidebar ===
    For now, let’s make one simple assumption. You want to have a point of view that resonates with a group of people who control a budget. So that might translate to something like the following:

    • I want to cultivate a point of view that resonates with CIOs at companies in regulated industries.
    • I want to have a point of view that grabs the attention of CEOs of midsize and large manufacturing businesses.
    • I want to express a point of view that is interesting to VP’s of Engineering at software companies.Those are just 3 of many, many possible examples. But notice that you must be clear on what job role you want your point of view to be relevant to and at what kind of company. If you don’t have this level of clarity on who you are trying to connect with through your point of view (PoV), you will struggle to articulate a PoV at all.
      ===End Sidebar===

    So back to tabs vs spaces, or the slightly larger issue of coding practices. If you’ve decided who your ideal buyer is and you have evidence that things like tabs vs. spaces keep them up at night or are a problem they’d pay money to solve, then you’ve got a candidate for a polarizing, interesting PoV. But that ideal buyer should also control a budget. If they don’t, the chances that you’ll be seen as an order-taking staff-augmenting pseudo employee are super high.

    OK, back tomorrow with some more member-submitted peeves that might be compelling PoVs.


    Trivial but disastrous design changes

    Alrighty, here’s our next pet peeve that might or might not be raw material for a strong, clear point of view (PoV) in content marketing:

    _Manufactures making changes that seem trivial to them that effects the quality of a product for your client.  This could pertain to any downstream person or process that makes changes without finding out if it will effect the outcome of the overall process.

    In the world of injection molding, wall thicknesses are extremely important, and the relationship of a internal structure to the main body should be 2 to 3.  Meaning internal structures need to be 66% or less of the external wall.  Too often a molder will thin this down even more because they don’t want to use a larger molding machine to get a good part.  That reduction in the structure can make an inferior part.  (ie. It will break)  It can also throw off tolerances and make things not fit properly.  But this can translate to any field.  If you can forewarn the client of this potential, they can ensure they know it’s a possibility, and hold the downstream person accountable if they screw it up._

    This is an example from a list member who works in the world of additive manufacturing, but I think if you abstract it a bit you can see how it applies also to the world of software.

    There are two directions you could take this pet peeve. If you take it in the direction of “more specific”, I think it is not a great candidate for PoV content. Here’s a few examples of how you might frame this pet peeve along the lines of “more specific”:

    • The importance of wall thickness in injection-molded components
    • Why you should argue with your molder if they reduce wall thickness
    • The fatal flaw behind seemingly-trivial changes to wall thicknessNotice that all of these are very focused on the technical detail of wall thickness.

    On the other hand, if you try to connect this idea of how a trivial change can have disastrous consequences downstream to the larger theme of quality or reliability or cost or profitability or customer satisfaction or some other thing our budget-controlling buyer will care about, we’ve got a chance at having a PoV that will be relevant, interesting, and hopefully compelling to them.

    So if this particular pet peeve about wall thickness becomes one of several examples to support a PoV that has something to do with a broader theme, that’s our best approach. Here are a few examples of how we might do that. I’m going to verbalize these as if they are titles for talks at a conference:- Case studies in balancing cost savings and field relibility- Unexpected causes of low customer satisfaction scores- Optimizing the design process for low return rate and high customer satisfactionWe’re working here to do two things. One: generalize things enough that our PoV isn’t just a seemingly trivial rant about wall thickness. Two: link it to a specific desired business outcome that matters to our budget-controlling buyer.

    Getting those two things co-existing happily together in the same piece of content or series of content is not always easy, but it is possible. The starting point is a strongly-held opinion or feeling about something in your work.

    So the bottom line here: I think this pet peeve could be developed into a nice PoV that is relevant to our assumed budget-controlling buyer. The key to doing so is understanding how your buyer sees the world and what issues are important to them. 

    Tomorrow I’ll tackle another member-submitted peeve.