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    [Indie Experts] 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.


    [Indie Experts] 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:

    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.

    [Indie Experts] 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.

    [Indie Experts] 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:


    [Indie Experts] “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.

    [Indie Experts] 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,


    [Indie Experts] 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:


    [Indie Experts] Resilience

    There’s a reason why safety is visualized in terms of nets.

    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:

      • • •  

    I’ve been thinking about business resilience lately.

    Probably for obvious reasons: coronavirus/COVBID-19, travel distruptions, stock market ups and downs, elections, etc.

    I’ll avoid inserting the Kermit the Frog frantic hands GIF here, but it’s the one I would paste here to capture the current mood.

    I definitely hope your business has not been harmed by current events. If it has, I hope you recover very quickly.

    In no particular order, here are some meditations on resilience.


    One of my clients has a whale client. A lucrative one, but one that brings all the usual risks of a whale client.

    He could seek other whales to replace this one when it inevitably swims away. He’s doing that, but he’s also doing what I refer to as self-commoditizing his own expertise. This involves:

    1. The difficult work of examining and formalizing all of the things that he as an expert does almost un-thinkingly. He has to bypass the curse of knowledge, and think about how his approach to a certain class of client problems can be abstracted into a modular, repeatable approach that works across most of this class of problems.
    2. Turning the building blocks of his approach into a framework that can be applied without him being present and in fact can be applied by non-experts.
    3. Packaging that framework in a way that makes it usable and perhaps even enjoyable.

    If some other company did this, my client would rightfully say, “Uh oh! My expertise is being commoditized!” But when he does it, he’s turning his expertise into an even more valuable asset and de-coupling it from his direct high-touch involvement so that it can be sold as a product.

    This will help him smooth cashflow, serve a broader range of companies, and cultivate future “mini-whale” clients for his strategy consulting services.


    My client is doing something we should all do: balancing the risks he’s taking with a hedge.

    Finance folks talk about hedging as a sort of insurance; the cost of that insurance reduces the profitability of your investment but it also reduces or limits the potential downside of that risk.

    I think of hedging as something you do that keeps you in the game if your risks don’t pay off.

    If you have a whale client, a hedge could be:

    • A romantic partner that has a less risky job and the related accoutrements (medical insurance at relatively attractive cost, for one example) and a willingness to support your risk-taking behavior
    • Savings, liquid asset(s), or credit you’re willing to tap
    • An in-demand skill you can quickly deploy through remote contract work or keep continuously deployed through a part-time cash cow gig
    • Significant flexibility in your costs
    • Annuities

    A book that sells well can function like an annuity. I’ve had clients who’ve gotten a bit lucky and have a very low-maintenance SaaS product that continues to generate meaningful amounts of revenue well past the time when they were investing heavily in building it.

    Some people treat their email list like a liquid asset. They let it sit there largely neglected or sending out automated emails recycling old blog posts and then shake the list like a piggy bank when they want some revenue or have a product to launch. I find this distasteful, but it’s an informative example of how hedging in our world looks different than how finance people will define it.

    Hedging keeps you in the game even in the face of a few tough months.


    The most fragile position I’ve been in as a self-employed person is needing to work more than full time doing implementation work in order to barely cover costs.

    That’s one lens to look at profitability through: Business Revenue – Business Costs – What You Need to Pay Yourself = Profitability. One optimization approach you could take with this model is to not care or not limit how much you work and simply seek to maximize profitability each month.

    There’s another lens to look at profitability through, and that involves thinking of time that you are unable to invest in future value creation as a business cost. This is how I see profitability.

    Personally, I’m willing to sacrifice current monetary profitability in order to minimize this cost. Or seen differently, I’m willing to sacrifice current monetary profitability in order to maximize the amount of time I’m able to invest in future value creation.

    I won’t accept this tradeoff long-term, but I am confident I won’t have to. I’m confident the investment I’m making in future value creation will pay off very well. It’s an investment in self-made expertise and intellectual property, and those function as assets, revenue smoothers, and hedges.

    What contributes to greater resilience: more cash in the bank or more expertise/IP in the “bank”? We all have to solve for our personal ideal equilibrium here. In somewhat rare cases, no tradeoff between these two things is needed. You can have your cake (cash) and eat it too (expertise).

    But more often, it seems like our choice between maximizing cash vs. maximizing expertise is a critical career management decision.

    The Expertise Incubator ( applies a specific form of pressure that forces participants to face this choice and — often — make changes that enhance their business profitability so they have more time to invest in expertise and future value creation.

    The daily publication challenge takes time. If you commit to publishing something worth the time it takes to read it, you can plan on “losing” one hour per day, and if you’re publishing 5 days/week, that’s 5h per week. At a bill rate of $200/hour, that would be a thousand bucks a week. For most folks, that’s PAINFUL.

    What do you do with that pain? The Expertise Incubator is designed to help you use it as fuel on a journey to greater profitability.


    Sometimes I wish good health weren’t so darn invisible to those of us blessed with it. It’s like life during peacetime, or stable government. It’s one of the very first wonderful, valuable things that hedonic adaptation claims for itself and makes invisible and therefore less valued.

    Last year my right leg went numb from the knee down. It turned out this was the result of a certain sitting posture I slump into at my desk putting pressure on a nerve that runs around the outside of the knee join. It was easily corrected through a change in behavior. Sit differently, no numbness.

    And it was a reminder of how the invisible blessing of good health can become visible.

    I’d rather make good health visible to myself through a gratitude practice than temporary numbness — or worse! — in my leg.

    And I’d like to add additional resilience to my business by maintaining or improving my health.

    For me, that involves:

    • Sufficient revenue profitability, so that I’m not over-working and spending less time outdoors than I need to
    • Sufficient sleep and exercise
    • Minimizing anxiety and depression, which are for me the primary thiefs of gratitude, and gratitude is the lynchpin of happiness for me


    In the face of current events, I might be a bit lucky in terms of travel?

    For a variety of reasons, from day 1 of my business I’ve defaulted to working with my clients remotely. This established what was normal for me.

    David C. Baker was kind enough to invite me to some of his seminars over the last few years, and I got to experience the flip side: in-person engagement. It was eye-opening. The potential richness and impact of in-person experiences is profound, and I can see how it’s not a fungible thing.

    The behavior changes that are coming out of both legit and overwrought concerns about COVID-19 are an interesting and expensive and disruptive stress test for resilience. The role of travel in our businesses is a really interesting facet of this stress test.

    For what kinds of interactions is travel mandatory? And what other interactions can an Innovator’s Dilemma-style cheap and less-capable competitor serve?

    I enjoy some amount of travel, but I’d feel like I’m doing something wrong if I had to travel more than a half-dozen times a year for client work. This is a case where I’ve let me personal preferences set a constraint that dictates how I design my business.

    As a result, I’ve worked steadily for years now to figure out how to deliver remote, online experiences for my clients that are really valuable in their own right. I don’t want my offerings to be seen as a cheap and less-capable competitor to in-person interaction. I don’t think they are.

    For example, there are certain kinds of change that take time to manifest. Ways of creating or supporting these changes — at least at an individual scale — that rely on travel might be at a relative disadvantage because the cost of the travel makes it more costly to create or support this change, whereas remote collaboration eliminates that line item from the cost of the change. This is a bit of a hand-wavey explanation, and again I fully resepect the relative advantages of in-person work, but as we think about resiliance in a world where easy inexpensive travel might not always be available, this is how we have to think: what JTBD-style jobs are clients hiring for where the relative advantages of remote collaboration are complementary rather than an obstruction?

    The work of designing and refining experiences like this never ends. It’s a worthy and enjoyable challenge for me.


    The Positioning Manual (TPM) was, for several years, a cashflow smoother and hedge for my business. It contributed to resilience in an important way.

    As I’m rewriting the book, I have a decision to make.

    Do I publish the updated version of the book in a way that repeats the previous approach, thereby making it likely that I get similar results?

    Or do I try an approach that I have never tried before but has produced dramatically greater upside for others, thereby making it possible (but not necessarily likely) that I could get similarly dramatic upside?

    Again, the book has been a useful cashflow smoother and hedge for my business. That’s what I’m risking here.

    Even so, I think it’s time for me to try an approach I’ve never tried before.

    The upside I’m seeking here is reach; more people getting a chance to change their thinking based on the ideas in the book. Greater reach could create a new form of resiliency in my business, at the short-term cost of the current cashflow smoothing and hedging functions of TPM.

      • • •  

    Most of us have multiple levers we can pull to build more resilience into our businesses.

    In that sense, it’s a bit like weaving a web, or a net.

    I’m hoping that we all take every scary current event and use it as fuel to build more resilient businesses and lives.


    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.

    [Indie Experts] Why do your clients hire you?

    I’d like to learn about why the clients of those on this list hire them. I’ve put together a 4-question survey, I’ll run it past this list for the next 2 weeks, and then I’ll share the results back with y’all after that.

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

    Aside from recording the Internet-visible IP address where the form is submitted (which the form software — and most form software generally — doesn’t let me disable) the survey is anonymous.

    Thanks for your input on this question,


    [Indie Experts] 6 models for sellin’ transformation

    Talking about selling transformation today…

    2 more days to register for the point of view workshop:

      • • •  

    I got a fantastic question from an email list member. The topic: sellin’ transformation.

    I’ve been stewing on your thoughts about Brand vs. Direct marketing for expertise lead businesses and I’ve got a couple of practical questions.

    1. I feel like some mediums are built for Direct Marketing. I’m thinking about the advice we got from Tom Miller about how to build a LI profile page (which I see you’ve evolved away from) and I’m having trouble thinking about a LI profile that’s “Art with a logo.”

    2. On Offline you and Liston talked about selling transformation. One of the risks that Liston mentioned (and that I feel like I experience) is that I’m selling a solution to a problem that people don’t even know that they have. Or put another way, the problem that folks come to me with isn’t the problem that they need solved. How does Brand marketing move the needle on that? It feels like it needs some of the direct marketing “stirring of the pot” to get folks to jump.

    I’m asking these questions because I think you are FUNDAMENTALLY right AND the folks that are helping me with marketing are ALL steeped in the direct marketing world, so their advice is ringing a little off to me.

    I got permission to share the question with you to contextualize my response:

    Thanks again for the question. I love getting opportunities to think and hopefully get more clear myself on this stuff.

    A list member recently pointed out that he sees the gift-giving aspect of brand marketing as more relevant than the art-making aspect of it, for businesses like ours. I think he’s right.

    I still like defining brand marketing (BM) as art with a logo on it because that’s a memorable way to say it, but might need to emphasize the gift part more in my definition because it clicks more readily for folks.

    Most of us can relate to the idea of making a truly valuable thing and then deciding to not put an opt-in gate in front of it. We can relate to the feeling of risk that entails, and the pressure it puts on the thing to be so good and so relevant and so impactful that the obvious next step for some of that thing’s users is to contact us for advisory help.

    How could a LinkedIn profile be a gift?

    You’re right that the opportunities for brand gift-giving there will be limited. But maybe not totally non-existent! I don’t have an answer for you on this particular question, but I bet thinking about someone viewing your profile as an occasion to give a small gift might lead to some ideas.

      • • •  

    On selling transformation, I have ideas for 6 ways it might be done. I have not-enough data to say which of these might be best or might match a given situation, so I’ll just present them as food for thought:

    Full image:

    1) Mixed Methods: Use gated lead magnets (a classic direct response (DR) marketing tool) to encourage folks to enter a BM world. Once they enter that world, the “laws of physics” are that of Brand Marketing. The email list experience, for example, is one big possibly-costly-to-you but impactful-to-list-members gift. What’s sold via the list or other ways of connecting with your audience is transformation. That’s it; no optimization sold here.

    You may sense some overlap between this and some of the other 5 approaches described below. That’s unavoidable because these 6 models are artificially clear and distinct to make them discussable; reality will be more fuzzy. What distinguishes this first approach from the more funnel-based approaches is the funnel-based approaches will tend to be tinted with some aspect of direct response marketing: a subtle or overt usage of fear is one example. Agitating pain is another. This first approach will avoid those DR methods at all cost. Movement towards the point of purchase is purely and only by attraction or inspiration, rather than the model of “pushing” or “driving” or “agitating” that DR marketing uses (“stirring the pot”, as you put it, might also fit into this category of techniques).

    2) Classic DR Funnel: You have a pretty “normal” DR marketing funnel, and you sell a combination of optimization and transformation services. The first offer(s) to folks in the funnel is probably a low-ish friction optimization offer (the “undergraduate” level in my diagram). As you earn more trust from folks in the funnel or these folks mature in their business and their appetite for bigger challenges grows, you start to sell them transformation services (“masters” and “phd”).

    Note: this is a very long funnel. It might take years for someone to traverse the optimization -> transformation span we’re describing in just a few seconds here.

    3) Transformation Brand: You just build a brand that’s about transformation from day 1. I’ve seen this happen with a manifesto-ey, call-to-arms-ish book. The book inspires and challenges and lays out the terms of the transformation. Some are attracted to the potential transformation, and the rather broad reach of the book starts to attract folks into a brand ecosystem. You might — and probably would — combine other elements of tastefully-done DR marketing, but the book and the ideas it contains is the real active ingredient in this recipe.

    4) Bait-And-Switch Funnel: This resembles the Classic DR Funnel, but you only sell transformation services. I call it a bait-and-switch only tongue in cheek, but also to point out that what attracts people into the funnel is the promise of a direct, relatively easy, optimization-based fix to a common problem.

    You do provide a lightweight version of that fix at the mouth of the funnel (which might be a lead magnet, email course, or some other fix delivery mechanism). But once that is out of the way, your real focus is selling the transformation that aligns with the services you actually offer.

    The bait and switch here is that you move from addressing symptoms at the mouth of the funnel with your free content to addressing root causes deeper into the funnel with your paid services.

    In the diagram for this funnel I tried to depict a significant difference in volume between the mouth of the funnel and the place where you actually sell transformation services because I’d expect a very significant delta between the interest level at these two points.

    5) GP Referrals: Surgeons get their referrals from a network of general practitioners. A part of what licensed professions offer — to make the bitter pill of licensing worth it — is institutional support that makes marketing less important. I wonder what it would take to create this same dynamic in an unlicensed profession such as you and I practice? It seems possible but… somehow not easy, and for some reason — to me at least — not as interesting as any of the previous options!

    There may be an additional challenge with this model: the “GP level” of business advisors might lean towards overconfidence in their own competence combined with a shortage of opportunity, causing them to not refer to the specialized expert when they should, causing the whole model to break down.

    6) Recruiting: I have a friend who sells marketing services to a certain type of professional services firms. He has really figured out what events and partner organizations he can recruit from. He’s very good at this model.

    In his case, it’s not a formal agreement between him and the “farm league” organization — which is sometimes a complementary service provider and sometimes a watering hole or community-based business — but rather a “nose” that he has for the kind of places that will have the kind of prospective clients that are a good match for him. He travels a fair bit because many of these events are IRL and, to be fair, he’s selling optmization more than transformation, but still it’s a relevant example of recruiting.

    I once interviewed a therapist who worked with entrepreneurs, and he learned that a “stocked pond” for him to recruit from was museum opening nights in NYC ( So he joined every major museum in the city so he could also attend and circulate at these events. His transformation-centric response to “what do you do for work?” was all he needed to mostly fill his pipeline. Referrals did the rest.

      • • •  

    Few of these approaches are “pure” transformation-only approaches. I think that’s because that shit’s way harder. 🙂

    The more financially successful folks I’m thinking of use models #2 and #3, though their usage of model #2 really leans hard towards BM in how the funnel feels (that generous, gift-ey mentality). But they do, at the end of the day, use some of the mechanics of DR (gated content, “back-end offers” only made to previous clients, etc).

    If someone told me they have no appetite for delivering optimization services and only want to deliver transformation services, I could see them choosing to really examine their expertise, identify the parts of it that are closer to optimization, self-commoditize those into low/no-touch offerings, and then push those towards the front of a Classic DR funnel (#2 above).

    Ideally, this would generate enough a) volume in the funnel b) revenue from the low/no-touch offerings and c) trust to keep this expert busy doing higher touch transformation-focused services. That might be one way for the transformation-focused expert (I include myself in this group) to generate enough opportunity to practice their transformation-focused services within the realities of most markets.

    In an interesting way, this is setting up the GP Referrals model completely inside your own business. Your low/no-touch optimization services are the “virtual GP” referring customers of those services upward to a high-touch transformation-focused engagement with you.

    This again points out that my six models are artificially distinct from each other. In reality, I think all of us wannabe-full-time-transformation-experts will draw from and blend a number of them.


    Postscript: This wasn’t part of my email to my questioner, but it occurs to me now. I’m starting to see a pattern: expert with a good brand or the potential to build one hires or seeks the counsel of a marketing firm. They get advice that will tarnish or devalue their brand because the advice is filtered through a DR worldview.

    If you’re an expert and this is happening to you, I might be able to help. I’m starting to get enough transferrable clarity around this DR vs BM thing that I could advise your marketing firm in how to avoid fucking things up for you. They’d have to be teachable, of course, and you’d need to be patient with their learning curve.

    Also, an Expertise Incubator participant is building out a service offering that might be of interest, and he’d be able to offer some implementation bandwidth in addition to a) an approach that won’t tarnish your brand with DR bullshit and b) a solid track record of success with doing marketing for specialized expert firms. I can connect you with him if this is of interest.

    Also, join my point of view workshop if the time is right for you! Details here: