Insight for Independent Consultants

I’d like to help you thrive as an indie consultant

My Indie Experts email list is a place where I do that. If getting better at attracting opportunity via your expertise is interesting to you, please join. Two ways to get this insight; inbox or RSS:

    The “man boobs” email

    In tomorrow’s livestreamed TEI Talk, I’ll explain my famous “man boobs” email, and how it relates to subscriber/reader value. That talk happens at 10am Mountain time tomorrow (Friday). More details and calendar link:

    This is a somewhat meditative moment from my practice run-through of that talk:

    - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultants

    I’m archiving these talks here:

    I don’t often ask my clients for testimonials. The percentage that benefit from working with me tend to spread the word without me asking them. (Thanks, y’all!)

    With things that are new in the market, like my online workshops, I do ask for testimonials to help bootstrap the new offering’s marketplace acceptance.

    Here’s Guillaume talking about his experience with the Point of View Workshop:

    - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultants


    Remember, I designate 20% of the seats in each workshop as scholarship seats. If the pandemic or something else has kicked your business’s ass, I’d love to see you grab a reduced or no-cost scholarship seat to get some help getting things back in order.

    And if you can afford the full price, then don’t be afraid to put some skin in the game. It’s pseudo-scientifically proven to help you get better results!

    Specialization workshop details:

    Point of View workshop details:


    The “don’t have to think about it” premium

    Why can Apple charge a premium for their hardware?

    This is the question you might ponder after your new, ~3-month old Mac Mini dies. And then you might spend most of the next 2 weeks thinking about hardware alternatives for your workflow, which is 95% stuff — writing, Zoom meetings — that would work fine on a $900 Macbook Air but the remaining 5% is video streaming and editing that gets dramatically better if you have desktop hardware and the only computer that Apple ships that isn’t a laptop or mobile computer glued to the back of a very nice display is the Mac Pro. The aforementioned Mac Mini is a laptop motherboard inside a desktop-ey case, with all the attendant expansion, serviceability, and heat dissipation issues that come with that format. I should know. I pulled that sucker apart a half-dozen times to re-seat or swap RAM trying to get it fixed. 🙂

    You’ve heard, perhaps, of the Uncanny Valley. Wikipedia:

    In aesthetics, the uncanny valley is a hypothesized relationship between the degree of an object’s resemblance to a human being and the emotional response to such an object. The concept suggests that humanoid objects which imperfectly resemble actual human beings provoke uncanny or strangely familiar feelings of eeriness and revulsion in observers. “Valley” denotes a dip in the human observer’s affinity for the replica, a relation that otherwise increases with the replica’s human likeness.

    - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultants


    There seems to be something similar with computing systems, and perhaps with services more generally.

    Apple ships hardware on both ends of this spectrum and strenuously avoids the middle of it. Want laptop/mobile computer glued to the back of a nice screen that integrates with a very safe, functional services ecosystem? Apple has shipped way over a billion of them. Want something at the extreme other end of the spectrum? Apple offers a Mac Pro, and sells some; certainly a miniscule fraction of what they sell at the low end of the spectrum.

    Want a mid-priced computer you can throw a badass GPU into and make a few other tweaks to? Forget about it. This is Apple’s Uncanny Valley.

    You could argue a variety of reasons why Apple avoids this part of the spectrum. It’s the “red ocean”, crowded with PC competition. Or it increases support cost. Or Jony Ive didn’t like it.

    My current theory — admittedly tinged with a bit of frustration about this Mac Mini — is that Apple wants to make computers for people who want to compute but without having to think about computers. Apple wants to ship devices that compute but do computing so invisibly that you don’t really think of them as computers. Opening up the device — or even being able to open up the device — interferes with this goal.

    This approach has been successful! There really is something to this idea of avoiding the Uncanny Valley and providing a “don’t have to think about it” offering to a large market.

    Simon Wardley has done a good job of describing how — over time — parts of a value chain move towards commodity or utility status and how this is a good thing because it enables new forms of innovation and value creation.

    - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultants


    Normally the move towards commodity/utility status involves a reduction in profit margin. Apple’s ongoing magic trick is avoiding this reduction in profit. There are competing theories about how they do it, but I think offering a “don’t have to think about it” option to the market is part of their success.

    How do you make “don’t have to think about it” into a premium price for your services? Here’s an incomplete list of options:

    • More/better data, so clients don’t have to trust your judgement as much.
    • More charisma, so clients gain trust in your ability to lead them through a change you could never really gather data to support anyway because it’s at the leading edge of innovation.
    • More systematized communication throughout a project, so clients feel taken care of in the small things and therefore don’t start to worry about the big things.
    • Packaged services with fixed pricing so clients don’t have to wonder about estimating and managing cost during the project.
    • An authoritative book on a niche topic, so clients don’t have to wonder if you know what you’re talking about.

    I’m not saying any of these are right for you and your business, but all of them could contribute to a “don’t have to think about it” experience for some clients, and that could in many cases be a way to justify more premium pricing.

    Events Of Note


    “How to avoid choosing a dead-end area to specialize in.”

    That’s a question that rolled in via my post opt-in survey, and I love its brutal honesty.

    Dear questioner: you are not alone in this concern. It’s broadly shared by those who are considering specializing.

    Here’s a useful way to think about this question: Are you willing to generate demand for your services, or would you rather that be done by others?

    If you choose the first option — generating your own demand — then you will be free of specialization dead-ends, at the cost of a challenging but rewarding learning curve.

    If you choose the second option — relying on others to generate demand for your services — then you are more likely to face dead-ends when you specialize.

    I’m sure there’s a bit more nuance to it than that, but that remains a useful simplification of the choice we all face.

    Here’s the additional nuance:

    1. You can view platform specialization as an automatic eventual dead-end. Details:
    2. There are limits to everyone’s ability to generate demand. You can’t force the market to want what you sell if the market simply doesn’t want it.
    3. That said, when you take responsibility for generating demand for your services, you gain multiple degrees of freedom. The source of that freedom is insight into the market and presence with the market.
    4. Deep insight into the market requires empathy.
    5. Cultivating empathy for a market is ultimately what creates freedom from specialization dead-ends because that empathy causes you to be willing to abandon unviable ideas.
    6. Your entrepreneurial instinct, combined with empathy for a market, both frees you from specialization dead-ends and leads you to opportunities to make real money while serving the market.

    Thank you, dear questioner, for this one!

    What you are up to — notes from readers

    Here are a few interesting visions for impact contributed via my post opt-in form:

    • I help photographers, retouchers, and digital artist gain the confidence to tackle complicated problems in photoshop, reduce the time they spend in photoshop to make more money, and say yes to more of their clients’ requests.
    • Catering: An enchased guest experience, Increased sales, loess waste and a more satisfying work environment!
    • I wish to help my clients change and transform their inner limiting belief patterns that prevent them from moving forward.

    To share your news, projects, and events, fill out this mercifully brief form and I’ll share the relevant ones back to this list:

    Keep building, keep taking risks y’all,

    Orphan Problems

    The people I know who have the most interesting and lucrative careers have adopted “orphan problems”.

    These are problems that exist at sufficient scale and severity in the marketplace, but there’s no corresponding academic or credentialing path that supplies us with licensed experts to solve them.

    So, these folks become self-made experts in solving these orphan problems, and they enjoy significant freedom in how they monetize that expertise, at the cost of working damn hard for a while and embracing significant risk along the way.

    The Expertise Incubator is a framework I invented to help folks like you find and adopt orphan problems, and cultivate valuable expertise in service of solving those problems.

    This Friday at 10am Mountain time, I’m kicking off a series of TEI Talks where I walk you through this framework.

    If this is interesting to you, join me. Details:


    A few more days of early bird pricing remain on the specialization and POV workshops, both starting in October.

    Something about what happens when we talk

    An amazing thing about Lucinda Williams is that she seems to insist on performing with musicians who are better than she is, and by so doing she creates a superior live experience.

    I used to work at this outfit called TBA Entertainment when I lived in Nashville, and one of the people there had run live sound for some Lucinda Williams shows. She said that Lucinda always liked to get Emmylou Harris up on stage for a few songs, and she had to turn Lucinda’s mic on those duets WAY down because Lucinda sang so off key and Emmylou sang so perfectly on key.

    But those SONGS that Lucinda writes! That and the way her voice emotes; that’s her irreplaceable contribution. The magic would probably shine through on a show with lesser supporting musicians, but why diminish the experience just so the singer can be the best musician on stage?

    Here’s a good one for you today:

    - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultants

    Events of Note

    • Virtually meet and interview more than 50 local-to-ABQ professional female tech talents looking for new opportunities. (I’m passing along an event that landed in my inbox and might of interest to those of you looking to hire devs.) Details:
    • See how experts can apply content organization best practices to their site. Last week, Jim Thornton gave a great lecture and answered questions from livestream attendees (recording: The topic was how experts can better organize their content for the audience they’re trying to reach, help, and possibly transform. This is not standard SEO best practices stuff. Jim’s perspective is rooted firmly in an understanding of how experts work and how they tend to think by writing, which creates unique problems that he suggests solutions for. You can catch the recording of tomorrow’s event later, or you can attend the livestream and ask questions. Details:

    Going Remote

    Two items felt connected by more than the fact that they both ended up in my Instapaper queue:

    This blog post from Steve Blank has some interesting findings from instructors who have done some early experimentation with taking IRL education online:

    “Zoom is the Napster of the event industry, the ease with which you can put on good-enough virtual events with a global audience, almost for free, much to the undercutting of the underlying economics of the physical events world. All types of business event — conferences, trade shows, conventions — are in danger of their revenues streams of tickets, sponsorships, memberships, and other types of fees being eroded as the world gets used to digital formats and alternatives emerge to physical networking, matchmaking and other tasks we get out of these events.” —

    My guess about the future role of IRL events is: more expensive, way more special, and somewhat more rare. No longer the default as the barely-good-enough online replacements get better. Some of that is tech, and some of this is knowing how to put together an online event that’s worth attending live.

    What you are up to — notes from readers

    To share your news, projects, and events, fill out this mercifully brief form and I’ll share the relevant ones back to this list:

    Keep building, keep taking risks y’all,

    Testing a specialization hypothesis with a live market test

    A TEI participant said he was feeling guilty about not publishing as much as he wanted to.

    I said: open your calendar, go to the Monday 2 weeks from now, and add a calendar item that says “Resume feeling guilty”. Until then, I’ve granted you a guilt vacation.

    He just returned from that guilt vacation and said it helped.

    What do you need a guilt vacation from?

    Events of note

    • Remember the upcoming livestreamed TEI Talks series. You don’t really need to register since you can just show up during livetime on my Twitch or YouTube channel, but you can see those livetime date/times and get calendar reminders here: I’ll be talking about using publishing and research as a “side door” to rapid expertise cultivation. Hope to see you in the chat window during these talks.
    • Jim Thornton is offering a free workshop on how experts should organize the content on their website. It’s a 2-parter. The first one is tomorrow, September 1 and the second part is a week later. You can watch and chat with us via livestream. Links to further details for part 1 and part 2.
    • David Baker did a really interesting webinar deep dive into his own content marketing approach. David’s business model is the kind many of us are building towards: solo indie consultant, expertise-driven, powerful personal brand, excellent leverage of IP. So this is a particularly relevant one of his webinar series. I didn’t find a page where the links live, so I’m instead ripping the video and audio links from the recent email where he provided them.
    • Join me and 29 other experts who’ll help you attract, win, and service better clients. Catch a new talk Monday through Friday at 10am PST, September 21 – October 30, including people like David C. Baker, Blair Enns, Sean D’Souza, Jonathan Stark, and more. Registration is totally free – grab your spot now at
    • Warley Mapping is a lightweight strategy tool. I’ve been learning more and finding Simon Wardley’s live talks the most useful way to do so. There’s an all-day online event called Map Camp coming up on October 13. I don’t know how basic/advanced it’s going to be, but I’ll probably drag my ass out of bed at 1:30am Mountain time to be a part of this event: I’m interested in both the content and seeing how they structure a 1-day online educational event.


    A question from my post opt-in survey:

    What is your vision for impact?

    I want to use my expertise as a design consultant to help Shopify stores make more money by teaching them how to make informed design decisions and provide clarity and insights into their customers’ motivations.

    What’s your #1 question about specialization, positioning, lead generation, or moving into advisory work?

    How to test if there is a market for my positioning

    This is a juicy one!

    I’m copy/pasting the next bit from this guide to specializing/positioning, but it’s relevant and important in thinking about this question.

    The most beautiful specialization hypothesis in the world is worthless if the market doesn’t care within a timeframe that matches yours. That’s why we seek validation for our ideas — our hypotheses — about how we might specialize our business.

    There are 4 ways you can validate:

    1. Blind pivot
    2. Guardrail-and-go
    3. Deep market research
    4. Live market test

    Blind Pivot: A blind pivot is only considered validation based on a technicality. With a blind pivot, you choose the specialization hypothesis that seems best to you and go with it. You assess, create a shorterlist, choose the one that seems best to you, and implement. You “just do it”. Validation or invalidation of your hypothesis eventually happens, but it takes months or years, and risks business failure and opportunity cost.

    A blind pivot is post-validation rather than pre-validation.

    Guardrail-and-go: You choose from your head start or your heart and apply sensible guardrails (healthy market size, documented interest, etc.) to eliminate excessively risky options. After that, you choose the specialization option you like the most and implement. You can also simply copy a specialized competitor and implement. With the Guardrail-and-go approach, you are not validating directly with the market, you are looking at proxies for market demand (presence of competitors, etc.) and using the presence of those proxies as evidence of sufficient market demand.

    The guardrail-and-go approach is quick-and-dirty pre-validation. You’ll notice I’ve already told you to apply some guardrails in the previous step of this decision making process. That’s because the ROI on this work is high enough that it’s worth doing no matter what. I don’t consider it an optional validation step; it’s just a natural part of the right way to make a specialization decision.

    Deep market research: With this approach, you reach validation through market research interviews with buyers in the market you might focus on. Your research might actually generate the hypothesis, as is done in innovation-focused research, or it might validate/invalidate your specialization hypothesis. Research styles include Customer Development (Cindy Alvarez) & JTBD (Alan Klement).

    The deep market research approach is time-intensive pre-validation. I rarely recommend this approach anymore except in cases where you’re pursuing an entrepreneurial thesis.

    Live market test: With a live market test, you build a free gift of knowledge for the market, directly distribute it (1:1 emails or LinkedIn messages, posts on intimate forums or Slack/Discord channels), and ask for feedback on the gift. There are other ways you could run a live market test (run ads pointing to a landing page, etc.) but for indie consultants, directly distributing a free gift of knowledge and pointedly asking for feedback on it is the best approach.

    For most indie consultants, the live market test is a good middle ground between the deep market research method, which has considerable time cost, and the guardrail-and-go method, which generates no actual evidence from the demand side of the market.

    Again, the most beautiful specialization hypothesis in the world is worthless if the market doesn’t care within a timeframe that matches yours. The live market test delivers visceral evidence about whether the market cares about your potential way of specializing.

    But! How much validation you invest in is up to you. It’s your decision. Some of you will have the risk profile and existing business momentum to do less validation. Others will want to extensively de-risk the decision by carrying out more validation. If you decide to de-risk by doing some validation before you implement your new specialization, I recommend the live market test.

    Back to the question at hand

    Our questioner here has a hypothesis. I’m going to reword their vision for impact as a specialization hypothesis:

    I believe there is a market of Shopify stores that see a clear connection between knowing how to make informed design decisions, gaining clarity about their customer’s motivations, and making more money. Further, I believe these stores are owned, run, or staffed by people who are motivated to learn how to do the above themselves.

    What I’ve done by rewording this vision statement is taken the consultant out of the picture and described what the market wants. Or rather, what the market might want, pending validation of that market desire/need. Also note that I’ve described the market’s needs/wants in terms of existing needs/wants, not ones that could develop in the future or ones that could develop if the market is led or shaped by thought leadership.

    If I was the consultant with the vision statement being re-worked here (I’m not, again this comes from my post opt-in survey), I’d feel humbled by this. Or, if my ego was particularly active that day, I’d feel like you’re calling my baby ugly; I’d feel attacked.

    All this is healthy. We need to realize that having a bold vision that we care deeply about is important, but it’s not sufficient. There needs to be at least a small beachhead-like market that cares about our vision, or wants something our vision can provide or enable for them.

    Taking ourselves out of the picture and thinking about our vision for impact from the perspective of market need/desire can be humbling, but it’s a pragmatic, necessary part of thinking like a business owner.

    So how should our questioner validate this hypothesis?

    I’d suggest they create something that fits all of the following criterial:

    1. It’s meant for people who own, run, or work at a Shopify store.
    2. It’s designed for people who are already motivated to learn how to get more insight into their customers motivations and use that insight to make better design decisions.
    3. It makes a bold, unvarnished claim about the connection between #2 on this list and making more money.
    4. It’s tiny. Like 2 pages or less of text, if possible. Or 3 minutes of video or audio. Again, tiny in scope (so you can execute the test quickly and relatively easily).

    Then, I’d find 30 people who own, run, or work at a Shopify store, reach out to them directly (email, LinkedIn messaging, or PM in a private community setting), give them this free gift of knowledge, and — critically — ask them for their feedback on it.

    What happens next will be a qualitative measurement, not a quantitative, algorithmic one. Judgement calls will have to be made. Risks will have to be weighed. Decisions will have to be made under conditions of reduced but still persistent uncertainty.

    But even if you get crickets in response to this live market test, you will have information gained through movement. And you can build on that.

    I liken this to getting a bicycle going. At first, only one thing matters: translating those first few pedal strokes into movement in some kind of direction. Once the bicycle is moving, you can make more subtle fine-tunings to its direction. But until that point, as long as you haven’t pointed the bike over a cliff or into a tree, nothing other than getting that first bit of momentum matters.

    This, by the way, is what we do in the Specialization Workshop. I’m running that (and the POV workshop) again in October. Sign up if you want support, encouragement, or direction with this live market test thing: Early-bird discounts available for those who are decisive at the level of both mind and wallet.

    What you are up to — notes from readers

    This is a new part of my email list, stolen whole cloth from Exponential View.

    I want to share what you’re up to. What are you doing to create impact in the world, for your clients, or for your future self?

    New things take a while to get going, so I’ll prime the pump. When folks opt in to my email list, I redirect them to a survey they can fill out if they want. One of the questions I ask: “What’s your vision for impact?” Here are some recent ones I’ve received:

    • “Manufacturers will raise their value by being better prepared for disruption and disaster.”
    • “My expertise stems from experience and pragmatism therefore I can help potential clients in finding technical solutions that optimize for time of delivery and save costs.”
    • “By making tech training more engaging, companies will have the staff to help boost future competitiveness.”

    To share your news, projects, and events, fill out this mercifully brief form and I’ll share the relevant ones back to this list:

    Keep building, keep taking risks y’all,

    Results of a brand marketing experiment

    I was really happy to see a post-action review of a brand marketing experiment I’d been following with some interest.

    A quick reminder from this email for context:

    1) Sarah Avenir of &Yet is offering a free course on a human approach to marketing.

    The course itself is interesting. I’m especially interested in the way she’s distributing the content using Instagram. It’s a very “brand-marketing-ey” approach [1], and it was compelling enough for me to set up an Instagram account so I could follow along and learn from what she’s doing.

    You can too; her course is available here:

    Some highlights from Sarah’s after-action review:

    • “My secret hope was that we’d have about 200 participants. After all, we only started talking about it a week and a half before it started. But we ended up with over 400.”
    • “If you don’t feed The Algorithm its proper diet over an extended period of time, it will be angry and will not show your class materials in participants’ feeds in any sort of consistent way”

    And here’s the whole thing: Recommended!


    Only 3 wellness checks from the cops

    Hey! I hope you’re doing well, surviving (hopefully thriving during) a very “interesting” 2020.

    I had a good 2 weeks of staycation/writing retreat. I’m grateful only 3 of you phoned 911 to have the cops do wellness checks on me (kidding; 1 person wrote to ask if I was OK. Thank you!).

    This book project is kicking my ass, so I switched gears a bit and went for the smaller win to build momentum. I spent about 4 full days writing Specializing and Positioning an Independent Consulting Business:

    It’s a comprehensive guide on how to specialize/position an independent consulting business. It’s a brand marketing gift. If it provides value, that value will come from its relevance to the intended audience and the generosity of intent and effort that went into writing it. If it spreads, it will be because it’s good enough to spread by word of mouth. If it creates impact, there won’t be an opt-in gate between you and that potential impact.

    And if it helps me build moment and focus to get this book done, it’ll be because the guide is a miniature scale model of the book’s structure and content. That’ll be helpful because I found myself getting lost in the wild garden of the book’s content, so creating what is essentially a condensed version of the core of the book might be a good beachhead.

    The guide is a ~45-minute read, and again, you can find it here:

    Events of Note

    There is a Venn diagram overlap between two things: 1) I want to get my hours in practicing live talks and 2) I need to build out the free public curriculum for The Expertise Incubator. There’s a half-assed, half-done TEI curriculum here, but I have a vision for something better.

    My vision for the TEI curriculum is based heavily on this:

    They published live talks as curriculum; why can’t I? It’s a pandemic year, so IRL talks aren’t an option, but I’ve got the equipment and bandwidth to do it online, and so I will.

    I’m starting a talk series where each week (Thur or Fri) I’ll deliver a lesson from the TEI curriculum. I’ll get that started mid-September, but in the meantime you can see the schedule of events here: From that page, you can either RSVP or simply add reminders to your calendar without registering for anything. The talks will be streamed to Twitch and YouTube, and you can pepper me with questions during them via chat.

    Most of you will ignore or not attend these. Ultimately, being ignored is the worst thing that can happed to marketing, but in the very short term when you’re building new skill, practicing publicly in a low stakes environment can be good. A Twitch channel with a few people watching and a fewer brave souls chatting is just such a low stakes environment. Eventually, when the rest of you realize you’re missing out on free world-class education and inspiration, you’ll join in.

    - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultants

    Don’t be a square. 😉

    Again, that schedule of events:

    I’ll end with an answer to a client question.

    A Q&A that might be relevant to those who provide positioning advice

    Q: Do you think asking questions and letting the client figure out the positioning is better than offering it as a service and doing it yourself?

    My A:


    I believe the hardest part of specializing in a way that allows you to build up a great market position is the emotional part of it, not the strategy part of it. Many of us run businesses that were born in the cradle of scarcity, and so we naturally resist things that seem like they could reduce our opportunity or variety. And if our businesses weren’t born in the cradle of scarcity, they have spent some significant period of time in a desert of scarcity, which leaves the same “mark” on our thinking and behavior.

    I believe that specializing makes life easier in the way that going on a restrictive diet makes life easier for someone with heart disease: short term not-fun, but without the restriction, there may not be a long term for that person to enjoy.

    A tow truck driver was giving me a ride once. He used to work at Medtronics in the department that makes stents. He told me that way over 50% of cardiac patients will not change their lifestyle, even after a potentially-deadly heart issue like a heart attack or stroke. My takeaway from this and many other experiences: change that involves short-term discomfort is difficult for most of us humans. Many of us will resist it at the cost of our own lives.

    My thoughts on your question:

    1. The client has to WANT it. 🙂 They have to want the results of specialization.
    2. It’s not enough to just want it, they need to understand the process and what it will involve so that they are not surprised by normal parts of the process or discouraged by normal features of the landscape they are journeying through.

    If those two things are in place, then you can use a variety of methods to help your clients successfully specialize. You can operate with a heavy or light touch, you can do it for them or facilitate them doing it themselves, or anything in between.

    A famous consultant told me in an interview I will publish one of these days that maybe 40% of his clients heed his advice and are successful as a result.

    That should tell you that the advice — and the way it’s given — matters a lot less than the person receiving it.

    They have to want it.

    Unfortunately, just because any of us has been hired as an advisor doesn’t mean our client actually wants to do the work of change.

    (The clients who do want to do that work make it all worth it. 🙂 )

    I’m not saying the clients you mentioned don’t want it, but that is the place I’d begin diagnosing the issue. It could be your process, but it could be their motivation, level of education about the process, or something else related to them.


    RE: Some interesting in-public stuff

    Programming note: I’ll be off for the next 2 weeks, finishing the draft of The Positioning Manual, back on Monday, August 24.

    Chris Ferdinandi, the Vanilla JS guy, wrote me about his experience with un-gated content. Here’s his email, which he said was OK to publish here:


    Just wanted to respond to this:

    I mean un-gating the content, and trusting that the value of the content will do more to help your business than using the content to collect or increase the size of a list of email addresses would.

    Anecdotally, I’ve had a lot of success with this approach.

    Rather than requiring an email address to get the thing, and then seeing a wave of unsubscribes from people who didn’t want to give you their email but reluctantly did just to get the thing, I flip the model.

    I give away a TON of stuff for free.

    All of my articles get posted to my website at the same time as my newsletter comes out. I have an online toolkit of vanilla JS resources. A collection of project ideas and starter templates. An ebook and talk on building a simpler, leaner web.

    On every one, I add a “Like this? Get articles on topics like this sent to your inbox” CTA, and so far, it’s worked out pretty damn well.

    My email list started with 38 people (mostly Twitter friends) three years ago. Last week, I hit 9,800 subscribers. I’m still not at “quit your day job” money yet, but I’ve about doubled my gross revenue every year, and product sales (ie. my side business) now comprise about 30% of my total income.

    And of course, it goes without saying that you gently pushing me to start writing daily and focus on list growth was the single best thing I ever did for my business. Thank you!!!


    I keep wrestling with this brand vs. direct response marketing idea. It seems important, and I seem currently unable to render it with anything more than hedcut-level resolution.

    It’s one thing for me to say “brand marketing uses no-strings-attached gifts to earn visibility and trust; direct response marketing uses data and urgency to sell stuff”. That’s both true and reflective of what we see Chris doing.

    But examples like this one from Chris really help bring this idea to life.

    Thanks for that, Chris.


    I have no magic

    The film “Yi Yi” is a masterpiece.

    It’s an art film. Not the way “The Cremaster Cycle” is an art film. “Yi Yi” is one of those films that rewards close, thoughtful viewing, and it reflects on the nature of life. “The Cremaster Cycle” is mostly just bizarre.

    There’s this particular scene in “Yi Yi” that says something important about consulting. One of the main characters is a partner at a failing software firm. They’re going to work with an outside consultant to re-invigorate the company, and the partner has travelled to Japan to meet the consultant and talk business.

    Over dinner, the consultant starts doing some card tricks.

    - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultants


    The potential client is astonished. The client asks how he does it.

    The consultant reveals that he has taught himself to know where every card in the deck of cards is at every moment. It’s not a trick; he simply pays more attention, more carefully than others, to what’s going on with the deck of cards.

    The potential client, still enjoying his own astonishment at this, keeps asking the consultant to predict what card is next in the deck. The consultant interrupts:

    I have no magic to save your company. Nobody does. I am just like you. I have no tricks. We can work together, but I think your partner wants magic.

    It’s a beautifully-done scene, full of cinematic subtlety.

    At the end of the day, I think every consultant would admit the same.

    “I have no magic. I just have a better process for navigating this decision than you do.”

    “I have no magic. I’ve just seen this situation more than you have.”

    “I have no magic. I just have some data and a framework that you don’t.”

    “I have no magic. I’ve just spent more time forcing myself to think through this stuff than you have.”

    That last one is essentially what I’m saying in this recent podcast conversation with Glenn Stovall, where I talk about daily publishing:

    I really appreciate Glenn giving me some time on his podcast to talk about daily publishing which, even after doing it for 4 years, I find a valuable way to frequently visit the “mind gym” and work out ideas.

    If this sort of practice is interesting to you, I think the conversation with Glenn is worth a listen:

    And if a meditative cinematic reflection on life is interesting to you, you can watch the whole of Yi Yi in HD on YouTube:

    No magic, just a lot of writing and thinking,

    Some interesting in-public stuff

    Two quick items of interest for you today, both sharing a bit of the same DNA.

    1) Sarah Avenir of &Yet is offering a free course on a human approach to marketing.

    The course itself is interesting. I’m especially interested in the way she’s distributing the content using Instagram. It’s a very “brand-marketing-ey” approach [1], and it was compelling enough for me to set up an Instagram account so I could follow along and learn from what she’s doing.

    You can too; her course is available here:

    2) Last week I tried my first livestreamed TEI roundtable event, and you can see the recording here:

    This is also an attempt at moving stuff from behind an opt-in gate and out into the open.

    The roundtable went great, and if the topic of designing online group workshops/trainings is of interest to you, then the recording is worth watching.

    And yet, the roundtable raised a few questions about how to make future roundtables like this more valuable to participants and viewers.

    The next livestreamed TEI roundtable will probably include a “scribe” role — someone who will use Mural or a similar tool to create an artifact of the discussion. There’s probably value to be created by also separating the facilitator/host role from the producer role. Livestreaming tech is relatively simple, but does add the cognitive burden of switching between gallery and presenter view, to name one of several forms of individually small but collectively significant cognitive overhead.

    And then there’s simple dumb stuff like: if you’re going to send out a calendar invite for the roundtable saying it starts at a certain time, make sure everybody’s there and the livestream is up and running by that time. 🙂

    Unlike webinars, livestreams have no software-provided “waiting room” where attendees hang out waiting for the event to start. You can create that waiting room experience by broadcasting a pre-recorded video (Halocene does this at the beginning of their livestreams), or a still image combined with some pre-recorded audio, but it’s still up to the livestream host to actually think about and do these things.

    So there you go; two items that either might have content that’s relevant to you, or have been done in a context that is experimental and interesting.

    Have a great day,


    1: By “brand-marketing-ey” approach, I mean un-gating the content, and trusting that the value of the content will do more to help your business than using the content to collect or increase the size of a list of email addresses would.