Move Into Advisory Services Work

I’d like to help you learn how to generate leads for advisory services

My Indie Experts email list is a place where I do that. If the transition from getting paid for implementation to getting paid for your advice is interesting to you, please join. Two ways to get this insight:

    A year of narrowing down

    List member Ari told me about his year of narrowing down his business focus (and graciously OK’d sharing the following with you):

    Hi Philip,

    I know you love talking about niching down, and seeing niche conferences and stuff. 

    It’s now December. In January you helped me write my first positioning statement, which was “I help R programmers map open data sets”, or something like that. 

    Anyway, I just submitted an abstract to The American Community Survey (ACS) Data Users Conference. ACS is the main data product from the Census Bureau.

    Who would’ve thought that such a niche conference existed?

    And I recently learned about the Association of Public Data Users. A trade organization that – to me at least – sounds fascinating!

    It’s funny. I remember on your podcast you once said something like “People are always scared that niching down will make them bored. But when you get into the weeds, stuff really gets exciting.”

    I think you were right!

    Of course I’m right (about this topic) :).

    And of course it’s a bit paradoxical how when you narrow your focus things get more interesting. But that’s depth, for ya! 

    A surface exploration of many topics is exciting for a while (and it can even provide a good background for your career if done while you’re young), but businesses that sell expertise need to go deep in order to thrive.

    What Ari didn’t mention in his email is the multitude of opportunities that show up on his doorstep now that he’s a year into having a narrow focus for his business. Off the top of my rusty memory, he’s been recruited for a national-level data science advisory position, gets asked to submit articles for publication on prominent blogs, and has been asked to do paid training classes for businesses. I’ll have to persuade Ari to list out all of the opportunities that have come his way some time.

    Anyway, 2017 could be your year of narrowed focus. The kind of results Ari’s seen are possible for you too.

    If your dev shop got fewer than 10 leads last week, you need to take this free email course –>

    “Young people are just smarter”

    Apparently Mark Zuckerberg once publicly said, “I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. Young people are just smarter.”

    I don’t want to go off the deep end talking about ageism in tech. Particularly because others have already done that for me!

    If you’ve 10 minutes to spare, please read this:

    Here are a few highlights from that article:

    • The average age of workers at a few select larger tech companies: Facebook: 28. LinkedIn: 29. Google: 30
    • The average age of all U.S. workers: 42.

    The article above is geared towards employees. As a self-employed person, you have both more opportunity than the typical employee, and a few unique challenges.

    Providing compelling reasons for clients to hire you instead of your (possibly younger) competition is one of those challenges. Defining a clear, narrow market position for your business is step 1 in addressing that challenge.

    No pitch today. Read that article instead:

    Talk to you soon,

    If your dev shop got fewer than 10 leads last week, you need to take this free email course –>

    The Bedouins have the longest fingers

    I had this dream the other night that woke me up.

    It was extremely short, and consisted of a strange voice saying “The bedouins have the longest fingers”. That’s it; just the voice and then I woke up.

    I bet you didn’t know there are slightly more than 21 million Bedouins alive today speaking 4 different dialects of Arabic, practicing 3 different religions, and living in at least 20 different countries.

    Not all Bedouins live in the traditional way. Many have moved into urban areas and work conventional jobs, though there are still millions who live in the desert and subsist on animal husbandry work.

    The Bedouins have a saying: “I am against my brother, my brother and I are against my cousin, my cousin and I are against the stranger”.

    I tried to come up with a similarly elegant saying for myself: “I am against self-employed people letting themselves become commoditized, commoditization and I are against…” and then the whole thing just kind of fell apart.

    I am definitely against self-employed people letting themselves become commoditized, and I believe the best defense against the downward rate pressure of commoditization is specializing your services.

    Specialization is the foundation of effective marketing, value pricing, a stronger negotiating position RE: payment terms, and being able to say “no thanks” to clients you’d rather not work with.

    Specialization starts with narrowing the focus of your marketing in a way that resonates with better clients who will pay above-commodity rates for your services.

    If your dev shop got fewer than 10 leads last week, you need to take this free email course –>

    [PAP] Reminder: Want help improving your positioning or lead generation?

    Quick reminder about those two open seats…

    Would you like to get help with moving into a better market position? Or guidance on building a lead generation system?

    I have 2 seats open in my Positioning Accelerator Program (

    Hit REPLY and let me know if you’re interested in getting started in December.

    Why do I have open seats? One guy joined and then dropped out because it wasn’t a good fit for him, and one guy paused because he’s busy with his dayjob + side project + holiday stuff. Boom! 2 open seats. 🙂

    What can I help you with in this program? Any of the following:

    1. Navigating the emotional or logistical aspects of moving into a better market position.
    2. Doing effective market research to help you better position your services offerings.
    3. Developing a simple, repeatable lead generation system.
    4. Other issues related to specializing your business in some way.

    The program is $700/mo, and you choose when to stop. I’ve had participants spend 2 or 3 months working through a single issue, or others spend longer working on positioning, lead generation, and marketing issues. It’s quite open-ended. How long you participate is up to you.

    Does this program work? It does for most people. I always do a 1-on-1 call with you first to make sure we both agree it’s going to be helpful before you join. Learn more:

    Again, just hit REPLY and let me know if you’re interested in starting now or in the next few weeks.


    If your dev shop got fewer than 10 leads last week, you need to take this free email course –>

    A few webinar data points

    Kai Davis recently gave a fantastic presentation about building better outreach lists.

    Here’s the recording:

    (BTW, you can always find recordings of my Dev Shop Marketing Briefings here: I tend to publish recordings of webinars there within a day or so of the actual event.)

    I am always encouraging you to consider using webinars to market their business, so I thought you might be interested in some of the numbers from this webinar with Kai:

    • Registrations: I only advertise Dev Shop Marketing Briefings to my email list. My list has 1,703 subscribers, 1,583 of whom are in the segment that receives these daily emails. So a bit over 1,500 people received the emails announcing the webinar with Kai. Drip–the email marketing software I use–says my usual open rate for my daily emails is right around 30%. 84 people registered.
    • Attendance: 28 of the 84 registrants attended the live webinar. In the 3 emails I sent announcing the webinar I said “don’t register if you don’t plan to attend”. Despite that request, the attendance rate was 33.33%. I guess 66% of the registrants suck at planning. 😉
    • Participation: Now we get to the number I really care about. I measure participation by how many questions are asked. This is the one simple number I have to gauge the value of the presentation and the entire webinar itself. We had about 50 minutes worth of SOLID GOLD Q&A on this webinar, which in my mind is an unqualified success. If 3 people had registered and all showed up, or if 1000 people had registered and only 3 had showed up I wouldn’t care as long as I got a great 60m of Q&A after the presentation.
    • Direct sales the webinar generated: None. This is not why I do these webinars. They’re a way of providing value to my email list members and a way to attract new list members via the recordings I publish to They’re also a way for me to practice producing the kind of content that I could later bundle up into a paid subscription product of some kind. Many people do use webinars for direct list building or direct sales. I will too at some point. List building or direct sales are both fine ways to run a webinar, but that’s not what my Dev Shop Marketing Briefings are about.

    Now to the question I know you’re all asking…

    Are these numbers good? Will Philip post a graph of results on social media to impress others? When business life is temporarily seeming nasty, brutish, and short, will Philip comfort himself by remembering how EPIC this webinar was?

    My personal goal for the webinar was met. Attendees asked great questions, and Kai offered really great answers. In that sense, it was EPIC. 🙂

    Before the webinar my goal for registrations was 100 people because I had this theory that you need 50 live attendees to generate enough questions for an interesting, insightful 60 minute Q&A session, and the show-up rate for many webinars is 50%, thus 100 registrations would probably result in 50 live attendees which would probably result in enough questions for a compelling 60m of Q&A.

    At least for the topic of this webinar, it required fewer attendees to create a compelling 60 minute Q&A session. 28 people did the trick. So I’m not unhappy with the 33% show-up rate.

    Big time marketers would be completely unimpressed with these results. I have friends who routinely fill 1,000 seats on webinars. Not 1,000 registrants, but 1,000 live attendees!

    Maybe that’ll be me in a few years, or maybe it won’t. Because here’s the thing I want you to know:

    Audience size is not correlated to revenue.

    Or at least it doesn’t have to be, especially with the kind of services a specialist provides.

    A colleague recently put on a webinar that had 8 attendees but generated 2 good-sized projects. Talk about an amazing conversion rate!

    Most of you make a decent living with 6 to 15 clients a year, and could make a great living with even fewer but better clients!

    It’s easy to use numbers to measure the success of your endeavors and to assume that bigger is better. And of course, you should do a certain amount of that in your business.

    I actually hate that webinar software tricks us into thinking size is the metric that matters. Email marketing software does this too. Of course, these tools make these mistakes because reporting size-based metrics (registrants, list size, open rate, click rate) are easy. The metrics that matter are often harder to compute and interpret.

    So don’t get seduced into focusing on size to the exclusion of what might be–for your business–more important, more relevant numbers.

    And for heaven’s sake, please try your hand at using webinars for lead generation some time in 2017. 

    Talk to you soon,

    PS – I won’t have a Dev Shop Marketing Briefing for you in December (too busy with holiday stuff) but we’ll be back in January with a guest expert talking about how to use IRL teaching for lead generation. Unlike me, he’s had very good success with this lead generation technique 🙂

    If your dev shop got fewer than 10 leads last week, you need to take this free email course –>

    Well *that* didn’t work…

    About a year ago I taught a class at General Assembly.

    A friend of mine had introduced me to the program director at General Assembly San Francisco (GA), and I’d proposed a class on positioning. They liked the idea and scheduled it.

    4 people registered and 2 showed up. 1 student was running a 2-person tech startup, and the other student did outside sales for a biotech company.

    Not my ideal audience! And not the big, adulating crowd I’d hoped for.

    In fact, the content of my training class was so uninteresting to these guys they both left early, leaving me with an empty room.

    It felt like the class kind of bombed.

    I went back to my expensive hotel room, drove my ass home the next day, and got back to work.

    A single small “failure” like this is not:

    • A sign that I’m doing anything wrong. It was either that I did a bad job of describing the class properly, or the venue was the wrong venue, but the my desire to teach people about positioning was not off target.
    • This small failure was also not a repudiation of my market position or my ability to help my clients. Both of these things are actually working well unless I get tunnel vision and judge them based on the single data point of this GA class that didn’t go well.
    • Finally, this was not a sign that I should not teach. That would be extrapolating a single data point into a general conclusion, which would cheat me out of many enjoyable and profitable opportunities down the road.

    So what is a small failure like this? Aside from an interesting and hopefully motivational story to tell you, it’s feedback. It’s one data point.

    The trip to San Francisco is just a 90 minute drive for me, but this particular trip involved an overnight stay so it was expensive, time-consuming, and stressful relative to the results it yielded. Yeah, I got some valuable experience, but I did not get the kind of lead generation results I’d hoped for.

    But now I have a good point of comparison for exactly how much more costly IRL teaching is when compared to delivering the same content online in a webinar or online workshop. I have feedback on that subject, and that’s incredibly valuable information to have. It’s more valuable than an email, blog post, Ultimate Guide to ________, or anything else. That stuff is great, but it’s abstract. The feedback you want comes from application. It comes from doing things.

    Developing an effective lead generation system for your business will involve small experiments like these. Maybe your first experiment will be a real success (guesting on podcasts has worked really well for me from day 1). Or maybe it won’t…

    But either way, don’t let one small failure stop you from building an effective lead-gen system.

    I have a tool to help you compare various lead-gen techniques here:

    If you’d like more high-quality leads for your business in 2017, then why not go to, choose the 2 or 3 techniques that best fit your personality and your business goals, and start some small experiments in January?

    Just thinking about it won’t make things better. It’s time to get to work and create the results you want to see.

    Talk to you soon,

    If your dev shop got fewer than 10 leads last week, you need to take this free email course –>

    A Market “Pentest”

    1) Interview at least 10 people in in the potential target market.

    Look for problems that you can solve with your skills. Stop interviewing people when you detect strong patterns (you know what someone is going to say before they say it).If it takes 50 interviews to see these patterns, then do 50 interviews. If nobody you reach out to will agree to be interviewed, ask them why. If you just can’t make any progress with the interviews, pick a different target market.The “nuclear option” here is to pick a market and a painful, urgent, costly problem you guess that they suffer from.

    2) Of the patterns of problem/pain you see from your interviews, pick one that you could see yourself focusing on solving for 3 to 5 years.

    This problem is the “big neon sign” over the online “door” to your business. In the rest of this article, I’ll refer to this problem as your Neon Sign Problem. Ideally this problem will be one that enough people in your market feel, one that they feel an urgent desire to solve, and one they have the budget to pay for a solution to.As you are choosing one problem to focus on, remember that this specific problem is not what you will spend 100% of your time focused on. You’ll spend about 50% of your work time marketing and selling your services, about 30% of your time doing other stuff, and about 20% of your time actually solving this problem, so don’t worry that your life will become monotonous just because you’ve picked a single problem to focus on. It won’t. :)Keep in mind that you will get hired to do other stuff. Just like you don’t hit the bullseye every time you throw a dart at a dartboard, you’ll get hired to do stuff outside your specialization. And also remember, this is just a test that you can discontinue at any time with no negative consequences. We are not making a significant change to your business here unless this “pentest” has a positive result and even then you can decide not to change anything.

    3) Write three short articles.

    Short means less than 1,000 words. It’s OK if they run longer than 1k words, but try to keep them short and succinct. Do whatever research you need to to write these articles. Here are the 3 topics you must write about:

    1. Article #1: The common solutions to your Neon Sign Problem. What are the solutions? What are the benefits and cost of each solution?
    2. Article #2: Describe the drawbacks to each of the common solutions from Article #1. What are the “gochas” (the unexpected flaws or problems) with these common solutions?
    3. Article #3: Describe the benefits, cost, and limitations of hiring you to solve the Neon Sign Problem. How long does it take for you to solve it? How does hiring you avoid some of the “gochas” described in Article 2? At the end of this article, offer a free 30-minute diagnostic session where you help the person reading the article decide on the right solution to their problem. Promise that you won’t try to sell them anything, you’ll just ask them some questions and offer 30m of advice about how they could solve the Neon Sign Problem.

    4) Set up Articles 1 – 3 in an email autoresponder Campaign using Drip’s free tier (or your existing email marketing software if you prefer that).

    Set Article 1 to send immediately, and Articles 2 & 3 to send at 1-day intervals. Add 2 more emails that send at 5 day intervals. In these 2 additional emails, remind people about your free 30m diagnostic session offer and ask them to hit REPLY if they have questions or click on a Calendly link to schedule a diagnostic.

    5) Create a landing page opt-in to the Campaign you set up in Step 4 above.

    Use this as a guideline: (don’t copy it word for word of course, just use it as a rough guideline)Don’t spend any more money than you need to on this landing page. Consider using a landing page builder like leadpages, launchrock, or instapage (other options here:

    6) Write a cold outreach email using the following template:

    Hi [name],Do you [briefly describe the Neon Sign Problem]?[sign off with your name and physical address]PS: Learn how to [solve the Neon Sign Problem] in 3 days: [link to the landing page you created in Step 5 above]

    Let’s assume your Neon Sign Problem is: Daycare facilities don’t know how many children to expect and often overpay their staff because they can’t schedule the right number of employees per day. Here’s the cold outreach email you might write:

    Hi [name],Does your daycare spend too much on staffing because you don’t know how many clients will show up on any given day?[sign off with your name and physical address]PS: Learn how to cut daycare staffing costs in 3 days: [link to the landing page you created in Step 5 above]

    Sign up for a free account. Their default followup sequence is actually not bad, so just use that.

    7) Cold email at least 100 people in the market you are investigating using the cold email from Step 6 and Rebump for followup.

    Build the list any way you can. LinkedIn, Google research, and are all good options. List-building kind of sucks, so the $100 or so you would spend for Getsteward to build it for you could be a great investment. Just make sure you have clear instructions for Getsteward about the kind of company you want to find and the job role of the person you want to email at that company.Use either a blank subject line or the name of the company you are emailing as the subject line.

    8) Assess!

    Most responses to cold email will happen on emails 2, 3, and 4. It’s quite common to get no responses at all to the first email, so don’t let that worry you.Signs that you have a potentially viable market:

    • People sign up for your email course
    • People reply to your cold emails with curiosity (even if they seem a bit guarded or ask why you want to know, their response is a positive signal)
    • People book 30m diagnostic calls with you

    Signs that you might have the wrong market, the wrong Neon Sign Problem, or both:

    • People ignore you

    An attractive market is one that you can get a response from with a janky, minimalistic, thrown-together marketing campaign like this one. It’s possible to sell to other kinds of markets, but why play the game on hard mode?Do this “pentest” to discover if your combination of market and Neon Sign Problem are going to mean you are playing the game on easy mode. 🙂

    I live the kind of life most men only dream of

    Have you ever thought about what it’s like to get old as a freelancer or the owner of a small development shop?

    Or if you’re like me… how many times a day do you think about that question?

    How will you keep up with changing technology?

    How will you compete against 20-something hot shot coders when you’re 40 or 50 years old?

    Are you building a business you can actually retire on?

    Makes me think of the tune Footlights by Merle Haggard…

    ♫♫ I live the kinda life most men only dream of
    I make my livin’ writin’ songs and singin’ them
    But I’m forty-one years old and I ain’t got no place to go
    When it’s over
    So I hide my age and make the stage and
    Try to kick the footlights out again. ♫♫

    I don’t know how old you are, but I’d bet money that once you round the bend at age 39 you’ll start to see your career through different eyes.

    Yeah, I know… here goes the old guy telling you that some day you’ll understand. (For the record, I’ll be 43 this August 🙂 )

    But the more self-employed software developers I talk with, the more I hear the same damn thing no matter what their age:

    “My technical chops just aren’t enough to get me where I want my career to go. I want a business I can retire on, and at the rate things are going I don’t see that happening… ever.”


    You know what the answer to this quandary is. You know you have to refocus away from providing inputs (the skills that are like raw materials in a factory) to selling results (the thing that your clients want and can see on their profit and loss sheet).

    If your dev shop got fewer than 10 leads last week, you need to take this free email course –>

    Woooooah Nellie!!

    This looks pretty bad, doesn’t it?

    Is this ship about to capsize?

    Actually, though, it’s apparently a totally normal part of the life of a large ship.

    I ran across a video on Facebook recently that showed ships being launched after repair or perhaps just after being built.

    In every ship launch this video showed, the ship is launched sideways for some reason. The ship literally slides down a short ramp into the water, and as it enters the water it makes a huge splash and tilts to the side.

    Sometimes the tilt to the side is so dramatic that it looks like the ship is going to capsize.

    But just before anything bad happens, the ship starts to right itself, and in a few more moments all is well. The newly launched ship is sitting completely upright in the water, ready for action.

    If your dev shop got fewer than 10 leads last week, you need to take this free email course –>

    The “Oregon Coast Roof”

    When my wife and I built a house at the Oregon coast, we learned what an “Oregon Coast Roof” is.

    We hired an excavation company to prepare the land for the factory-built home we bought. The guy who ran the excavator was named BJ.

    BJ had lived his whole life at the Oregon coast, so he was a valuable source of information about the area.

    With the help of some friends, I built an 8×8′ shed to house the pumping and filtering equipment for the well. Before I could finish the roof, we got some (not at all unusual) summer rain. I bought one of those blue plastic tarps from the hardware store and threw it over the roof of the pump house.

    The next time BJ came by to do some work he pointed at the blue tarp, laughed, and said “so you went with the Oregon Coast Roof, huh?!”.

    After he said that, I started noticing how many buildings in the area had some part of the roof covered with a blue tarp to buy a little more time before the inevitable repair was needed.

    Summer turned to winter and before I knew it next summer had arrive and our pump house was still sporting an Oregon Coast Roof.

    What’s your business’s “Oregon Coast Roof”?

    What have you quickly improvised in the heat of the moment but need to make a better version of?

    If your dev shop got fewer than 10 leads last week, you need to take this free email course –>