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:

    Inappropriate power frames

    List member Lee said some nice things about an email I wrote last and then asked this question:—At some point could you write a post or email about your philosophy on asking for a reply with each/most/many of the emails that you send?I ask because I see the “Hit Reply and let me know…” technique being used and promoted more and more, so much so that I wonder if it’s becoming just another tactic for many people with a list. Personally, I’ve started replying to many of these requests just to see if the sender actually takes the time to respond to my reply – it’s my way of gauging the trustability of the sender and their intentions towards their list.—Happy to oblige, Lee. Get ready for a bit of a rant. :)I see this “hit REPLY and let me know” thing being used in 4 ways.1) Legitimate method of “engaging” with your listIn my email last week about email marketing, I said “engaged email list” several times. I certainly understand if anyone got the impression that having an engaged email list is some kind of ultimate business goal.It shouldn’t be, though. It’s a means to an end, but not the end itself.For me, the end is my mission of helping self-employed software developers successfully make the transition from generalist to highly-paid, in-demand specialist.In other words, that’s why I want to “engage” with my list, and why I consider it important to have an “engaged email list”.My mission is furthered if I understand more about the people on my email list and build meaningful relationships with them.Asking for people to hit REPLY sometimes and continue the conversation that I’ve started is one way to learn more and build those relationships.People hitting REPLY even if I don’t ask them to but they have a question or a reaction to something I’ve said also furthers my mission, and I’m always humbled and delighted when it happens.So that’s reason #1 people use this technique, and I’m 100% in support of this motivation.2) Training SPAM filtersWhen an email list member replies to a list email, they train their email software’s SPAM filter to consider the sender’s email “safe” and not SPAM.I don’t know a lot about exactly how this works because I’ve been fortunate to not have to learn. 🙂 So I don’t know how many replies it takes to accomplish this training, etc. I just know the “hit REPLY and _______” technique is promoted as a way for email marketers to have fewer deliverability problems and it probably does actually work as advertised.3) List segmentationAsking for a REPLY can also be used for list segmentation purposes.Drip has a reply tracking feature that can identify (and tag and take automated action) when a list member replies to an email, and I’d bet other sophisticated email marketing platforms have similar features.So some marketers might use the “hit REPLY and ______” technique to identify the most active and engaged segment of their list for some purpose (probably to sell to you 🙂 ). I’ve seen one marketer talk up an upcoming webinar and then say “if you don’t have the link for this hit REPLY and I’ll send it to you”. I’m 90% sure he’s doing this for list segmentation purposes and to train SPAM filters and not because it’s an effective way to give people a link to a webinar. He could just include the link in the email if that was his goal. 🙂 Getting a REPLY from warmer prospects is almost certainly his real goal.I don’t currently use replies to segment my list. I do have Drip’s reply tracking enabled, but I don’t segment based on that information. I have a somewhat more casual approach to email marketing in general and I’m not currently looking for the kind of optimizations that micro-segmentation can deliver.4) Inappropriate power frameI have read more than one book on email marketing that advises marketers to “bounce around” new subscribers in your first email to the new subscriber (often called a “welcome email”). That means asking them to do a bunch of crap like follow you on social media, make sure your email is moved out of the Gmail promotions tab, maybe setting up a special folder for your emails, and hitting REPLY to answer some question, etc.This is an inappropriate usage of what Oren Klaff calls a “power frame”, which is a subtle (or sometimes not-so-subtle) way of establishing dominance in a conversation or relationship.Sure… done artfully in a high-bandwidth, realtime conversation, power frames can be useful to advance your mission.If this power frame thing is done only to establish some kind of dominance over the new subscriber or to get them in a compliant sate of mind, I believe it is inappropriate because it is needy.It betrays a subtle belief that the email marketer can’t rely on the strength of their mission or the value of their message, and instead needs little optimization “hacks” to get good results from their email marketing.I reject that belief. If your mission is clear and relevant to the kind of people you are attracting to your email list and your message to them is valuable, interesting, or simply entertaining, then you’ll get the engagement you want without trying to dominate people (which would only interfere with your mission in the end).When folks join my list I do ask for a reply at the end of my welcome email, but I do it for reason #1 above, not as a sad ploy to establish some kind of power frame.So there ya go, Lee! Hope this was helpful and interesting.Another way I further my mission (which as you’ll recall is to “Help self-employed software developers successfully make the transition from generalist to highly-paid, in-demand specialist”) is to remind you that is the best (and only) resource for self-employed software developers who want to become a highly paid specialist.Talk to you soon,-P

    The language of Eden

    You’ve gotta check out this Quora Q&A I came across recently:—Q: If 2 babies were left alone on an island and they survived, would they create their own fluent language or would it be more like different grunts?A: King James IV tried it in the 15th century. He put twin babies on an island with a mute couple to see if the children would speak the language of Eden.The children developed a communication method but the experiment failed because although they might have been speaking the language of Eden no one else knew what it sounded like.—I don’t know what the language of Eden sounds like either, but I do know what the language of self-employed devs who are drowning in leads sounds like.I’d love to help you speak that language in your marketing: http://thepositioningmanual.comTalk to you soon,-P


    I love the way some people who grew up in Seattle or Alaska pronounce the word “measure”.They pronounce it as if it’s spelled maysure.What about your ideal clients? Do they have “insider” language that you would benefit from knowing?Would speaking their language more effortlessly help you position yourself as an insider who can deliver outsized value?Or would it be more beneficial to be an outsider who sees their problems more clearly than they do? Would that deliver more value to them?The answer, of course, depends on you and your specific situation.The best way to find the answer is to do some deep market research.The Market Research Handbook in the Complete Bundle version of The Positioning Manual will help you do that research: http://thepositioningmanual.comTalk to you soon,-P

    Wild Ox Moan

    I’ve been obsessively listening to this song Wild Ox Moan recently.This brings up an important question I need your help with…Is “wild ox moan” some kind of code word for sex?The history of this particular song is kind of obscure. The best I’ve been able to dig up is this: seems like some kind of folk tune that came out of the deep deeeeeep South in the first half of the last century.I’m a sucker for a good male falsetto, which totally explains my affection for James Mercer, Jim James, Neil Young, and a number of other rock musicians. I’m also very interested in songs that have been covered a lot. For example, if you want to spend a fascinating hour or two listening to music, search any music streaming service for The Ship Song, listen to the original by Nick Cave, and then listen to the dozen or so covers of that song.Wild Ox Moan has a similar number of covers by a variety of artists, and also has this great part where the vocal melody jumps up an octave or two in the middle of a word and thereby pretty much excludes any male singer who can’t pull off a good falsetto. The versions of Wild Ox Moan by Chris Whitley and Big Sugar are my favorites.Anyway, if you have any insider knowledge of folk music from the deep South or Southern folkways in general, I really want to know: Is “wild ox moan” some kind of code word for sex?Send me an email here and let me know.

    It’s not really there

    After I shared that Bruce Lee quote with you last week and asked what your “one kick” is, list member Fuad sent me some Youtube videos of him breaking some boards with his unalloyed Karate badassery.I asked him if it hurts to kick through a wooden board and he dropped this amazing life lesson on me:—No, not at all, if you do it right anyway.  When I was a white belt and just starting martial arts, for our very first board break our teacher explained it to us like this:Imagine the board as a layer of air, or of water.  Once you realize it’s not really there you will pass through it easily.  The reality was that in fact I didn’t even feel it – you have to see the pieces afterward to know that it actually happened.This was actually a huge lesson that I took to heart and used over the years as a teacher in many subjects.  When you have an obstacle in front of you – as long as you envision it as an obstacle, you will have a hard time overcoming it.Once you accept that it’s not actually there, you have no issue passing through it.  In other words, the real obstacle is in your own mind.  Hardship and ease – these are states of the mind.  For the martial arts students who saw a board in front of them – an unsurmountable obstacle, they focused on the board instead of beyond the board, and they could not break their boards.From a physics standpoint, you need to make your target the area behind the board – that is your real destination.  if you target the board, you stop at the board and don’t generate the force to penetrate beyond it.  Same thing goes for everything in life – don’t focus on what you think is the goal, focus beyond it and you will get there in stride.—You know what I’m going to say next…What about you and the challenge of becoming a highly-paid, in-demand specialist? Is that an unsurmountable physical obstacle or one that exists only in your own mind? will give you the guidance you need to pass through the obstacle of identifying, validating, and dominating a specialist market position as if it was a layer or air or water.Talk to you soon,-P

    Forty large

    I hate sharing revenue numbers. It’s a powerful proof element but I see so many people do it for manipulative reasons. And maybe I’m about to do the same… you get to decide.There’s a page on my website that’s set to noindex (requesting that Google and other search engines not index it and not display it in search results) that is partially responsible for $39,000 in revenue for me during 2016. Almost “40 large” in revenue from a page that I’m hiding from search engines.What’s wrong with me?Wouldn’t sales be better if I let Google index that page, did some SEO to get it ranking better, and so on?Nope. That “secret” sales page combined with marketing to my email list (that’s YOU), keeps my 10-person Positioning Accelerator Program 80% full.I don’t need more sales from that page. I certainly don’t need it to be conversion rate optimized. What I need to do is send the right, very very warm prospects to that page.And my email list is perfect for that.What about you? What could you sell more of or sell better if you had several hundred people who look forward to hearing from you and you could link them to certain pages on your website at the right time?This email is basically a PSA that 99% of self-employed software developers that I’ve ever met could benefit from having an engaged email list.An engaged email list can actually be quite small.I’d measure engagement by sales–especially if you have a mix of low-priced product(s) and services–and by the number of questions you get from your list members or conversations your emails to them initiate. I would not measure engagement by email open rate, unsubscribe rate, or any other simple dumb metric your email marketing software provides you (though some do track reply rate, which is better than the other metrics, but the best indicator for engagement is seeing… engaged replies show up in your inbox). Those are vanity metrics. Sales and # of productive conversations are not.Not every self-employed software developer should use email marketing even though 99% could benefit from it.I think of it like this: “should” you ask someone to marry you if you have no intention or ability to follow through on the expectations that you and that person set for your marriage? Of course not. Neither should you build an email list unless you are committed to doing what it takes to cultivate an engaged email list over the long haul.Email marketing is sort of a simple “what you put in equals what you get out” kind of equation with a twist: if what you put in doesn’t add up to at least 1 valuable (helpful, interesting, entertaining, or a blend of those qualities) email/week on a consistent basis over the long haul, then what you put in equals basically zero meaningful output. One helpful, interesting, or entertaining email/week is the absolute minimum definition of acceptable input to get good results from email marketing (unless you’re like Patrick McKenzie and sporadically send 5,000-word emails that have impressive value).Here’s the quick and dirty recipe for cultivating an engaged email list for the non-Patrick McKenzie’s of the world:

    1. Have a clearly defined market position. Have 3 to 6 polarizing viewpoints that a) you actually believe in that b) relate to your market position c) you’re willing to stick your head above the crowd to talk about publicly.
    2. Commit to a list publication schedule that you can follow through on 98% of the time. Publish to your list on the same day of the week once per week, at the same time of day every weekday, or at the same time of day 7 days/week. Publication consistency is more important than you think for getting good results from email marketing.
    3. Ask your list to take action in every email. If you have a mix of low-priced products and services, sell your product(s) in every email. If you have only services, ask for action like one of the following: a) reply and ask questions b) schedule a short diagnostic workshop with you c) hire you.
    4. Have a good reason for people to join your list. This is NOT “get our newsletter”. A lead magnet or email course are two much better ways to invite people to join your list.
    5. Actively promote your lead magnet or email course. Potential ways to promote your list appear on

    Looks simple, right?Unsurprisingly, it all begins with positioning. Without a clearly defined market position, your efforts to cultivate an engaged email list will deliver disappointing results. If positioning is confusing or difficult for you, the best resource I can offer is: http://thepositioningmanual.comTalk to you soon,-P

    The magic of positioning

    Positioning Workshop participant Nathan recently made my day by sharing the following:—Hey Philip Morgan I just experienced the magic of positioning tonight and I just had to share it with you and the group.I still feel I have more research to do before I truly know the market enough to have a clear positioning statement. I hadn’t really been sharing it with new people yet.Tonight I had an event and decided instead to share the most basic positioning I could think of. So instead of saying I am a “Software Consultant”, I said I “help alternative energy companies build mobile apps”.The result was actually quite amazing. Every single person was immediately interested and started asking follow up questions. In fact, I have a potential lead for a new gig.Thanks Philip Morgan!—Pretty simple, right? All Nathan did was to talk about the specific result of his work rather than his self-applied “job title”.You could think of it like this:Stop talking about yourself the way an HR department would, and start talking about yourself the way a manager, decision-maker, or buyer (someone who controls a budget or is responsible for a P&L sheet) would.HR departments have sort of trained us all to think of our work in terms of job titles, lists of skills, years of experience, and personal qualities like “team player”.That HR crap puts people to sleep when you lead with it in a marketing or networking context.As you can see from Nathan’s real-world experience, it’s much more interesting to talk about who you focus your services on and what your services can do for them.And being interesting enough to provoke conversations is what can easily lead to getting more leads.People want to help you find more work. It’s on you to make it easy for them to do so.You don’t have to be this guy…World’s Most Interesting ManBut you do need to be more interesting than a “software engineer”, “developer”, or “programmer”.Developing and using a simple positioning statement like Nathan did is how you become more interesting and spark more conversations that lead to more leads.If you’re needing more how-to help with this, check out: http://thepositioningmanual.comTalk to you soon,-P

    One kick…

    List member Tom shared this awesome quote with me and I just had to share it with you:“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” — Bruce LeeWhat’s your one kick?I invite you to find out: http://thepositioningmanual.comBruce lee with snakeTalk to you soon,-P

    Three things that will transform your business

    These three things will transform your business for the better:1) For one month, work 1 or 2 fewer days/weekDoing this will completely rewire how you think about time, your value, and how you prioritize your activities.2) For 1 week, delegate your “hands” work to a subcontractor that you hireObviously pick a good time to do this experiment. :)In fact, the month before a project milestone is probably not the right time to try either of these experiments. They’re low risk if you do them right.But if you can’t imagine ever doing either of these experiments, how will you move your business forward? Where will you find the “margin” or free time to do something that significantly improves your business?Oh, about that third thing…Grab a copy of my book on positioning. It’ll transform your business too: to you soon,-P

    An F-150 with a New Engine on it

    I thought this was kind of funny:positioning services - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultantsI needed help moving some furniture into my new office, and so I put an ad on Craigslist. The response above struck me as kind of funny.An F-150 Truck with a New Engine on itWhy would I care about the condition of this guy’s truck engine? Of course I want his truck not to break down during the move, but aside from that it simply doesn’t matter to me.I want the result of my furniture moved from point a to point b without damage and without unnecessary hassle.I am not that different than your clients. They want a result, proof that you can achieve that result, and ROI on the money and time they put into getting that result.The result matters way more than how you achieve it, though there are times when you’ll need to explain how you get the result, and there are cases (staff augmentation being the prime one) where a client will expect to dictate how you achieve the result.ROI is often a financial outcome, but not always. I pay way more money than I’d like to for peace of mind via insurance, for example. Your clients often do that too.The point here is this: don’t lead with inputs. Don’t start the conversation with bragging about your process which is the equivalent of your “F-150 with a New Engine” on it.Instead, start with how well you understand your client’s problem. Impress them with your diagnosis first, then let the rest of conversation flow from that.Impressing a client with your diagnosis starts with positioning. Get a straightforward, how-to guide here: http://thepositioningmanual.comTalk to you soon,-P