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    An Audio-First Workflow for Education-Based Content Marketing

    Do you hate writing?Well, I have bad news and I have good news. The bad news first.Every professional services business should be looking to content marketing1 as a critical tool to support growth beyond their existing referral network and good luck. Done right, content marketing begins to attract clients to you, lowering your cost of new client acquisition.But, content marketing requires that you create… content. Most folks automatically think writing when they think about creating educational content.If you want to do more content marketing, I can’t eliminate the need to create your own content (though I can do it for you). And your content still has to be good, meaning it must be appealing, accessible and drop-dead useful.In this article I’d like to show you an alternate workflow for content creation that keeps you from having to write very much at all. This is the good news that I promised you. It’s called an audio-first workflow.An audio-first workflow largely takes writing out of the content creation process. You’ll still end up with a lot of textual content for search engines to rank and for people to read. The bonus with an audio-first workflow is that you’ll almost never be staring at a blank page, wondering what to write this week.

    An Audio-First Workflow

    Let’s walk through an audio-first workflow.

    1) Do a Little Bit of Planning

    Start with some planning that answers these questions:

    • What are the top 3 business results your company creates for your clients?
    • What are the top 3 problems your clients ask you to solve again and again?
    • What are the top 3 areas of interest in your specialty that clients like to hear about?
    • What are the top 3 broader issues affecting your clients in their industry in the next 12 to 24 months?
    • What issues or changes in your specialty are your clients concerned about or interested in?

    If you come up with three answers for each of those questions, you will have a fantastic list of topics to create content marketing around.The main point in your planning is that your content should not be random; instead, it should be focused around what your clients find interesting, compelling, or valuable.

    2) Record Interesting Conversations

    Even if you don’t think your voice sounds great, even if your microphone skills are weak, you can use an audio-first workflow to kick off the content creation process. After all, you don’t have to turn your audio recordings into a public-facing podcast, you can instead use them to drive the creation of text content. Here’s how to do that.Expand your topic list from the previous step into short outlines. So for example, if one of your topics is “Client concern: how will the prevalence of mobile web access affect my e-commerce business now and in the next 3 to 5 years?” then you might expand that into an outline that looks like this:Getting Your E-Commerce Business Ready For the Mobile Web

    • The mobile web is coming, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Head in sand is not an option.
    • If you don’t take action, here’s the dire consequences you can expect.
    • The good news: it’s pretty easy to start adapting to the mobile landscape now.
    • Three simple changes you can make to get ready: A, B, C
    • Conclusion/CTA: Hope this is helpful. BTW, we have been solving this problem for clients now for 5 years. We can help you…

    Next, figure out who in your company could have the most interesting or most educational conversation about this topic? Maybe it’s:

    • The company founder and the lead developer
    • The project manager and the lead developer
    • The company founder and the salesperson who has closed the most business in this area
    • The lead designer and a client who just finished a successful project in this area

    You get the picture. One person having a monologue can be interesting, but probably won’t be unless they’re a great speaker. But two people who have been deeply involved in the topic at hand almost certainly will have an interesting conversation.Next, record those people having that conversation for about an hour. Do your best with the recording (quiet area with no background noise, decent equipment, etc.) but don’t obsess about it. Obsession begets more obsession, but it rarely moves a needle that’s been stuck on zero.If the audio sounds good and you want to have a podcast for your company, then release your recordings as a podcast!Podcasting Protip #1: Get about 4 or 5 episodes recorded, edited, and finished before you release your podcast to the world. This will validate that you can consistently follow through on your podcasting schedule and hopefully keep you out of the embarrassing graveyard of 5-episode, abandoned podcasts.Podcasting Protip #2: Unless you are a budding audio engineer or have lot of time to kill, just pay someone to edit the dang podcast for you. Devreps and podcastmotor are excellent, and I’m sure Fiverr and Odesk are rife with other options too. After you get certain one-time items like opening music, intro voiceover, and general workflow issues sorted, a budget of about $120 per podcast is about enough to turn a raw 60-minute recording into a finished podcast.

    3) Transcribe the Recording

    Send the recording to a transcription service. Both Rev.com and Castingwords.com are excellent and affordable options. Rev is both cheaper and faster ($1/minute, 24-hour turnaround) but Castingwords is probably slightly higher quality but slower and more expensive ($1.50/minute last I checked).

    4) Maximize That Transcription

    Take the transcription for your podcast episode and turn it into one or more articles! Either do so internally (risky because I guarantee that you will back-burner it and probably never get it done, especially if you have a deadline or are busy with client work), or just pay a writer or editor to do it for you.A budget of $200 per article should be more than enough to cover having a competent writer turn your hour of conversation–which will be around 6,000 to 8,000 jumbled words of unrefined gold–into pure gold. In fact, you may get 2 or 3 articles out of one 1-hour conversation. Need a writer or editor? I can refer you–just let me know.Either publish these articles to your blog (making sure you remove the publication date and call it something other than a blog) or publish them in your Resource Center.Send the articles to your list (you are building a list, aren’t you?) and make sure the best ones are part of your “list welcome experience” (the email sequence someone gets when they join your list).Repurpose articles into SlideShare decks. I use a tool called DeckSet to make this easy and keep me out of my personal hell of Microsoft Office.Take your articles and turn them into spiffy-looking PDFs. I use Remarq for this, but other tools will also work. When you are having sales conversations with clients, email them relevant PDFs to help them see how you’ve thought through issues of importance to them. Use the PDFs to spice up your press kit if you have one.

    BOOM! The $520/mo Content Marketing Program

    There you have it! For around $520–and let’s say about 6 to 8 hours of staff time per month– you can have a content marketing program that involves almost no writing! That doesn’t even cover the low hanging fruit offshoots from this audio-first workflow, which could easily include screencasts, speaking engagements, and podcast guest appearances.

    Some Educational Resource Center Examples

    Previously, I mentioned that you should kill your blog, take any on-topic blog content you have, and then integrate it into an educational resource center on your site. I’ve gotten a few questions about exactly how to do this, and I thought it would be helpful to show two examples of what an educational resource center looks like.Check out this quick 11-minute screencast where I walk you through those examples and show you a live example of the results of an audio-first workflow:What an Educational Resource Center Looks Like, and An Audio-First Workflow Example

    Finally, on Reach

    In terms of reaching your audience, it’s interesting to think about where and how they can engage with content that’s been produced using an audio-first approach.

    Setting Content Types That Work Well Notes
    At a desk, in front of a computer Written, Audio This modality has the most flexibility, but it has the most competition from other stuff like work, YouTube, the whole rest of the Internet, etc.
    Away from desk, in front of a desktop or laptop computer Written, Audio Again, lots of flexibility, but potentially lots of competition from other stuff.
    Away from desk, mobile device, filling idle time Written, Audio In this context, attention spans are shorter and so interesting audio content and shorter form content–even micro content like tweets, Facebook posts, and Tumblr content–play best.
    Away from desk, mobile device, doing something else like exercise, driving, etc. Audio In this context, only audio works. For some people, this is a lot of time you could gain access to!

    Keep these differences in reach in mind as you are thinking about how to use your limited time and energy to produce educational content marketing. An audio-first approach may be a very efficient, effective way to get it done while also capitalizing on the wide reach of audio content.

    1. Content marketing is very simply a way of demonstrating your company’s expertise. You declare your expertise through positioning, but you demonstrate your expertise through content marketing.

    Resurrect Your Blog

    The last article I published here was called Kill Your Blog. As the reactions1 to this idea rolled in over the last week or two, it’s become clear that people agree with the idea, but I could do a better job of explaining its nuances and how to implement it. So here goes.

    What About Current, Cutting Edge Content?

    One question that came my way was this:

    I have a friend who loves writing about cutting edge stuff. Are there categories of content where the blog format is actually better since it does include that freshness factor in the publication date?

    Yes, there is content like this. But, and this is a big but:

    1. It should be handled differently based on its ephemeral nature.
    2. It should play second fiddle to a strategy focused on creating “evergreen” or “cornerstone” content on a topic.

    This all comes back to positioning. Your positioning is what my colleague Jonathan Stark calls the “tip of your marketing spear”. He means it must be extremely sharp–extremely precise and “sharp” in who it speaks to.For anyone who is using their website to position themselves or their company, all the content of that site should reflect their positioning. That includes blog content too.So back to that notion of “cutting edge” blog content. Here are some examples of what that might look like:

    1. You’re a front-end developer. You are very interested in what’s happening with a new Javascript framework, and so you write blog posts about your experiences with the current beta release of this framework. Your posts are educational, but they will likely be out of date in 3 months.
    2. You’re very interested in a technology that’s 3 to 10 years out from mainstream adoption. Maybe it’s even an extension of the kind of problems you solve for your clients right now. You want to write about it because you can really understand the impact it’s going to have in 3 to 10 years, and you’re just plain fired up about the subject.

    How to Handle This Kind of Content

    This kind of content–stuff that’s ephemeral or very future forward or not exactly relevant to what you do today–should play second fiddle to your main content marketing strategy.Let me be clear–if this stuff is all you want to write about, then you have a content marketing problem. This type of content may support a positioning of “the dev shop that helps you solve problems with beta Javascript frameworks” or something like that, but that’s a positioning that’s not likely to align with the inherently conservative, use-well-tested-technology position of most businesses.So you need to make this content play second fiddle. Here’s how to do that:

    • Do NOT have it appear in your main list of blog articles.
    • Consider using a secondary microblogging tool like Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook to publish this stuff. You can link to it from your site (see below for ideas for what to name this secondary blog).
    • If these articles are long or philosophical in nature, set up a blog on Medium and post them there.
    • If you want it on your website, set up a secondary blog for this stuff. Consider naming this blog something that reflects the cutting-edge, ephemeral nature of this content. Some ideas:
      • The [Company Name] Lab
      • The [Company Name] Garage
      • The [Company Name] Skunk Works

    A Quick Intermission

    Real quick… I just want to remind you that the idea I’m reinforcing here is very simple:

    Your blog should support your positioning as much as possible.

    Remember, your positioning is simply being precise about who you serve, what services you provide them, and how you are different from others doing the same sort of thing.Your blog content should rally around the flagpole of your positioning. It will be much more effective if it does.

    More on the Idea of an Educational Resource

    In the podcast where I originally started riffing on this idea of killing your blog, I suggest replacing your blog with an “educational resource”. What a stuffy word!While building your company’s authority does involve a lot of teaching2, using academic language is often the wrong way to describe what you do.Again, the basic idea is this: instead of calling your blog a blog, call it something that describes its educational value. Here are some ideas for less stuffy ways to do that:

    • Resources
    • Resource Center
    • [Topic Name] Resource Center
    • Articles
    • [Topic Name] Resource Roundup

    Configuring This in Your Website

    So how do you set this up? I mean how do you really turn this idea into a website information architecture? Well, as usual the answer depends…It depends on your current situation with regard to blog content.In my experience with My Content Sherpa clients, I see several common patterns:

    1. You’re sitting on a pile of blog content, some of which is relevant to your positioning and some of which is not.
    2. You have a lot of blog content that’s not relevant to your positioning, because you haven’t understood how to create that kind of content or you’ve recently clarified or changed your positioning and your old content doesn’t match your new positioning.
    3. You have a pile of on-topic, timeless blog content. Businesses in this situation don’t need to hire me, which explains why I never see this pattern with my clients. But if you’re in this situation, go buy yourself an ice cream right now. You’ve earned it!

    1) If You’re Sitting on a Pile of Great Content, Some of Which is Relevant to Your Positioning

    This is easy, but will nevertheless take some time. Here’s the simplified recipe, assuming you are using a modern content management system (CMS) like Squarespace, WordPress, Expression Engine, etc.:Note: Avoid changing URLs. We don’t want to freak Google and other search engines out. When you change names of anything, do so only at the site presentation level, not the URL structure level.

    1. Go through and make sure every blog article is categorized. While you can get as fancy as you want, make sure topical articles (ones relevant to your current positioning) are categorized one way, and off-topic stuff is categorized differently.
    2. Configure your blog index to not show the topical articles. What is left on your blog index is the off-topic content.
    3. Make sure your blog name as it appears in your site navigation reflects the off-topic or ephemeral nature of the content it now displays.
    4. Set up a new page on your site. Not a new auto-generated blog index, but a new page. Call it something that suggests that it contains valuable, educational resources for your ideal client. Make sure it is prominent in your site navigation.
    5. From this new page, link to every on-topic blog post that solves a problem, provides relevant insight, or clarifies an issue for your ideal client. For each article, make sure the title is good (both accurate and interesting) and write a 1-paragraph synopsis describing the benefit of that article. If possible, order the articles top to bottom in a way that has a logical progression, and if necessary, group them according to topical areas. Here’s a great example of this type of resource page: http://karenmcgrane.com/2011/12/14/mobile-content-strategy/ (hat tip to Jonathan Stark again for pointing me to that example). Here’s another great example. (You have to create a login for that second example, but it’s worth it to peek around.)

    2) If You Have a Lot Of Content That’s Not Relevant to Your Positioning

    If you’re in this situation, maybe it’s because you’ve recently repositioned yourself, clarified your positioning, or it may be that your existing blog content is crap. By “crap”, I mean: low quality, extremely inconsistent, or all over the map in terms of topical focus.In this case, I recommend the following:

    1. Have a good, long think about whether you want to use content marketing more strategically. You don’t have to, after all! There are other very effective ways to generate business! There are ways that have a faster ROI, ways that are still under the content marketing umbrella but are better suited to people who hate writing, and approaches like outbound marketing that can also work very well but don’t contribute to building your firm’s authority. You get to decide, and you should choose business development methods that you can consistently execute on or afford to hire out.
    2. Decided you really want to make use of content marketing? Great! Do the following:
      1. Remove your blog completely from your site navigation but do not delete or modify any existing blog articles. You want to hold on to any SEO benefit3 those articles are providing but hide the off-topic content so it doesn’t confuse your messaging and dilute your positioning.
      2. Plan out 6 to 12 blog articles that exactly match your current positioning. When I say “exactly match”, I mean they are stuff your ideal customer would want to read and would benefit from.
      3. Write those articles as quickly as you can. If writing is not your thing, look at other ways to rapidly generate the content, like interviewing experts, interviewing clients of yours, or just rambling into a voice recorder and turning that audio content into written content using a transcription service and an affordable but very skilled editor. Publish these articles on your blog.
      4. Set up a new page on your site. Not a new auto-generated blog index, but a new page. Call it something that suggests that it contains valuable, educational resources for your ideal client. Make sure it is prominent in your site navigation.
      5. From this new page, link to those new blog articles. For each article, make sure the title is good (both accurate and interesting) and write a 1-paragraph synopsis describing the benefit of that article. If possible, order the articles top to bottom in a way that has a logical progression, and if necessary, group them according to topical areas. Here’s a great example of this type of resource page: http://karenmcgrane.com/2011/12/14/mobile-content-strategy/ (hat tip to Jonathan Stark again for pointing me to that example). Here’s another great example. (You have to create a login for that second example, but it’s worth it to peek around.)
      6. After you’ve gotten this far, buy yourself an ice cream! Then, either repeat this approach for a new batch of content or call it a day and get back to running your business while looking for opportunities to send prospective clients, influencers, and bloggers to your resource page.

     

    1. I should have done a better job of giving credit where credit is due. There’s nothing new under the sun, right?My friend Eric Davis pointed out that Naomi Dunford of IttzBiz has previously advocated a similar approach, which you can read all about here: http://ittybiz.com/content-marketing-without-blogging/I’m pretty sure I read that blog post, promptly forgot about it, and then rehashed the idea as if it was my own. Sorry guys!
    2. Teaching travels under many guises. You “teach” your clients by: ConsultingExplaining stuff on podcastsWriting educational or “how to” blog articlesTrainingSpeaking at events, conferences, and the like
    3. Though if these old articles aren’t aligned with your current positioning they won’t bring in much qualified traffic, but thats OK.

    Kill Your Blog

    If you’ve been struggling to keep your company blog up to date, you’re not alone. You and millions of other small business owners have a web site, and that site almost certainly has a blog. Or…as I like to call it, the black hole where good intentions go to die.If your blog hasn’t been updated in 6 months or more, it is causing a number of problems:

    • Search engines like Google take your out of date blog as a sign that your site contains less interesting content than other sites with a more frequently updated blog.
    • Customers wonder if your out of date blog means you’ve actually been struggling behind the scenes to keep the lights on, you are distracted with some big problem, or are otherwise teetering on the brink of disaster.
    • You feel this creeping sense of guilt that only gets worse the longer your blog gets neglected.

    If you’re guessing I’m about to hit you with “5 Easy Ways to Keep Your Blog Updated”, I’d like to hit you instead with a big dose of…Instead, I think you should…

    Kill Your Blog Before it Kills You

    Here’s my solution: kill your blog. Just go to your content management system (WordPress, Expression Engine, SquareSpace, or whatever you’re using) and just turn the blog off. Don’t delete those out of date articles, but make the blog inaccessible on your site.Feel that sense of relief? That palpable lightening in your shoulders and chest? It’s nice, isn’t it!

    But Aren’t You All About Content Marketing, Philip?

    Sort of. I’m all about the thing that content marketing can create for you, if you use it correctly. But I’m about the result, not the tools. I’m all about building your authority, so that clients chase you rather than the other way around.Content marketing–like epic content on your blog–can build your authority over time. But… not if you have an out of date blog. So if updating your blog is killing you, you need to kill your blog.What do you do with the big hole that leaves in your site navigation?Here’s me answering that question on the Unofficial Shopify Podcast. Check it out, the good stuff starts at 6 minutes, just click the image to jump over to where you can listen:Image 

    At your service,
    Image
    –Philip.

    PS – If killing your blog and starting an educational resource is too radical, at least rename your blog from “Blog” to “Articles” or the like. And remove the publication date so your articles don’t look out of date. That way they’re… timeless!PPS – If you want a “done for you” blog full of great content (and a growing email list and effortless content syndication through SlideShare, Medium, and the like) the new updated version of My Content Sherpa may be for you. Here’s a short PDF that describes how it works: https://pmc-dotcom-uploads.s3.us-west-1.amazonaws.com/uploads/2015/03/My20Content20Sherpa-v2.pdf

    Nick Hance on Managing Risk in Software Projects

    I spoke to Nick Hance recently, and we had a fascinating conversation about risk in software projects, maintaining quality over time, zeroing in on repeatable excellence, and finding your niche by focusing on value.

    You can learn more about Nick at http://buildbettersoftware.comCheck out the 43-minute interview below. You can either watch the video, use the audio player to play the audio, or download the MP3 to listen on the go.

    Or download the MP3 here for listening on the go.

    Transcript

    Philip:            Well, Nick welcome.Nick:               Oh, thank you Philip. Good to see you.Philip:            You too. Nick, can you tell me who you are and what you do and we’ll start with that?Nick:               Sure. Yeah, my name is Nick Hance. I run a software strategy firm in Quakertown, Pennsylvania. It’s a tiny little town between Philadelphia and New York City, about an hour north of Philly and two hours west of New York City.Philip:            That’s a great location, easily get to both places it sounds like.Nick:               Yeah, it’s pretty neat. We’re right in the middle and what’s neat is that it’s for where we’re at it’s somewhat on the rural side which to me I find is a pretty important thing. I like my quiet time so being able to get away from things is something I find a lot of value in having.Philip:            What kind of strategy work do you do?Nick:               We help to build software teams. We’ve been doing software consulting for almost 10 years and in that time we’ve worked with dozens of different teams to see what works, what doesn’t work, and we want to take what we’ve learned and deliver that in a way that will help new companies maximize the results they’re able to get from their team without spending years learning the right way to do things. We’ve got a product at buildbettersoftware.com that is designed to help companies really accelerate their capacity to accelerate their organization’s operational capacity in terms of software development in a very quick manner.Philip:            Software development has been around as a discipline for what, 30 years maybe longer?Nick:               Yeah, I think so. Since the 70’s I think.Philip:            Okay, so yeah coming up on 40-50 years. Just real briefly why the need for help with that, why have companies not just got it all figured out?Nick:               Well, I have this vision for the world in that we’re seeing more and more attention being paid to apps and software and we’re finally starting to see it have the big affect on the world that the dot com crash was so excited about. In that I see a giant rush for the world training more software developers to get more people to program and in that rush I see a lot of mistakes being made. I believe that in the next 50 years we’re going to see some of the world’s greatest software teams ever being built and it’s going to be a whole lot of ones that just don’t know what they’re doing or struggle to get things done in the right way. It’s one thing to be able to write code but to be effective and to get things done takes a lot of discipline and that discipline is not aligned with traditional values that a business has.Philip:            Oh, wow.Nick:               The reason is that software is really a creative exercise. If something has been solved before the tendency is to use and reuse what’s been already done and that means that all software projects are either using something that’s freely available or you’re doing brand new work and that’s not entirely true but at some point you’re doing brand new work for every project. That takes time to get right but there’s immense pressure on business owners and project managers to get things out the door quickly and that pressure tends to get pushed down to the developers themselves and when that happens developers are forced to cut corners and you end up seeing that in the end result of the product.Without the discipline that you need to get things done in a way that is sustainable you’re going to find a lot of developers burning themselves out. You’re going to see demands that are just unreasonable and ultimately it’s the end user that suffers for that but the organizations that are able to understand this and to make the right choices and give the developers what they need are the ones who are going to see long term success. That’s one of the beliefs I really hold tight to myself is that to do software right you need to provide the environment that will allow the developers to succeed in a way that needs to be done.Philip:            Yeah, in a lot of cases software is the business. I think more and more they’re businesses. They’re not software companies but the software they put in front of users represents the company to their customers more than it did 10 or 20 years ago.Nick:               Yeah, software is just a machine. It’s just a machine based on logic then parts and gears and levers and it’s easy to forget that you’re building machines. To do it responsibly you have to be smart about it. You can’t leave extra levers and buttons and things in there. You have to clean things up and you have to do it with the discipline that this is a real machine and it has to be done in a way that is sustainable.A lot of unsustainable practices out there and one of the things I really love to talk about is the fact that as a small business or as any business you’re operating with limited resources and you have to take risks. You have to. You can’t give into the engineers. You can’t always build a machine in the most elegant manner possible because in order for a business to succeed you need to get things out the door. There has to be some sort of meeting between the pressures that are placed upon project owners and project managers and the desires of the engineering team to engineer in a way that is more or less ideal and that’s one of the big struggles.Philip:            That’s why we’re here today is really is to talk about risk. We’re both small business owners so we deal with risk everyday. You in the context of building things and advising your clients on building things in a way that meets their tolerance for risk would you say?Nick:               It’s more about managing the short term versus long term outcome.Philip:            Okay, well let’s start with that or actually let’s back up. What’s your philosophy on risk? Let’s start with that and then dive into the details.Nick:               Okay, so when you’re building a software product first of all it needs to work but let’s step back because I think this applies to more business as a whole rather than just software. When a business develops a product it needs to develop the product in a way that the consumers of that product, or the customers, can use it and form expectations around it such that their expectations don’t change and they’re able to refer that product to others. It’s when companies have their expectations that they’ve established with their customers start to change that you’ll see companies start to fail.Philip:            Real quickly what’s a concrete example of that?Nick:               Apple does a very good job with their operating systems in that things are very consistent. They seem to work and it’s been a long strategy for them but it seems to have done a very good job in terms of building a very solid product. If you look at the difference between the latest releases of the Microsoft operating system and the Apple operating system the difference is very clear that the attention to detail and the polish while it takes a very long time to get right, in the end it’s really where the real winner is.Philip:            Yeah, I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard anybody say “it just works” about a Microsoft operating system.Nick:               Yeah, and I don’t want to start that debate.Philip:            Sure.Nick:               It’s a feeling that you really can get a sense for just through casual use of both products.Philip:            Back to the product discussion. Customers need to have that expectation of long term stability or at least medium term stability?Nick:               Right, so a customer forms an idea of a product when they buy it and that idea is refined over the usage of the product. If you were to buy a car and the car runs well in the first week you’d think it’s a great car but if it stops running on the second week then it’s no longer a great car and your first weeks expectations are out the window. The fact that the product works at first is good but it needs to maintain that initial expectation over a period of time in order to gain the reputation and to gain the referrals that you’re going to get that a company needs to grow.Philip:            This is true of services too isn’t it?Nick:               It is and you’ll find that especially with the consulting agencies and I can speak with that just because I’ve run one for years and I’ve had interactions with others. A service agency usually gives a very good impression at first but that fades over time, sometimes rather quickly. Without some sort of quality measure or some sort of really strong habits in place that tends to happen just because, not so much the incentives, it happens because over time the desires of the customer and the desires of the service agency differ. You’ll see relationships that will start to fall apart because of that unless consistent attention is paid to keep the agency and the customer [alliance 00:10:30] close.Philip:            That’s very interesting. I’d love to hear more about that but please continue so we’re talking about risk and products.Nick:               Sure, so I think it probably is going to benefit us if we get a little bit more specific. The risks that I’m talking about is when you’re building a software product a company will expect to get it out the door quickly. See apps on phones. Every single day you see new ones and it’s easy to underestimate how difficult it is to solve new problems in software.The problem is that when you’re reusing work that others have done there’s no cost to that so if you want to put a [balancing 00:11:18] widget on the bottom of your Mac OS X dock thing it’s very simple. It takes two lines of code but if you’re trying to solve a similar problem but it’s different enough that you need to solve it yourself, the engineering takes some time to get it right despite having established practices, duespite having solved it in a similar way. The creative work does take time to get right. For that reasons it’s very easy to have a project manager have unrealistic expectations for how long something will take to build.Philip:            Why does that happen? Why is it not just blazingly obvious that things take longer than you think and so forth?Nick:               It’s because progress is not linear in software. A lot of the times when you’re solving problems you can spend many hours solving, researching, or trying to debug something and the actual fix can sometimes turn out to be very very simple. There’s an interesting story I believe it was about Xerox that I’ll retell now, where there was a big installation back when they had the full room sized computers. One of Xerox’s customers had had a problem with the computer system and they sent an engineer out. The engineer came out. He switched out two switches and they sent a bill for $50,000. The company did not like this at all and they demanded to know an itemized list of why it cost $50,000. The story goes that Xerox had then sent back an itemized list and the cost of two switches was $2 and the cost to know which switches to replace was $49,998. It’s an interesting story. It really does take time and experience to learn those sort of things.Philip:            Right and that expertise is not evenly distributed throughout the organization. People who are setting timelines and doing management functions may not have the expertise or is that really the problem or is it a different problem?Nick:               Well, no. The problem is that a business needs to be able to estimate when things will be done and you see this when software delivery dates slip. It’s because it’s very very difficult to estimate the effort required to solve a software problem and that’s because again, the progress is not linear. It’s something that takes time. Most of the time it’s figuring out what work needs to be done. It would take as much time to do the estimate as it would take to do the work and that means that estimates are useless. That makes it extremely difficult to give the organization what it needs which is some estimates because estimates are tied to budgets because in business world time is money and that’s very very difficult to provide.Philip:            Yeah, that’s a huge risk. Not only do budgets need to be in place but other things need to line up around completion dates for software projects like marketing plans and stuff like that.Nick:               Yeah, and the other parts of the organization that depend on it and despite best efforts that’s not always possible. It’s a very difficult problem to solve and one that if it happens too often organizations will lose their tolerance for it. If you don’t keep your eyes on the bigger picture and you lose tolerance for the fact that things take awhile to build sometimes then you start to run into problems where people are making quick fixes and they’re doing things the quick way rather than the right way. That means you end up with very convoluted sort of programming that becomes very difficult to maintain.Philip:            Very fragile, right?Nick:               Yeah and I believe and I have no experience with this but that healthcare.gov that the US had such an issue with I believe was probably caused in large part because of this quick fix problem that you’ll see.Philip:            Well, they got a lot of heat for that. I think largely because the perception was come on it’s just a website with a database. What’s so hard about that?Nick:               Yeah but that’s the way you interface with it but that doesn’t say anything about the back end of it. You still see all of the apps and phones and things and tablets and all those different things but a lot of the programming behind that is server side. Anytime you need to log into a service. Anytime you need to interact with multiple users that all happens on a server somewhere and whether the interface is provided through a website or through a phone or a tablet it’s still is involving a lot of the same sort of techniques.Philip:            Back to our earlier point about the difficulty of estimating and sometimes the impossibility of estimating accurately, two questions come to mind. How do you live with that better and how do you estimate better and I know those are big questions?Nick:               Yeah, so that’s really just building a tolerance for risk and as much as it would be nice to have a quick answer for that I don’t know that there is one. The more time I spend developing software and the more experience that I and my team get with it, it doesn’t get any easier. In fact it sometimes gets harder because we’ve seen difficult problems. We’ve seen what can go wrong and that makes it even harder to estimate because you never know what could be lying around the corner.It really comes down to best efforts. If you think of software development more as research and development where you don’t have solid expectations and less about product development then you can somewhat align your expectations better but it’s more about changing expectations at a high level than it is about changing the work that’s done there. [inaudible 00:18:18] you can make but you can’t change the fact that it is difficult to do.Philip:            Wow, that’s almost a different paradigm for conceiving of it when you think of it as R&D instead of let’s get this product out the door six months from now.Nick:               Yeah, exactly. Yeah, if you think of this in those terms then it’s a little bit easier to stomach however that doesn’t really help in terms of what the business needs to do to survive.Philip:            Yeah, if that product is linked to revenue and it often is or if it supports something that generates revenue, how do they move forward in light of that risk that they have to live with?Nick:               It really comes down to making smarter choices about the risks that you take. Any business owner has to take risks to survive and you take it with your business every single day. I find it especially difficult with the sales and marketing material that we’re doing because you don’t know what the return is going to be on that. At least with technology you can see results of your work so you can have something tangible to look at and you can do that with sales and marketing too but the technology works. You can press a button and it does something. Marketing it just lives out there and it’s insanely risk because you don’t know what works and what doesn’t and really it’s based on taking educated guesses and just trying to give the market what you think it needs.Philip:            The risks with marketing is not. I think actually this is true with product development, the risk is not just doing something and maybe doing the wrong thing. There’s a risk to not doing something as well, right?Nick:               Right. Yeah and if you can think further ahead I wish I had more concrete examples lined up of the risks of not doing marketing. That really comes down to a pretty pretty easy to see conclusion is that no one is going to know who you are. No one’s going to know what you’re capable of and the business is not going to grow beyond brick or metal.Philip:            Would you want to just live do a real high level dissection of your product and just talk about the risks and how you dealt with those in a somewhat general way.Nick:               Yeah, but let’s instead of being general let’s just expand and explore together.Philip:            Sure.Nick:               Let’s just have a question and answer sort of thing about it and we’ll explore it in that manner. What is it specifically that you’d like to know more about?Philip:            Well, starting at the beginning. Your product is a service packaged up as a product right?Nick:               Correct. It’s a [inaudible 00:21:22] engagement of six weeks and it involves getting things done with your software team while giving them better ways to do it. We bring in it’s called framework because it’s designed to give you a very solid foundation upon which you can grow a business.What happens is you’re either growing a software team or you have an existing software team that you think could do better and we get involved and we come in and we show them a technique that we’ve refined every year of this is how we write software. We go through this is where the ideas come in and then from ideas they turn into plans and then the plans for the ideas become tickets that the developers can take to work on and it’s a step by step process so you can see an idea from beginning to end. We have accountability through the entire process so once the work is actually part of the product you can then look back and see all the way back to the idea stage, all the discussion, everything that went through that so that you can then have that as reference later.Philip:            Oh, go ahead.Nick:               As you build out a product it’s very handy to have that sometimes because you’re going to want to be able to go back and see what decisions were made and to understand what motivations were behind any particular decision or any particular part of the machine. It takes it from being a black box of code that just does stuff to fully explained expectations of it should do this because we need the clients to experience this outcome and then you can start to make choices on is this outcome important anymore and if not then you can remove that code all together from the code base and then have a more refined product that’s done in a smarter manner. It’s a way of tying the business objectives to the actual delivery product in a way that will be maintainable and is teachable to other developers so that you can grow out the team and not be held hostage by your initial development team who may or may not move on in the future.Philip:            Wow, so let’s unpack that a little bit. I’m reminded of the old ideas are worthless. Implementation or execution is where it’s at. That’s what distinguishes the wannabes from people who are putting money in the bank.Nick:               Yes.Philip:            It sounds like you’re really focusing on the execution, implementation, side of things.Nick:               Right and what it is it’s called framework because we really want to take away some of the guess work behind how to write software. Anyone can learn a programming language and there’s definitely varying levels of talent within that but without having expectations about how the product gets delivered and how to trace back to the actual expected outcomes on each different piece of the product that means at some point you’re dealing with just this mystery ball. You living in a magic world where this software does everything you want it to do and you have no explanation why it does what it does and then it doesn’t work over the long term.Philip:            How did you make the move from we’ll consult with you on strategy to this is the thing you can buy from us. Here’s what it looks like. Here’s the shape. Here’s how long it takes. Why did you decide to go that way instead of doing open ended consultations?Nick:               Well, there’s really two reasons behind it. The first was I wanted to be able to build product for the company. Something that we could deliver time and time again and get better at doing so that means you hear this all the time about how you need to pick a mission. You need to focus on that mission. You need to solve that as best as you can. What that really is saying isn’t that you have to pick a niche. People get too held up on the fact that they need to find a niche and that’s not. They need to do is to maximize the amount of value that you can deliver.We looked back at our entire history, we’ve been in business since 2005, and we looked back at the entire history of all of our clients and who benefited most from us and did that change and how can we deliver that time and time again so that whoever works with us gets the very best from us and then we get out before that value proposition changes. If you think about education sort of thing. If you’re doing an educational course one of your customers have taken that course and they’ve gotten what they had gained from it they should stop paying you.I believe the same is true and we talked about this earlier about how agencies are really great in the beginning and then something changes along the line and you may want to change organizations. It’s not as great as it was in the beginning so I wanted to design a package that would allow me to do that really great experience and get out before it stops. We could have this really great expectation and really great reviews and deliver that time and time again and then deliver process internally that would let us get better at that.That’s how the product came to be but the actual product itself was based on our own experience where we looked back at the customer history we’ve had and we found one in particular that was almost a perfect fit and it went where it was about a six week engagement which is what we picked for the length of the product to start with and the client was just absolutely impressed with our attention to detail, the processes we have in place, and the fact that we’re building in quality right from the beginning but as is the case with trying to work with an agency it’s always cheaper to hire your own developers.For the smaller businesses cost can become a concern and we wanted to get out before costs became a concern so that was one of the reasons why we wanted to do a fixed price on this so that you could budget for it. You could have expectations around it and you wouldn’t have this big scary open ended sort of thing where you’re now held hostage to this agency and you end up spending way more than you want to with them.Philip:            That’s really interesting.Nick:               Yeah,I believe that the power in the future is smart businesses are going to build their own software teams. This maybe true of your business but I think that programmers are going to be hired by nearly every business out there either directly or indirectly and we want to help build those programming teams and use all of our experience to do that and most importantly get out before it becomes too expensive and the numbers stop making sense.Philip:            When a business that has not had an internal programming team assembles one it’s almost like they’re entering a new market in that they don’t have, they maybe able to acquire the talent to do it right but they don’t have the institutional history with that right?Nick:               Right.Philip:            It sounds like you’re providing in a very short amount time an accelerated ramp up?Nick:               Yeah.Philip:            This is not just for startups because I started out thinking wow, this is great for startups who are coming together and gelling around a product idea but it sounds like it has broader applicability.Nick:               Yes, it does. It’s almost as valuable or more valuable for the business owners themselves than it is for the developers. The developers are great because they’re going to have to be able to communicate effectively with the business owners but it’s more of a course for business owners themselves to form expectations around what it takes to build software that works. That’s not an easy thing to do because developing software is unlike pretty much anything business owners were unaccustomed to dealing with have ever dealt with before. That’s the reason that you see so much churn with freelancers and agencies.You’ve seen that we’ve worked with projects where we’re like the fourth or fifth agency to work on the thing and the reason is at that point no longer the fault of the developers of the previous agencies. It’s the fault of the business owners themselves and no one has the balls to tell them that because they’re the customer and the customer is always right except when they’re not and they need more education. It’s not an easy thing to go out and say that but it is a educational thing that needs to be given. There’s expectations that come with the programming team that are unlike any other operational experience.Philip:            You keep using creative and it seems to me it’s almost like hiring a team of artists and you’re a, I don’t know, a manufacturing outfit and you’ve never worked with artists before so you have to learn to speak their language to get the results you want.Nick:               Yeah. Sometimes working with developers can feel like herding cats. It can work but you have to make sure the rules are clear and if you have that base of standard operating procedures. This his how we do things, this is what the expectations are, developers are very very good at following rules. That’s what computers are. They’re just basically machines that follow rules and if you have no rules in place for your development team then they’re just do their own thing and it’s not going to lead to an outcome that you really want. What we do is we help organizations build out those rules and expectations so that their developers can follow those rules and then it turns into something that is predictable and sustainable and you end up getting a good result out of that.Philip:            Reflecting on this earlier conversation we had about risk and what’s your philosophy of risk. It seems to me it’s something you didn’t say explicitly is don’t ignore risk so you’ve seen in your agency experience or don’t pretend like it doesn’t exist or it’s just a fact of life. Design around it.Nick:               Yeah, one of the conversations we had internally just this morning was the fact that we’ve seen clients make decisions that oh, we’re just going to do a proof of concept on this. We’re going to push hard in this direction. We’re going to see if this works and then three weeks later that proof of concept is now live running code good to go and then it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work at all because if you build it with a different set of expectations than you brought it with you’re going to end up with a lot of headaches and those expectations bow upwards and outwards to the customers. Then you start getting yourself into trouble taking on a heck of a lot more risk than you’ve ever acknowledged.You’re right Philip that you need to acknowledge the risk early and head on and be responsible about the fact that you know where you’re taking the risks and then you can do it smarter. It doesn’t mean you don’t take risks. You have to to survive as a small business but you have to be knowledgeable about where those risks are and what they entail.Philip:            It really seems like this product, the framework product, is the outcome of you understanding the risks of the type of business you’re in consulting, software consulting strategy work, and designing something that mitigates those risks, that designs around those risks. It’s a risk we’re going to get fired after about 10 or 12 weeks or whatever. Not fired but the client is going to start seeing less value and naturally decide to take more things in house so let’s design around that risk etcetera.Nick:               It’s very strange because I’ve seen that happen a number of times and it’s the time period is always different and it’s very strange because we don’t change anything about what we’re doing. The clients have changed.I’ve been really trying to think about how and where that change comes and I don’t know if you’ve had experience working with vendors over a long period of time but they can deliver a consistently excellent experience but at some point either your needs change or your expectations change and that vendor is no longer appropriate even though they’re the same person they were at the beginning, the same company, they were at the beginning and they could be doing excellent work. The problem is not the vendor. The problem is that your needs have changed and we want to be responsible to that. We want to get out before those needs change and allow companies to flourish and make those changes on their own without being so closely involved. We want to give them the tools and capabilities so they can do it in house.Philip:            Yeah, you think that eventual degradation of a client vendor relationship has to do with, what do you think causes that? Is it because there’s the scope of work established and then that becomes the relationship fulfilling that scope of work rather than it being more of a partnership?Nick:               It’s by no means a guarantee that that happens. We’ve had engagements that have lasted upwards of five years.Philip:            Sure.Nick:               We have clients that have been clients of ours since the very beginning but the fact is that people change and businesses change and it’s not always easy to see that from the relationships that you form and this goes beyond any software businesses. This goes to business in general in that the way to be the most responsibility customer and the most responsible business you can is to deliver the value that your clients need, that your customers want, and get out before their wants or desires change. That’s how you deliver a really excellent experience because if you leave them wanting just a little bit more then they go on to refer you and you build a really strong reputation because you’ve been responsible enough to get out when you realize that your value has been expended or when you realize that you’re no longer the right choice for them.Philip:            That’s a really powerful philosophy. I love that.Nick:               Oh, thank you.Philip:            That’s very cool. We’ve got a few more minutes. Let’s wrap up with what we can make actionable at least the people that I’m going to show this video to via my list they’re consultants like yourself. They’re running small maybe even medium sized software consultancies most likely or doing some sort of technical work. What would be your advice to them about risk?Nick:               Well, let me answer. Okay, you asked about risk. I was going to think about actionable. I think the most actionable thing you can do is to figure out how to deliver the maximum value and focus on delivering the most and how can someone get the best of you and do so in a way that you can package and deliver again and again. This really doesn’t answer your question at all. I don’t know [inaudible 00:37:40] is.Philip:            It’s okay.Nick:               I’m sorry but as far as actionable goes if I could give one piece of advice it would be stop trying to find a product. Stop trying to find a pain point. Focus more on how someone can get the very best of what you have to offer, find a way to deliver that, and get out before it runs beyond its due. It’s before you run too long.Philip:            Beyond its shelf life.Nick:               Exactly. Yeah, so if you can design a way that people can get the very best from you and then sell that again and again you can build a business behind that and it can be a product, it can be a service. It doesn’t matter but that’s how you build a business. At least that’s how I’m trying to build my business in a way that I think people will be ecstatic to do business with I’m going to love running. It just brings so many wonderful things into the world that it’s something that I know I have to do and I would encourage you and all of your readers to do the same thing.Philip:            I would interject there’s this great piece of philosophy packaged up as a manifesto called the Win Without Pitching Manifesto. I don’t know if you’ve read it.Nick:               No, what is it?Philip:            I can’t even think of the author’s name. I’ll have to insert something later to point listeners to that. Again it’s a manifesto and it’s really about becoming so excellent in a specific way that you don’t have to play the pitching game where you’re competing against other agencies with pitches. Your customers are coming to you because of your demonstrated expertise.One of the little nuggets in there that I think is so great is the author acknowledges that consultants, technical people, creative people were naturally curious. Were naturally fascinated with things that are new and different and therefore it is very difficult, almost excruciatingly difficult, to do what you said which is pick one way, a defined single repeatable way, to deliver value and do that over and over again. That to a lot of people usually more on the smaller end of the scale with solo operators and freelancers. They are terrified of that because that sounds like wait, that’s the corporate job I left. I was doing the same thing again and again all day long and I don’t want to go back to that.Nick:               Yeah, however.Philip:            Yeah, you’ve gotten beyond that and that’s what the author of the Win Without Pitching Manifesto promises. He said I promise you if you do this it will be rewarding and you will enjoy it. I wanted to maybe wrap up with you talking about how has it been rewarding and how has that not come true for you? That doing the same thing over and over again, that same value proposition, how has that not been an awful corporate grind for you?Nick:               Because it’s about doing what you love. You hear how that’s terrible advice. Not everyone should do what they love.Philip:            Yeah.Nick:               In a way okay, maybe they’re right but if you can do something that you like to do and you can find the way that someone gets the very best from you then you can do that again and again. If it’s something that you enjoy doing then you’re creating more positive outcomes in the world than negative and that’s very rare so it’s prevented from becoming a corporate grind. You just have to I guess just keep raising the bar in terms of how can you make it even better.If you settle and you stop trying to think about how to make things better, you stop trying to give the very best of you then it can become a crime and it’s just the same thing but if you instead try to think about how to make it as best as you possibly can and then make it even better than that then you can build processes so that you can get it to a good enough spot and then keep going and keep going. That means that every customer that you get is going to get the very best possible for every single customer now and into the future so it makes now the very best time to buy at all possible times.Philip:            That’s I think even a bigger thrill than chasing I guess you could call it the shiny object syndrome where you’re like oh, I want to try this new programming language and oh, I want to play with this new tool and that kind of thing.Nick:               Oh, don’t get me started on that. We could talk for another hour about that.Philip:            Yeah, well anyway. What a great spot to end. Nick, thank you.Nick:               Thank you Philip.Philip:            This was definitely the highlight of my week. Most interesting conversation I’ve had all week.Nick:               Thank you so much.Philip:            Great pleasure and look forward to talking to you again soon. Oh, I always forget to do this. Sorry. How can listeners find out more about you, your company, what you do?Nick:               Just go to buildbettersoftware.com.Philip:            Okay, simple enough. Nick Hance, thank you.

    Nick:               Thank you very much Phil.

    Jonathan Stark on The Key to Building Authority

    The #1 organic Google search result for “mobile strategy consulting” is Jonathan Stark.  He even ranks above IBM for that search term, and giant companies like Accenture have to pay to get on the first page for it.

    How did he get there? Did he use SEO consultants, heavy-duty inbound link-building, and the latest Google-manipulation techniques to claw his way to that #1 spot?Nope.In this 45-minute interview with Jonathan, he explains how he did it. I’ll spill a few of the beans now: it involves passion, authenticity, and consistent focus. And sharing. A LOT of sharing.Jonathan spills the rest of the beans on how you build the kind of authority that results in a six-figure consulting consulting contract landing in your lap as you walk off the stage at a major conference. No kidding, this is something that happened to him.The audio and text transcript are below. Enjoy!I’m going to be opening up new My Content Sherpa seats on July 22. If you’re on the waiting list, you’ll get first crack at reserving your seat so you can start building your company’s online authority every month.

    Listen Online

    Download the interview audio here.

    Transcript

    Philip:            Jonathan, great to be with you. Thanks for doing this interview.Jonathan:      My pleasure. Thanks for the invite.Philip:            Who are you and what do you do?Jonathan:      I am a mobile strategy consultant and I help CEOs transition their business to mobile.Philip:            What does that involve?Jonathan:      It’s different things for different people as I’m sure you can imagine.Philip:            Sure.Jonathan:      For bigger companies, it’s much more generally more strategic where maybe things I’ve done in the past are say a company is trying to come out with a release of mobile platform. Big company release a mobile platform, have me vetted as a developer and give them advice about what sorts of tools they should make available to actually be attractive to like the web development community, for example.Other times, I can think of like mid-range, say two or three hundred, four hundred person companies. I’ve helped actually go from say print products and move into digital products, which, of course, means mobile these days. It’s funny because mobile … like I say mobile and that’s the buzz word and that’s what everybody thinks they want, but really when they get into an engagement, it’s almost always more of an overall digital strategy or a wireless strategy. Mobile is the forcing factor because people are all of a sudden realizing that we’ve been designing things for a desktop world, or in the case of like a photography customer, the print world.Now, things are changing. You need to be more flexible and be available on the devices that people currently have but also plant the seeds for things that will work in the future with whatever, Android Wear watches or devices that are laying around your house that are connected to the Internet.For the larger companies, I come in at a very strategic level and try and think about long-term, what’s probably going to happen, what they can do to their legacy systems to prepare them for the future while still creating pragmatic backend solutions for stuff that is currently in progress. They’ve got an iPhone app they’re working on and they need an API for it right now, so let’s do that in a way that’s not specific to iPhone. Let’s do it in a way that will work for Samsung Gear Live watch in two years or whatever.Philip:            Okay.Jonathan:      Yeah. On the smaller end, it’s oftentimes I’ll do things like code review for response of websites or like I’ll come in and do training classes for a team of web developers to help them make the leap to mobile from desktop web to changing their mindset around developing mobile first and working their way up from a small screen to a larger screen. It’s actually pretty easy if you change your mindset, but it’s really hard if you don’t. We do a lot of training and that sort of thing.Philip:            Yeah. You have a background as the developer, but you’re consulting with businesses where big bucks are on the line and you’re advising them about strategic business moves is what it sounds to me like.Jonathan:      Yup.Philip:            Okay.Jonathan:      It’s a combination. Those are the big clients, but a lot of people just need tactical assistance which usually amounts to some kind of training.Philip:            Mm-hmm (affirmative), right. You’re also an author.Jonathan:      Yes. I’ve written three books, all web-related. The most notable probably is called “Building iPhone Apps with HTML, CSS and JavaScript” which was a very early entrant in the, I think, probably the first big book about PhoneGap which is a technology that wraps HTML apps in a native wrapper so you can then install them on a device like an iPhone and access things like the camera and push notifications and that sort of thing.That was really popular. People liked it, but PhoneGap itself is very popular, so I think the combination of things, but it’s been translated into, I think, seven or eight languages at this point. That was really fun.Philip:            Cool. How did you get to the point where you are today? You have a background as a developer and there’s a lot of mobile developers out there, but I think very few of them are consulting with large companies and advising them on their overall mobile strategy. How did you get to the point where you have those opportunities coming to you?Jonathan:      Just a lot of sharing, really, a lot of screencast and podcast and blog post and tweets. I’m super passionate about the topic and I compulsively share. Like as I learn stuff, it doesn’t … Like I don’t need to feel like I’m an expert on something to share it. I’ll just be like, “Wow …” whatever. I’ll just pick a random topic like the AppCache. It’s a very abstract, inscrutable, new HTML5 technology for offline web apps and there’s more good information about it now. When it first came out, it was brutally confusing. It was one of those things you’d Google for and nothing would come up. The spec would come up and that was it.No one was an expert on it, so I didn’t feel bad blogging about it and even the silly little things that I blogged about, which looking back on it, were basically not that earth-shattering, was the only thing out there. People were like, “Wow, that helped me.” It just adds up over time. You do enough for that stuff and then the next thing you know, a publisher calls and says, “Hey, we’re really thinking about doing a book. It is on this subject that you’ve been blogging about. What do you say we talk about that?”The next thing you know, you’ve got an outline for a book. Next thing you know the book is published. Next thing you know, your phone is ringing because if you wrote the book on something, then you’re like instantly an expert.Philip:            Exactly. What is a lot? You said share a lot or do a lot of stuff that you share. What is a lot?Jonathan:      Yeah, as much as possible because it does take up time, of course. I don’t do any advertising, so I looked at it like that. I go up and down in terms of blogging, volume, and activity on Twitter. Social media wise, I’m mostly on Twitter. I pretty much share stuff everyday. It usually links to other stuff that I’d find interesting and then I’ll add a commentary about why I think it’s important. That’s probably my … It’s very easy for me to do that, so that’s very … I think it gets a lot of visibility and it’s very low maintenance for me. That’s a good thing to do.Every once in a while I’ll notice a trend or something that doesn’t fit in a tweet and then I’ll dash off like a quick blog post and tweet about that. It’ll get a lot of traffic and it’s usually something that’s pretty new, so there’s not a lot of competition for traffic. I always make sure that it’s all very much in my subject area though. As much as I might be interested in the future of newspapers, that was a big thing with me like three years ago, I try not to blog about it too much unless it was specific to something that … some kind of strategic mobile play. I would put it in that context so that there was a theme to the blog, so it wouldn’t come close to as like it wasn’t schizophrenic.Yeah, so that’s … In terms of hours per week, it’s hard to say. It just trickles out when I get excited about something. I can’t sleep and I’ll do a quick screencast of like, I don’t know … like I’m getting ready to do a screencast of how to create an app for Pebble smart watches, which is me … I’m sort of with the wearables.I’m purposely pushing a little bit out of my defined mobile comfort zone because I think that it’s still mobile and I think it’s still important and have a strategy about wearables. I know in spite of the fact that people use the terms … Mobiles are very specific thing in people’s minds, but really, like I said, it’s a forcing factor for just making your content services available everywhere, and watches, I promise you that watches are going to catch on. The next everywhere is going to be watches.Philip:            Okay. How did you choose a focus? I have a technical background. From what I know of developers, they’re just naturally curious people, right?Jonathan:      Mm-hmm (affirmative).Philip:            They’re interested in what’s new. They’re interested in what’s related to what they already know. You’ve had a consistent focus for a number of years. How did you get that focus and how did you maintain it?Jonathan:      Great question. I’ve had … I’ll give you a little background because I think it’ll give you the context that you’re looking for.Philip:            Great.Jonathan:      The short answer is I just pick stuff that I’m just like obsessed with, like I couldn’t help myself from doing it. There is a little bit of self-control involved in what you share and how you position is, so that you’re not just randomly sharing stuff. It relates to your topic area. In some way, it might be this. Like I might post something about like, I don’t know, Oculus Rift or movie studios or like Internet regulations about net neutrality, but I’ll tie it back to why I care about it. The reason I care about it is because of mobile or whatever, or the mobile web, even more specifically.The background is that back in the day, I was a database guy. I came from a database background and I was introduced to a product in, I think, around 1999 called FileMaker which is like a desktop database thing that … If people aren’t familiar with it, it makes it incredibly easy to create a multi-user database backed view application. It’s super powerful. It’s kind of a toy in one sense. It’s very simple, but it is incredibly powerful if you use it the way it’s meant to be used, I guess.I was really excited about that for a few year and I did consulting on that and built upon just stuff and started writing about it, blogging about it. Then I ended up writing magazine articles about it. One thing just led to another and then the FileMaker … The whole time though, I knew that there were some limitations to FileMaker that are deal breakers for me. I really liked it, the power of it, but the whole time I was learning how to do web development, because I wasn’t a web developer really yet.By the time I got to the point where I felt like I knew what I was doing with PHP, I was like, “Okay, I need to make this shift from FileMaker to PHP because that’s really where I want to go. I want to play in that bigger realm.” Very consciously, I started blogging about using FileMaker with PHP. Because I already a reputation with FileMaker community. I was sharing lots of like AppleScript, macro things that people still download to this day.Like I said, I consciously started … My magazine articles would be in a FileMaker magazine about FileMaker but it would be a PHP thing about FileMaker. I started to associate myself very consciously with PHP. Eventually, I started blogging but I kept blogging about it. I kept writing about it. I spoke about it at … I think I talked about it at … yeah, FileMaker conference a couple of times. The next thing you know, a publisher calls me who’s like, “Hey, could you write a book about FileMaker and PHP integration?” because there are really only three people in the whole world that were talking about it. There was like me and two other guys.It was really easy to stand out. Another-Philip:            Right. Did you … sorry to interrupt. Did that worry you though that there were only two others and you having this conversation?Jonathan:      No, not at all.Philip:            Okay.Jonathan:      No. It was obvious that everybody needed it. The reason why there are only two other people doing it is because the FileMaker pool is relatively small in the scheme of thing. I’m only one dude, so I only need like one or two big customers a year and I’m covered. I knew for sure … I knew from talking to people that there were, at least, a dozen customers that needed this in the world. If I didn’t try and like hire a bunch of people and create this big firm of FileMaker/PHP developers and have like payroll every month, all I needed was, like I said, a couple of big customers. If you’re the go-to guy for this particular extremely niche thing, you’re going to get the call. You don’t have to advertise you wrote a book on it.The point is that I was extremely conscious that I … In fact, I made the publisher put PHP first in the title because I was trying to make the transition over to PHP.Philip:            Yeah.Jonathan:      Yeah. Then at one point, I just said, “Okay, I’m going to take all the FileMaker stuff off my website and just do web development.” That was … when you get it deep in business, I continued to get FileMaker leads and stuff, but I would say, “I don’t do that anymore. Send them to other people who do FileMaker.” That was pretty hard because like I said, you do take a financial hit a little bit. Not too bad, but it’s definitely not … it definitely takes a little time to make that shift or … But then it’s like a step change after that because now you’re in this huge pond of people who need websites which is drastically a hundred times bigger than the FileMaker community, at least.Philip:            Yeah.Jonathan:      At that point, I was like, “Well, I really need to specialize way more, like way, way more.” Right around that time, the iPhone came out. I was like, “Ugh!” as soon as I saw that. I was watching the announcement. As soon as I saw that, I was like, “That’s what I’m doing from now on.”Philip:            Wow.Jonathan:      I’m just [inaudible 00:15:01] for that.Philip:            It was a revelation.Jonathan:      Yeah. I mean because if you rem- … It was. I mean, if you remember the phones back then, it was like a joke. I still, every once in a while, I give talks. Probably every couple of months, I give a talk that includes … I cut together highlights of that Steve Jobs presentation and people gasp at stuff that you do a hundred times a day now. People freak out when I’m like the … Anyway, the point is I was really excited about it. He said at the time that the way that you build apps for was going to be with web technology. I was stoked. Then there was … I reversed that position a year later, but it was obvious to me. I was like, “That’s what I’m going to focus on because it was just so exciting.”Philip:            Yeah. Yeah, the best part of that was other people’s reactions. Steve Ballmer losing a shit and laughing out loud about the price and I heard that the folks at BlackBerry disassembled it because they couldn’t believe that it was not a mock up or a prototype. I guess it was a prototype when it was first shown, but they couldn’t believe that was real. That it could really work.Jonathan:      Right, right, right.Philip:            What you’re describing is very different than what you hear from people who are all like, “I want to write a book.” That wasn’t the endpoint for you, it sounds like, at all.Jonathan:      No.Philip:            It was more of an outcome of just “I’m going to share. I’m really interested in what I’m doing so I’m going to share.”Jonathan:      Mm-hmm (affirmative), yup.Philip:            Okay.Jonathan:      I will say, I should add, that I was working for a FileMaker firm, a very popular FileMaker firm at the time. The owner of that company, a great guy named Chris Moyer had written a FileMaker book. I had a front row seat to the advantages of being the guy that wrote the book because you don’t need to do sales. The phone rings every single day. It’s like planting seeds in the garden and just like customers come to you.I knew a book would bring me customers. I feel silly saying that because I don’t even buy books anymore, just eBooks now and everything. Being the author of a book still has a ton of cache and it’s … I knew that I want it but I wasn’t knocking on publishers’ doors. I didn’t have enough … Yeah, I was just blogging about my passion and publishers came to me.Philip:            Did you ever feel like an impostor? Like “Who am I to be writing about this? I learned about this five minutes ago?” that kind of thing.Jonathan:      No. I know what you mean, but I’m like an open book so I’m pretty transparent about stuff. If I do a screencast of something I just learned, I’ll say that. Like, “This could be wrong. I might just completely have this wrong, but this worked for me. Here’s how I did it.” I try not to be too like “This is the right way to do something.”I’m always careful to be like “This is what worked for me here in my situation,” because things are … Every situation is so different. I’ve got my defaults, but it’s pretty common for me to violate my own default position on something just because there are business rules that are like a particular application has an audience that doesn’t need it to run without JavaScript, or whatever.I might violate the ten commandments of web development for some good reason. I just try and be really upfront all the time.Philip:            Yeah, right.Jonathan:      Another helpful thing is when you’d be up and front … the time it really can be scary for people is where they’re in front of a live crowd and somebody asked them a question they don’t know the answer to. I remember once, I just say, “I don’t know.” I mean a lot of times I’ll be like, “I should know the answer to that, and I don’t. I’ll try and … follow me on Twitter. I’ll look it up later. I’ll figure it out. I’ll do a test and I’ll post a link to a [Ripon 00:19:16] GitHub of like how to do it. Great question.I remember just having … It happens fairly regularly. Probably once a talk, somebody will stump me with a question. I remember my brother came to a particular talk that I was at. He came up to me afterward and he’s like, “I couldn’t believe you said you didn’t know the answer to that question.” He was like, “That was so cool.” I was like, “Well, I didn’t know. What was I supposed to say? Am I supposed to fake it?” It was like, but I guess people would kind of, and it’s true. You do see people try and waffle their way out of the question when they really should just said-Philip:            Yeah. That’s always worse.Jonathan:      -“I don’t know. That’s a great question and I should know, but I don’t. I’ll get back.”Philip:            I like that “I should know” part. My first job was as a Microsoft Certified Trainer in the first dot-com boom. I was an MCT in ’96, ’97. I was fresh out of college and I was teaching people much older than me. I would get stumped all the time. The first couple of times I tried to bullshit my way through it, that was not a good idea. I just learned. You just say, “I don’t know. I will be more than happy to look that up and get back to you.” It’s exactly what you’re saying. It’s the best way to deal with a question like that.Related to that though, how do you get over the fear, which you may not have had personally, but the fear that by having an opinion, by publishing that opinion, you’re just going to be the subject of controversy, or people are going to call you out or something?Jonathan:      That’s a tough line to walk. I think if you asked me that two years ago, I would say I didn’t think about it at all. I have tweeted some stuff in the heat of the moment that was stupid. It was just not thought out at all and still to this day like rubs me the wrong way. I’m just like … so I just try and like … I can tell when I’m getting in that so boxy mode and I just try and step away from the Twitter and think about it. That’s like a good time to write a blog post and really think something through.Another thing I’ll do when I get that way is when … It mostly happens when … I’ll post something. I like to be a little bit contrarian or I’ll bash Apple. I love Apple computers and stuff but their business practices really drive me crazy sometimes. They’re very developer hostile in my opinion.Philip:            Yeah.Jonathan:      Apple fan buddies cannot stand that, so you hear about it. That doesn’t really bother me, but there are times when I’ll say stuff that really either came out wrong or whatever, and so when I’m getting to an area where I have a strong opinion but I know that I haven’t got a strong base for the opinion. It’s just a strong gut reaction and people come back at me. I’ll just ask a million questions. I’ll post something inflammatory, let’s say, and then people start attacking me and I’ll ask them why. Why do you say that? Why do you think that? Why do you say …? Almost always you get a massive education out of it. You’re like, “Wow, there are a bunch of really valid perspectives that I did not consider,” which tempers …Now, and having done that process a few times in the last couple of years, it has really tempered my kneejerk sharing. I still pretty shoot from the hip pretty much on Twitter, but I know when I’m about to cause a slap fight.Philip:            Yeah, pokes the hornet’s nest.Jonathan:      Exactly.Philip:            You just use that to start a conversation.Jonathan:      Yeah. It’s super … People ask me like, “What? Twitter …” People still ask me like, “Twitter seems dumb,” like, “What’s the point of Twitter?” I don’t really want to know what people had for lunch and I’m fortunate to have a pretty good number of followers. It’s enough that I can have … I have enough followers that I can ask them a question and get a great, lazy marketing study done. Like I can say, “What do you all think about this?” Or I’ll just say something inflammatory and see what the reactions are. It’s really useful. If no one is following you, that won’t work because no one saw it.It’s pretty much birds of a feather so I know that I’m getting like … Pretty much anybody that gets back to me has like got an informed valid opinion that I should consider. I might disagree with it but it’s certainly … It really helps a lot to see all sides of the picture.Philip:            Yeah. Let me ask you this. If you got a consulting gig with, I don’t know, a Fortune 500 company. They haven’t read your FileMaker stuff. Have they watched your screencast? In other words, what’s the sales process from you putting out all these free content to them signing a contract for consulting?Jonathan:      Yeah, good question. A lot of good questions today.Philip:            Good.Jonathan:      A lot of times … so there’s really … My biggest gigs have always come from speaking. I’ll get off stage. I think I got off stage at Adobe MAX and got like a six figure contract, like walking off the stage. That was a real home run. That’s not-Philip:            Nice.Jonathan:      -normally the way it works. I do get a lot of business cards and a lot of leads walking off the stage. That’s a big one. What’s interesting is that those, depending on the conference, of course, but there tend to be higher level managers and that sort of thing at a conference. It’s not necessarily developers. It could be, depending on the conference, obviously, but it could be a CMO. It could be a CTO or CIO or like an SVP, that kind of … That has been really good for me.Then the other end of the spectrum is the book. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll get called into a marketing gig … sorry, into a consulting gig and it’ll be a contact level, like a project contact level person, like a VP and SVP, something like that. Then you get into the first meeting and like some developers pull me aside and they’re like, “Oh,” basically they recommended me to their boss because of they have my book on their desk or they follow my Twitter feed or they listened to the podcast or whatever. It’s usually the book, but it all feeds in together. The book, when it came out in 2010, for crying out loud, and I’ve done an Android one since and everything, but most people that come up to me and want a signature, or … it’s for the iPhone book.Those are the two big ones. Having the book out there has been great and doing speaking gigs is great. Like the tweets and the blog posts and the screencasts and the podcasts, that all feeds into getting more speaking gigs and that sort of thing. All ties together.Philip:            Sure, yeah. The speaking gigs play pretty big role for you.Jonathan:      Yes. In the past, I … let’s see. Like I said, I started doing proper speaking gigs. Like a big room of people in like 2003 or 4, yeah, the FileMaker developers conference.Philip:            Was that your first paid gig, doing something …?Jonathan:      I don’t remember if I got paid for that. Actually, that was going to be my point, which is that for probably two years, two or three years, I would go to the opening of an envelope. You know what I mean? It was like, I would speak anywhere for anyone for any price.Philip:            You hustled for a couple of years.Jonathan:      Yeah, definitely. Like my first speaking gig, I talked the lady into it. I was like, “This is important subject. These people need to know this,” yadi yara, and just basically weaseled my way in.Philip:            Okay.Jonathan:      After that … I have a musician background, so I’m fairly comfortable on stage. That helped me a lot. Then that just one thing led to another. Once you have a speaking gig, I’m like, “Oh, that wasn’t so bad.” I just parlayed it, but after two years or so, the flying to a place to speak for free got old. I went through that stage but I don’t really do it anymore. Now, for me, a speaking gig is actually a lucrative thing where I don’t … Like that’s almost the end goal, and I don’t get customers out of it because I’m, talking to the customer.They’ll have me come in and do an internal conference or a full day training session or a three hour mobile strategy session or something like that.Philip:            Okay. Okay.Jonathan:      It’s not as much of a lead generation thing anymore because it’s already the … it’s the product.Philip:            Mm-hmm (affirmative), right. That makes sense. You’ve seen other people certainly in this world. The ones who don’t get to that point of doing keynotes or being invited to speak, what are they missing?Jonathan:      Yeah, it’s almost always the same thing, which is that they’re not specific enough in what they do. They’re way too general. I mentored plenty of people, software development type people, solo and small firms, and with the exception … literally with one exception, none of them would pick a focus and market themselves that way. Nobody. It’s like they have a nervous breakdown almost. Like seriously. They feel like I’m right then they go to do it and it’s like doing your own website. Like, “Well, okay …” You have this existential crisis, like, “Well, okay, what do I do? What do I do?”Philip:            Is it picking something or is it saying no to work?Jonathan:      They don’t even get to the point … well, they are afraid … I literally, like I would say … I’d get somebody on the phone and talking about it. They’d tell me all about themselves. It’d be this long winded exploration of the things they do all day and specifics about this particular client and that particular client. I would say something like, “Well, it sounds to me like you do this for these kinds of clients.” “Well yeah, I do that but I can do anything. I’m a full stock web developer. I can do JavaScript. I can do PHP. I’m learning Rails,” all these things.Looking at all these tools that they use and talking about the tools or the process that they use on their website, like that’s like me needing my bathroom redone and going to a site and somebody talking about what kind of tile grout they use.Philip:            Right.Jonathan:      I don’t care about that. I want to know if you can do the kind of bathroom I need done and your other customers are happy with you.Philip:            Right.Jonathan:      I don’t care what you do. If you came into my house and beamed by bathroom in with lasers, that would be … I don’t care what your tools are. The people that you’re building website for, in my case, they don’t care if I’m using Textmate or Sublime or even Rails or Symfony. They don’t care. They just want this … Well, I’ll take that back. Sometimes though there’ll be technical people there that there’s some reason why they might care about what framework I use or whatever, but in general.Philip:            They’re much more likely to say, “Is this website going to sell the products that we’re listing on it or is it going to do the job that it needs to do?” Right?Jonathan:      Right. Yeah. I mean that’s the underlying goal of any business is to make money. Obviously that’s the goal. Like you want to add value, more value than you take away as the web developer, let’s say. Admittedly, the client often comes to you already like that’s so obvious that they’ve already gone farther down the stack and they’re like, “We need someone to optimize our cart, like our shopping cart flow,” something very specific, for Shopify or something like that.This isn’t exactly what you asked, but my approach would usually be like, “Okay, let’s back up a second and what’s the problem? Why did you call me? Like what’s  the problem that you think this is the solution for?” and like, “Let’s just make sure, let’s just validate that this is the right solution because maybe the reason you’re having a hard time doing it is because it’s the wrong solution.” That’s a separate issue, so what you really asked was how …Philip:            To put it in another way, why is it so terrifying to pick one thing for a consultant or developer?Jonathan:      Everybody has the same … It’s an emotional reaction that they feel like they’re going to be pigeonholed. I hear that a lot, “I don’t want to be pigeonholed,” and I’m like, “That’s exactly what you want, okay?” Pigeonholed is like the mobile web strategy guy. Like I’m the first hit on Google for mobile strategy consultant, like ahead of IBM.Philip:            Oh, wow.Jonathan:      You want to be pigeonholed.Philip:            Okay.Jonathan:      They think they don’t and it just sound like a negative comment. It feels like a negative connotation.Philip:            Are they underestimating the size of the market or the financial upside for them of being the guy or the gal for that subject?Jonathan:      I think no. I mean, it’s something that doesn’t happen on a rational level. I really don’t understand it. It’s totally irrational. It’s an irrational fear. I’ve had people almost cry, like going through this exercise of like … so I’d say … oh, that’s how we got on the bathroom thing. I would say like, “Okay, it sounds like you do this to me and it sounds like you build half baths in million dollar homes.” “Well yeah, but I could build a master bathroom in a shack if I somebody needs that.”Philip:            Right, right.Jonathan:      I’m like, “Yeah, but you can’t.” It’s the difference between what you actually do for your clients, I think, and how you present yourself to the world. You can present yourself to the world as the person who does half baths in million dollar homes in Beverly Hills, let’s say. Like you are the half bath master in Beverly Hills, you are the person to call. You’re going to get all that business because you’ve become known as that person.Then you’re still going to get calls from other people who maybe want a full bath in a million dollar home, and maybe you do it for whatever reason. Maybe you need the money, but hopefully you don’t. Probably you don’t. It’s important to always be hammering on that one thing that you do. An exercise that I would go through with someone is let’s say I’m Larry Page from Google. Or … Yeah, Larry Page from Google and you run into me at a cocktail party, and he’s polite and he says, “Oh, nice to meet you. What do you do?”They cannot answer that question. They might say something like, “I’m a consultant or I’m a web developer.” If you say something like that, you’re putting it on the other person to pour energy into the conversation to pry information out of you. It’s like a conversation killer. Imagine if I go, I’m at a party and I say, “Hey, how’s it going? Nice to meet you. What do you do?” “Oh, I’m a lawyer.” Then now if the conversation is to continue, I need to say, “Oh, what kind of lawyer?” Because everybody knows what a lawyer is. It’s an uninteresting thing to say. If he said, I don’t know, just make up something weird like, “I’m a…” I can’t think of something weird.Philip:            It’s so broad, yeah.Jonathan:      I’m a half bathroom … no, that’s terrible. What do I want to say? What would be a crazy lawyer?Philip:            I get people who are guilty of killing their spouses off the hook.Jonathan:      Right, but even that’s too long. Like I’m a … lawyer was a bad idea. I can’t think of anything illegal. Like from a web development standpoint, like I’m a frontend JavaScript developer.” Like that’s a much more specific thing. Or like, “I’m like a JavaScript dev,” or … I’m having a horrible time coming up with an example.Philip:            No, no. Or you could just, “I’m the best Angular developer out there today.” You can tie it to even more specificity.Jonathan:      Yeah. The best part that scares me though, like the thing that you want to say back to Larry Page is something that’s going to make him say, “Oh, what’s that?”Philip:            Okay.Jonathan:      When he says, “What’s that?” you’re not forcing him to come up with like to pick information out of you.Philip:            Right.Jonathan:      You want to say three words like I’m a dog lawyer. Like that’s a good example.Philip:            Okay.Jonathan:      What’s a dog law-?Philip:            What’s that, Jonathan?Jonathan:      Well, a dog lawyer. That’s when you say, “Oh, a dog lawyer is someone, you know, if your dog bites somebody, I’m the guy you call.” Like, “Oh,” and like, “Do you get a lot of business as a dog …?” The conversation writes itself after that because you’ve said something interesting. Now, if you translate that into like that should be your marketing material, that should be your tagline, like “I’m a dog lawyer.” Immediately people are going to be like, “What? What is a dog lawyer?” They’re going to read the next line and then they’re going to read the next line. Then they’re going to say, “I need a dog lawyer.”Philip:            Right, or when they do need one, they’ve got a hook in their memory that has you hanging off of it.Jonathan:      Even better, when anybody they know needs a dog lawyer.Philip:            Right.Jonathan:      I can go to my dentist and say, he’s a professional guy. He has a lot of professional friends. He hangs out with professional circles. He’s just making a conversation, “What do you do?” “Oh, I’m a mobile strategy consultant.” “Oh, what’s that?” Like I could say I’m a software consultant, but he probably knows what that is and he probably doesn’t care, it’s so boring. Or I could just say consultant, which would be death. That’s a marketing death. I’m a consultant.Now he has to say, “What kind of consulting do you do?” So I say mobile strategy consultant and he’s like, “Oh, what is that? What do you do?” I say, “I help CEO’s transition their business to mobile.” “Oh. My doctor is trying to come up with a mobile website,” or whatever. He’s just got that information at the back of his mind. Very punchy three-word short thing; what are you, something weird, what is that one sentence answer?It’s almost an elevator pitch but this whole conversation came around because that’s the exercise that I try and go through with people that I’m mentoring. No one will do it. I’ve literally had one person do it. Everybody else is just like, for various reasons, some more emotional than others; some, like you suggest, they’re afraid that “Well, that’s going to pigeonhole me too much. I’m not going to get enough business doing that. It’s too specific.”I mean if what you deliver is not limited by physical proximity, you’re delivering some kind of digital product or any information product, you have the whole world as your potential marketplace. If you’re only one person or a small firm, you don’t really need that many clients.Philip:            People need to understand that ratio of potential business, even if they get an extremely specific niche happening for themselves, there’s still a world, at least the English-speaking world, for my clients, of potential business.Jonathan:      Yeah. I mean, if you get 0.00001 percent of the Internet, people are connected to the Internet, it’s crazy. You want to be pigeonholed basically is what it boils down to. Then the next question is well, how you grow your business? The way you grow your business is by getting bigger customers, not by adding employees or trying to get more and more customers. You’re trying to get bigger and bigger customers because you can provide bigger and bigger value to bigger and bigger customers.Philip:            Yeah. You can get bigger margins from those bigger customers if you’re so inclined.Jonathan:      Yup.Philip:            Jonathan, what one simple thing can a technical consultancy start doing today to build their online authority?Jonathan:      Yeah, I mean it goes back to sharing. It’s like just pick that niche, something that you really, really love because you’re going to end up hanging out with other people who love that stuff. You’re going to have clients who love that stuff. You’ll go to conferences with other people who love that stuff. You’re going to talk about that stuff you love with all these people. You can’t just pick something like, “Oh, I think a lot of people need dog lawyers,” and just randomly pick something.Just pick your passion. Share as freely as you can with what you learned about that passion, whether it’s creating links to other things and adding some kind perspective or context. Or I mean, really, the best thing you could do is create original content. Like when I look at the traffic numbers for stuff where I’m offering opinion on somebody else’s piece, it’s a lot less compelling than when I’ve actually come up with from whole cloth like a brand new idea or like an approach or technique that’s literally not out there. Those go viral very relatively easily compared to like cool links I saw last week.Philip:            Right.Jonathan:      There’s a place for both because you can’t be writing like a groundbreaking blog post every couple of days. You’re lucky if it’s every couple of months.Philip:            Right.Jonathan:      Just put yourself out there as much as possible, pick a thing to be an expert on or you’ll never be an expert on anything. The Internet makes it really easy to do this. You can look around. You can see that there are not very many people talking about this particular thing. I feel like it is easier said than done now, I can tell you, from experience.Philip:            Yeah, sure. Yeah, I know it’s just one day to point, but how’s it going for your one person who was willing to get specific?Jonathan:      Yeah, gangbusters. He did great.Philip:            That’s awesome.Jonathan:      This particular customer, he’s like a firm. He’s the head of a small firm. He’s hired a few more people. He was interested in actually growing head count and taking approach. I’m not a fan of that, but obviously it does work for people. He just loved it. It worked great. We knew each other before so I knew it was going to be a pretty good match and he is willing to take risks, so it was a really good fit.It’s been a long time and I’ve mentored a few people. Not tons. I’ve probably mentored like six to ten people over the course of years; some paid, some not. It’s not a big part of my business. It’s something I like to do and it’s notable how much it scares people to do this.Philip:            That’s really interesting. Jonathan, how can people find out more about you?Jonathan:      JonathanStark.com is a great place to go, although I’m much more active on Twitter, so usually if you just go to Twitter, my Twitter name is @jonathanstark and I link to everything in the blog and podcast and all of that stuff from Twitter, so that’s probably the best place.Philip:            Awesome. Jonathan, it was really educational talking to you. Thank you.Jonathan:      My pleasure, really.Philip:            Very cool.Jonathan:      Thanks for having me.Remember, I’m going to be opening up new My Content Sherpa seats on July 22. If you’re on the waiting list, you’ll get first crack at reserving your seat so you can start building your company’s online authority every month.

    Check out Jonathan’s website and Twitter profile to learn more about him.

    Keith Perhac on Building Your Consultancy’s Authority

    I had the pleasure of speaking with Keith Perhac a few weeks ago. Through his company DelfiNet and SaaS product Summit Evergreen, Keith has seen firsthand how his clients–very successful information marketers–use their mailing lists to build their audience’s trust and boost sales.In this hour long interview, Keith gives insight into what the technical consultancy can learn from high-earning information marketers. We talk about identifying your niche, building your list, making the most of a small list, learning to be dogmatic, and TONS of other interesting stuff related to building authority.I’m going to be opening up new My Content Sherpa seats on July 22. If you’re on the waiting list, you’ll get first crack at reserving your seat so you can start building your company’s online authority every month.So here goes! The video is below, and below that is the audio and a text transcript of the interview. Enjoy!

    Audio

    Download an MP3 of this interview for listening on the go

    Transcript

    Philip Morgan:  Keith, so good to talk to you.Keith Perhac:  Very good to be here. I’m excited.Philip:  Keith, who are you and what do you do?Keith:  I have no idea.[laughter]Keith:  No. It’s interesting. People know me from the Kalzumeus podcast mostly, which I do with Patrick McKenzie, patio11 on the Internets. I run a small technical consulting agency. We do technical marketing ‑‑ is what I call it.It’s not just your standard marketing websites. It’s not just building systems. It’s building systems that help your business grow and supporting system like that. Interestingly enough, we are based in the middle of nowhere, Japan.Philip:  [laughs]Keith:  We have maybe two Japanese clients. The majority of our clients are all in America and Europe. I think we have a couple in Mainland Asia. Mainly, we work with the whole gamut.We work with enterprise or startups, because we love startups. We work with information product people. I hate the term “information product,” but there’s really just no other word that conglomerates the whole thing in there, right?Philip:  Yeah.Keith:  I guess online courses would be the other one, right?Philip:  Right.Keith:  People who have information that they want to share with the world, who have information that they think they can monetize, that other people are interested in, that’s who we help to promote their content and to build strategies and the technology behind those strategies so that they can sell more.Philip:  You’re not doing this for wannabes. You’re doing this for people who are doing it at a pretty large scale, right?Keith:  We run the gamut. I don’t think that I have any people I would call wannabes, in my case, only because if someone is just like “Oh, yeah. I wanna make 10 million dollars. And I don’t have an idea, I don’t have a message, and I don’t have a list,” then I’m going to be like, “You should probably go check out these free articles online.”Philip:  [laughs]Keith:  We’ll talk about why we do that in a second. But, “Then come back to me when you’re ready.” We generally say you need a at least revenue of 200,000‑500,000 a year to work with us. We do make exceptions for people we’re interested in. Like if you’re doing something cool, we’re all there and we want to help you, and stuff like that.But, like you say, we do work with some of the bigger names with people who have 100,000, 200,000 people lists who are making millions of dollars a year on this.Philip:  Right. No one’s born with an email list of 200,000 people. Right?Keith:  That is true, that is true.Philip:  You build that over time.Keith:  Yeah, yeah. It’s difficult. If you don’t know how to build it and you don’t know how to connect with your audience, it’s a very difficult thing to do.Philip:  Let’s talk about, in a minute, what you see people doing to build even a 10,000 person list. Oh, go ahead.Keith:  No, no, go ahead, go ahead.Philip:  I was going to say, let’s step back a minute. What can those people do, those information product people do that other people can’t? They have clout, so to speak. What can they do with that?Keith:  You mean once they get the clout? Or how did they get the clout?Philip:  Once they get the clout. Then we’ll jump back and talk about how they got it.Keith:  Once you get the clout, so it’s interesting. First of all, I want to talk about list size real quick. Because a huge list doesn’t mean anything.Philip:  Really?Keith:  It’s all about the engagement of the list. I have clients who have 100,000 people lists that have maybe a 2 percent engagement rate. Which, it’s not bad. It’s not great, but I mean, we have an engagement, that’s how much, if we were to sell a product, they would buy 2 percent off the list, maybe 1 percent off the list.Then I have people who have a much smaller list, like 1,000 or 2,000 people who are much more engaged, so it’s more like a 50 or 80 percent engagement rate. What ends up happening is you don’t have this huge group of people that you’re selling to some of them. You’re selling to the whole group. It’s a much more effective way to sell, but it also does not have the same scale. Right?Philip:  Right.Keith:  Neither of them are good or bad. This is all just the nature of the beast and it’s, do you want to build a small tribe of fanatical people, or do you want a huge tribe with a core of fanatical people? I’m not going to say one’s right and one’s wrong, it’s just a different way of doing business.It’s like, it’s the difference between kind of like Starbucks and then your local coffee shop that everyone goes to, like Bulletproof Coffee, I guess, would be a really good example. It’s a small kind of scrappy startup that everyone is just passionate about.I bet the average purchaser of Bulletproof coffee spends more on average than a regular Starbucks consumer. But there are more Starbucks consumers. Right?Philip:  Absolutely.Keith:  I bet the average purchaser of Bulletproof Coffee spends more on average than a regular Starbucks consumer, but there are more Starbucks consumers, right?Philip:  Absolutely.Keith:  I just wanted to talk about the list size before we get into what you can do with the list.Philip:  Yeah, because I think when people think about folks they know who have that kind of clout, that kind of online authority, we tend to think about the megastars.But I believe, and you’re confirming for me, that people can do this on a much smaller scale. They can build authority. They can build a list. They can get great results even with a pretty small list, by those Internet scale standards.Keith:  Exactly. Amy Hoy puts it very well in her class, 30×500, which is a class on how to build products for general consumption. The reason it’s called 30×500 is you need 500 people paying $30 a month. Do the math on that. That’s how you make a good yearly income on that.Philip:  Or, to interrupt from the perspective of a technical consultant, they could add one or two clients. That can make a real difference to the year’s bottom line.Keith:  Exactly. You don’t have to have a hundred thousand person list, you need to have that targeted numbers. The amount of chafe around it does not matter. It’s that core of what percent you think can purchase, what percent you’re turning into that rabid tribe.Philip:  When someone ends up with a 50 or 100,000 person list, is that what they set out to build or does it…? Do you notice any intentionality in it?Keith:  There’s always the intentionality of, “Let’s grow the list.” There’s always that intentionality. My bigger clients were very, very focused on building the list, keeping engagement with the list ‑‑ because a huge list that isn’t engaged is worthless ‑‑ and then building, engaging, and profitizing off that.Philip:  Monetizing, do you know they’re an ugly word…Keith:  Monetizing. Yeah. You have to forgive me. I’ve been in Japan for 12 years. Sometimes I forget an English word here and there.Philip:  You can just throw in the Japanese word.Keith:  [laughs]Philip:  I’m sure we’ll all understand.Keith:  I’m studying that as well.[laughter]Philip:  Nice.Keith:  All right. So…Philip:  Go ahead.Keith:  The next question, I think you asked was, “What can you do with that?” I think we touched on that a little. But, essentially, once you have the tribe, you really can do it. You look at Brennan Dunn. He started his tribe with Planscope, which was an online software, right?Philip:  Right.Keith:  Then he built his first book, “How To Double Your Freelancing Rate.” He turned the Planscope audience into the freelancing book audience. He did that. He grew that. Now that’s getting more popular, he’s built other information courses and other products based on that and grown that out. Now he’s trying to bring that back into Planscope.What can you do with a list of rabid followers? You can do anything with the list of rabid followers. It’s just a matter of what you want to do with it.Philip:  That’s a great example, because Brennan has done a really good job of picking his audience such that there’s potential to expand it and still keep it somewhat cohesive.Keith:  Exactly.Philip:  Let’s think about My Content Sherpa client. They’re a small mid‑sized technical consultancy, so they may be doing programming or web development. They’re busy. They’re successful. What’s in it for them to have a list? They may not have even thought of the benefits of doing it.Keith:  It’s interesting. I’m trying to figure out where to start. There’s so many places I can start with this. One of the places I want to start with is, first of all, I did not have any outbound or inbound marketing for about the first two and half years of my company. I did not even have an English website for two years. My Japanese website was horrible.Philip:  [laughs]Keith:  That did not prevent me from getting clients, but it was mainly by word of mouth. At some point, that just stops being able to scale. You can do that for a while, but you want to have the pipeline, right?The idea is how do you build a pipeline? How do you keep people coming in even when you’re not going out and trying to find the clients? How do you have clients come to you instead of you having to go out and get the clients, right? It’s interesting, especially for consultancy and also for a technical shop or a technical consultancy, as well.You worry about the information that you’re putting out there. I tell everyone what I’m doing then they are going to steal it and I’ll never get a job. It’s a scarcity model. What I know is so important that I’m going to keep it all. If people hire me then I’ll give it out, but otherwise I’m not giving it out.What has been shown time and time again is that that just does not work. The best way to market yourself is to provide everything you have out there. I guess I should take a step back and talk about why that’s important.Philip:  Let me pause for just a second. Hold that thought. That’s the real cross‑over, I think, between the information marketer world, the information product world, and the consultancy world. You see that a lot with the infoproduct folks. They’re giving a lot of stuff away all the time. It’s stuff that has standalone, independent value whether you buy their product or not.Keith:  Exactly. The whole thing is that value proposition. There’s two strategies here that are working, and both of them are very similar. They’re both tied to this idea of the expert. You are more likely to be moved by or to purchase…we’ll turn it into monetization. I’m just not going to split hairs. That’s the goal. Monetization is the goal.It’s easier to monetize people who think that you are an expert or feel that you are an expert is the better term. To whom you’re an expert. My favorite example is from Patrick McKenzie. For anyone who doesn’t know, Patrick McKenzie actually lives down the street from me in the middle of nowhere Japan.We do the podcast and we talk a lot. He was talking about one of his clients that had hired him. They said, “Hey, Patrick, we’ve read all your blog posts, we’ve taken your online course that you produced, we’ve listened to all your podcasts. We really want to hire you to to consult for us.He’s like, “If you’ve taken my course, you’ve read all my blog posts, you know everything I do. There’s absolutely nothing I can provide to you that you don’t already know.” They’re like, “Yeah, but we want you to do it for us.”Philip:  That’s a powerful thing. All the world’s information is available on the Internet with almost no filters. It’s just there.Keith:  That’s the problem. No filters is the problem. It’s the problem that, yes, I have all the information in the world right there on the Internet. It’s not curated. I don’t know what’s good or bad. All I have is the word of whoever wrote it. The only thing I can do to decide which his good and which is bad is my trust in that person who wrote it.How do you get trust? You prove yourself. You show people. You give them little snippets. This goes back to the content marketers, why they have little opt‑ins like get my first 10 tricks to double your SEO. Once you get a success from that you’re like, “Oh my god, this guy knows what he’s talking about. He has become the expert.”They’re more inclined to listen to him when he is giving you more advice or when he’s trying to sell you.Philip:  This is not a thing that happens overnight. This is a progression.Keith:  It’s not, no. It is a progression. You say it doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it can happen very quickly. You look at people like Nathan Berry and Brennan Dunn. They shot up very quickly. Brennan, I think, it was eight months from when he started his “Double Your Freelancing Rate” until he was one of the major names.He was speaking at conferences and I think he had a second product out by then. I can’t remember the timeline. One of the first places he promoted “Double Your Freelancing Rate” was on our podcast. I was like, “This guy’s awesome, but I have no idea who he is.”Then eight months later you couldn’t walk into a bar without everyone knowing who Brennan Dunn was.Philip:  How much of that is the two year overnight success effect and how much is just very well‑executed authority marketing?Keith:  It’s not like he had never done anything like this before. He ran a technical consultancy, he ran a business, he had a product. It wasn’t like he just woke up one day and he was like, “I’m totally going to become an Internet superstar.”At the same time, from what I had talked with him ‑ and he may correct me if I’m wrong ‑ he had not done information products. He had not done anything that was his name. He had not sold his name yet. From start to getting up there was about eight months, and he worked his tail off for it.This isn’t something that you have to be in it for the 5 year, 10 year haul. Even some of my huge clients, they’ve only been doing this for maybe three or four years and they have multimillion dollar companies. It’s possible to grow yourself, but it all comes back to transparency.We’re starting to live in this world of transparency right now. I think it was the Wall Street Journal did an article a year ago about how people now are much more comfortable sharing their salaries than they used to be. Sharing your salary used to be the biggest taboo.Now I go to a Bootstrappers’ Conference. It’s a little bit different with Bootstrappers’ Conference, but we all share numbers. I’m on Brennan’s master class. On one of our calls we said this is informal NDA. We’re going to not talk about the numbers, but I’m just going to lay it out. Here’s my numbers, here’s what I do. What can we do to make this better?Philip:  You have whole companies like Buffer doing that.Keith:  Buffer or Baremetrics. Anyone who doesn’t know Baremetrics, Baremetrics is software that lets you see how well your SaaS app is doing. It hooks directly into Stripe and it has little graphs on your monthly retention numbers and everything.Their demo is their live data. If you go to the demo page on baremetrics.io you see their live data. They convinced Buffer to do the same thing.Philip:  That’s very cool. It all comes back to it’s not the idea, it’s the execution. You see more and more people living that out. Among your clients, what approaches have you seen to building authority?Keith:  The biggest one that I’ve seen that…there’s a couple. One of the big ones is to be dogmatic. I’m going to butcher his name. I’m sorry. Jesse Mecham. He talked at Bacon Biz this year. He does a personal finance software. One of the things that he talked about was about being dogmatic.It’s the same reason why, for example, radio personalities like Rush Limbaugh and stuff…you would never hear Rush Limbaugh have someone call in, make a really good point, and he’d be like, “Oh, great point. I’m going to rethink that.” You never hear that.He’s not stupid. He’s not so dog‑headed that he wouldn’t understand that point, but when you are promoting to an audience you have to be dogmatic. You have to be very solid in your delivery to someone. You can’t be wishy‑washy. Pick your points and move forward on them.That doesn’t mean you can’t change them, but when you do change them you have to make a big deal out of it. You have to say, “Hey, this is something I’ve been thinking about for three years or four years. You know, guys, this is the wave of the future. This was not right for the last two years, but the way the world is going now this is what we need to be doing.”It’s all about that authoritative voice. It’s being an authority, and it’s being very straight and clear with your messaging.Philip:  For people who are naturally thoughtful people, high‑intelligent people, it’s hard to do that because you feel a little bit like a Neanderthal when you do it.Keith:  It’s not being stupid. When you have feedback that goes against your eager dogma, you work it into the narrative. You don’t say, “That’s a great idea, I should change things.” That works in this case or that is actually a subset of what I’ve been talking about. You always bring it back to your core values.I’m not saying that this is the only way to build your list, but this is a good way to find the tribe that connects closest to your message. If you don’t have a core message, you’re not going to be able to sell anything. If you don’t have a core message, you’re not going to be able to connect with people. You’re going to be going for the miasma. You’re going to be going for everyone.You can’t please everyone. You don’t want to go for the whole world. You want to go for a niche, and you want to target that one area. The way you do that is by being consistent with your message and pulling that in.Philip:  When clients come to you, have they worked out their messaging? Do you help them develop a message?Keith:  It depends on the client. I’ve had some who had a message, some who had no idea. I have a lot of clients that they say, “I have a website and an idea. Where do I go from here?”Philip:  Part of getting where they want to go is having a message?Keith:  Exactly. Exactly. Especially here in Japan, one of the biggest problems that they have is that they think of a website like a business card. It doesn’t have a purpose. It’s just because you need to have it.Philip:  Or a brochure, an online brochure.Keith:  Right. When you have a website, that’s the number one way to connect to an audience 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That’s how you connect to people, and having a strong message is the only way you’re going to get any traction with that.Philip:  What else? What other approaches do they use in building a list, in building authority? The ones who are successful at it.Keith:  The main ones that I have seen, the number one way, I think, to build a list and to prove authority and to prove efficacy is the whole free content like the snippets idea. That’s things like Nathan Berry put some out. I’m trying to remember the names of them off the top of my head, but I can’tEveryone has them. It’s like how to improve your SEO.Philip:  You’re talking about lead magnets?Keith:  Lead magnets, exactly.Philip:  Packaged, focused, how‑to oriented content, right?Keith:  Right. It’s interesting because people don’t sign up. They always have the sign up for my newsletter on the blog. No one signs up for newsletters. No one wants a newsletter. They want information that they can use now. For a good lead magnet there’s a couple of really important things.First of all is that it’s easily understood. It doesn’t require a PhD in finance or a PhD in computer science to understand. It’s something that a lot of people can easily understand. Two, it’s easily digestible, which means it’s not 600 pages of treaties. It’s 10 things or 12 things or something that they can start using now.One of my favorite ones that I got a while ago was email scripts. 50 email scripts. It was great because it was just 50 copy and paste scripts that you could put in your email for various situations. It’s like I want to introduce Philip to Brennan. Here is a sample of what you should send, and it would also dissect it.Here’s where you put in what your relationship is with the person, et cetera. That’s something that’s instantly understandable, instantly usable, and proves its efficacy because you’ll see it as soon as you get a response in your email. I can’t remember if I was up to three or four. [laughs]That’s the last point which is it needs to show that your information is valid and that it is effective.Philip:  People who do manage to build online authority and build a list, what do they do that he people who fail to do that don’t do?Keith:  To build online authority? I think there’s multiple types of authority. There’s authority in that you are the authoritative source on a subject, and that’s great. Just because you’re the authoritative source on a subject does not mean someone’s going to buy from you.I have a client that he is the authoritative voice in his niche, but he cannot monetize it. It’s because the way that he’s positioned it…he’s monetized it enough to have a living off of it and a good living, but with the size of his list and the amount of people visiting his site every day it should be much higher.The reason is because of the way he’s positioned it. You can be an authority in something and still not be able to monetize it correctly. One of the tactics that I like that a lot of people do is the whole check out how awesome my free stuff is. I reserve the best stuff for my customers.One of the biggest objections that people have, first of all, don’t target people that don’t have money. It’s a really hard market. Frugality blogs. That’s a very hard market to be in because you give a lot of free advice on how to be frugal, how to save money, and then you’re like buy my $50 e‑book on how to save money and then they’re like, “$50? Yes, I’ll save $1,000 over the next month, but $50?” It’s mind‑blowing.One of my clients has a book, and it’s priced at $30. He literally guarantees saving $600 in the first month. That is the guarantee for the book. We did a survey because people weren’t buying and they were like, “It’s too expensive.” Marketing to frugal people is very difficult. [laughs]Philip:  By extension, marketing to frugal businesses or businesses that you have nothing to offer to is going to be the mistake that kills someone starting out in this.Keith:  I really think Patrick McKinley…I really think everyone talks about this. We talk about quick wins. We do a lot of marketing consulting, technical consulting. One of the things we do when we start with a client is, yes, we need to do all the analytics, yes, we need to rewrite your email funnel.Let’s get a quick win. Let’s go to the sales page, let’s run an AB test, let’s pick up the quick wins. Let’s change up your form a little. This isn’t optimized correctly. As soon as the client sees holy crap, we just increased sales by 20 percent, you have a much easier way to continue that engagement and prove the efficacy of that engagement.Going back to that, there was something I wanted to talk about with the Lead Magnets. It’s the idea of opening the wallet. This works for Lead Magnets, this works for low price points, this also works for consultancies. I see a lot of consultancies now are doing what they call productized consulting.I think Content Sherpa is very similar to that.Philip:  Indeed. I think of it that way.Keith:  For people who don’t know what it is, do you mind me talking about this?Philip:  I hope you keep talking about it. Thank you. [laughs]Keith:  The idea is that it is so much easier to sell to people who have already purchased. It’s easier to sell to an existing customer than it is to sell to a new customer. I did a presentation on this. I’m trying to remember the numbers off the top of my head. I believe it was 5 to 10 percent sales rate for a new customer and something like 50 to 70 percent for an existing customer to sell something.I think that was done by Bane & Company. I had a bunch of different stats so I’m trying to remember which is which so I apologize if I have them wrong. It goes back to someone that has purchased from you once understands the value and is more willing to purchase again. That’s why up‑sells do so well. Someone who has just purchased, you offer them a second item or another part of the item.That can increase sales incredibly. The reason is because once you’ve made the decision to buy it’s no longer should I buy or not. It’s should I buy or should I buy more?Philip:  Let me challenge you to talk a little bit about how having a list gets you from I’ve never heard of this guy to ready to make that initial small purchase.Keith:  Exactly. Sorry, I just heard a beep so I’m going to turn myself to, do not disturb, so you don’t get any more beeps. To restate the question, why is it that people on your list will buy more than someone who’s not on your list?Philip:  Sure, or you’re sketching out this escalation of trust and willingness to spend the big bucks. The money changes hand with a small product, an entry level product, especially when you’re talking about info‑product people, but the same thing can happen in the consulting world with a paid discovery for a couple thousand dollars or whatever is appropriate for that deliverable.How does the list get you from nothing to ready to make that small initial purchase?Keith:  That goes back to the whole expert part. It’s interesting because signing up for a list you don’t think of it as a purchase but it is a purchase. It’s a decision to make a payment ‑ in this case, your private information, your email address ‑ in exchange for information.Keith:  And your time and attention, exactly. People say, “I can always just subscribe.” Very few people unsubscribe until it gets really obnoxious. It generally takes a lot of being obnoxious for someone to unsubscribe from a list.Philip:  That’s the other thing, I think, that my clients don’t realize because they’re generally nice people. The rules of in real life, face‑to‑face transactions don’t translate 100 percent to a list.Keith:  They don’t. Talking with my clients, the biggest thing I try to get them understand is that you may think that you are being a huge marketing sales pounding it into their head, but you’re probably not. With the number of emails that people get today, if you send them one sales email a week that’s nothing. That’s absolutely nothing.I have some clients that, during a sales launch, will send two sales emails in the same day. People are excited about them. You can’t just say, “Hey, buy my stuff.” You couch it in the presentation. This is more about your expertise which is convincing people of the pain and then showing them the dream. It’s the pain versus the dream.This is how you are, this is the problem that you are having. Our product helps you by solving that problem. Imagine yourself sitting on the beach not worrying if your server is in flames or not. That’s what we take care of.Philip:  That comes out of knowing your audience and having that message that you can reinforce over and over again with your list content.Keith:  It’s interesting because your list is not a one way street. You are always just sending to your list, but people write back. People write back all the time and they tell you things that they’ve done that have helped them, problems they’re having. That is great research. I hate to turn it into that’s great market research but it is.It’s not market research in the fill out a form and let’s analyze the data. It’s understanding your audience. When you understand your audience you connect to them.Philip:  Right. It’s having a relationship at a larger scale than you can have with the people you know in the area you do business or your town or whatever. It’s a relationship. It’s not an ask, ask, ask thing. It’s a give, give, give, and, oh by the way, here’s what I can do for you if we take this to the next level and trade money.Keith:  Exactly. One of the interesting things I’ve learned doing my business is that I have gotten no work that is just random guy off the street emailing me. There has never been random guy off the street emailing me to do work. It’s all about connections.Whether that’s another consultancy’s too busy and refers me or it’s my friend that says, “You really need to check out what Keith is doing,” or even something that is as simple as I met someone at a mixer. It’s all about connections, understanding the people.Your list is a connection. I think that there are no developers or no technical agencies in the world that would be hired just because someone looked at their website and said, “Yeah, I would totally hire these guys.” If you were to build a conversation or a relationship with someone over time, when they were looking for what you’re offering, then that is a chance to get in there.For example, if I had a website…I do have a website. I have mailing lists. I’m not that bad anymore. [laughs] I was for two years. Not anymore. When I would set up the website I would have it because you need that proof. When someone gets introduced to you and they check out your website they say, “These guys are legit.” You need that.At the same time, if you do it as the expert marketing you don’t care if you’re going to get leads from this or not. You don’t care if you’re going to get jobs from this. What you care about is providing information to the world at large, promoting it, and getting people into your tribe.What you do is you post interesting articles or whatever your genre is. Then you would push forward on articles, on information, maybe stuff that only you know, maybe tools that you’ve built. There’s so many things. Sometimes just larger start‑ups and whatnot will post about what they built that day in the product, and it sparks conversation.People remember the name that is tied to the information that they got. You become a more household name. Then you build that into your list so you have your offerings. You have I’ve talked to you about all these things on my blog, I’m doing this new content offering or I’m thinking about launching this new book. People who want to pre‑order come here, et cetera.There’s a lot of ways that you can then turn that one‑way conversation to a two‑way conversation. Once it’s a two‑way conversation it’s a connection, and once it’s a connection that’s something you can build into a business.Philip:  Sales really is having a conversation that moves towards a business relationship.Keith:  Exactly. Exactly.Philip:  Let’s see. We’ve already talked about what people who have authority can do. You kind of said the sky is the limit. [laughs]Keith:  It really is. You can’t just suddenly pivot and say, “I know I’ve been talking about people who are afraid of claustrophobia for 12 years. Let’s all go skydiving.” There’s a limit to what you can do. Within your genre, if you’re willing to take the time, you can pivot to whatever you want to do with it.The people on your list…I won’t even say the list. The people in your tribe, they connected with you. They started connecting with you because you have something in common. How you take that conversation is completely up to you, and you can change that conversation however you want in the long‑term.I meet people at networking mixers. We’re all sensibly there to meet because we have business things in common, but I get to know the guy and it’s like we like the same hobby, we like the same band, we start going out. We go to barbecues together, et cetera.Suddenly, what originally started as a business conversation is now a friendship conversation. You would never say, “Let’s go to a seminar and then I’m going to make 1,000 friends.” It’s all about how that relationship works in the long‑term. You can change it to anything you want.Philip:  There’s flexibility. It’s an investment to build this kind of authority. It takes you out of the day‑to‑day of billing for your time. You’re saying you’re not locked in to the authority or the list that you build. You can take it a different direction if you do it right.Keith:  Yeah, and don’t expect everyone to come with you. You can’t expect everyone to come with you. That goes back to the be dogmatic aspect. When you are building the list and when you are moving in a single direction, you need to keep that dogmatic.If 5 ,10 years down the line you’re like, “Crap, this is not what I wanted to do,” then you can work on pivoting it out. You can’t just say, “Hey, we’re going in a different direction.” You need to work it into the conversation.Philip:  One problem that technical folks have is that they like to talk about technical stuff. The people on their list may be their peers, but that’s not who should be on their list if they want to use it as a selling tool.Keith:  It is not. The promise you don’t want to sell to your competition. It’s not like yo u shouldn’t have a relationship with your competition, but if you’re selling to people who are doing the same thing as you you’re not going to be able to sell anything.Philip:  How do they bridge that gap between being in the nuts and bolts, the trenches, of doing technical work and talking about something on their list that’s of interest to their potential customers or clients?Keith:  There’s two ways to do that. One, you want to market to people in your industry. If you’re a technical, you want to not really sell to people who are technical but you want to talk about what you’re doing. Then suddenly everyone in the industry is doing that or everyone’s thinking about it, everyone’s talking about it, and who’s the source of it? It’s you.Philip:  In a sense, you are marketing to your peers?Keith:  You’re marketing to the industry as a whole, and the way you do that is by going through your peers. I’m trying to think of a good example right now, and I’m not getting one right off the top of my head. I think the Baremetrics one is a good example where they were talking about opening up data, and they convinced I’m pretty sure it was Buffer to open up their data, as well.It’s this idea now of open data, about open, understanding, and transparency. This is becoming a sub‑current in the industry. We need to be more transparent, we need to be more understandable. There’s no reason for us to fight with the secrecy. Where did that all start? It started from Baremetrics.Philip:  I think another example is 37 Signals. If you look at their content you see them talking to their peers in a way. They like to talk about how to run a SaaS and design issues that might not be broadly interesting to their customers, and they talk to their customers, as well. I think they do both.Keith:  This is interesting because it’s a little bit different when you have a product like Baremetrics or 37 Signals. When you’re selling a product instead of a service ‑ I guess software is a product ‑ you can sell to your industry because they are going to recommend it. If they like it, they’re going to recommend it to their clients.In that case, the end user, your “customer,” is one step removed from you. You sell to your industry and they’re like, “Oh my god, this is the best thing ever.” It’s like Stripe. If there was no tech industry to say, “This makes it so easy to set up payments.” Developers are like, “i will not work with PayPal. I will not touch PayPal.”Stripe targets the developers because they’re the ones that need to set it up. Then they sell it to their clients because the clients aren’t going to be able to set up a payment processor. The industry says, “We’re using Stripe, you’re using Stripe,” and suddenly Stripe has more customers.Philip:  They really got it mainstream the exact way that you’ve described.Keith:  The other side of that is, for a service…let’s go back to Patrick McKenzie really quick. He was technical for a long time. He still is technical. He codes a lot. He is also interested in business. Everyone calls him Internet famous. He is pretty Internet famous, but the way he got Internet famous is he chatted on hacker news and software as a service bulletin boards and everything for years.It was just giving free, good advice to people who didn’t understand it. People might think he’s technical, he’s selling to his own group. That’s not what he’s selling. He’s selling things that technical people don’t get. He’s selling marketing at scale. He’s selling how to connect with customers. He’s talking in terms of the business.Most technical people, you don’t learn that when you’re getting your CS degree. I lost my train of thought. [laughs]Philip:  It’s interesting because I’ve not been following him the whole time he’s been doing that, but I think if you go back and look at some of that old stuff it’s the same subject over and over again. It’s a fairly narrow subject. That’s one of the things that I think is a pattern you see effective.People who effectively use content to build up their authority do, they pick a subject and they stick with it ad nauseum.Keith:  Right. It’s the dogmatic approach. The other part of that is ‑ I don’t know how true this is ‑ they say you have to be taught something seven times for it to stick. It’s really true. That’s why Patrick has been talking about similar things for five years. I think he’s branched out two or three times to new topics within that genre.His big one right now is life cycle emails. It’s really true. You look at any of the great content marketers…and this is one of the things that a lot of people don’t realize when they start. I didn’t realize it when I started, as well. I’ll write my treatise on how you should do opt‑in marketing. I’ll write it once, it’s there, that’s what people need to know, that’s the authoritative source, and we’re done.It’s done. Let’s see the money come in. It doesn’t work like that. You have to be saying the same thing over and over. It is difficult. It is difficult because it’s not like you can just copy/paste. You have to see what people are doing, how the industry is moving, what is going on, and then how that ties back to what you’re thinking about.Philip:  You were saying that a certain amount of who you talk to in your list, in your content that you create, is your peers, and a certain amount is your customers. For the technical consultant, as they’re talking to their peers and they’re sufficiently differentiated in how they talk about themselves then they become the company for that subject and they can get referrals from their peers.They say, “Yeah, I can do this, but you know who really is talking about this all the time? Those guys.” That turns into a referral.Keith:  Exactly. Exactly. There are certain places that I don’t feel my consultancy is up to par with. If I have a client come to me who’s like, “Hey, I really want X,” and I’m like, “We can do X. We’re not great at X. I would really recommend this guy because he is, honestly, in my circle, the authority on X.”It’s like if someone came to me for a life cycle email I do write life cycle emails, I love writing life cycle emails, and they’re like, “We want the best life cycle emails ever.” I’m like, “Well, if you’re willing to pay for it I can introduce you to Patrick. He literally wrote the book on it.”It’s just things like that. That goes back to the whole connections. It’s about creating a connection not only with your customers but with your community. It’s about openness. If I was not open and I was not like, “This is what we do and these are some great people I know,” no one would give me a second glance.Nathan Berry wrote a great article on Smashing Magazine, “How to Sell Anything.” He specifically talks about CSS Tricks. I won’t go through the whole article, but you should definitely check it out. It’s just about how when CSS Tricks started out Nathan Berry looked at it and said, “I know that stuff. Whatever. I’m so much better than that.”CSS Tricks was doing every single day and it was getting better and better. He had the information there. As time went on, when a client would ask Nathan, “How do I do this with CSS?” he was linking back to CSS Tricks. It was easier than him writing out the email or writing out the information.Now you search for anything for CSS and CSS Tricks comes up. It’s the authority on it.Philip:  Another piece of that story I remember from reading Nathan’s book on authority is he really does a great job of countering the objection which goes like this, “I know what I’m doing but I’m not currently an expert in this. I don’t have any business writing about this or setting myself up as an authority on this subject.”What he said is that you’re going to do a much better job of teaching something that you learned, I don’t know, six months ago and you’ve applied a couple of times than something you’ve been doing for six years because you’ll have that beginner’s mindset.Keith:  So true. It’s so true. One of the biggest problems that I’ve had in explaining my consulting and explaining what I do and strategies to new clients is that you don’t know what other people don’t know. Let’s give an example. You know tiered pricing. You have a price anchor at the high end and then you have three price tiers.You have your cheap version, your middle version, and your high version. It’s the same product, but you’re just bundling it different, adding different things, it’s the premium version, et cetera. This is marketing 101. This has been marketing 101 forever.We went to a marketing conference in the US. It was four Internet marketers. This is what they should be doing 24/7. We were talking about tiered pricing and they were like, “What’s that?” It just blew my mind. That’s a very extreme example, but I didn’t know where to take the conversation from there. How do I even start the conversation when you don’t understand that?That’s what you have to remember, especially for a technical company, people who you would be helping with your writing. You need to understand that your customers, your end clients, are not technical. They do not understand what a database is. They literally do not understand what a database is.In some cases, they may not understand what the difference between Google and the Internet is. There’s a whole range. That’s not because they’re stupid. They are masters in their own field. They are master lawyers. They are master doctors. They’re just not master IT people.You have to learn to connect to them. You’re not going to explain what a database is. They don’t care what a database is. How does your solution help them? What can you do to help them? That’s how you connect with them. You don’t talk about if your database is MySQL or what’s the new hotness? If we switch over from MySQL to a no SQL database then we’re going to get this performance.They don’t give a crap. How is it going to make it easier for them to process their clients’ payments? How is it going to solve their pain points?Philip:  Which usually have a dollar sign associated with them.Keith:  Any time you can solve a problem that has a dollar sign associated with it you’ve just written your own rate. If you are solving a million dollar problem you can’t charge a million dollars for it ‑ well, you could ‑ you know the value of what you’re bringing to the table.Philip:  You become a partner on a million dollar venture and become entitled to a share of that profit.Keith:  Exactly. Exactly.Philip:  What I was trying to have be a 30 minute conversation turned into a much better 60 minute conversation. Let’s wrap‑up with this question. What one, simple thing can people start doing today to build their authority? By people I mean my clients, the small, technical consultancy.Keith:  Honestly, I would, it all goes back to creating content. But what I would do, the one thing I would start with is, start figuring out what you know that other people don’t that is of interest to your clients.That’s not, I know how to optimize JavaScript amazingly well and I’m going to sell that to HVAC people. It’s what can you do, figure out how you can explain what you do to your clients in a way that makes them understand it and see the value of what you do. Then just start writing about it.Philip:  Let’s dig into that a little more. How would you walk someone through that process?Keith:  It’s such a case by case.Philip:  Sure.Keith:  It’s such a case by case. I can’t just say, “Here’s how we go through it.”Philip:  Really though, it’s kind of the core of getting started down this road, isn’t it?Keith:  It is. If you were to explain…Here’s a good example. I would even go, if you have access to your local chamber of commerce, some networking events, etc. that don’t deal with your industry directly, but are people who could conceivably become your clients, and talk to them. Talk to them about what problems they have. Just listen to them. Don’t talk at them. Just listen to what they’re doing.If you want a great example of how to do that, I would honestly pick up Brennan’s book, “Double Your Freelancing Rate.” It’s $50 or $60 right now. It just has some good examples of how you talk to people in order to provide value, because it’s all value based.The conversation needs to be value based. Figuring that out is the single most hardest thing, but it’s also what you need to start with. You should not think, “Oh, this has to be perfect before I start.” Start with a draft, like say…Because I have changed how I position my company multiple times in the last three years.As I get different feedback, I’ve been changing it. I’ve been reworking it, making it easier to understand. But if you don’t start and you don’t start getting it out there, you’re never going to get that feedback that makes you grow.Philip:  Yeah, when I tackle this same problem with My Content Sherpa clients, I have a couple of questions that are kind of my go to questions. What do you see your clients’ eyes light up when you say? Is the good one to sort of provoke thinking about that. Right?What do your clients complain about over and over again? Other than stuff that may not be going great on the project that you’re working on with them. But about themselves and their lives and their business, what do you hear them kvetching about?Keith:  Exactly, exactly. It’s going to be different for every industry. Some of my clients, their main gripe is support. They want a lower support cost.You say, “OK, we can start outsourcing.” But look at what is the support issue that they’re having. Is it something that’s solvable by you? Is it a systemic problem? You’re not going to get this without starting that conversation, you’re not going to start that conversation without putting something out there.It’s like Steve Jobs says, “Real artists ship.” Right? You just figure out the bare minimum of what you need to get that message out there, start putting it out there and then connect back on it as you’re getting feedback.Philip:  That’s great. That’s actionable, that’s something people can start today. That’s awesome. Thank you, Keith.Keith:  No worries, thank you very much.Philip:  Keith, how can people find out more about you if they’re curious?Keith:  If you are curious about what I do, you can find me on the web at delfi‑net.com, D E L F I‑net.com. I’m Keith Perhac on Twitter and DelfiNetJP on Twitter. I just kind of hang around.Philip:  You’re easy to find.Keith:  I don’t know if I’m easy to find. no one has the name Keith Perhac. If you search for Keith Perhac, you’ll probably find some old pictures of me as well. But you’ll find what I’ve been doing recently.Philip:  Awesome.Keith:  It’s really interesting, because Patrick, Internet Famous and I’ve been doing the podcast with him for about two, three years now. Patrick always asked at the end, “How can people find you on the Internet?” They can’t. I just don’t exist on the Internet, really.Philip:  They have to go to Japan to find you.Keith:  They have to come to Japan. You have to wear the shawl and like hike up the mountain to find me. I’m kind of that way, I guess.Philip:  Well, I’m glad I found you and I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about this stuff.Keith:  Honestly, it was great talking with you. I’ve had so much fun about this stuff.

    (Transcription by CastingWords)

    Remember, new My Content Sherpa seats open up on July 22. If you’re on the waiting list, you’ll get first crack at reserving your seat so you can start building your company’s online authority every month.

    And be sure to check Keith out if you need technical marketing to move the needle for for your company.