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    Proof train car #3: the guarantee

    We’re sitting around a hobo trash car fire, watching the ole’ proof train roll on by.Lefty is blowin’ on a dented C# harmonica he swiped in Needles, CA, Blinky is sleeping one off, Two-Teeth is picking something out of his beard, and I’m typing this email about proof elements.The third car in the “proof train” is a guarantee of some sort.A strong guarantee provides proof that your claim is believable. It’s not the only proof element you should include, and your claim is not inherently unbelievable just because you lack a guarantee. But a guarantee is a very helpful proof element because it demonstrates your own high degree of confidence in your claim to be able to produce certain results or your confidence in your own expertise.A guarantee is also a way of sharing part or all of the risk with a client. This is strengthens your position.The notion of a guarantee brings up a few questions that have no simple, clear cut answers.Do you guarantee inputs or outcomes?For example, do you guarantee that you will do your best? Act as a professional? Follow accepted best practices?Those are inputs to the process of client work which, by it’s very nature, is often a collaboration of some kind between your company and your client. Guaranteeing the inputs is guaranteeing the things you control.Or do you go big and guarantee the outcome(s) of that collaboration?xx% improvement in some key metric. yy% reduction in some other metric.Those are outcomes, and it’s obviously more challenging to guarantee outcomes than inputs because with outcomes you don’t control all the variables. You could do everything necessary to deliver a 25% improvement in sales and then your client’s sales tank for the quarter and poof!, your 25% improvement becomes a 14% improvement that entitles your client to whatever your guarantee stipulates.A sort of middle ground here is to guarantee improvement rather than a specific amount of improvement.What remedy do you promise in your guarantee?A strong guarantee reverses the damage caused by hiring you.Usually the most you could do to reverse damage is to refund 100% of your billings/fee and clean up any mess that was made.I know there were times in my business when I couldn’t offer that kind of guarantee because I lacked the financial liquidity to do any kind of refund. I think that’s pretty a pretty common situation among freelancers because so many of us have a revenue mix that is low-volume + high price point. So I’m not saying the only remedy you can offer is a 100% refund. But that is probably the strongest remedy you can offer.The longer you hold on to a client’s payment, the more painful it becomes to refund it. So if you do use a moneyback guarantee, you’ll be naturally incentivized to thoroughly explore whether you’re a good fit for your client’s needs before taking on the project, front-load the project with risk-reduction activities like a paid discovery phase, and communicate with your client in a way that minimizes the chances of things going sideways. Those are good things anyway, and they make it easier to promise a moneyback guarantee.There’s more I could say about guarantees, but the proof train is rollin’ on, and Blinky just woke up and said I need to get busy heating up that can of beans, so I’ll wrap this up for now.If you need a value proposition worth guaranteeing, check out: http://thepositioningmanual.comTalk to you soon,-P

    How big is the apps market?

    A mentoring program participant asked me how big the apps market is.I said, “great question! Let me look into that.”And I did. Behold, a 21-minute analysis of two questions:

    1. How many entities are building a revenue-generating mobile app?
    2. How many entities have a revenue-generating app they’d like to rescue or dramatically improve?

    Here’s the video:positioning services - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultantsTo the 8 people who’ve asked me a market-sizing question, hang tight! 🙂 I’ve still got your question on my TODO list and I’m super excited to get to it ASAP. You can probably tell I really like doing these market size estimates but they take time to do well. Naturally, mentoring program folks come first, which is part of why it’s taken me a while to get back to you. Protocol is that I’ll share my findings with you privately first, and ask you for permission to also share the video with my list (but of course you can decline if you feel the information is sensitive or private).One of the surprising things you’ll find in is the concept that it’s not how big your target market is, but how small it is. Learn more at exploration of the “proof train” concept resumes tomorrow,-P

    Proof train car #2: the demonstration

    The next “car” in the “proof train” is demonstration.As a reminder, I’m doing a short series to answer a reader question asking for examples that relate to this quote:

    Never make your claim bigger than your proof. And always join your claim and your proof at the hip in your headlines, so that you never trumpet one without the other. — Gary Bencivenga

    The next form of proof you can offer to support your claims is a demonstration of expertise or your ability to create the results you claim. Real, live, unscripted demonstrations are best, but other things like blog articles or email courses can serve as good demonstrations of expertise.We can reference soooo many examples of powerful demonstrations in the product world.Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers will probably remember the television infomercials selling Ginsu Knives, and the many demonstrations they contained. I remember seeing the infomercial host cutting through a tree branch, metal objects like a soda can, and so on using a Ginsu knife. It’s laughably cheesy now, but those demonstrations helped sell a ton of product, and the idea of a compelling demonstration can be applied to your marketing too.There was a time when riding an elevator was a high risk activity that carried a potential death sentence for riders if the elevator’s support cable broke. Elisha Otis invented a safety brake that made elevators more safe, but public perception was very slow to change until he did a public demonstration of the device’s effectiveness at the 1854 World’s Fair. The orders started rolling in after that.But how do demonstrations apply to what you do, which is primarily to build things that don’t exist yet like custom software, websites, etc? How do you demonstrate something that doesn’t yet exist?Of course, car #1 on the proof train (case studies) are one way to demonstrate your ability to product the results you claim, or to demonstrate your expertise. So don’t neglect that form of proof.But there’s another way, and those who say you should never do work for free won’t like it, and those who say you should automate the heck out of your marketing probably will disagree.You should create opportunities to demonstrate your expertise in a live, unscripted setting. In other words, you should get in front of prospective clients either 1-on-1 or in a small group setting and do what you do for free and do it without the “safety net” of a script. When you implement this idea, it ends up looking like one or more of the following:1) 1-on-1 calls with prospective clients where you do a bit of discovery workI call this a “micro-consult”, and it builds trust and demonstrates your approach to problem solving. It lets you get to know a potential client (and screen out bad fits), and it delivers a bit of no-strings-attached value to them. Most importantly, it moves your relationship with a potential client out of the virtual world into the meatspace where you can build trust more rapidly.I’ve never heard of a 5-figure or larger project that hasn’t included at least one such phone call, but if you know of one please let me know. I’d love to hear a story about what is almost certainly an edge case.2) Webinars or executive briefingsTaking live questions on a webinar or executive briefing is a great way to demonstrate expertise. This builds trust and does so in a somewhat less impactful but more scalable way than micro-consults can.3) Half-day workshopsWhat if you let potential clients apply to spend a half-day in your office (or rented conf room at a co-working space or video call) getting free advice about their potential project? Of course you’d need to qualify applicants based on project size and a few other factors for this to be a good use of your time, but for those that are a good fit, this is a great way to demonstrate that you have valuable expertise and a unique approach that can benefit them if they were to hire your company.4) Articles and other content marketingThe most scalable and least impactful demonstration of expertise is written content. I’m not saying it’s not powerful or effective, but I am saying that things like single blog articles, white papers, and other written content are the least able to rapidly build trust.What makes written content more able to build trust is repeated exposure over time (like email marketing) and third-party trust transfer (like writing something worthy of being published in HBR or being on the NY Times bestseller list).That said, written content can be a good way to demonstrate that you posses the specialized expertise that you claim to.Proof is important, but a powerful claim of expertise is even more important. I have a book that will help you develop that claim: http://thepositioningmanual.comThe next car on the proof train has to do with “trainwreck projects”,-P

    Riding the proof train

    List member Ryan asked this question about a recent email:—-Just want to say I love the series and all the advice. Could you give a concrete example of aligning proof with you claim? Like how in one scenario it’s joined at the hip and another one trumpets the other?—Yes. Yes, I can give a concrete example of aligning proof with your claim!In fact, I’ll spend the next several emails to y’all doing just that. We begin today.There are at least ten distinct ways to offer proof in your marketing. Before I dive into those, I want to remind you of the Bencivenga quote that spurred Ryan’s question:

    Never make your claim bigger than your proof. And always join your claim and your proof at the hip in your headlines, so that you never trumpet one without the other. — Gary Bencivenga

    Proof supports your claim, ideally in a completely convincing and harmonious way.Quick tangent: What’s your claim?It’s usually one of two things. It’s either a claim of expertise (potentialability to produce results), or a claim of actual results you have produced for some and claim to be able to re-produce for others.A well-positioned professional services business will make a claim that is relatively narrow in terms of the target audience or problem solved. The claim should promise a significant or even dramatic return on investment.And that’s why you need proof: bold claims are inherently interesting but also inherently not credible because they’re so commonly used.The first of those ten forms of proof is relevant testimonials, case studies, reference accounts, or other social proof.I know you just had to pick yourself up off the floor because what I said there is so shockingly original!:troll:”Relevant testimonials, case studies, reference accounts, or other social proof” is nothing new. In fact, it’s the “table stakes” of marketing your business. If you’re not using at least one of those proof elements, start there before you do anything else.Here are a few relevant things to keep in mind as you’re thinking about how you could integrate this proof element into your marketing:

    1. Video advertisements use actors and models for social proof. You should use real clients and real stories.
    2. Always look for ways to add value in your case studies. Could you do a case study or webinar where one of your most successful clients actually teaches prospective clients what they learned from working with you? How much better would that be than a boring ole “challenge, solution, results” case study?
    3. Unscripted recorded video conversations with actual clients may beat the pants off of text case studies in terms of credibility. I’m currently testing this and will have more to share later.
    4. To get the single best advice I’ve found on testimonials, read Sean D’Souza’s book The Brain Audit.
    5. A good logo strip or client list can really punch above it’s weight in terms of proof. It’s 100x easier to get permission to use a logo than a good case study, and saying that you’ve worked with a bunch of heavy-hitter clients is still very powerful even if you don’t have full case studies to go along with those logos.

    Lastly, I want I promised to touch on alignment. How–in the case of social proof–do you align your proof with your claim?

    1. Make it relevant. Make sure any testimonials, case studies, reference accounts, or other social proof are relevant to your claim of expertise. That often means doing some painful trimming of irrelevant items from your marketing to avoid sending a confusing message about your market position. Sometimes it involves doing a bit of rework of other content that needs to be more closely aligned with your positioning message.
    2. Make it closely integrated. Look for opportunities to integrate your proof with your claims, or even make them one and the same thing. Some quick examples:
      1. A headline that reads: “Our clients save 37% on their inventory management costs using software we built for them. Would you like to do the same?”
      2. An article on your methodology where you reference authoritative sources and your own client successes every time you make a claim.
      3. A sales page for a service that includes proof elements at every opportunity to back up your claims.

    If you have no compelling claim to make in your marketing, you probably need to narrow your market position. I have a resource to help with that right here: http://thepositioningmanual.comProof element #2 comin’ at you next time,-P

    Tap into your inner Ignaz Semmelweis

    Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis was a Hungarian physician who pioneered a breakthrough medical technology.His ideas were not accepted at the time. Some of his more, em, “motivated” critics tried to have him committed to a mental institiution.

    Ferdinand Ritter von Hebra lured him, under the pretense of visiting one of Hebra’s “new Institutes”, to a Viennese insane asylum located in Lazarettgasse. Semmelweis surmised what was happening and tried to leave. He was severely beaten by several guards, secured in a straitjacket, and confined to a darkened cell. Apart from the straitjacket, treatments at the mental institution included dousing with cold water and administering castor oil, a laxative. He died after two weeks, on August 13, 1865, aged 47, from a gangrenous wound, possibly caused by the beating. — Wikipedia

    This dangerous man’s crime?Promoting the idea that doctors should wash their hands to reduce disease.Yesterday I was doing a micro-consult with a member of this very list, and several times I found myself saying, “you need to find some contrarian angle for your content marketing. That’s what helps you get attention for it.”I’m not the first person to say this. Alan Weiss is a long-time advocate of having a contrarian stance in your marketing and your work, and I think we can trace the roots of this idea much, much further back in time.Presenting a contrarian idea (“pair programming is a waste of resources!”, “agile development as it’s commonly practiced is a disaster!”) has tremendous built-in interest. People want to know if you have some insight they’ve been missing out on. They want to insure themselves against failure they didn’t see coming, and so they’ll listen to you if you have a fresh-seeming, contrarian perspective on things.Of course, you need to back this contrarian perspective up with something valuable, well-considered, and backed with proof or you will soon be added to people’s mental spam filter.So what’s your contrarian perspective on things?I don’t think I’m going to get lured into a mental institution for revealing one of my contrarian perspectives here: I believe that you can’t rely on Google to send you good leads (if you’re not paying them for ads), at least not when you’re starting to market your business. To put it bluntly: “SEO is almost certainly a waste of your time”.That’s why I help you build other ways of acquiring leads in the bootcamp, which is happening again soon.Talk to you soon,-P


    I want to share a bit of marketing inspiration from one of the greats:

    Never make your claim bigger than your proof. And always join your claim and your proof at the hip in your headlines, so that you never trumpet one without the other. — Gary Bencivenga

    I would go beyond headlines to say “always join your claim and your proof at the hip in your marketing“.I know that a lot of software developers haaaaate marketing because there are so many examples of marketing that’s divorced from proof. Or worse yet, marketing that never even bothered to think about proof. And worst of all, marketing where there is no underlying proof whatsoever.I want to help you do things differently:

    Even I won’t stoop that low…

    You’ll often hear me say that having an amazing website design doesn’t really matter.Of course, I need to bracket a broad claim like that with some caveats…I was doing some research for a coaching client recently and came across the site below:ImageThis is clearly below the “floor” I would put on acceptable website design. I checked the source code and it was made with Microsoft Frontpage!I might be punching below the belt here. Maybe this company is doing just fine and doesn’t need a better website. After all, when you criticize without context, you run the risk of looking like a ding-a-ling. :)But for most software developers and most clients, the design of the site above is going to send the wrong message.On the other end of the spectrum you have over-designed, over-complicated websites. I will concede that for a very small set of potential clients, this is exactly the kind of site you want to create.If your client is more likely to hire you because you have an expensive office or other signs of being able to spend lavishly–presumably because your company is doing very well–then an expensive-looking website may also contribute to impressing this type of client.But most of us need a different kind of website. One where the message is: “we have a track record of solving the core problem you are experiencing, and there’s real value in it for you if you’ll give us some more of your attention over time” and the design supports that message without getting in the way.That’s the kind of website I help you quickly and easily build during the Commodity Prisonbreak bootcamp. I set you up with writing prompts, templates, and an easy process to follow to get from where you are now (if you’re right for this bootcamp what you have right now isn’t really working and you’d like to build something that does) to having a small, effective online marketing funnel for your business.More details here:

    Angioplasty and you

    About a year ago my previous car–a 2012 VW TDI–had it’s check engine light go on, and I had it towed into the repair shop.The ride into the repair shop with Jim–the tow truck driver–held an interesting lesson.Jim told me that he volunteers with the Bodega fire department, and about once a month they respond to a driver careening off the cliffs next to Highway 1, which look a lot like the picture below:ImageJim also told me that he used to be a technician at Medtronics, a $20B medical tech company. He told me that the VAST MAJORITY of people who have a stent surgically installed do nothing at all to improve their diet or exercise situation, even though they may be one only more heart attack away from certain death.I checked up on this, and he’s basically right. A study published in April in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows one in four men doesn’t make any lifestyle changes at all after a heart attack, stroke, or other major cardiac event. (Women tend to do better when it comes to following through on changes like this.)The study looked at smoking cessation, healthy eating, and physical exercise. Out of 7,519 patients surveyed in 17 countries, just 4.3 percent of participants improved their habits in all three areas, more than 30 percent made two lifestyle changes, and more than 47 percent changed at least one lifestyle behavior to better their health.I think that’s what Jim was referring to. Only 4.3% of study participants used their actions to say “I will do everything in my power to prevent this from getting worse”.If your business’s primary health problem is commoditization, the symptoms are easy to spot.Downward rate pressure, lots of competitive bidding for work, and a power dynamic that skews heavily towards the client end of the relationship.If you’d like to do everything in your power to make things better, then check out now.Talk to you soon,-P

    News robots

    Recently I came across a Gizmodo article I think you’ll find interesting.Michael Nunez, reporting for Gizmodo:

    But if you really want to know what Facebook thinks of journalists and their craft, all you need to do is look at what happened when the company quietly assembled some to work on its secretive “trending news” project. The results aren’t pretty: According to five former members of Facebook’s trending news team — “news curators” as they’re known internally — Zuckerberg & Co. take a downright dim view of the industry and its talent. In interviews with Gizmodo, these former curators described grueling work conditions, humiliating treatment, and a secretive, imperious culture in which they were treated as disposable outsiders. After doing a tour in Facebook’s news trenches, almost all of them came to believe that they were there not to work, but to serve as training modules for Facebook’s algorithm. […]That said, many former employees suspect that Facebook’s eventual goal is to replace its human curators with a robotic one. The former curators Gizmodo interviewed started to feel like they were training a machine, one that would eventually take their jobs. Managers began referring to a “more streamlined process” in meetings. As one former contractor put it: “We felt like we were part of an experiment that, as the algorithm got better, there was a sense that at some point the humans would be replaced.”

    If you’re as concerned as I am that commoditization is eating away at the bottom of the software development market, then you need to become un-commoditizeable.Becoming un-commoditizeable is a process that works like this:

    1. Identify and validate a market position where you deliver value that’s based on experience, insight, and judgement and can’t be even crudely replaced with an algorithm, code library, or set of easily-implemented best practices.
    2. Market yourself or your business consistently and effectively based on this position.
    3. Cultivate and acquire the new skills and experience needed to dominate your desired market position.

    This isn’t a completely linear process. For example, item #3 often happens in parallel with the other 2.I can help with #1 through my book and mentoring program.Recently I’ve developed a bootcamp-style online event to help you get started with #2 without the missteps and analysis paralysis that I often see software developers making as they start to market their business in a more serious way.If you’re at all interested in making progress on #2, head over to and sign up for the waiting list. I’m going to be starting another bootcamp soon and I want to make sure that–if the timing’s right for you–you get first crack at a seat.Talk to you soon,-P

    Why you need to repeat yourself via email

    When you start using email marketing in an effective way, it makes you feel like a spammer, at least at first.I know a few people who haven’t copped to this, but most business owners who are new to email marketing find that it feels “spammy” at first to use email marketing effectively.Even if the emails you send out have real value.Even if it’s done with the best of intentions and ethics.Even if you segment your list really precisely to increase the relevance of your sales messages.In other words, even if you do everything right it can feel spammy. One of the specific reasons for that is that you need to repeat yourself when marketing via email.Actually, you need to repeat yourself a lot in general in your marketing. That’s what increases the effect of your message. But when you send the same message, or emails with the same call to action (CTA), to the same group of people, it can feel wrong somehow.Here’s one tiny data point that explains why you need to repeat yourself anyway, even if it feels sort of wrong.Yesterday I sent 524 of my list subscribers an offer to download a 100% free thing (the Complete Bundle of The Positioning Manual for Technical Firms) that’s worth at least $50. No obligation, no strings attached.ImageWe’re not quite 24 hours in, and I find that most individual marketing email stats take about 48 to 72 hours to settle on their final numbers. That said, only 101 of 524 recipients clicked the link for an awesome, free thing.I probably won’t repeat this exact offer to my list, but if I was interested in maximizing my response to the offer (the response can roughly be measured by the click-through rate and precisely measured by sales or downloads), I definitely would repeat the offer. I’d repeat it at least 5 times, possibly much much more.Why?My products and services are awesome, but they are not Adele, who sold out her tour of an entire continent in a few minutes. 🙂 I have to provide multiple opportunities to buy because:Some people won’t read every email, but will read repeated emails on the same theme.Some people won’t respond to the first CTA but will respond to repetitions of the CTA.Some people need to have a lot of objections countered to reduce or eliminate the risk of changing their status quo by taking action.Some people need to be reminded of a pain they have become used to living with in order to see the value of a solution.And some people will only respond to urgency or scarcity signals (going, going, gone!).For these reasons you need to repeat yourself in your email marketing, even if it feels strange or spammy at first.On that note, let me repeat that I can help you define a strong market position and begin to market it effectively:http://thepositioningmanual.comOnce again,-P