Insight for Independent Consultants

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    The “how many are there game”: digital agencies

    Quick! How many digital advertising agencies with 200 or more employees are there?That’s the question list member Ted posed to me after I recently issued my standing invitation to do the math on any market’s size.Ted’s company has some specialized skill in helping his clients escape “Excel Hell”, which is that delightfully awful situation where you’re using Microsoft Excel to manipulate data from dozens or hundreds of data sources to generate reports or some other form of business intelligence.While he could apply that skill to many different types of clients, Ted has wisely decided to focus on repeating a specific success story (which he’s wisely written up into a really good case study), which means he needs to know:

    1. Are there enough of these kinds of clients out there to provide strong revenue if Ted niched down to that market segment?
    2. Is the market small enough for Ted’s company to become known as the go-to for that market?

    Let’s find out! Ted said it would be OK for me to share with you 20 minutes of me talking this problem though via this quick screencast (and 30 seconds of my cat Ollie crying in the background):positioning services - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultants(Direct link if the embed above gives you any sass:, I’d be happy to do the same for you. Got a market you’re thinking about focusing on but aren’t certain about whether it’s the right “goldilocks” size? Hit REPLY, tell me about it, and I’ll do the math for you too.Market size is just one of several critical aspects of positioning your business effectively. I can help you with the rest in: http://thepositioningmanual.comJuuuuuuust right,-P

    Things fall apart

    My website exploded last night.It all started with some tweaks to SEO plugin to resolve a description formatting problem. The plugin was trying to be helpful but was making things worse.Tweak, tweak, tweak…”Hmm… why aren’t things changing in the header tags?”Clear cache, tweak some more…”OK, screw this. I’ll try a different SEO plugin…”3 minutes later…”HOLY CRAP! Why is my entire site one giant 404 page!?!?!?!?!?”Panic sets in, I try a bunch of different things, do a database restore, and then realize the whole problem was caused by a missing .htaccess file, which most definitely was caused by my SEO plugin tweaking.The technological process that’s happened over the last 100 years is phenomenal. After all, it was only 68 years between Gustave Weißkopf’s manned, powered, controlled flight of a heavier-than-air craft and the first human walking on the moon.Despite this progress, I’m reminded that there are still plenty of unsolved problems that can be addressed with better software. Off the top of my head:

    1. Full funnel attribution that doesn’t require programming chops. In other words, how can dumb-dumb marketers take their existing stack of marketing tools (email marketing provider, web site, various acquisition channels, list of people who’ve “converted” in some way) and get usable data and insight into what’s working, what’s not, and why? Seems like a real problem that has a potential software solution.
    2. Specialist web presence solutions. I’m seeing some special-purpose web solutions emerge. ClickFunnels is one example. I haven’t used it, but it promises an integrated website, email marketing, and shopping cart package that helps sleazy online marketers sell more stuff. 🙂 What about a similar solution that’s oriented towards lead generation? Or selling expensive services more effectively? My modest contribution to this problem space ( is still not a truly integrated solution.

    I think there are a lot more unsolved problems out there, including SEO plugins that are easier to use. :)My solution to the market position problem: http://thepositioningmanual.comTalk to you soon,-P

    7 ways that narrowing your market position is like getting your first nose hair trimmer

    I’m going to be 42 years old this August. A few months ago, it was brought to my attention that I should start using a nose hair trimmer, so I bought my first one.I’ve learned that this is actually a lot like narrowing your market position. Who knew!I’ve identified 7 ways in which narrowing your market position is a lot like getting your first nose hair trimmer.1) It’s a sign of maturityI made it through 41 years without having to use a nose hair trimmer!Many professional services businesses also get to the threshold of mid-life before they have to tackle the issue of market position. Maybe they ride an extended wave of luck, or perhaps doing great work and getting referrals is enough for a good long while.But eventually… age catches up with you. And then you need a tool to make things better.2) It seems like the damn thing might cut you at first until you actually try itHow can you just stick some machine with spinning blades powered by an electric motor into your nose hole and not get cut? It seems so risky, even though the packaging assures you you’ll be fine!Narrowing your market focus also seems very likely to harm you. How do you exclude clients? Won’t that give you a bad reputation, or cause a loss of revenue?3) It feels unnecessary until you are old enough to know that it’s not20-year old me scoffed at the idea of a machine to trim nose hairs! It seemed like something you’d get as an add-on to your Amazon dot com order of an extra-long 24″ Rosewood-handled shoehorn (so you don’t have to bend over so much as you’re putting on your patent leather old man shoes).But then… it gradually dawns on you. This is just part of running a mature services business! This is just the most direct way to make business development more effective.4) It removes multiple problems that you thought you just had to live withI’m going to spare you details here. Like a nose hair trimmer, a strong market position removes problems that might seem like a fact of life.Clients who don’t respect you? Always dealing with a crazy learning curve on projects? Those can be dispensed with when you occupy a desirable market position.5) How it actually works is a little bit mysteriousHow the heck does a nose hair trimmer cut the right things (nose hairs) without cutting the wrong things (the delicate skin inside the nose)? I haven’t disassembled mine to figure out so the mechanism by which it produces results remains a mystery to me.How does choosing a smaller focus turn into bigger business results?6) It makes it easier for others to be around you, and it makes you more attractive to your mating pool (clients, in this analogy)Why do law firms who charge $1000/hr remain in business when there are cheaper alternatives? Maybe if you’re looking at low price as a competitive advantage you could change that with a better market position for your business? Every market has room for a premium option at the top end.7) You use it more confidently with practiceThe first time I stuck my motorized nose hair trimmer into my nose I was veeeeeery cautious. Then I saw that it didn’t cut me, it didn’t hurt, and I gradually became more confident with using it.Now I use it like it’s a scimitar cutting down the enemies of the Ottoman Empire.With some help, you can use positioning just as powerfully to make your own business better: http://thepositioningmanual.comBreathin’ easy over here,-P

    Would you like to look under the hood of my email list?

    I’m sure you know that I’m a huge fan of email marketing because of its potential to scale trust-building.I use my own email list as a bit of a laboratory. I’m always trying to find ways to deliver more value. I’m also interested in how my email list performs over time from a marketing perspective.The blunt way to phrase that question is this: Is it worth all the time you put into your email list?I’m looking into ways to quantify this. Gross sales that I could attribute to my email list would be one handy metric I don’t quite have worked out yet.This week I reached out for help with another interesting list metric question: how much time passes between someone joining my list and their spending money on my book or my other services?I got the best help I could ask for in the form of Ari Lamstein, an expert R developer who helps other R programmers map open data sets (stuff like census data, etc.). Ari helped me take a bunch of CSVs and turn them into some pretty interesting charts.The one below charts out home much time elapses between someone joining my list and them making a purchase of some kind:Image(bigger version: are a few outliers beyond the 1-year timeframe, but I constrained this one to include the time from from 1 day to 365 days.You can see that there’s a lot of buying activity in the first 30 days or so, but there’s also a lot of buying activity in the remaining 11 months of this time period.My takeaway is that email marketing is a long game. One that generates a substantial share of the potential revenue over longer time periods. This reinforces my distaste for the “cult of the big launch” where undue emphasis is placed on hauling in big one-time numbers of sales from a big, splashy, high-pressure launch. There’s plenty of money to be made from developing long-term relationships with people over longer periods of time, or doing multiple smaller launches.If I don’t exclude a 0-day time difference between joining my list and buying something, I get this:Image(bigger version: absolute lion’s share of the buying activity happens on day 0. That’s because a fairly large number of copies of The Positioning Manual for Technical Firms have been sold as part of bulk sales. Buying the book also opts customers in to my list, causing a zero day time difference between purchasing something from me and joining my list.The final chart I’ll share is from day 1 to day 90, just to give you a closer look at the first 3 months:Image(bigger version: me, the most interesting plot is the 1-year timeframe, although the max time outlier is one purchase that happened 625 days after joining my list! Again, that 1-year timeframe is most interesting to me because it shows that sales continue to happen over the long term.And I think that long-term perspective is the most healthy way to think about my own business. Perhaps the same is true for yours?What could you start doing to build for the long term? What lead or client relationships could you strengthen by contributing more value? What partnerships could you be building with peers who are in adjacent or complementary positions? How could you invest more in the future strength of your own market position?Anyway, major thanks to Ari Lamstein for this insight. All I did was export some CSVs, and before I knew it he’d made an R program I could use to spit out these slick graphs.Ari’s got a lot to offer if you have any needs around R or data mapping using R. Check him out at: it for the long term,-P

    Ya’ just have to know where to look for it!

    In 2011 my wife and I bought 5 acres of stunning land at the Oregon coast for $80,000.To be honest, we didn’t know exactly what we were going to do with it when we bought it. We just thought the land was amazing, beautiful, and we wanted it.Not long after, we decided we’d build a house on the land, move there, and be blissfully happy. That meant we needed to make some measurements to figure out how much space we had to work with and where exactly the boundaries of the land were.I’m relatively handy, so I thought, “I can do this! The deed says there is a metal monument on the northwest corner of the property, so I’ll just find it and make my own measurements.”You can probably tell where this is going. Many frustrating hours later, I gave up. There was no way I was going to ever find that marker.So we called a surveyor.5 minutes after he showed up he had found the metal monument 20 feet away from where I thought it had to be.That seems to be how expertise works. Repetition and practice solving similar problems over and over again give you a “feel” for things. You see things that others’ don’t, and you find solutions way faster than those who lack your specialized experience.I felt great about paying the surveyor to do what I discovered I could never do on my own.If you’d like help with finding a way to specialize, develop more expertise, and have clients feel great about paying you for it, check out:

    “I hate all my previous clients”

    From time to time, I get the following question from people who are trying to find a better, more profitable market position:“I hate all my previous clients or the market verticals I’ve worked in before. How do I choose a better market position?”This is one of the questions I tackle in The Positioning Troubleshooting Guide, which is included in version 2 of The Positioning Manual for Technical Firms.If you’re a TPM v1 customer, you’ll get v2 of TPM FO’ FREE. Version 2 should be out in the next 2 weeks or so. Actually I’ll be shipping a v1.8 so that my mastermind buddy Eric stops sending me the “ship it squirrel” emoji. And also because this information is super valuable and I want to get it in your hands ASAP. 🙂ImageAnyway, in the meantime, here’s an excerpt from The Positioning Troubleshooting Guide to give you a taste of what’s coming your way.Image

    This absolutely *prints* money

    Have you ever heard the phrase “This will print money for your business”?It’s often applied to things like conversion rate optimization or lifecycle email marketing. And it sounds great…But it’s also applied to things that ask for attention without returning value. Or things that automate that which suffers from automation. Or things that systematize what should be custom.So watch out for things that print money and devalue the currency you’re working in.’Cause there’s a lot more of that out there than there are actual free money printing presses.This brings up the topic of a narrow market focus. Is that a “free money printing press”?I don’t think I’d describe it that way.It is a way to reduce the cost of acquiring clients who will pay a premium rate for your services. It is a way to shift the power dynamic in your favor. And it is a way to build a more robust professional services business.But a free money printing press? Nah…In fact, it’s a lot of work for most people. There’s the effort of doing market research. And there’s the emotional struggle of making what seems to be a high-stakes, low-certainty decision.I help you address both of those challenges (and many more) in:

    Excellent references available upon request

    List member Elliot sent me this amazing example of a complete lack of focus:ImageI see a ton of websites for software development shops that look exactly like this.Every possible service offered and the kitchen sink thrown in for good measure!If you’d like a head start on an alternate, highly-focused approach, check out http://1pageleadgen.siteIt’s a free site template I put together recently and have been steadily improving. It’s a great example of how to build a site that has 1 purpose only: to get you leads around a narrowly focused specialty.Don’t be the shop that sells floor refinishing and acrylic/pen and ink illustration and petsitting and…Focus on where you have the most impact. Where your services generate the most ROI. might help with that.

    Three things I like about internet marketers

    If you’ve been on my list a while, you know that I really like to stick it to internet marketers.I like to call out random internet marketers on every lowlife, sleazeball, crappy tactic that crosses the transom of my inbox.It’s fun, and it’s good to have real life examples of taking things too far. And the world of internet marketing is full of that kind of stuff.But also… I find modern internet marketers a very valuable source of information about how you can market more effectively.That’s because of the first thing I like about internet marketers…1) They push boundariesAs a group, internet marketers aren’t afraid to try new things, exploit new market channels, and push much harder than I’d be comfortable doing myself.That gives me a model I can adapt or tone down.The Internet is a very direct response-friendly medium, and so useful marketing approaches can be found anywhere that direct response marketing is used, whether it be a pushy guy selling coaching services at massive scale or an old skool direct mail copywriter.2) They do things on the cheapAs a group, internet marketers are sooooo cheeeeap. They scrutinize any piece of software that costs more than $2/mo, prefer to do things themselves, and they prefer proven technology that often seems outdated by modern standards.And you know what? I think that’s healthy.It encourages a critical approach to whatever new SaaS flavor of the month is making the rounds. That new SaaS FotM is sometimes very valuable, but often it’s a way to avoid doing the difficult, unpleasant work you know you need to be doing. Shiny Object Syndrome, I believe it’s called.3) They’re lazyWhile some internet marketers are really just trying to sell you a more complicated way to be less successful at marketing your services, a fair number of them really are that fantastic combination of intelligent and lazy. And that’s a great type of person to learn a thing or two from!Because they’re actively seeking out those 80-20 solutions, and sometimes they actually find them.I’ve incorporated a fair number of 80-20 marketing techniques into: Check it out.

    “He shot himself in the leg. Twice…”

    The phone rang. It was Whitney… again.”I can’t make it to work on the deck today. My brother just shot himself in the leg twice.””Uh….. Sorry to hear that. Is he OK?”—Whitney was an out of work, unlicensed contractor my wife and I hired several years back to build a deck for us. He and his brothers were really into guns.One day Whitney showed us this rifle he had been saving up for. IIRC, it was a 50 caliber rifle.I kept track–for the entire duration of the deck project he never worked more than a half day despite every effort to the contrary. If it wasn’t a broken alternator belt on his truck it was an emergency room visit or his brother (literally–I am not kidding at all here) shooting himself in the leg. Twice.I don’t really know how that works, to be honest. I’m guessing you get really distracted while pointing a handgun at your leg? And then after you fire the first shot the shock of it squeezes off a second one?Or maybe you sleep with a couple guns under the pillow with the safety off and as you and your lady are gettin’ frisky one thing leads to another and before you know it you’ve shot yourself in the leg twice. Talk about friskus interruptus!Or maybe you’ve booby trapped your house to keep the boogie man from breaking in and you get carried away when your favorite sports team scores a point and while doing your victory dance you accidentally set off the booby trap and it only manages to shoot you in the leg twice?Like I said, I don’t know how shooting yourself in the leg twice works.But I do know that the sweet taste of the great “deal” Whitney gave us on the deck construction cost was quickly replaced with a) a frustrating experience of actually getting the deck built b) a few hilarious stories like this one.Having the budget to do things right is such a wonderful thing. Whitney didn’t have that budget because his market position was inexpensive out of work contractor who had to let his license lapse because he fell on hard times.If you would like to change your market position, I wrote a book that will help you: http://thepositioningmanual.comBang Bang!-P