Insight for Independent Consultants

I’d like to help you thrive as an indie consultant

My Indie Experts email list is a place where I do that. If getting better at attracting opportunity via your expertise is interesting to you, please join. Two ways to get this insight; inbox or RSS:


    So I’m sittin’ there typing away on The Positioning Troubleshooting Guide for TPM v2 and my brother Chris sends me this AWESOME visual example of a narrow market position:ImageIt says: “TAPMAN.ORG   PROFESSIONAL CLEANING OF BEER TAPS AND LINES IN WA”Anyway, I thought you’d enjoy that visual example of a narrow market position. Wondering how the math works out on that? Me too!Let’s get our assumption hat on! Assumptions:

    1. Dude is a solo business owner
    2. He owns 40% of the market
    3. Only 50% of the market ever wants to clean their beer taps and lines (gross, right?)
    4. He’s able to group his service calls so that in a day he can see 4 customers
    5. He averages one “HOLEEE SHIT DUDE THE HEALTH INSPECTOR JUST LEFT AND WE NEED YOU TO GET DOWN HERE RIGHT NOW!!” call a week, and he charges triple for those and makes sure to book regular customers only 4 days/week to allow for that emergency call he know’s he’s going to get. That means he can see 17 customers per week.

    Now, to the researchmobile!

    1. tells us that in 2014, the state of Washington had 14,874 establishments registered under NAICS code 722 (Food service and drinking places)
    2. says you should clean your beer taps/lines at least every two weeks. That means each establishment should be getting 26 service calls/year from a tap/line cleaner.

    Now, to the mathmobile!ImageHouston, we have a problem. For this guy to own 40% of what I bet you thought was a MICROSCOPIC niche, he would need a year to contain 4,549.7 weeks. Maybe on Pluto the years are that long.So maybe he builds a team. Or maybe he limits himself to western Washington where my brother snapped this photo. Or maybe he only handles emergencies. Or who knows… point is his problem is not market size!Now… what niche market do you think is too small to support your business? Email me and I’ll do the math for you if you want.More narrowing-your-focus-goodness available at: http://thepositioningmanual.comBottoms up!-P

    A good week vs. a great year

    Are you working on having a good week or are you working on having a great year?I posed this question to my social media followers recently and was surprised by the response.The responses fell into two categories: people who instantly understood what I was hinting at, and those who didn’t.Here’s what I was getting at: are you focused on immediate concerns (aka working IN your business) or on longer-term concerns (working ON your business)?I know that running a services business requires both. But the real problem is if you’re so consumed by having a good week that you can’t dedicate any time or energy to having a great year. In my experience, having a great year requires consistent work that feels HORRIBLY UNREWARDING in the short term.I once went 3 months without doing any marketing at all for my business. Cashflow cratered about 6 months later, to absolutely nobody’s surprise.I wish I had some magic bullet solution for you. But I don’t. If I did I guess I’d buy some Facebook advertising and be this guy:Image(Aren’t any of those latop-on-beach dudes worried about getting sand in there?)But I do have a not-magic-bullet-answer-that-also-requires-real-work-but-actually-pays-off-handsomely: If you’re ready to start working on having a great year, check it out. I can’t do the work for you, but I can help you do it more effectively.

    Don’t be a Red Kernodle

    Johnny Cash’ backing band was called The Tennessee Three. They were arguably one of the greatest in country music history.They had an original member, named Red Kernodle, who played steel guitar.According to Wikipedia, “By 1955, Cash and his bandmates were in the Memphis studio of Sun Records, to audition for owner Sam Phillips. Kernodle was so nervous that he left the session, not wanting to hold back the group.”I am very familiar with how Red Kernodle must have been feeling when he quit. And I’d bet you know that feeling too.That feeling of, “eeeeh, I don’t know if this is going to be good enough for _______.”Good enough for your audience.Good enough for your clients.Good enough for “the world” to see.However… I’m also reminded of a quote from the German romantic poet known as Novalis.A hero is one who knows how to hang on one minute longer.What if Red Kernodle had hung on 1 minute longer?How different his life would have been! How many great opportunities would have come his way if he’d pushed through the discomfort!I believe that one of the best ways for you to get leads coming in is to get out there and teach your ideal clients something.Doing this involves a lot of “Red Kernodle moments” where you can either “hang on one minute longer”, or quit in the face of discomfort.Which are you going to do?And if you don’t have any moments where you’re tempted to quit, it’s probably because you’re not engaging in “productive discomfort”–things that are hard to do but push your business forward.Positioning your business as a specialist is one of those things. Learn how to do it in The Positioning Manual for Technical Firms at

    Meet me downstairs?

    In October of 2002, I quit my job as a Windows network administrator to go on a road trip across the United States.

    I left Nashville, where I was living at the time, and drove, and drove, and drove.

    I camped in almost every national park I’d ever wanted to see, including some Canadian ones like Waterton Lakes. I saw every town I was considering relocating from Nashville to.

    I avoided major highways and estimate I drove over 10,000 miles on 2-lane highways. I feel like I got to see a lot of America that way. I definitely got to listen to a lot of Tom Waits’ Mule Variations that way.

    In short, it was an AMAZING road trip.The first part of the trip was a bit of an adjustment. I had never spent that much time alone behind the wheel before!

    I’m an introvert, so it was OK, but by the time I reached Wyoming, I was still kind of lonely and missing social interaction.

    I think that’s why the next thing went down the way it did…

    When I rolled into Cody, Wyoming, I noticed there was a Sierra Trading Post retail store there. I wore a lot of outdoors clothing at that time, and I’d only ordered stuff from Sierra Trading Post over the internet, so I had to check it out in person.

    As I was browsing the clothing I was chatting in a very friendly manner with the sales clerk there. After all, I was kind of lonely from all those miles on the road. Talk talk, smile smile.I kept browsing until the clerk walked up beside me, slapped me on the shoulder, and said something that shocked me.

    He said, “how would you like to meet me downstairs in the bathroom?!”Oops. Looks like my friendly tone was misinterpreted!

    I was being friendly because of all those solitary miles on the road, not because I wanted to be some guy’s sex date in the basement bathroom of a discount clothing store.

    I’d never been hit on by a guy before, so I didn’t see it coming. I quickly said, “uh, no thanks” and was out of there in no time.

    I wasn’t offended at all, but it did sort of change the mood of things. And of course, it makes for a pretty good story now.

    I see software development businesses doing the equivalent of this all the time now.

    Not asking their clients down to the basement bathroom for a sex romp, but the equivalent level of miscommunication and inappropriate messaging in their marketing.The first wrong message is: it’s all about us.

    The most obvious symptom of this problem is a website where almost every sentence starts with “we”, “I”, or the name of a person at your company.

    This sends the message that you can’t get your eyeballs off your naval and onto the kind of important, urgent, or expensive problems you solve for your clients.

    Believe it or not, you can create a website that is 80% about your clients’ needs and problems and only 20% about you. This approach is dramatically more effective at generating leads.

    Another common message is: we are experts in how to do things, but we don’t really care about or understand why to do them.

    The presenting symptom of this messaging problem is a blog where you talk a lot about stuff like why test-driven development rocks, the ultimate Ruby/Python/.NET environment configuration, specific coding approaches, or other very tactical topics but you don’t talk about the business application of your work, the results it creates for your clients, or anything about why they should listen to you.

    Finally, I think about the sales implications of this. The store clerk tried to “close me” way too soon! He got the message that I was a hot prospect when that was not the case at all.

    Like me in that Wyoming store, your potential clients won’t get outright offended by a miscommunication or wrong message in your marketing content, but they will beat a path to the door pretty darn fast.

    Like I did, they’ll hop in their truck and keep driving until they find a development partner that clearly understands the business why behind the technical how.

    My Positioning Mentoring Program is one very excellent way to fix things if you are sending the wrong message to your potential clients. Simply hiring me to do it for you is another.

    Just bypass the factory solenoid!

    My second car had a massive design flaw that caused me to get yelled at in front of a puppet store.(My first car was a 1964 Jeepster Commando that had more rust than chassis. I actually installed my own seatbelts because it didn’t come with any.)ImageBack to that second car.After the Jeepster took a dirt nap (which took only 6 months and about $1000 in repair bills. My dad at one point called the car a “pit of vipers”), I got the most reliable car I could find on short notice: a 1984 VW Jetta.It was the most college student-ey car a college student could own.This Jetta was from before VW started making cars you might describe as nice. For several years, the kindest thing you could say about it was that it was reliable.And it was reliable. Until, all of a sudden one day, it wasn’t.I was parked in the Kroger parking lot and when I came out to crank up the Jetta, nothing happened.Turned the key and… nada. No click, no reassuring whir of the starter motor, nothing.This started happening more and more frequently until eventually, I realized there was a pattern at play. The problem happened when the engine was fully heated up from a drive longer than 15 minutes.I found two partial solutions. One always worked, and the other sometimes worked.The reliable solution was to let the engine cool down, which took hours. Not much of a solution!The other solution was to jump start the car, even though the battery was fully charged anyway. The extra juice from another car’s battery would sometimes get my Jetta to start. Also not much of a solution.This all came to a head one spring break on a road trip from Davidson, NC–where I went to college–to Asheville, NC.I was doing reediculous things like keeping the car running at fuel/food stops to avoid the jump-start dance.While cruising along I-40 my friend Karl and I spotted this crazy-looking store that somebody was running out of their house.It was called “Our Father’s Puppet Kingdom” and seemed to be selling puppetry supplies. (Apparently, they’re still sort of in business: curious college students on a road trip tend to do, we exited the highway to investigate.I pulled the car into the house/business’ circular driveway, stopped the motor, and we want to check out this bizarre business someone was running out of their home.It was closed. 🙁 So, we hopped back in my Jetta, turned the key, and nothing happened. The mysterious starter problem showed up at exactly the wrong time.That’s when I noticed that there was an automotive battery charger, just sitting there in the driveway, plugged into a crumbling old mess of a minivan.The temptation was too much for me. I looked around to make sure no one was watching, disconnected the charger from the minivan, and connected the terminals to my car’s battery, hoping that the extra juice would be enough to convince the starter to turn over so we could get out of there.I got back into my the driver’s seat to see if it would work.At that exact moment, the owner of the house/crazy puppet business pulled into the driveway. Oops…Busted! Caught red-handed!That guy was still yelling at us as we drove away after his battery charger–which I used completely without his permission–helped start my car. I’m pretty sure he was going to call the police if it took more than 30 seconds to unhook the battery charger from my car, hook it back up to his, and get out of there.I’ve never felt like such a boneheaded idiot.A few months later over summer break I took my Jetta into a shop and the mechanic was able to actually fix the problem.As it turns out, that year Jetta had a serious design flaw. The starter motor is very close to the exhaust manifold and the wire feeding current to the starter motor was a very small gauge.So when the starter motor heated up, the under-specced wire feeding it just couldn’t deliver enough current.The solution turned out to be simple.A $10 solenoid and $3 of heavy-gauge wire directly to the car battery was all it took to permanently fix the problem!I wanted to hug the mechanic who figured this out for me and installed the fix. He did not look like he wanted a hug, so I high-fived him instead.Years later when I started running my own business, I realized I had a design flaw in my business.I had thought through every aspect of my service except how I was going to reliably get new clients.I would often get close to the end of a project, raise my head to see what potential clients were looking for help, and… nada. No clients asking for help, no reassuring inquiries in the inbox, nothing.If that reminds you of your business, you don’t have to suffer from an unreliable pipeline. The fix might be easier than you think.It’s often as simple as finding the right mechanic.One who understands your business and what small changes will make prospective clients start showing up more reliably.I can be that mechanic for your software development business:

    Sherlock Holmes on specialization

    I love, love, love the BBC show “Sherlock” (the most recent one starring Benedict Cumberbatch)The 2016 New Years special episode The Abominable Bride had a brief bit of dialogue I haven’t been able to get out of my head…Detective Inspector Lestrade: I thought you understood everything.Sherlock Holmes: Of course not, that would be an appalling waste of brain space. I specialize.That pretty much sums up what I’ve found to be true about specialization.It’s freed up my brain to go deep into a particular problem (in my case, lead generation for custom software development shops) and find better solutions than I ever could have as a generalist.I’m not the only one who has seen specialization work out well for them.On a recent episode of my show, The Consulting Pipeline Podcast, guest Matt Kraus said:Word of mouth becomes a LOT easier the more specialized you get. If you’re not specialized, word of mouth is EXTREMELY difficult because people are trying to solve a million problems every day and you’re problem a million and one. But with word of mouth, you don’t even have to do any selling. Person A will introduce you to their close friend Person B and basically all you have to do is take out your calendar and schedule with Person B.I couldn’t agree more.Word of mouth is just one of the many benefits of specialization.I’m so interested in helping you become a highly paid, highly in-demand specialist that I wrote two books about it. One gives you the overview of how it works in general, and one is a step-by-step manual for specializing your business. Get your copy of now.–Philip.PS – Check out that podcast episode with Matt at

    A Sermon About Email Marketing for Independent Consultants (and Freelancers)

    I’m going to be blunt here. :)Every form of value that you offer to the general public for free should require an opt-in to your email list in exchange for that value or should point to a larger amount of value that’s behind an opt-in.If someone ends up on for your email list for any reason (ex: they signed up to attend a webinar), you should email them regularly with valuable stuff combined with regular invitations to move up your “ladder of value”. You should do this forever or until they unsubscribe.The first few weeks or months of doing this will make you feel like a spammer. That’s normal; get over that feeling by pushing through it as soon as possible.You will underestimate the value of your expertise and chronically under-communicate with your list at first. That’s normal; get over that feeling by getting in the habit of telling your list about everything you do that has potential value. Ex: write a new blog post? Send an email about it to your list. Ex: release a new podcast episode? Send two emails about it to your list. Ex: have an interesting interaction with a client? Tell your list a story about it.You will very likely fear angering, alienating, or offending members of your list. Remember that inert substances don’t repel other substances, but they don’t attract anything either! Allow yourself to incrementally become more bold in emailing your list. Set a goal of doing 1 thing that scares you a little bit each month with your list. The two things you actually should fear are neglecting your list and boring your list.You will likely fear ever sending something even slightly redundant to your list. Don’t. You are at the apex of your “content panopticon” and can see every piece of content you create but your list members are very selectively scanning for signals that your content is valuable to them. That means that only a subset of your content gets noticed, even by people on your email list. Don’t be afraid to re-use content if it helps you regularly communicate with your list. Repetition is a signal of value, so don’t be afraid to be repetitive about the important things.

    Password cracking, farts, and $10k week rates

    During the first dot-com boom, I worked as a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT).Back then, that was a great job to have. As an independent contractor, you could pull down week rates of $10k or more.I’m out of that world now, so I don’t know whether MCTs are still in demand, but I really learned a ton from that gig, including:

    • What to do when one student complains to you about another student farting in class. (Answer: Have a very awkward 1-on-1 conversation with the farting student.)
    • What to do when you almost get fired for demonstrating how password hashing works by using a copy of L0phtcrack at an onsite training. (Answer: Say you’re really sorry and you had no idea the demonstration would be a problem.)
    • There are great people working for the state of Tennessee, but there’s something about how state government workers are managed or incentivized that is very… different than private enterprise.

    Anyway, I was reminded of my MCT days by a podcast I was recently on. One of the classes I prepped for was the SQL Server Performance Tuning and Optimization class. To my great relief, I didn’t have to teach the class. I didn’t really have enough expertise to pull it off, and was thankful when the class was cancelled at the last minute.Recently I spoke with Carlos L Chacon, host of the SQL Data Partners’ Podcast about positioning. I’ve taught about positioning on a lot of podcasts, but this one was different because we were focused on how a full time employee can use the principles behind positioning to benefit their career.We touched on some really interesting questions:

    • Won’t positioning as a professional ruin my career?
    • How do I position effectively? What do I focus on?
    • What’s the risk to positioning?
    • Won’t I be bored?
    • What if I’m “found out” to be not as good as I say I am?
    • How do I deal with recruiters?
    • Won’t I be pigeon-holed into a legacy application?
    • How do I continue to evolve as a technologist while also focusing?

    Check out the full conversation between Carlos and I: to you soon,-P

    Rock and roll hair –> a full pipeline

    Have you ever noticed that Queen’s guitarist Brian May looks kind of like Bill Oreilly with rock and roll hair?ImageGood luck un-seeing that image like, ever! 😈Anyway, Brian May has rock and roll hair, and Bill Oreilly doesn’t. Brian May can also play the guitar he made out of an old fireplace mantle, and I presume Bill Oreilly can’t.Brian May’s rock and roll hair is a signal that he has something unique and different to offer the world.Is your marketing doing the same for you? Is it signaling loud and clear to the world that you have something different to offer? Something uniquely valuable, like Brain May’s inimitable guitar tone?Perhaps some technical or business problem that you are uniquely capable of solving?Perhaps some unique approach to client work that produces consistently better results?These are the precursors to a compelling value proposition, which is the precursor to a full pipeline of high-paying clients.Get my help with the compelling value proposition part here: http://positioningmentoringprogram.comRock on,-P

    What if “the rules” didn’t apply to you?

    A friend of mine in Chicago is a very successful, self-employed designer. His business made twice as much revenue as mine did last year, and I’m pretty sure he worked no more than 63% the number of hours I did.If you think I’m a little… out there for doing stuff like emailing my list every weekday, then Nick makes me look absolutely tame by comparison. Here’s a taste of The Nick for you:

    • He shut his business down for basically an entire month recently and told his clients in no uncertain terms that he would be completely unreachable for weeks at a time. This is not a once every 10 years sabbatical, this is routine business for Nick.
    • He’s a designer who, if I recall correctly, has exactly one image on his entire business website. The rest is just words, more words, and some whitespace.
    • If you join his email list at the wrong time, you might get the impression that he is actually an extremely opinionated fine restaurant reviewer or a semi-retired Chicago alderman, not a designer.

    I’m not sure how many “business rules” Nick has broken in those three examples, but it doesn’t matter. Breaking so-called rules is not an exception for Nick–it’s a way of life.I say this with love for Nick, and also to make an important point.Nick has freedom. Not just freedom to take lengthy vacations or spend money on nice meals.He has freedom to be himself in his business, and to run it in a way that’s consistent with his personality and values. He has this freedom because he’s freaking earned it by mastering the fundamentals of business:Creating a strong, differentiated value proposition for his clients…Marketing himself consistently and well…And generally running a tight ship with respect to client management, payment, rates, and other important issues.I’ve learned a tonne about business from Nick, and now you can too.If you’re interested in learning more about how Nick runs his business and fights daily for the kind of freedom he enjoys, check out this book he’s launching on Kickstarter: I have been giving away my collection of paper books non-stop for the last year, but Nick’s work is the rare exception. I bought a copy, and maybe you should too (before it’s too late, which will be April 14th, 2016).That link again: