Make hay while the sun shines

Seth Godin is often careful to mention that the current configuration of opportunity the Internet provides is a window of opportunity that may not last long. Or rather, this opportunity is here, but we don’t know how long it’ll be here in its current wide-open form.

This is true, I believe, because of a confluence of factors. Two of the more notable ones are: the rise of the Aggregators and regulation like GDPR.

Aggregators are incentivized to capture as much attention, membership, and “first search/app” pole position as the Internet makes available, and they’re not the least bit restrained in their efforts to do this. Early on, they court their content suppliers (that’s you) on favorable terms that later become less favorable, and often flat out onerous to all but the most profitable or hungry suppliers. This means that although there still is an open web, more and more that open web occupies relatively small cracks in an attention landscape that’s dominated by Aggregators.

GDPR is an example of legislation that seeks to curb the worst abuses of Aggregators but has a compliance penumbra that’s actually burdensome to everybody except the Aggregators, which have the resources to manage or skirt compliance without it being burdensome.

This piece, from Tyler Cowen, is relevant here:

This excerpt reflects pretty well the whole of Tyler’s piece:

When a breakthrough comes, you need to ride it for all it is worth. Arguably you also should embrace the excesses of that breakthrough, not seek to limit them. It is perhaps your only real chance to mine that mother lode of inspiration. So let us hope that Baroque music was “overproduced” in the early to mid 18th century, because after that production opportunities go away. For that reason, “overuse” of the internet and social media today may not be such a bad thing. It is our primary way of exploring all of the potential of that cultural mode, and that mode will at some point be tamed and neutered, just as Baroque music composition is now dormant.

I hope not, but it’s possible that a truly open Internet was just such a breakthrough; a breakthrough that offers a limited window of time within which to explore it.

From this perspective, those of us that connect and build trust with folks online have reason to worry. Will the dance between Aggregators and regulators make attracting great clients increasingly difficult? Will it eventually become impossible to do so online? If so, what then?

Enter my list of critical marketing skills for indie consultants:

  1. Formulating an argument/PoV and getting it out there
  2. Opportunistic use of aggregated channels without reliance on those channels
  3. Email marketing
  4. Identifying partners and building relationships with those partners
  5. Speaking-as-lead-generation, either IRL or via online channels or both
  6. Community-building
  7. Audience-building
  8. Self-direct learning and self-directed research

You’ll notice what’s not on this list:

  1. Facebook advertising
  2. Google Adwords
  3. Robust social media savvy

Over the life of a consulting career (let’s say the next 20 to 40 years), there are skills we can reasonably expect to keep paying you back for the time and effort and expense you put into building them, and skills we can expect to lose their value pretty quickly. I’ve left off my list of critical skills anything that I think will have diminishing value over time.

Now I have listed “Opportunistic use of aggregated channels without reliance on those channels” as one of my critical skills, and to an extent that implies you might acquire skills around Facebook advertising, etc. But you would not invest heavily in those skills, or at least you’d consider them a secondary priority at best. Or simply rent those skills. They’re easily commoditized skills that do little to differentiate you anyway, which makes them a great candidate for renting rather than owning.

When I think about the skills you need to acquire, I’m thinking both about now, and about an imagined online future where using the Internet to connect and build trust with clients, as Tyler puts it, “will at some point be tamed and neutered”.

Again, I hope the Internet landscape always remains one that is friendly to indie consultants who use it to connect and build trust with clients. I hope the cost of doing so remains low, and the access to potential clients remains direct and governed only by simple, transparent algorithms.

But as you decide what marketing skills to invest in, keep in mind that things do change, and formulating an argument/PoV, identifying helpful partners and building relationships with them, and speaking as lead generation–to name just three–have evergreen value that survives changes in the technology landscape.