The king gets hungry

Marketing is earning visibility and trust, and the easiest way to earn visibility is to latch onto a platform right before it explodes in popularity.

A platform can be:

  • A business process framework (i.e., EOS, 3HAG, Six Sigma, Agile, Lean, TDD)
  • A programming language (i.e., Python, Ruby, C#)
  • A software framework (i.e., React, VueJS, Laravel)
  • An actual platform you can build stuff on (i.e., AWS, Linux, Windows, Salesforce, Drupal, WordPress)

(Platforms can also be a way to get a message to an audience, but that’s not the kind of platform I’m talking about here.)

A platform is a “thing”; it is often but not always a product that lots of businesses use and need help understanding, planning for, implementing, operating, extending, supporting, fixing, optimizing, and upgrading.

The platform is also a thing that you can stand on and use to earn visibility. It is infrastructure that lifts you above the crowd and makes you more visible.

Before the platform explodes in popularity, it needs help from people like us. It needs more documentation, best practices, risk-taking implementors, and educator-advocates than it has. So when an indie consultant shows up to contribute any of that stuff (which we happily do because that stuff generates opportunity for us), the platform amplifies our efforts.

During these early days, it’s a beautiful win-win for everybody.

When the platform’s growth curve starts to level off, things change. The king gets hungry, and the following happens:

  • The supply side of the consulting services market gets bigger and includes more choices across a wider variety of price points.
  • Many of the early-stage unknowns have been resolved through the best practices that the platform’s early adopter indie consultants charged early adopter customers a premium to figure out.
  • Expensive custom integrations have been standardized and commoditized.
  • The platform owner often starts to change its competitive posture and seeks to own or monetize more of the platform ecosystem through:
    • Vertical integration, by adding a services division that competes against suppliers in the ecosystem, or doing stuff like EOS did with franchising requirements.
    • Bigger more enterprise-ey clients, and raising the bar for partners (“Pffft! We can talk about gold partner status when you’ve brought us five $50K projects…”).
    • Pure rent-seeking stuff that pisses off customers and weakens the customer segment that you, an indie consultant, depend on. Ex: shuffling features into higher price tiers.

If you’re a consultant who used that early win-win dynamic offered by a platform to earn visibility, you’ll find that the game has changed. You’ll face pressure to evolve from an innovative (figure-shit-out) business to an efficient business (produce quality at scale and low cost).

This kind of evolution may be a natural part of your business evolution, or it may be an impossible transition that forces you to reconfigure your business around a different platform or no platform at all. The best outcomes I’ve seen fit these two patterns:

  • Business naturally grows into a midsized agency model, naturally builds up project delivery rigor and cost efficiency as part of that growth, and so is not unsuited to operating as a produce quality at scale and low cost business.
  • The business leverages content and digital products more heavily than services and is able to sell the content/product business to a bigger player in the platform ecosystem, which funds ~2 years of runway that enables a less painful transition out of the platform ecosystem.

This is the risk of using a platform to earn visibility. During the later stages of the platform’s lifecycle, it will probably seek to commoditize its complements. No matter how helpful you were to the platform early on, you will become one of its complements.

None of this is personal. It’s just how platform ecosystems tend to evolve and how commoditization — which is a powerful semi-natural force in the same way that compounding interest is — progresses over time.

This is the kind of strategic thinking I’m trying to help readers of The Positioning Manual for Indie Consultants learn how to do as they make their decision about how to specialize.

If you’ve already read enough of the book to have an opinion on it, I’d very much appreciate you leaving a review for it on Amazon.

To leave a review, search for The Positioning Manual in the Amazon search bar, click on the book in the search results, scroll down to the “Write a customer review” button, and then leave an honest review.

And if you haven’t picked up a copy of the book yet, you can do so here: http://thepositioningmanual.com

-P