It’s AMA week here at [PMC], and I’m wrapping up the questions I’ve gotten.Josiah asks:“I am currently in the research phase of positioning myself. Should I be only researching one area at a time or is it okay to be researching (aka trying to get people on the phone for a 15 min interview) 1 or 2 niches at the same time?”Thanks for the question, Josiah!I’ll start with a simplistic answer:If you have 8 hours per week or less to work on market research, only research one potential focus at a time.That’s the “rule of thumb” I use with folks in http://positioningacceleratorprogram.com.When you do deep market research where you’re trying to talk to prospective buyers and learn about their pains and problems, you are learning a super valuable skill, but you are probably starting out as a beginner at this skill.The worst thing you can do for a beginner is increase the difficulty level too fast. If a total beginner in market research wanted to gradually increase their skill without jumping up too many “levels”, I’d suggest the following:Low-stakes practice phaseBuild a list of 100 people at companies in the same vertical. Identify people at those companies who are not authorized to spend money and who interact with the public as part of their job. In terms of job roles, you might focus on low-level marketing or sales people, for example. Avoid operations, finance, management, or HR roles. Your goal here is to understand a bit about list building, but not to build the world’s most impressive, beautiful list.Email a simple, unthreatening question to this list using outreach automation software (https://mailshake.com/ if you use Gmail/Google Apps or https://reply.io/ if you use Outlook). Something like, “Does [company name] offer [kind of service or product only a minority of companies in this vertical would offer]?” Your goal is to get 30 replies. When someone does reply, thank them for the information and their time. Follow up with the following sequence if you don’t hear back:
- First followup: “Just checking to see if you got my email below”
- Second followup: “I was really hoping to hear back from you on my question about whether you offer [kind of service or product only a minority of companies in this vertical would offer]. Thanks in advance for your advice on this!”
- Third followup: “Have you given up on helping me understand if your company offers [kind of service or product only a minority of companies in this vertical would offer]?” (No, you can’t soften the tone here. I want you to get over feeling uncomfortable with being direct and assertive. We won’t use this actual email with actual research prospects, but you still need to get over feeling bad about being direct and assertive.) After or at the same time as the above, try to find three people who already know you and have an OK or good relationship with you and work in the same broad market vertical. This may not be easy, and if you can’t find three in the same broad market vertical, just find three. Ask them if you can practice interviewing them.
- Read Lean Customer Development by Cindy Alvarez.
- Interview your three “friendlies” by phone or video call and ask them the following questions:
1. “What kind of projects or initiatives are you responsible for at [company they work for]?”2. “How do you or your managers measure the success of these projects/initiatives?”3. “From your perspective, what are the biggest risks to the success of these projects/initiatives?”4. “What keeps you up at night about [pick what seems to you like the most important of the projects/initiatives your interview subject is part of]?”5. “Is it OK if I follow up later with more questions about this?”Before you actually do the interviews figure out how you’re going to start the call off and how you’re going to thank the person for their time and insight. Lean Customer Development has some good ideas here.Actually do the interviews.Medium-stakes application phase
- Find 10 consultants who serve the market you are interested in but aren’t offering services that are competitive with yours.
- Book authors who are focused on the market you’re interested in are also good candidates here.
- Using email, LinkedIn, or both, ask them if you can interview them. Here’s a quick template to get you started on this: https://gist.github.com/philipmorg/060a696f50b3eb4011b17aebd44e8cee
- Try to get 5 interviews with this group of 10 prospects. Contact me if you want a set of starting point questions.
Higher-stakes application phase
- Build or buy a list of 300 to 500 people in the vertical you are interested in. This time you are looking to speak to people who might actually buy your services.
- Reach out to them via email, LinkedIn, or both. Before you do the email outreach, consider a light “digital ping” to show up in their online world before your email lands in their inbox. Do this by one or both of the following:
- Build a Facebook custom audience from your email list. You’ll get maybe 30% match rate. Spend a week running a display ad for this audience that is a simple picture with your company name and positioning statement on it. Estimated cost: $10. Not kidding. The goal of these ads is not to drive clicks but to build awareness.Use dux-soup or linkedhelper Chrome plugins to visit the LinkedIn profile of everyone on your list. Don’t connect, just visit their profile.
- Shoot for 10 interviews where you learn about the pains and problems of buyers in this market.I know that approach is not super direct, and might even seem wasteful, but self-directed learning is often a “wasteful” use of time. I believe learning is incredibly valuable, but a certain amount of waste is just part of the process.
Now that you’ve seen this process listed out in some but not full detail, how many verticals do you want to simultaneously investigate? Most people want to do it serially (one at a time) rather than several in parallel, but if you’ve got more than 1 day/week to work on this stuff you might be able to handle more.Thanks again for the question, Josiah, and I hope this helps!Lee asks: “How did you end up in Sebastopol?” or, alternatively, “Why did you choose Sebastopol?”, or even better, “Do you think you’re there to stay for the long haul?”This gets back to me leaving Nashville.At the time, I was young and even more idealistic than I am now. I was getting frustrated with the hot and humid summer weather, lack of rugged mountains, and prevalent culture of white supremacy in Nashville.I wanted to move west of the Rockies, and my goal was to do it before age 30.When I suddenly quit my network administrator job at TBA Entertainment, I went on a road trip. Part of my goal was to make a lot of photographs in the western US, and the other part of my goal was to scout out places I might move to.One of the places that absolutely blew me away was the Sonoma County coastline. I was making my way down from Crater Lake to San Francisco, and I swung west to Eureka and then followed Highway 1 down the coast.Somewhere near the turnoff for Highway 12 I made this photograph, a 16×16″ silver-gelatin print of which is hanging in the Oregon Health University Center for Health and Healing:I decided to keep driving on Highway 12 to this strange-sounding town Sebastopol, which at the time I found not all that remarkable.After I got back from that trip I ended up moving from Nashville to Portland, Oregon, but 10 years later when Cheryl and I decided to leave Oregon I suggested we consider Sebastopol, partially because of the gorgeous landscape here, and partially because of more practical reasons.At that time I had just rebooted my business as a solo practice, and I was very unsure whether the whole self-employment thing would work out for me. To hedge my bets, I wanted to move to a place that had some employers I could maybe get a job with if self-employment didn’t work out for me.Sebastopol is home to O’Reilly Media, a technical publishing company I’ve admired ever since I learned Perl from one of their books in the late 90’s. So I figured that might be one fallback option if self-employment didn’t work out, and I figured the greater Bay Area would have other options too if needed. Fortunately, I didn’t need to pursue those backup options.The minute we moved to Sebastopol things started getting better in my business. I do believe that wherever you go there you are, but I also believe that the environment I live in matters. Even though I have almost no local clients, Sebastopol has turned out to be a fantastic place for Cheryl and I, and for my business.We love that we can live in nature but have good internet service and easy access to modern amenities with a short drive 10-minute drive into town. People here have been 7,457% more welcoming than they were at the Oregon coast, and the high cost of living is more than compensated for by the quality of life and beautiful landscape and weather.I think we’re here for good. :)Fun postscript about that photograph: I remember making it at a spot right at the intersection of Hwy 12 and Hwy 1 in Sonoma County. It’s one of my most “successful” photographs. I now live a 20m drive from that intersection and I have tried many times to find that spot again and failed. It’s either grown over or deteriorated enough that I can’t match it up with the photograph. Or my memory is really bad, I’m not sure which.The final question:Matt: Do you make any distinction between the terms ‘freelancer’, ‘contractor’, ‘consultant’ or perhaps even ‘solo-preneur’. If so, how would you define them?I do think these terms have distinct meanings, but I’m also somewhat sloppy and don’t always use the right word for the job. That said, here’s how I’d define them:Freelancer: A self-employed person who usually works for multiple clients at the same time and both desires and accepts minimal responsibility for the business outcomes of their work. The scope of a freelancer’s involvement may vary significantly from client to client.Contractor: A self-employed person who usually works full time for one client at the same time and functions like a W2 employee but without the “benefits” of a W2 employee. A contractor is generally managed like an employee.Consultant: A self-employed person who usually works for multiple clients at the same time and both desires and accepts significant responsibility for the business outcomes of their work. The scope of a consultant’s involvement may vary significantly from client to client.Solopreneur: A self-employed person who is building an entrepreneurial enterprise without involving co-founders, employees, or taking on debt from an investor. (An entrepreneurial enterprise can ultimately scale without requiring the founder to input additional time.)—Alright, you hosers. That was a ton of fun for me! I hope you won’t wait for the next [PMC] AMA to drop any questions you might have, especially if you think the answer will be interesting for other members of my list.Have a great weekend!-P