Jonathan Stark on The Key to Building Authority

The #1 organic Google search result for “mobile strategy consulting” is Jonathan Stark.  He even ranks above IBM for that search term, and giant companies like Accenture have to pay to get on the first page for it.

How did he get there? Did he use SEO consultants, heavy-duty inbound link-building, and the latest Google-manipulation techniques to claw his way to that #1 spot?

Nope.

In this 45-minute interview with Jonathan, he explains how he did it. I’ll spill a few of the beans now: it involves passion, authenticity, and consistent focus. And sharing. A LOT of sharing.

Jonathan spills the rest of the beans on how you build the kind of authority that results in a six-figure consulting consulting contract landing in your lap as you walk off the stage at a major conference. No kidding, this is something that happened to him.

The audio and text transcript are below. Enjoy!

I’m going to be opening up new My Content Sherpa seats on July 22. If you’re on the waiting list, you’ll get first crack at reserving your seat so you can start building your company’s online authority every month.

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Download the interview audio here.

Transcript

Philip:            Jonathan, great to be with you. Thanks for doing this interview.

Jonathan:      My pleasure. Thanks for the invite.

Philip:            Who are you and what do you do?

Jonathan:      I am a mobile strategy consultant and I help CEOs transition their business to mobile.

Philip:            What does that involve?

Jonathan:      It’s different things for different people as I’m sure you can imagine.

Philip:            Sure.

Jonathan:      For bigger companies, it’s much more generally more strategic where maybe things I’ve done in the past are say a company is trying to come out with a release of mobile platform. Big company release a mobile platform, have me vetted as a developer and give them advice about what sorts of tools they should make available to actually be attractive to like the web development community, for example.

Other times, I can think of like mid-range, say two or three hundred, four hundred person companies. I’ve helped actually go from say print products and move into digital products, which, of course, means mobile these days. It’s funny because mobile … like I say mobile and that’s the buzz word and that’s what everybody thinks they want, but really when they get into an engagement, it’s almost always more of an overall digital strategy or a wireless strategy. Mobile is the forcing factor because people are all of a sudden realizing that we’ve been designing things for a desktop world, or in the case of like a photography customer, the print world.

Now, things are changing. You need to be more flexible and be available on the devices that people currently have but also plant the seeds for things that will work in the future with whatever, Android Wear watches or devices that are laying around your house that are connected to the Internet.

For the larger companies, I come in at a very strategic level and try and think about long-term, what’s probably going to happen, what they can do to their legacy systems to prepare them for the future while still creating pragmatic backend solutions for stuff that is currently in progress. They’ve got an iPhone app they’re working on and they need an API for it right now, so let’s do that in a way that’s not specific to iPhone. Let’s do it in a way that will work for Samsung Gear Live watch in two years or whatever.

Philip:            Okay.

Jonathan:      Yeah. On the smaller end, it’s oftentimes I’ll do things like code review for response of websites or like I’ll come in and do training classes for a team of web developers to help them make the leap to mobile from desktop web to changing their mindset around developing mobile first and working their way up from a small screen to a larger screen. It’s actually pretty easy if you change your mindset, but it’s really hard if you don’t. We do a lot of training and that sort of thing.

Philip:            Yeah. You have a background as the developer, but you’re consulting with businesses where big bucks are on the line and you’re advising them about strategic business moves is what it sounds to me like.

Jonathan:      Yup.

Philip:            Okay.

Jonathan:      It’s a combination. Those are the big clients, but a lot of people just need tactical assistance which usually amounts to some kind of training.

Philip:            Mm-hmm (affirmative), right. You’re also an author.

Jonathan:      Yes. I’ve written three books, all web-related. The most notable probably is called “Building iPhone Apps with HTML, CSS and JavaScript” which was a very early entrant in the, I think, probably the first big book about PhoneGap which is a technology that wraps HTML apps in a native wrapper so you can then install them on a device like an iPhone and access things like the camera and push notifications and that sort of thing.

That was really popular. People liked it, but PhoneGap itself is very popular, so I think the combination of things, but it’s been translated into, I think, seven or eight languages at this point. That was really fun.

Philip:            Cool. How did you get to the point where you are today? You have a background as a developer and there’s a lot of mobile developers out there, but I think very few of them are consulting with large companies and advising them on their overall mobile strategy. How did you get to the point where you have those opportunities coming to you?

Jonathan:      Just a lot of sharing, really, a lot of screencast and podcast and blog post and tweets. I’m super passionate about the topic and I compulsively share. Like as I learn stuff, it doesn’t … Like I don’t need to feel like I’m an expert on something to share it. I’ll just be like, “Wow …” whatever. I’ll just pick a random topic like the AppCache. It’s a very abstract, inscrutable, new HTML5 technology for offline web apps and there’s more good information about it now. When it first came out, it was brutally confusing. It was one of those things you’d Google for and nothing would come up. The spec would come up and that was it.

No one was an expert on it, so I didn’t feel bad blogging about it and even the silly little things that I blogged about, which looking back on it, were basically not that earth-shattering, was the only thing out there. People were like, “Wow, that helped me.” It just adds up over time. You do enough for that stuff and then the next thing you know, a publisher calls and says, “Hey, we’re really thinking about doing a book. It is on this subject that you’ve been blogging about. What do you say we talk about that?”

The next thing you know, you’ve got an outline for a book. Next thing you know the book is published. Next thing you know, your phone is ringing because if you wrote the book on something, then you’re like instantly an expert.

Philip:            Exactly. What is a lot? You said share a lot or do a lot of stuff that you share. What is a lot?

Jonathan:      Yeah, as much as possible because it does take up time, of course. I don’t do any advertising, so I looked at it like that. I go up and down in terms of blogging, volume, and activity on Twitter. Social media wise, I’m mostly on Twitter. I pretty much share stuff everyday. It usually links to other stuff that I’d find interesting and then I’ll add a commentary about why I think it’s important. That’s probably my … It’s very easy for me to do that, so that’s very … I think it gets a lot of visibility and it’s very low maintenance for me. That’s a good thing to do.

Every once in a while I’ll notice a trend or something that doesn’t fit in a tweet and then I’ll dash off like a quick blog post and tweet about that. It’ll get a lot of traffic and it’s usually something that’s pretty new, so there’s not a lot of competition for traffic. I always make sure that it’s all very much in my subject area though. As much as I might be interested in the future of newspapers, that was a big thing with me like three years ago, I try not to blog about it too much unless it was specific to something that … some kind of strategic mobile play. I would put it in that context so that there was a theme to the blog, so it wouldn’t come close to as like it wasn’t schizophrenic.

Yeah, so that’s … In terms of hours per week, it’s hard to say. It just trickles out when I get excited about something. I can’t sleep and I’ll do a quick screencast of like, I don’t know … like I’m getting ready to do a screencast of how to create an app for Pebble smart watches, which is me … I’m sort of with the wearables.

I’m purposely pushing a little bit out of my defined mobile comfort zone because I think that it’s still mobile and I think it’s still important and have a strategy about wearables. I know in spite of the fact that people use the terms … Mobiles are very specific thing in people’s minds, but really, like I said, it’s a forcing factor for just making your content services available everywhere, and watches, I promise you that watches are going to catch on. The next everywhere is going to be watches.

Philip:            Okay. How did you choose a focus? I have a technical background. From what I know of developers, they’re just naturally curious people, right?

Jonathan:      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Philip:            They’re interested in what’s new. They’re interested in what’s related to what they already know. You’ve had a consistent focus for a number of years. How did you get that focus and how did you maintain it?

Jonathan:      Great question. I’ve had … I’ll give you a little background because I think it’ll give you the context that you’re looking for.

Philip:            Great.

Jonathan:      The short answer is I just pick stuff that I’m just like obsessed with, like I couldn’t help myself from doing it. There is a little bit of self-control involved in what you share and how you position is, so that you’re not just randomly sharing stuff. It relates to your topic area. In some way, it might be this. Like I might post something about like, I don’t know, Oculus Rift or movie studios or like Internet regulations about net neutrality, but I’ll tie it back to why I care about it. The reason I care about it is because of mobile or whatever, or the mobile web, even more specifically.

The background is that back in the day, I was a database guy. I came from a database background and I was introduced to a product in, I think, around 1999 called FileMaker which is like a desktop database thing that … If people aren’t familiar with it, it makes it incredibly easy to create a multi-user database backed view application. It’s super powerful. It’s kind of a toy in one sense. It’s very simple, but it is incredibly powerful if you use it the way it’s meant to be used, I guess.

I was really excited about that for a few year and I did consulting on that and built upon just stuff and started writing about it, blogging about it. Then I ended up writing magazine articles about it. One thing just led to another and then the FileMaker … The whole time though, I knew that there were some limitations to FileMaker that are deal breakers for me. I really liked it, the power of it, but the whole time I was learning how to do web development, because I wasn’t a web developer really yet.

By the time I got to the point where I felt like I knew what I was doing with PHP, I was like, “Okay, I need to make this shift from FileMaker to PHP because that’s really where I want to go. I want to play in that bigger realm.” Very consciously, I started blogging about using FileMaker with PHP. Because I already a reputation with FileMaker community. I was sharing lots of like AppleScript, macro things that people still download to this day.

Like I said, I consciously started … My magazine articles would be in a FileMaker magazine about FileMaker but it would be a PHP thing about FileMaker. I started to associate myself very consciously with PHP. Eventually, I started blogging but I kept blogging about it. I kept writing about it. I spoke about it at … I think I talked about it at … yeah, FileMaker conference a couple of times. The next thing you know, a publisher calls me who’s like, “Hey, could you write a book about FileMaker and PHP integration?” because there are really only three people in the whole world that were talking about it. There was like me and two other guys.

It was really easy to stand out. Another-

Philip:            Right. Did you … sorry to interrupt. Did that worry you though that there were only two others and you having this conversation?

Jonathan:      No, not at all.

Philip:            Okay.

Jonathan:      No. It was obvious that everybody needed it. The reason why there are only two other people doing it is because the FileMaker pool is relatively small in the scheme of thing. I’m only one dude, so I only need like one or two big customers a year and I’m covered. I knew for sure … I knew from talking to people that there were, at least, a dozen customers that needed this in the world. If I didn’t try and like hire a bunch of people and create this big firm of FileMaker/PHP developers and have like payroll every month, all I needed was, like I said, a couple of big customers. If you’re the go-to guy for this particular extremely niche thing, you’re going to get the call. You don’t have to advertise you wrote a book on it.

The point is that I was extremely conscious that I … In fact, I made the publisher put PHP first in the title because I was trying to make the transition over to PHP.

Philip:            Yeah.

Jonathan:      Yeah. Then at one point, I just said, “Okay, I’m going to take all the FileMaker stuff off my website and just do web development.” That was … when you get it deep in business, I continued to get FileMaker leads and stuff, but I would say, “I don’t do that anymore. Send them to other people who do FileMaker.” That was pretty hard because like I said, you do take a financial hit a little bit. Not too bad, but it’s definitely not … it definitely takes a little time to make that shift or … But then it’s like a step change after that because now you’re in this huge pond of people who need websites which is drastically a hundred times bigger than the FileMaker community, at least.

Philip:            Yeah.

Jonathan:      At that point, I was like, “Well, I really need to specialize way more, like way, way more.” Right around that time, the iPhone came out. I was like, “Ugh!” as soon as I saw that. I was watching the announcement. As soon as I saw that, I was like, “That’s what I’m doing from now on.”

Philip:            Wow.

Jonathan:      I’m just [inaudible 00:15:01] for that.

Philip:            It was a revelation.

Jonathan:      Yeah. I mean because if you rem- … It was. I mean, if you remember the phones back then, it was like a joke. I still, every once in a while, I give talks. Probably every couple of months, I give a talk that includes … I cut together highlights of that Steve Jobs presentation and people gasp at stuff that you do a hundred times a day now. People freak out when I’m like the … Anyway, the point is I was really excited about it. He said at the time that the way that you build apps for was going to be with web technology. I was stoked. Then there was … I reversed that position a year later, but it was obvious to me. I was like, “That’s what I’m going to focus on because it was just so exciting.”

Philip:            Yeah. Yeah, the best part of that was other people’s reactions. Steve Ballmer losing a shit and laughing out loud about the price and I heard that the folks at BlackBerry disassembled it because they couldn’t believe that it was not a mock up or a prototype. I guess it was a prototype when it was first shown, but they couldn’t believe that was real. That it could really work.

Jonathan:      Right, right, right.

Philip:            What you’re describing is very different than what you hear from people who are all like, “I want to write a book.” That wasn’t the endpoint for you, it sounds like, at all.

Jonathan:      No.

Philip:            It was more of an outcome of just “I’m going to share. I’m really interested in what I’m doing so I’m going to share.”

Jonathan:      Mm-hmm (affirmative), yup.

Philip:            Okay.

Jonathan:      I will say, I should add, that I was working for a FileMaker firm, a very popular FileMaker firm at the time. The owner of that company, a great guy named Chris Moyer had written a FileMaker book. I had a front row seat to the advantages of being the guy that wrote the book because you don’t need to do sales. The phone rings every single day. It’s like planting seeds in the garden and just like customers come to you.

I knew a book would bring me customers. I feel silly saying that because I don’t even buy books anymore, just eBooks now and everything. Being the author of a book still has a ton of cache and it’s … I knew that I want it but I wasn’t knocking on publishers’ doors. I didn’t have enough … Yeah, I was just blogging about my passion and publishers came to me.

Philip:            Did you ever feel like an impostor? Like “Who am I to be writing about this? I learned about this five minutes ago?” that kind of thing.

Jonathan:      No. I know what you mean, but I’m like an open book so I’m pretty transparent about stuff. If I do a screencast of something I just learned, I’ll say that. Like, “This could be wrong. I might just completely have this wrong, but this worked for me. Here’s how I did it.” I try not to be too like “This is the right way to do something.”

I’m always careful to be like “This is what worked for me here in my situation,” because things are … Every situation is so different. I’ve got my defaults, but it’s pretty common for me to violate my own default position on something just because there are business rules that are like a particular application has an audience that doesn’t need it to run without JavaScript, or whatever.

I might violate the ten commandments of web development for some good reason. I just try and be really upfront all the time.

Philip:            Yeah, right.

Jonathan:      Another helpful thing is when you’d be up and front … the time it really can be scary for people is where they’re in front of a live crowd and somebody asked them a question they don’t know the answer to. I remember once, I just say, “I don’t know.” I mean a lot of times I’ll be like, “I should know the answer to that, and I don’t. I’ll try and … follow me on Twitter. I’ll look it up later. I’ll figure it out. I’ll do a test and I’ll post a link to a [Ripon 00:19:16] GitHub of like how to do it. Great question.

I remember just having … It happens fairly regularly. Probably once a talk, somebody will stump me with a question. I remember my brother came to a particular talk that I was at. He came up to me afterward and he’s like, “I couldn’t believe you said you didn’t know the answer to that question.” He was like, “That was so cool.” I was like, “Well, I didn’t know. What was I supposed to say? Am I supposed to fake it?” It was like, but I guess people would kind of, and it’s true. You do see people try and waffle their way out of the question when they really should just said-

Philip:            Yeah. That’s always worse.

Jonathan:      -“I don’t know. That’s a great question and I should know, but I don’t. I’ll get back.”

Philip:            I like that “I should know” part. My first job was as a Microsoft Certified Trainer in the first dot-com boom. I was an MCT in ’96, ’97. I was fresh out of college and I was teaching people much older than me. I would get stumped all the time. The first couple of times I tried to bullshit my way through it, that was not a good idea. I just learned. You just say, “I don’t know. I will be more than happy to look that up and get back to you.” It’s exactly what you’re saying. It’s the best way to deal with a question like that.

Related to that though, how do you get over the fear, which you may not have had personally, but the fear that by having an opinion, by publishing that opinion, you’re just going to be the subject of controversy, or people are going to call you out or something?

Jonathan:      That’s a tough line to walk. I think if you asked me that two years ago, I would say I didn’t think about it at all. I have tweeted some stuff in the heat of the moment that was stupid. It was just not thought out at all and still to this day like rubs me the wrong way. I’m just like … so I just try and like … I can tell when I’m getting in that so boxy mode and I just try and step away from the Twitter and think about it. That’s like a good time to write a blog post and really think something through.

Another thing I’ll do when I get that way is when … It mostly happens when … I’ll post something. I like to be a little bit contrarian or I’ll bash Apple. I love Apple computers and stuff but their business practices really drive me crazy sometimes. They’re very developer hostile in my opinion.

Philip:            Yeah.

Jonathan:      Apple fan buddies cannot stand that, so you hear about it. That doesn’t really bother me, but there are times when I’ll say stuff that really either came out wrong or whatever, and so when I’m getting to an area where I have a strong opinion but I know that I haven’t got a strong base for the opinion. It’s just a strong gut reaction and people come back at me. I’ll just ask a million questions. I’ll post something inflammatory, let’s say, and then people start attacking me and I’ll ask them why. Why do you say that? Why do you think that? Why do you say …? Almost always you get a massive education out of it. You’re like, “Wow, there are a bunch of really valid perspectives that I did not consider,” which tempers …

Now, and having done that process a few times in the last couple of years, it has really tempered my kneejerk sharing. I still pretty shoot from the hip pretty much on Twitter, but I know when I’m about to cause a slap fight.

Philip:            Yeah, pokes the hornet’s nest.

Jonathan:      Exactly.

Philip:            You just use that to start a conversation.

Jonathan:      Yeah. It’s super … People ask me like, “What? Twitter …” People still ask me like, “Twitter seems dumb,” like, “What’s the point of Twitter?” I don’t really want to know what people had for lunch and I’m fortunate to have a pretty good number of followers. It’s enough that I can have … I have enough followers that I can ask them a question and get a great, lazy marketing study done. Like I can say, “What do you all think about this?” Or I’ll just say something inflammatory and see what the reactions are. It’s really useful. If no one is following you, that won’t work because no one saw it.

It’s pretty much birds of a feather so I know that I’m getting like … Pretty much anybody that gets back to me has like got an informed valid opinion that I should consider. I might disagree with it but it’s certainly … It really helps a lot to see all sides of the picture.

Philip:            Yeah. Let me ask you this. If you got a consulting gig with, I don’t know, a Fortune 500 company. They haven’t read your FileMaker stuff. Have they watched your screencast? In other words, what’s the sales process from you putting out all these free content to them signing a contract for consulting?

Jonathan:      Yeah, good question. A lot of good questions today.

Philip:            Good.

Jonathan:      A lot of times … so there’s really … My biggest gigs have always come from speaking. I’ll get off stage. I think I got off stage at Adobe MAX and got like a six figure contract, like walking off the stage. That was a real home run. That’s not-

Philip:            Nice.

Jonathan:      -normally the way it works. I do get a lot of business cards and a lot of leads walking off the stage. That’s a big one. What’s interesting is that those, depending on the conference, of course, but there tend to be higher level managers and that sort of thing at a conference. It’s not necessarily developers. It could be, depending on the conference, obviously, but it could be a CMO. It could be a CTO or CIO or like an SVP, that kind of … That has been really good for me.

Then the other end of the spectrum is the book. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll get called into a marketing gig … sorry, into a consulting gig and it’ll be a contact level, like a project contact level person, like a VP and SVP, something like that. Then you get into the first meeting and like some developers pull me aside and they’re like, “Oh,” basically they recommended me to their boss because of they have my book on their desk or they follow my Twitter feed or they listened to the podcast or whatever. It’s usually the book, but it all feeds in together. The book, when it came out in 2010, for crying out loud, and I’ve done an Android one since and everything, but most people that come up to me and want a signature, or … it’s for the iPhone book.

Those are the two big ones. Having the book out there has been great and doing speaking gigs is great. Like the tweets and the blog posts and the screencasts and the podcasts, that all feeds into getting more speaking gigs and that sort of thing. All ties together.

Philip:            Sure, yeah. The speaking gigs play pretty big role for you.

Jonathan:      Yes. In the past, I … let’s see. Like I said, I started doing proper speaking gigs. Like a big room of people in like 2003 or 4, yeah, the FileMaker developers conference.

Philip:            Was that your first paid gig, doing something …?

Jonathan:      I don’t remember if I got paid for that. Actually, that was going to be my point, which is that for probably two years, two or three years, I would go to the opening of an envelope. You know what I mean? It was like, I would speak anywhere for anyone for any price.

Philip:            You hustled for a couple of years.

Jonathan:      Yeah, definitely. Like my first speaking gig, I talked the lady into it. I was like, “This is important subject. These people need to know this,” yadi yara, and just basically weaseled my way in.

Philip:            Okay.

Jonathan:      After that … I have a musician background, so I’m fairly comfortable on stage. That helped me a lot. Then that just one thing led to another. Once you have a speaking gig, I’m like, “Oh, that wasn’t so bad.” I just parlayed it, but after two years or so, the flying to a place to speak for free got old. I went through that stage but I don’t really do it anymore. Now, for me, a speaking gig is actually a lucrative thing where I don’t … Like that’s almost the end goal, and I don’t get customers out of it because I’m, talking to the customer.

They’ll have me come in and do an internal conference or a full day training session or a three hour mobile strategy session or something like that.

Philip:            Okay. Okay.

Jonathan:      It’s not as much of a lead generation thing anymore because it’s already the … it’s the product.

Philip:            Mm-hmm (affirmative), right. That makes sense. You’ve seen other people certainly in this world. The ones who don’t get to that point of doing keynotes or being invited to speak, what are they missing?

Jonathan:      Yeah, it’s almost always the same thing, which is that they’re not specific enough in what they do. They’re way too general. I mentored plenty of people, software development type people, solo and small firms, and with the exception … literally with one exception, none of them would pick a focus and market themselves that way. Nobody. It’s like they have a nervous breakdown almost. Like seriously. They feel like I’m right then they go to do it and it’s like doing your own website. Like, “Well, okay …” You have this existential crisis, like, “Well, okay, what do I do? What do I do?”

Philip:            Is it picking something or is it saying no to work?

Jonathan:      They don’t even get to the point … well, they are afraid … I literally, like I would say … I’d get somebody on the phone and talking about it. They’d tell me all about themselves. It’d be this long winded exploration of the things they do all day and specifics about this particular client and that particular client. I would say something like, “Well, it sounds to me like you do this for these kinds of clients.” “Well yeah, I do that but I can do anything. I’m a full stock web developer. I can do JavaScript. I can do PHP. I’m learning Rails,” all these things.

Looking at all these tools that they use and talking about the tools or the process that they use on their website, like that’s like me needing my bathroom redone and going to a site and somebody talking about what kind of tile grout they use.

Philip:            Right.

Jonathan:      I don’t care about that. I want to know if you can do the kind of bathroom I need done and your other customers are happy with you.

Philip:            Right.

Jonathan:      I don’t care what you do. If you came into my house and beamed by bathroom in with lasers, that would be … I don’t care what your tools are. The people that you’re building website for, in my case, they don’t care if I’m using Textmate or Sublime or even Rails or Symfony. They don’t care. They just want this … Well, I’ll take that back. Sometimes though there’ll be technical people there that there’s some reason why they might care about what framework I use or whatever, but in general.

Philip:            They’re much more likely to say, “Is this website going to sell the products that we’re listing on it or is it going to do the job that it needs to do?” Right?

Jonathan:      Right. Yeah. I mean that’s the underlying goal of any business is to make money. Obviously that’s the goal. Like you want to add value, more value than you take away as the web developer, let’s say. Admittedly, the client often comes to you already like that’s so obvious that they’ve already gone farther down the stack and they’re like, “We need someone to optimize our cart, like our shopping cart flow,” something very specific, for Shopify or something like that.

This isn’t exactly what you asked, but my approach would usually be like, “Okay, let’s back up a second and what’s the problem? Why did you call me? Like what’s  the problem that you think this is the solution for?” and like, “Let’s just make sure, let’s just validate that this is the right solution because maybe the reason you’re having a hard time doing it is because it’s the wrong solution.” That’s a separate issue, so what you really asked was how …

Philip:            To put it in another way, why is it so terrifying to pick one thing for a consultant or developer?

Jonathan:      Everybody has the same … It’s an emotional reaction that they feel like they’re going to be pigeonholed. I hear that a lot, “I don’t want to be pigeonholed,” and I’m like, “That’s exactly what you want, okay?” Pigeonholed is like the mobile web strategy guy. Like I’m the first hit on Google for mobile strategy consultant, like ahead of IBM.

Philip:            Oh, wow.

Jonathan:      You want to be pigeonholed.

Philip:            Okay.

Jonathan:      They think they don’t and it just sound like a negative comment. It feels like a negative connotation.

Philip:            Are they underestimating the size of the market or the financial upside for them of being the guy or the gal for that subject?

Jonathan:      I think no. I mean, it’s something that doesn’t happen on a rational level. I really don’t understand it. It’s totally irrational. It’s an irrational fear. I’ve had people almost cry, like going through this exercise of like … so I’d say … oh, that’s how we got on the bathroom thing. I would say like, “Okay, it sounds like you do this to me and it sounds like you build half baths in million dollar homes.” “Well yeah, but I could build a master bathroom in a shack if I somebody needs that.”

Philip:            Right, right.

Jonathan:      I’m like, “Yeah, but you can’t.” It’s the difference between what you actually do for your clients, I think, and how you present yourself to the world. You can present yourself to the world as the person who does half baths in million dollar homes in Beverly Hills, let’s say. Like you are the half bath master in Beverly Hills, you are the person to call. You’re going to get all that business because you’ve become known as that person.

Then you’re still going to get calls from other people who maybe want a full bath in a million dollar home, and maybe you do it for whatever reason. Maybe you need the money, but hopefully you don’t. Probably you don’t. It’s important to always be hammering on that one thing that you do. An exercise that I would go through with someone is let’s say I’m Larry Page from Google. Or … Yeah, Larry Page from Google and you run into me at a cocktail party, and he’s polite and he says, “Oh, nice to meet you. What do you do?”

They cannot answer that question. They might say something like, “I’m a consultant or I’m a web developer.” If you say something like that, you’re putting it on the other person to pour energy into the conversation to pry information out of you. It’s like a conversation killer. Imagine if I go, I’m at a party and I say, “Hey, how’s it going? Nice to meet you. What do you do?” “Oh, I’m a lawyer.” Then now if the conversation is to continue, I need to say, “Oh, what kind of lawyer?” Because everybody knows what a lawyer is. It’s an uninteresting thing to say. If he said, I don’t know, just make up something weird like, “I’m a…” I can’t think of something weird.

Philip:            It’s so broad, yeah.

Jonathan:      I’m a half bathroom … no, that’s terrible. What do I want to say? What would be a crazy lawyer?

Philip:            I get people who are guilty of killing their spouses off the hook.

Jonathan:      Right, but even that’s too long. Like I’m a … lawyer was a bad idea. I can’t think of anything illegal. Like from a web development standpoint, like I’m a frontend JavaScript developer.” Like that’s a much more specific thing. Or like, “I’m like a JavaScript dev,” or … I’m having a horrible time coming up with an example.

Philip:            No, no. Or you could just, “I’m the best Angular developer out there today.” You can tie it to even more specificity.

Jonathan:      Yeah. The best part that scares me though, like the thing that you want to say back to Larry Page is something that’s going to make him say, “Oh, what’s that?”

Philip:            Okay.

Jonathan:      When he says, “What’s that?” you’re not forcing him to come up with like to pick information out of you.

Philip:            Right.

Jonathan:      You want to say three words like I’m a dog lawyer. Like that’s a good example.

Philip:            Okay.

Jonathan:      What’s a dog law-?

Philip:            What’s that, Jonathan?

Jonathan:      Well, a dog lawyer. That’s when you say, “Oh, a dog lawyer is someone, you know, if your dog bites somebody, I’m the guy you call.” Like, “Oh,” and like, “Do you get a lot of business as a dog …?” The conversation writes itself after that because you’ve said something interesting. Now, if you translate that into like that should be your marketing material, that should be your tagline, like “I’m a dog lawyer.” Immediately people are going to be like, “What? What is a dog lawyer?” They’re going to read the next line and then they’re going to read the next line. Then they’re going to say, “I need a dog lawyer.”

Philip:            Right, or when they do need one, they’ve got a hook in their memory that has you hanging off of it.

Jonathan:      Even better, when anybody they know needs a dog lawyer.

Philip:            Right.

Jonathan:      I can go to my dentist and say, he’s a professional guy. He has a lot of professional friends. He hangs out with professional circles. He’s just making a conversation, “What do you do?” “Oh, I’m a mobile strategy consultant.” “Oh, what’s that?” Like I could say I’m a software consultant, but he probably knows what that is and he probably doesn’t care, it’s so boring. Or I could just say consultant, which would be death. That’s a marketing death. I’m a consultant.

Now he has to say, “What kind of consulting do you do?” So I say mobile strategy consultant and he’s like, “Oh, what is that? What do you do?” I say, “I help CEO’s transition their business to mobile.” “Oh. My doctor is trying to come up with a mobile website,” or whatever. He’s just got that information at the back of his mind. Very punchy three-word short thing; what are you, something weird, what is that one sentence answer?

It’s almost an elevator pitch but this whole conversation came around because that’s the exercise that I try and go through with people that I’m mentoring. No one will do it. I’ve literally had one person do it. Everybody else is just like, for various reasons, some more emotional than others; some, like you suggest, they’re afraid that “Well, that’s going to pigeonhole me too much. I’m not going to get enough business doing that. It’s too specific.”

I mean if what you deliver is not limited by physical proximity, you’re delivering some kind of digital product or any information product, you have the whole world as your potential marketplace. If you’re only one person or a small firm, you don’t really need that many clients.

Philip:            People need to understand that ratio of potential business, even if they get an extremely specific niche happening for themselves, there’s still a world, at least the English-speaking world, for my clients, of potential business.

Jonathan:      Yeah. I mean, if you get 0.00001 percent of the Internet, people are connected to the Internet, it’s crazy. You want to be pigeonholed basically is what it boils down to. Then the next question is well, how you grow your business? The way you grow your business is by getting bigger customers, not by adding employees or trying to get more and more customers. You’re trying to get bigger and bigger customers because you can provide bigger and bigger value to bigger and bigger customers.

Philip:            Yeah. You can get bigger margins from those bigger customers if you’re so inclined.

Jonathan:      Yup.

Philip:            Jonathan, what one simple thing can a technical consultancy start doing today to build their online authority?

Jonathan:      Yeah, I mean it goes back to sharing. It’s like just pick that niche, something that you really, really love because you’re going to end up hanging out with other people who love that stuff. You’re going to have clients who love that stuff. You’ll go to conferences with other people who love that stuff. You’re going to talk about that stuff you love with all these people. You can’t just pick something like, “Oh, I think a lot of people need dog lawyers,” and just randomly pick something.

Just pick your passion. Share as freely as you can with what you learned about that passion, whether it’s creating links to other things and adding some kind perspective or context. Or I mean, really, the best thing you could do is create original content. Like when I look at the traffic numbers for stuff where I’m offering opinion on somebody else’s piece, it’s a lot less compelling than when I’ve actually come up with from whole cloth like a brand new idea or like an approach or technique that’s literally not out there. Those go viral very relatively easily compared to like cool links I saw last week.

Philip:            Right.

Jonathan:      There’s a place for both because you can’t be writing like a groundbreaking blog post every couple of days. You’re lucky if it’s every couple of months.

Philip:            Right.

Jonathan:      Just put yourself out there as much as possible, pick a thing to be an expert on or you’ll never be an expert on anything. The Internet makes it really easy to do this. You can look around. You can see that there are not very many people talking about this particular thing. I feel like it is easier said than done now, I can tell you, from experience.

Philip:            Yeah, sure. Yeah, I know it’s just one day to point, but how’s it going for your one person who was willing to get specific?

Jonathan:      Yeah, gangbusters. He did great.

Philip:            That’s awesome.

Jonathan:      This particular customer, he’s like a firm. He’s the head of a small firm. He’s hired a few more people. He was interested in actually growing head count and taking approach. I’m not a fan of that, but obviously it does work for people. He just loved it. It worked great. We knew each other before so I knew it was going to be a pretty good match and he is willing to take risks, so it was a really good fit.

It’s been a long time and I’ve mentored a few people. Not tons. I’ve probably mentored like six to ten people over the course of years; some paid, some not. It’s not a big part of my business. It’s something I like to do and it’s notable how much it scares people to do this.

Philip:            That’s really interesting. Jonathan, how can people find out more about you?

Jonathan:      JonathanStark.com is a great place to go, although I’m much more active on Twitter, so usually if you just go to Twitter, my Twitter name is @jonathanstark and I link to everything in the blog and podcast and all of that stuff from Twitter, so that’s probably the best place.

Philip:            Awesome. Jonathan, it was really educational talking to you. Thank you.

Jonathan:      My pleasure, really.

Philip:            Very cool.

Jonathan:      Thanks for having me.

Remember, I’m going to be opening up new My Content Sherpa seats on July 22. If you’re on the waiting list, you’ll get first crack at reserving your seat so you can start building your company’s online authority every month.

Check out Jonathan’s website and Twitter profile to learn more about him.

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