I had the pleasure of speaking with Keith Perhac a few weeks ago. Through his company DelfiNet and SaaS product Summit Evergreen, Keith has seen firsthand how his clients–very successful information marketers–use their mailing lists to build their audience’s trust and boost sales.
In this hour long interview, Keith gives insight into what the technical consultancy can learn from high-earning information marketers. We talk about identifying your niche, building your list, making the most of a small list, learning to be dogmatic, and TONS of other interesting stuff related to building authority.
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.
So here goes! The video is below, and below that is the audio and a text transcript of the interview. Enjoy!
Philip Morgan: Keith, so good to talk to you.
Keith Perhac: Very good to be here. I’m excited.
Philip: Keith, who are you and what do you do?
Keith: I have no idea.
Keith: No. It’s interesting. People know me from the Kalzumeus podcast mostly, which I do with Patrick McKenzie, patio11 on the Internets. I run a small technical consulting agency. We do technical marketing ‑‑ is what I call it.
It’s not just your standard marketing websites. It’s not just building systems. It’s building systems that help your business grow and supporting system like that. Interestingly enough, we are based in the middle of nowhere, Japan.
Keith: We have maybe two Japanese clients. The majority of our clients are all in America and Europe. I think we have a couple in Mainland Asia. Mainly, we work with the whole gamut.
We work with enterprise or startups, because we love startups. We work with information product people. I hate the term “information product,” but there’s really just no other word that conglomerates the whole thing in there, right?
Keith: I guess online courses would be the other one, right?
Keith: People who have information that they want to share with the world, who have information that they think they can monetize, that other people are interested in, that’s who we help to promote their content and to build strategies and the technology behind those strategies so that they can sell more.
Philip: You’re not doing this for wannabes. You’re doing this for people who are doing it at a pretty large scale, right?
Keith: We run the gamut. I don’t think that I have any people I would call wannabes, in my case, only because if someone is just like “Oh, yeah. I wanna make 10 million dollars. And I don’t have an idea, I don’t have a message, and I don’t have a list,” then I’m going to be like, “You should probably go check out these free articles online.”
Keith: We’ll talk about why we do that in a second. But, “Then come back to me when you’re ready.” We generally say you need a at least revenue of 200,000‑500,000 a year to work with us. We do make exceptions for people we’re interested in. Like if you’re doing something cool, we’re all there and we want to help you, and stuff like that.
But, like you say, we do work with some of the bigger names with people who have 100,000, 200,000 people lists who are making millions of dollars a year on this.
Philip: Right. No one’s born with an email list of 200,000 people. Right?
Keith: That is true, that is true.
Philip: You build that over time.
Keith: Yeah, yeah. It’s difficult. If you don’t know how to build it and you don’t know how to connect with your audience, it’s a very difficult thing to do.
Philip: Let’s talk about, in a minute, what you see people doing to build even a 10,000 person list. Oh, go ahead.
Keith: No, no, go ahead, go ahead.
Philip: I was going to say, let’s step back a minute. What can those people do, those information product people do that other people can’t? They have clout, so to speak. What can they do with that?
Keith: You mean once they get the clout? Or how did they get the clout?
Philip: Once they get the clout. Then we’ll jump back and talk about how they got it.
Keith: Once you get the clout, so it’s interesting. First of all, I want to talk about list size real quick. Because a huge list doesn’t mean anything.
Keith: It’s all about the engagement of the list. I have clients who have 100,000 people lists that have maybe a 2 percent engagement rate. Which, it’s not bad. It’s not great, but I mean, we have an engagement, that’s how much, if we were to sell a product, they would buy 2 percent off the list, maybe 1 percent off the list.
Then I have people who have a much smaller list, like 1,000 or 2,000 people who are much more engaged, so it’s more like a 50 or 80 percent engagement rate. What ends up happening is you don’t have this huge group of people that you’re selling to some of them. You’re selling to the whole group. It’s a much more effective way to sell, but it also does not have the same scale. Right?
Keith: Neither of them are good or bad. This is all just the nature of the beast and it’s, do you want to build a small tribe of fanatical people, or do you want a huge tribe with a core of fanatical people? I’m not going to say one’s right and one’s wrong, it’s just a different way of doing business.
It’s like, it’s the difference between kind of like Starbucks and then your local coffee shop that everyone goes to, like Bulletproof Coffee, I guess, would be a really good example. It’s a small kind of scrappy startup that everyone is just passionate about.
I bet the average purchaser of Bulletproof coffee spends more on average than a regular Starbucks consumer. But there are more Starbucks consumers. Right?
Keith: I bet the average purchaser of Bulletproof Coffee spends more on average than a regular Starbucks consumer, but there are more Starbucks consumers, right?
Keith: I just wanted to talk about the list size before we get into what you can do with the list.
Philip: Yeah, because I think when people think about folks they know who have that kind of clout, that kind of online authority, we tend to think about the megastars.
But I believe, and you’re confirming for me, that people can do this on a much smaller scale. They can build authority. They can build a list. They can get great results even with a pretty small list, by those Internet scale standards.
Keith: Exactly. Amy Hoy puts it very well in her class, 30×500, which is a class on how to build products for general consumption. The reason it’s called 30×500 is you need 500 people paying $30 a month. Do the math on that. That’s how you make a good yearly income on that.
Philip: Or, to interrupt from the perspective of a technical consultant, they could add one or two clients. That can make a real difference to the year’s bottom line.
Keith: Exactly. You don’t have to have a hundred thousand person list, you need to have that targeted numbers. The amount of chafe around it does not matter. It’s that core of what percent you think can purchase, what percent you’re turning into that rabid tribe.
Philip: When someone ends up with a 50 or 100,000 person list, is that what they set out to build or does it…? Do you notice any intentionality in it?
Keith: There’s always the intentionality of, “Let’s grow the list.” There’s always that intentionality. My bigger clients were very, very focused on building the list, keeping engagement with the list ‑‑ because a huge list that isn’t engaged is worthless ‑‑ and then building, engaging, and profitizing off that.
Philip: Monetizing, do you know they’re an ugly word…
Keith: Monetizing. Yeah. You have to forgive me. I’ve been in Japan for 12 years. Sometimes I forget an English word here and there.
Philip: You can just throw in the Japanese word.
Philip: I’m sure we’ll all understand.
Keith: I’m studying that as well.
Keith: All right. So…
Philip: Go ahead.
Keith: The next question, I think you asked was, “What can you do with that?” I think we touched on that a little. But, essentially, once you have the tribe, you really can do it. You look at Brennan Dunn. He started his tribe with Planscope, which was an online software, right?
Keith: Then he built his first book, “How To Double Your Freelancing Rate.” He turned the Planscope audience into the freelancing book audience. He did that. He grew that. Now that’s getting more popular, he’s built other information courses and other products based on that and grown that out. Now he’s trying to bring that back into Planscope.
What can you do with a list of rabid followers? You can do anything with the list of rabid followers. It’s just a matter of what you want to do with it.
Philip: That’s a great example, because Brennan has done a really good job of picking his audience such that there’s potential to expand it and still keep it somewhat cohesive.
Philip: Let’s think about My Content Sherpa client. They’re a small mid‑sized technical consultancy, so they may be doing programming or web development. They’re busy. They’re successful. What’s in it for them to have a list? They may not have even thought of the benefits of doing it.
Keith: It’s interesting. I’m trying to figure out where to start. There’s so many places I can start with this. One of the places I want to start with is, first of all, I did not have any outbound or inbound marketing for about the first two and half years of my company. I did not even have an English website for two years. My Japanese website was horrible.
Keith: That did not prevent me from getting clients, but it was mainly by word of mouth. At some point, that just stops being able to scale. You can do that for a while, but you want to have the pipeline, right?
The idea is how do you build a pipeline? How do you keep people coming in even when you’re not going out and trying to find the clients? How do you have clients come to you instead of you having to go out and get the clients, right? It’s interesting, especially for consultancy and also for a technical shop or a technical consultancy, as well.
You worry about the information that you’re putting out there. I tell everyone what I’m doing then they are going to steal it and I’ll never get a job. It’s a scarcity model. What I know is so important that I’m going to keep it all. If people hire me then I’ll give it out, but otherwise I’m not giving it out.
What has been shown time and time again is that that just does not work. The best way to market yourself is to provide everything you have out there. I guess I should take a step back and talk about why that’s important.
Philip: Let me pause for just a second. Hold that thought. That’s the real cross‑over, I think, between the information marketer world, the information product world, and the consultancy world. You see that a lot with the infoproduct folks. They’re giving a lot of stuff away all the time. It’s stuff that has standalone, independent value whether you buy their product or not.
Keith: Exactly. The whole thing is that value proposition. There’s two strategies here that are working, and both of them are very similar. They’re both tied to this idea of the expert. You are more likely to be moved by or to purchase…we’ll turn it into monetization. I’m just not going to split hairs. That’s the goal. Monetization is the goal.
It’s easier to monetize people who think that you are an expert or feel that you are an expert is the better term. To whom you’re an expert. My favorite example is from Patrick McKenzie. For anyone who doesn’t know, Patrick McKenzie actually lives down the street from me in the middle of nowhere Japan.
We do the podcast and we talk a lot. He was talking about one of his clients that had hired him. They said, “Hey, Patrick, we’ve read all your blog posts, we’ve taken your online course that you produced, we’ve listened to all your podcasts. We really want to hire you to to consult for us.
He’s like, “If you’ve taken my course, you’ve read all my blog posts, you know everything I do. There’s absolutely nothing I can provide to you that you don’t already know.” They’re like, “Yeah, but we want you to do it for us.”
Philip: That’s a powerful thing. All the world’s information is available on the Internet with almost no filters. It’s just there.
Keith: That’s the problem. No filters is the problem. It’s the problem that, yes, I have all the information in the world right there on the Internet. It’s not curated. I don’t know what’s good or bad. All I have is the word of whoever wrote it. The only thing I can do to decide which his good and which is bad is my trust in that person who wrote it.
How do you get trust? You prove yourself. You show people. You give them little snippets. This goes back to the content marketers, why they have little opt‑ins like get my first 10 tricks to double your SEO. Once you get a success from that you’re like, “Oh my god, this guy knows what he’s talking about. He has become the expert.”
They’re more inclined to listen to him when he is giving you more advice or when he’s trying to sell you.
Philip: This is not a thing that happens overnight. This is a progression.
Keith: It’s not, no. It is a progression. You say it doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it can happen very quickly. You look at people like Nathan Berry and Brennan Dunn. They shot up very quickly. Brennan, I think, it was eight months from when he started his “Double Your Freelancing Rate” until he was one of the major names.
He was speaking at conferences and I think he had a second product out by then. I can’t remember the timeline. One of the first places he promoted “Double Your Freelancing Rate” was on our podcast. I was like, “This guy’s awesome, but I have no idea who he is.”
Then eight months later you couldn’t walk into a bar without everyone knowing who Brennan Dunn was.
Philip: How much of that is the two year overnight success effect and how much is just very well‑executed authority marketing?
Keith: It’s not like he had never done anything like this before. He ran a technical consultancy, he ran a business, he had a product. It wasn’t like he just woke up one day and he was like, “I’m totally going to become an Internet superstar.”
At the same time, from what I had talked with him ‑ and he may correct me if I’m wrong ‑ he had not done information products. He had not done anything that was his name. He had not sold his name yet. From start to getting up there was about eight months, and he worked his tail off for it.
This isn’t something that you have to be in it for the 5 year, 10 year haul. Even some of my huge clients, they’ve only been doing this for maybe three or four years and they have multimillion dollar companies. It’s possible to grow yourself, but it all comes back to transparency.
We’re starting to live in this world of transparency right now. I think it was the Wall Street Journal did an article a year ago about how people now are much more comfortable sharing their salaries than they used to be. Sharing your salary used to be the biggest taboo.
Now I go to a Bootstrappers’ Conference. It’s a little bit different with Bootstrappers’ Conference, but we all share numbers. I’m on Brennan’s master class. On one of our calls we said this is informal NDA. We’re going to not talk about the numbers, but I’m just going to lay it out. Here’s my numbers, here’s what I do. What can we do to make this better?
Philip: You have whole companies like Buffer doing that.
Keith: Buffer or Baremetrics. Anyone who doesn’t know Baremetrics, Baremetrics is software that lets you see how well your SaaS app is doing. It hooks directly into Stripe and it has little graphs on your monthly retention numbers and everything.
Their demo is their live data. If you go to the demo page on baremetrics.io you see their live data. They convinced Buffer to do the same thing.
Philip: That’s very cool. It all comes back to it’s not the idea, it’s the execution. You see more and more people living that out. Among your clients, what approaches have you seen to building authority?
Keith: The biggest one that I’ve seen that…there’s a couple. One of the big ones is to be dogmatic. I’m going to butcher his name. I’m sorry. Jesse Mecham. He talked at Bacon Biz this year. He does a personal finance software. One of the things that he talked about was about being dogmatic.
It’s the same reason why, for example, radio personalities like Rush Limbaugh and stuff…you would never hear Rush Limbaugh have someone call in, make a really good point, and he’d be like, “Oh, great point. I’m going to rethink that.” You never hear that.
He’s not stupid. He’s not so dog‑headed that he wouldn’t understand that point, but when you are promoting to an audience you have to be dogmatic. You have to be very solid in your delivery to someone. You can’t be wishy‑washy. Pick your points and move forward on them.
That doesn’t mean you can’t change them, but when you do change them you have to make a big deal out of it. You have to say, “Hey, this is something I’ve been thinking about for three years or four years. You know, guys, this is the wave of the future. This was not right for the last two years, but the way the world is going now this is what we need to be doing.”
It’s all about that authoritative voice. It’s being an authority, and it’s being very straight and clear with your messaging.
Philip: For people who are naturally thoughtful people, high‑intelligent people, it’s hard to do that because you feel a little bit like a Neanderthal when you do it.
Keith: It’s not being stupid. When you have feedback that goes against your eager dogma, you work it into the narrative. You don’t say, “That’s a great idea, I should change things.” That works in this case or that is actually a subset of what I’ve been talking about. You always bring it back to your core values.
I’m not saying that this is the only way to build your list, but this is a good way to find the tribe that connects closest to your message. If you don’t have a core message, you’re not going to be able to sell anything. If you don’t have a core message, you’re not going to be able to connect with people. You’re going to be going for the miasma. You’re going to be going for everyone.
You can’t please everyone. You don’t want to go for the whole world. You want to go for a niche, and you want to target that one area. The way you do that is by being consistent with your message and pulling that in.
Philip: When clients come to you, have they worked out their messaging? Do you help them develop a message?
Keith: It depends on the client. I’ve had some who had a message, some who had no idea. I have a lot of clients that they say, “I have a website and an idea. Where do I go from here?”
Philip: Part of getting where they want to go is having a message?
Keith: Exactly. Exactly. Especially here in Japan, one of the biggest problems that they have is that they think of a website like a business card. It doesn’t have a purpose. It’s just because you need to have it.
Philip: Or a brochure, an online brochure.
Keith: Right. When you have a website, that’s the number one way to connect to an audience 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That’s how you connect to people, and having a strong message is the only way you’re going to get any traction with that.
Philip: What else? What other approaches do they use in building a list, in building authority? The ones who are successful at it.
Keith: The main ones that I have seen, the number one way, I think, to build a list and to prove authority and to prove efficacy is the whole free content like the snippets idea. That’s things like Nathan Berry put some out. I’m trying to remember the names of them off the top of my head, but I can’t
Everyone has them. It’s like how to improve your SEO.
Philip: You’re talking about lead magnets?
Keith: Lead magnets, exactly.
Philip: Packaged, focused, how‑to oriented content, right?
Keith: Right. It’s interesting because people don’t sign up. They always have the sign up for my newsletter on the blog. No one signs up for newsletters. No one wants a newsletter. They want information that they can use now. For a good lead magnet there’s a couple of really important things.
First of all is that it’s easily understood. It doesn’t require a PhD in finance or a PhD in computer science to understand. It’s something that a lot of people can easily understand. Two, it’s easily digestible, which means it’s not 600 pages of treaties. It’s 10 things or 12 things or something that they can start using now.
One of my favorite ones that I got a while ago was email scripts. 50 email scripts. It was great because it was just 50 copy and paste scripts that you could put in your email for various situations. It’s like I want to introduce Philip to Brennan. Here is a sample of what you should send, and it would also dissect it.
Here’s where you put in what your relationship is with the person, et cetera. That’s something that’s instantly understandable, instantly usable, and proves its efficacy because you’ll see it as soon as you get a response in your email. I can’t remember if I was up to three or four. [laughs]
That’s the last point which is it needs to show that your information is valid and that it is effective.
Philip: People who do manage to build online authority and build a list, what do they do that he people who fail to do that don’t do?
Keith: To build online authority? I think there’s multiple types of authority. There’s authority in that you are the authoritative source on a subject, and that’s great. Just because you’re the authoritative source on a subject does not mean someone’s going to buy from you.
I have a client that he is the authoritative voice in his niche, but he cannot monetize it. It’s because the way that he’s positioned it…he’s monetized it enough to have a living off of it and a good living, but with the size of his list and the amount of people visiting his site every day it should be much higher.
The reason is because of the way he’s positioned it. You can be an authority in something and still not be able to monetize it correctly. One of the tactics that I like that a lot of people do is the whole check out how awesome my free stuff is. I reserve the best stuff for my customers.
One of the biggest objections that people have, first of all, don’t target people that don’t have money. It’s a really hard market. Frugality blogs. That’s a very hard market to be in because you give a lot of free advice on how to be frugal, how to save money, and then you’re like buy my $50 e‑book on how to save money and then they’re like, “$50? Yes, I’ll save $1,000 over the next month, but $50?” It’s mind‑blowing.
One of my clients has a book, and it’s priced at $30. He literally guarantees saving $600 in the first month. That is the guarantee for the book. We did a survey because people weren’t buying and they were like, “It’s too expensive.” Marketing to frugal people is very difficult. [laughs]
Philip: By extension, marketing to frugal businesses or businesses that you have nothing to offer to is going to be the mistake that kills someone starting out in this.
Keith: I really think Patrick McKinley…I really think everyone talks about this. We talk about quick wins. We do a lot of marketing consulting, technical consulting. One of the things we do when we start with a client is, yes, we need to do all the analytics, yes, we need to rewrite your email funnel.
Let’s get a quick win. Let’s go to the sales page, let’s run an AB test, let’s pick up the quick wins. Let’s change up your form a little. This isn’t optimized correctly. As soon as the client sees holy crap, we just increased sales by 20 percent, you have a much easier way to continue that engagement and prove the efficacy of that engagement.
Going back to that, there was something I wanted to talk about with the Lead Magnets. It’s the idea of opening the wallet. This works for Lead Magnets, this works for low price points, this also works for consultancies. I see a lot of consultancies now are doing what they call productized consulting.
I think Content Sherpa is very similar to that.
Philip: Indeed. I think of it that way.
Keith: For people who don’t know what it is, do you mind me talking about this?
Philip: I hope you keep talking about it. Thank you. [laughs]
Keith: The idea is that it is so much easier to sell to people who have already purchased. It’s easier to sell to an existing customer than it is to sell to a new customer. I did a presentation on this. I’m trying to remember the numbers off the top of my head. I believe it was 5 to 10 percent sales rate for a new customer and something like 50 to 70 percent for an existing customer to sell something.
I think that was done by Bane & Company. I had a bunch of different stats so I’m trying to remember which is which so I apologize if I have them wrong. It goes back to someone that has purchased from you once understands the value and is more willing to purchase again. That’s why up‑sells do so well. Someone who has just purchased, you offer them a second item or another part of the item.
That can increase sales incredibly. The reason is because once you’ve made the decision to buy it’s no longer should I buy or not. It’s should I buy or should I buy more?
Philip: Let me challenge you to talk a little bit about how having a list gets you from I’ve never heard of this guy to ready to make that initial small purchase.
Keith: Exactly. Sorry, I just heard a beep so I’m going to turn myself to, do not disturb, so you don’t get any more beeps. To restate the question, why is it that people on your list will buy more than someone who’s not on your list?
Philip: Sure, or you’re sketching out this escalation of trust and willingness to spend the big bucks. The money changes hand with a small product, an entry level product, especially when you’re talking about info‑product people, but the same thing can happen in the consulting world with a paid discovery for a couple thousand dollars or whatever is appropriate for that deliverable.
How does the list get you from nothing to ready to make that small initial purchase?
Keith: That goes back to the whole expert part. It’s interesting because signing up for a list you don’t think of it as a purchase but it is a purchase. It’s a decision to make a payment ‑ in this case, your private information, your email address ‑ in exchange for information.
Keith: And your time and attention, exactly. People say, “I can always just subscribe.” Very few people unsubscribe until it gets really obnoxious. It generally takes a lot of being obnoxious for someone to unsubscribe from a list.
Philip: That’s the other thing, I think, that my clients don’t realize because they’re generally nice people. The rules of in real life, face‑to‑face transactions don’t translate 100 percent to a list.
Keith: They don’t. Talking with my clients, the biggest thing I try to get them understand is that you may think that you are being a huge marketing sales pounding it into their head, but you’re probably not. With the number of emails that people get today, if you send them one sales email a week that’s nothing. That’s absolutely nothing.
I have some clients that, during a sales launch, will send two sales emails in the same day. People are excited about them. You can’t just say, “Hey, buy my stuff.” You couch it in the presentation. This is more about your expertise which is convincing people of the pain and then showing them the dream. It’s the pain versus the dream.
This is how you are, this is the problem that you are having. Our product helps you by solving that problem. Imagine yourself sitting on the beach not worrying if your server is in flames or not. That’s what we take care of.
Philip: That comes out of knowing your audience and having that message that you can reinforce over and over again with your list content.
Keith: It’s interesting because your list is not a one way street. You are always just sending to your list, but people write back. People write back all the time and they tell you things that they’ve done that have helped them, problems they’re having. That is great research. I hate to turn it into that’s great market research but it is.
It’s not market research in the fill out a form and let’s analyze the data. It’s understanding your audience. When you understand your audience you connect to them.
Philip: Right. It’s having a relationship at a larger scale than you can have with the people you know in the area you do business or your town or whatever. It’s a relationship. It’s not an ask, ask, ask thing. It’s a give, give, give, and, oh by the way, here’s what I can do for you if we take this to the next level and trade money.
Keith: Exactly. One of the interesting things I’ve learned doing my business is that I have gotten no work that is just random guy off the street emailing me. There has never been random guy off the street emailing me to do work. It’s all about connections.
Whether that’s another consultancy’s too busy and refers me or it’s my friend that says, “You really need to check out what Keith is doing,” or even something that is as simple as I met someone at a mixer. It’s all about connections, understanding the people.
Your list is a connection. I think that there are no developers or no technical agencies in the world that would be hired just because someone looked at their website and said, “Yeah, I would totally hire these guys.” If you were to build a conversation or a relationship with someone over time, when they were looking for what you’re offering, then that is a chance to get in there.
For example, if I had a website…I do have a website. I have mailing lists. I’m not that bad anymore. [laughs] I was for two years. Not anymore. When I would set up the website I would have it because you need that proof. When someone gets introduced to you and they check out your website they say, “These guys are legit.” You need that.
At the same time, if you do it as the expert marketing you don’t care if you’re going to get leads from this or not. You don’t care if you’re going to get jobs from this. What you care about is providing information to the world at large, promoting it, and getting people into your tribe.
What you do is you post interesting articles or whatever your genre is. Then you would push forward on articles, on information, maybe stuff that only you know, maybe tools that you’ve built. There’s so many things. Sometimes just larger start‑ups and whatnot will post about what they built that day in the product, and it sparks conversation.
People remember the name that is tied to the information that they got. You become a more household name. Then you build that into your list so you have your offerings. You have I’ve talked to you about all these things on my blog, I’m doing this new content offering or I’m thinking about launching this new book. People who want to pre‑order come here, et cetera.
There’s a lot of ways that you can then turn that one‑way conversation to a two‑way conversation. Once it’s a two‑way conversation it’s a connection, and once it’s a connection that’s something you can build into a business.
Philip: Sales really is having a conversation that moves towards a business relationship.
Keith: Exactly. Exactly.
Philip: Let’s see. We’ve already talked about what people who have authority can do. You kind of said the sky is the limit. [laughs]
Keith: It really is. You can’t just suddenly pivot and say, “I know I’ve been talking about people who are afraid of claustrophobia for 12 years. Let’s all go skydiving.” There’s a limit to what you can do. Within your genre, if you’re willing to take the time, you can pivot to whatever you want to do with it.
The people on your list…I won’t even say the list. The people in your tribe, they connected with you. They started connecting with you because you have something in common. How you take that conversation is completely up to you, and you can change that conversation however you want in the long‑term.
I meet people at networking mixers. We’re all sensibly there to meet because we have business things in common, but I get to know the guy and it’s like we like the same hobby, we like the same band, we start going out. We go to barbecues together, et cetera.
Suddenly, what originally started as a business conversation is now a friendship conversation. You would never say, “Let’s go to a seminar and then I’m going to make 1,000 friends.” It’s all about how that relationship works in the long‑term. You can change it to anything you want.
Philip: There’s flexibility. It’s an investment to build this kind of authority. It takes you out of the day‑to‑day of billing for your time. You’re saying you’re not locked in to the authority or the list that you build. You can take it a different direction if you do it right.
Keith: Yeah, and don’t expect everyone to come with you. You can’t expect everyone to come with you. That goes back to the be dogmatic aspect. When you are building the list and when you are moving in a single direction, you need to keep that dogmatic.
If 5 ,10 years down the line you’re like, “Crap, this is not what I wanted to do,” then you can work on pivoting it out. You can’t just say, “Hey, we’re going in a different direction.” You need to work it into the conversation.
Philip: One problem that technical folks have is that they like to talk about technical stuff. The people on their list may be their peers, but that’s not who should be on their list if they want to use it as a selling tool.
Keith: It is not. The promise you don’t want to sell to your competition. It’s not like yo u shouldn’t have a relationship with your competition, but if you’re selling to people who are doing the same thing as you you’re not going to be able to sell anything.
Philip: How do they bridge that gap between being in the nuts and bolts, the trenches, of doing technical work and talking about something on their list that’s of interest to their potential customers or clients?
Keith: There’s two ways to do that. One, you want to market to people in your industry. If you’re a technical, you want to not really sell to people who are technical but you want to talk about what you’re doing. Then suddenly everyone in the industry is doing that or everyone’s thinking about it, everyone’s talking about it, and who’s the source of it? It’s you.
Philip: In a sense, you are marketing to your peers?
Keith: You’re marketing to the industry as a whole, and the way you do that is by going through your peers. I’m trying to think of a good example right now, and I’m not getting one right off the top of my head. I think the Baremetrics one is a good example where they were talking about opening up data, and they convinced I’m pretty sure it was Buffer to open up their data, as well.
It’s this idea now of open data, about open, understanding, and transparency. This is becoming a sub‑current in the industry. We need to be more transparent, we need to be more understandable. There’s no reason for us to fight with the secrecy. Where did that all start? It started from Baremetrics.
Philip: I think another example is 37 Signals. If you look at their content you see them talking to their peers in a way. They like to talk about how to run a SaaS and design issues that might not be broadly interesting to their customers, and they talk to their customers, as well. I think they do both.
Keith: This is interesting because it’s a little bit different when you have a product like Baremetrics or 37 Signals. When you’re selling a product instead of a service ‑ I guess software is a product ‑ you can sell to your industry because they are going to recommend it. If they like it, they’re going to recommend it to their clients.
In that case, the end user, your “customer,” is one step removed from you. You sell to your industry and they’re like, “Oh my god, this is the best thing ever.” It’s like Stripe. If there was no tech industry to say, “This makes it so easy to set up payments.” Developers are like, “i will not work with PayPal. I will not touch PayPal.”
Stripe targets the developers because they’re the ones that need to set it up. Then they sell it to their clients because the clients aren’t going to be able to set up a payment processor. The industry says, “We’re using Stripe, you’re using Stripe,” and suddenly Stripe has more customers.
Philip: They really got it mainstream the exact way that you’ve described.
Keith: The other side of that is, for a service…let’s go back to Patrick McKenzie really quick. He was technical for a long time. He still is technical. He codes a lot. He is also interested in business. Everyone calls him Internet famous. He is pretty Internet famous, but the way he got Internet famous is he chatted on hacker news and software as a service bulletin boards and everything for years.
It was just giving free, good advice to people who didn’t understand it. People might think he’s technical, he’s selling to his own group. That’s not what he’s selling. He’s selling things that technical people don’t get. He’s selling marketing at scale. He’s selling how to connect with customers. He’s talking in terms of the business.
Most technical people, you don’t learn that when you’re getting your CS degree. I lost my train of thought. [laughs]
Philip: It’s interesting because I’ve not been following him the whole time he’s been doing that, but I think if you go back and look at some of that old stuff it’s the same subject over and over again. It’s a fairly narrow subject. That’s one of the things that I think is a pattern you see effective.
People who effectively use content to build up their authority do, they pick a subject and they stick with it ad nauseum.
Keith: Right. It’s the dogmatic approach. The other part of that is ‑ I don’t know how true this is ‑ they say you have to be taught something seven times for it to stick. It’s really true. That’s why Patrick has been talking about similar things for five years. I think he’s branched out two or three times to new topics within that genre.
His big one right now is life cycle emails. It’s really true. You look at any of the great content marketers…and this is one of the things that a lot of people don’t realize when they start. I didn’t realize it when I started, as well. I’ll write my treatise on how you should do opt‑in marketing. I’ll write it once, it’s there, that’s what people need to know, that’s the authoritative source, and we’re done.
It’s done. Let’s see the money come in. It doesn’t work like that. You have to be saying the same thing over and over. It is difficult. It is difficult because it’s not like you can just copy/paste. You have to see what people are doing, how the industry is moving, what is going on, and then how that ties back to what you’re thinking about.
Philip: You were saying that a certain amount of who you talk to in your list, in your content that you create, is your peers, and a certain amount is your customers. For the technical consultant, as they’re talking to their peers and they’re sufficiently differentiated in how they talk about themselves then they become the company for that subject and they can get referrals from their peers.
They say, “Yeah, I can do this, but you know who really is talking about this all the time? Those guys.” That turns into a referral.
Keith: Exactly. Exactly. There are certain places that I don’t feel my consultancy is up to par with. If I have a client come to me who’s like, “Hey, I really want X,” and I’m like, “We can do X. We’re not great at X. I would really recommend this guy because he is, honestly, in my circle, the authority on X.”
It’s like if someone came to me for a life cycle email I do write life cycle emails, I love writing life cycle emails, and they’re like, “We want the best life cycle emails ever.” I’m like, “Well, if you’re willing to pay for it I can introduce you to Patrick. He literally wrote the book on it.”
It’s just things like that. That goes back to the whole connections. It’s about creating a connection not only with your customers but with your community. It’s about openness. If I was not open and I was not like, “This is what we do and these are some great people I know,” no one would give me a second glance.
Nathan Berry wrote a great article on Smashing Magazine, “How to Sell Anything.” He specifically talks about CSS Tricks. I won’t go through the whole article, but you should definitely check it out. It’s just about how when CSS Tricks started out Nathan Berry looked at it and said, “I know that stuff. Whatever. I’m so much better than that.”
CSS Tricks was doing every single day and it was getting better and better. He had the information there. As time went on, when a client would ask Nathan, “How do I do this with CSS?” he was linking back to CSS Tricks. It was easier than him writing out the email or writing out the information.
Now you search for anything for CSS and CSS Tricks comes up. It’s the authority on it.
Philip: Another piece of that story I remember from reading Nathan’s book on authority is he really does a great job of countering the objection which goes like this, “I know what I’m doing but I’m not currently an expert in this. I don’t have any business writing about this or setting myself up as an authority on this subject.”
What he said is that you’re going to do a much better job of teaching something that you learned, I don’t know, six months ago and you’ve applied a couple of times than something you’ve been doing for six years because you’ll have that beginner’s mindset.
Keith: So true. It’s so true. One of the biggest problems that I’ve had in explaining my consulting and explaining what I do and strategies to new clients is that you don’t know what other people don’t know. Let’s give an example. You know tiered pricing. You have a price anchor at the high end and then you have three price tiers.
You have your cheap version, your middle version, and your high version. It’s the same product, but you’re just bundling it different, adding different things, it’s the premium version, et cetera. This is marketing 101. This has been marketing 101 forever.
We went to a marketing conference in the US. It was four Internet marketers. This is what they should be doing 24/7. We were talking about tiered pricing and they were like, “What’s that?” It just blew my mind. That’s a very extreme example, but I didn’t know where to take the conversation from there. How do I even start the conversation when you don’t understand that?
That’s what you have to remember, especially for a technical company, people who you would be helping with your writing. You need to understand that your customers, your end clients, are not technical. They do not understand what a database is. They literally do not understand what a database is.
In some cases, they may not understand what the difference between Google and the Internet is. There’s a whole range. That’s not because they’re stupid. They are masters in their own field. They are master lawyers. They are master doctors. They’re just not master IT people.
You have to learn to connect to them. You’re not going to explain what a database is. They don’t care what a database is. How does your solution help them? What can you do to help them? That’s how you connect with them. You don’t talk about if your database is MySQL or what’s the new hotness? If we switch over from MySQL to a no SQL database then we’re going to get this performance.
They don’t give a crap. How is it going to make it easier for them to process their clients’ payments? How is it going to solve their pain points?
Philip: Which usually have a dollar sign associated with them.
Keith: Any time you can solve a problem that has a dollar sign associated with it you’ve just written your own rate. If you are solving a million dollar problem you can’t charge a million dollars for it ‑ well, you could ‑ you know the value of what you’re bringing to the table.
Philip: You become a partner on a million dollar venture and become entitled to a share of that profit.
Keith: Exactly. Exactly.
Philip: What I was trying to have be a 30 minute conversation turned into a much better 60 minute conversation. Let’s wrap‑up with this question. What one, simple thing can people start doing today to build their authority? By people I mean my clients, the small, technical consultancy.
Keith: Honestly, I would, it all goes back to creating content. But what I would do, the one thing I would start with is, start figuring out what you know that other people don’t that is of interest to your clients.
Philip: Let’s dig into that a little more. How would you walk someone through that process?
Keith: It’s such a case by case.
Keith: It’s such a case by case. I can’t just say, “Here’s how we go through it.”
Philip: Really though, it’s kind of the core of getting started down this road, isn’t it?
Keith: It is. If you were to explain…Here’s a good example. I would even go, if you have access to your local chamber of commerce, some networking events, etc. that don’t deal with your industry directly, but are people who could conceivably become your clients, and talk to them. Talk to them about what problems they have. Just listen to them. Don’t talk at them. Just listen to what they’re doing.
If you want a great example of how to do that, I would honestly pick up Brennan’s book, “Double Your Freelancing Rate.” It’s $50 or $60 right now. It just has some good examples of how you talk to people in order to provide value, because it’s all value based.
The conversation needs to be value based. Figuring that out is the single most hardest thing, but it’s also what you need to start with. You should not think, “Oh, this has to be perfect before I start.” Start with a draft, like say…Because I have changed how I position my company multiple times in the last three years.
As I get different feedback, I’ve been changing it. I’ve been reworking it, making it easier to understand. But if you don’t start and you don’t start getting it out there, you’re never going to get that feedback that makes you grow.
Philip: Yeah, when I tackle this same problem with My Content Sherpa clients, I have a couple of questions that are kind of my go to questions. What do you see your clients’ eyes light up when you say? Is the good one to sort of provoke thinking about that. Right?
What do your clients complain about over and over again? Other than stuff that may not be going great on the project that you’re working on with them. But about themselves and their lives and their business, what do you hear them kvetching about?
Keith: Exactly, exactly. It’s going to be different for every industry. Some of my clients, their main gripe is support. They want a lower support cost.
You say, “OK, we can start outsourcing.” But look at what is the support issue that they’re having. Is it something that’s solvable by you? Is it a systemic problem? You’re not going to get this without starting that conversation, you’re not going to start that conversation without putting something out there.
It’s like Steve Jobs says, “Real artists ship.” Right? You just figure out the bare minimum of what you need to get that message out there, start putting it out there and then connect back on it as you’re getting feedback.
Philip: That’s great. That’s actionable, that’s something people can start today. That’s awesome. Thank you, Keith.
Keith: No worries, thank you very much.
Philip: Keith, how can people find out more about you if they’re curious?
Keith: If you are curious about what I do, you can find me on the web at delfi‑net.com, D E L F I‑net.com. I’m Keith Perhac on Twitter and DelfiNetJP on Twitter. I just kind of hang around.
Philip: You’re easy to find.
Keith: I don’t know if I’m easy to find. no one has the name Keith Perhac. If you search for Keith Perhac, you’ll probably find some old pictures of me as well. But you’ll find what I’ve been doing recently.
Keith: It’s really interesting, because Patrick, Internet Famous and I’ve been doing the podcast with him for about two, three years now. Patrick always asked at the end, “How can people find you on the Internet?” They can’t. I just don’t exist on the Internet, really.
Philip: They have to go to Japan to find you.
Keith: They have to come to Japan. You have to wear the shawl and like hike up the mountain to find me. I’m kind of that way, I guess.
Philip: Well, I’m glad I found you and I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about this stuff.
Keith: Honestly, it was great talking with you. I’ve had so much fun about this stuff.
(Transcription by CastingWords)
Remember, new My Content Sherpa seats open up 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.
And be sure to check Keith out if you need technical marketing to move the needle for for your company.