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[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] Old lady chairs and Monte Carlo simulations

By Philip | October 16, 2019

Over the weekend I was sitting in an old-lady chair in an old lady’s room, thinking about using Monte Carlo simulation to model the success of specializing.

I know some of you think I’m making this up, so pics or it didn’t happen:

Anyway, back in the Spring of this year, Douglas Hubbard did a free webinar for the Military Operations Research Society, I attended, and I got interested in Monte Carlo simulations. This past weekend I was able to read up on the topic a bit more, and it got me wondering how I could use this approach to model the results of a business deciding to specialize.

To be clear, I don’t have a Monte Carlo simulation to show you. But I do have the beginnings of a model — a work in progress — that you might find interesting.

There’s this professor — who looks more professorial as any other professor I’ve ever seen — named Sam Savage. Big bushy white eyebrows, etc.

He says: “Plans based on average assumptions are wrong on average.” Wherever a measurement is uncertain, he advocates replacing averages with probability distributions in order to get a more accurate result when modeling a scenario.

To do this — and to design a Monte Carlo simulation — you need to identify your uncertain variables.

That got me thinking: what are the uncertain variables when someone specializes? I’ve spent a ton of time thinking and hundreds of thousands of words writing about how you make the specialization decision (which is the front end of things), and I’ve written a lot about what it takes to turn that specialization decision into a robust market position, but I’ve not really brought all of this together into the kind of model that gets shown on slide decks in business meetings.

And furthermore, I wonder if a model like this might be used to simulate the entire specialization process from the decision to the economic results of that decision. I won’t get that far with things in this article, but the basics of the simulation model alone are quite interesting, so I’ll focus on that.

I might be doing a poor job of explaining all of this verbally, so let’s just cut to the diagram. I’ll elaborate below:

There are 4 major variables that I see effecting the outcome of a person or firm deciding to specialize, and 3 of those are composed of minor variables. In Monte Carlo simulation terms, these are our uncertain variables.

Quality of the decision

The Quality of the decision variable is the one I’m generally focused on in my work with clients. It’s the first needle I can help them move.

As we work towards a high quality decision, we are looking at lots of constituent variables, and the following three are the most critical:

Risk: Exceeding your risk profile when you decide to specialize causes trouble because you’ll flinch when you need to lean in and you’ll give up right before a long-fought victory rounds the corner. Exceeding your risk profile sets you up to specialize in ways that are more difficult or risky than you can handle.

Research: You mitigate risk by understanding the market you’re going to specialize in. Good research uncovers critical fundamentals of the market, like buying cycle length, how the market prefers to be marketed to, what problems the market understands and prioritizes solving, and so forth.

Clarity (of the message): Once you’ve decided how to specialize, the way in which you explain that focus to the market starts to matter. It’s possible to make a good specialization decision but cock it up with crappy messaging, though generally clarity in the decision making leads to clarity in expressing the decision.

Market conditions

You can’t decide how to specialize without understanding the market conditions. I don’t mean “the market” broadly in an Adam Smith sense. Rather, I mean the specific niche market you’d be focusing on as a specialist.

In one way, the variable of market conditions is deeply entwined with the quality of your specialization decision. Thus the Research sub-variable described above.

In another way, market conditions are an independent variable that is unrelated to your specialization decision. That’s what I’m talking about here.

You can incorporate the best possible information about market conditions into your specialization decision, but after you make the decision and start to take action, market conditions can change, sometimes unexpectedly.

Demand: From 2006 to 2010, demand for construction materials dropped by 25%. About 74 billion fewer dollars were spent on construction materials.

In the 4 year time period from 2015 to 2019, legal cannabis sales increased by 283%. About 8.8 billion more dollars are now spent on legal cannabis compared to 2015.

These were swings in demand that couldn’t have easily been predicted, and the same thing can happen with the demand for expertise, though demand for truly world-class expertise tends to be less elastic because that demand comes from a variety of sources, not all of which are effected equally by a downturn.

Competitive Set: Again, good research should reveal the competitive set that exists in any given market, but the competitive set can change after you commit to a specialization, sometimes in unexpected or disruptive ways. Apple does this when they replicate the functionality of a third-party app inside iOS or MacOS. In the services world, this happens too when someone from an open source project’s core team goes freelance, or when a platform builds in functionality that used to require services.

Quality of the execution

Specialization is 20% making a good decision and 80% other variables, the biggest of which is your execution. Generally, execution means your post-specialization marketing efforts.

Consistency: After you decide how to specialize, you work to build a reputation, which is the mental residue of many discrete actions over time. Consistency of execution is one way to more effectively build this reputation.

Effort: This variable is less about how hard or intensely you work, and more about how much effort you’re able to dedicate to your reputation-building project. I’ve seen lots of folks start out strong in terms effort and then — often because life throws them a curve ball — quickly reduce effort which also undermines consistency. They can recover from this, but it still damages or delays their reputation-building efforts.

Focus: Focus is how narrowly and effectively your marketing is targeted.

Focus, consistency, and effort are related. Focus is like the lens in a magnifying glass and consistency/effort are like the sunshine. Without the lens, the sun warms but isn’t concentrated enough to ignite tinder. If the sun is obscured by clouds, the lens focuses whatever light is there, but there isn’t enough light to ignite the tinder.

Despite this close relationship between these three variables, it makes sense to separate them out in this model because I have seen situations where focus and effort is high but consistency is not.

Chutzpah

If there’s an x-factor in how the whole specialization equation resolves, it’s what we might call chutzpah. In some cases, this is confidence. Not always though.

It might be dogged persistence coming from a not-very-confident person. Or creative relationship-building. Or a willingness to — as Gary Vaynerchuck colorfully says — eat shit for a while. Or some other personality-driven thing.

Chutzpah is the vitality you put into your execution. It’s the spark of life — unique to you — that lives inside every part of your moving from generalist to specialized expert.

Because you’re in a relationship business, chutzpah carries more weight than you might at first think. That’s why I rank it as a major variable in my model rather than a sub-variable underneath one of the other 3 major variables.


There you have it: a rough cut at a model for specialization.

My theory is that if I could assign a probability distributions to each variable and weight the importance of each variable, then I could run a Monte Carlo simulation that informs how likely a given person is to succeed with a potential specialization.

This idea is still kind of a crazy flyer for me, and I’m in over my head with the whole Monte Carlo simulation tool as well. If any of you have done this kind of thing before, I’d love to learn from you!

What about you? How would you model some process or state change that you’re involved in with your clients? What are the uncertain variables? 1

-P


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Notes

  1. Yes, if you’re an implementor I’m totally trying to trick you into thinking like a consultant. 🙂 Guilty as charged.

[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] “I didn’t want to offend you”

By Philip | October 2, 2019

Quick tophat: If you manage an overseas dev team, would you be willing to spare 2 minutes for a survey? In exchange, I will share the results with you. -> https://forms.gle/QaNfP1SbWAQ9FEJb9


I used to be afraid to ask clients about money. This behavior came from social training that it’s impolite to talk about money in some situations. I over-applied that social norm.

Naturally, this paper was of interest to me: “I Didn’t Want to Offend You: The Cost of Avoiding Sensitive Questions” by Einav Hart, Eric VanEpps, Maurice E. Schweitzer

The abstract is a good summary, with my bolding added to emphasize a few key points:


Within a conversation, individuals balance competing concerns, such as the motive to gather information and the motives to avoid discomfort and to create a favorable impression. Across three pilot studies and four experimental studies, we demonstrate that individuals avoid asking sensitive questions, because they fear making others uncomfortable and because of impression management concerns. We demonstrate that this aversion to asking sensitive questions is both costly and misguided. Even when we incentivized participants to ask sensitive questions, participants were reluctant to do so in both face-to-face and computer-mediated chat conversations. Interestingly, rather than accurately anticipating how sensitive questions will influence impression formation, we find that question askers significantly overestimate the interpersonal costs of asking sensitive questions. Across our studies, individuals formed similarly favorable impressions of partners who asked non-sensitive (e.g., “Are you a morning person?”) and sensitive (e.g., “What are your views on abortion?”) questions, despite askers’ reticence to ask sensitive questions.


As I’ve matured as a person I’ve moved from avoiding sensitive questions (about money, for example) to leaning into those same sorts of sensitive questions. I now have a bias towards asking sensitive questions. This study confirms my bias.

Let’s not over-apply the conclusions of this study to real life. Exporting results from Mechanical Turk and a university behavioral science lab to the real world is a big leap. The study’s environment was simple. Perhaps the real world calls for more nuanced decision making.

Still, it’s valuable to be reminded that our social training — or how our personality is wired — might hold us back in some business situations.

What do you do when you identify some behavior that’s holding you back?

I like experiential learning, otherwise known as the “Just do it” method, pioneered by Wieden+Kennedy and Nike. I’m kidding about the W+K part, but not kidding at all about the experiential learning part.

This other study explores something I’ve sensed about experiential learning: Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. Here’s the key part:


Despite active learning being recognized as a superior method of instruction in the classroom, a major recent survey found that most college STEM instructors still choose traditional teaching methods. This article addresses the long-standing question of why students and faculty remain resistant to active learning. Comparing passive lectures with active learning using a randomized experimental approach and identical course materials, we find that students in the active classroom learn more, but they feel like they learn less. We show that this negative correlation is caused in part by the increased cognitive effort required during active learning.


Here’s my short version: experiential learning works, but it’s harder, so we dislike it.

This study is consistent with my experience: learning-by-doing has outperformed learning-by-reading-other-people’s-advice in my business. I see changes in my Expertise Incubator participants that advice alone could never produce. They earn these new capabilities and expertise assets through experiential learning and flat out hard work. By just doing it.

What might be your entry point to experiential learning? A few simple suggestions:

  • If you underprice your services, ask “how much money will this project make for the company?” at the next opportunity. Remember that you might be trained to avoid asking sensitive questions, so your evaluation of “the right opportunity to ask that kind of question” might be screwed up. If so, compensate by just doing it at the earliest possible time (just rip the bandaid off). And then doing it again with another client or prospect. Then for a third time. Don’t quit after the first time, which might be an outlier of some sort.

  • If you think you understand something, challenge yourself to teach it. Try to explain it in 900 words or less of writing, or in 15 minutes or less of speaking, ideally in public. The word or time limits are artificial constraints, meant to reveal how deep your understanding really goes.

  • If you’re intimidated by something, build a scale model. This is not exactly the “Just do it” approach, but sometimes we really do need a lower stakes way to begin. A scale model could be a pilot project or proof of concept or merely a scaled-back version of the thing you’re intimidated to do or build.

Have a great day,

-P

PS: I’ll be participating in a writing retreat in Tennessee next week, so there will be no Weekly Consulting Insight issue the week of October 7 – 11.


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[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] The lonesome valley

By Philip | September 25, 2019

“Everybody must walk the lonesome valley
Yeah, they must walk it by themselves
There’s nobody here can walk it for them
Yeah, they got to walk it by themselves

My father’s got to walk the lonesome valley
Yeah, he’s got to walk it by himself
There’s nobody here can walk it for him
Yeah, he’s got to walk it by himself”

— The American folk song “Lonesome Valley”, Bill Callahan variation

The feeling I experience every day I get up at 5am to think and write is not a feeling of victory at moving my business forward. It’s not even a feeling of gratitude for the freedom to invest in this way.

It’s a feeling of profound loneliness.

I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me. Not at all. I’d hate it if you did. If anything, it’s a privilege to be able to invest in myself and my business this way.

But maybe whatever you do to invest in your business generates a similar feeling? Of loneliness? Discomfort of some sort? A feeling of isolation?

I don’t know. Maybe I’m strange for having this reaction.

But I bet some of you have it too.

If so, you’re not alone.

-P

I’m running an open thread for any questions you might have about specialization, lead generation, expertise, and IP: https://pmc.substack.com/p/open-thread-for-pmc-free-list-subscribers/comments If you’ve got a question you’d like my input on, please drop it in that thread.

[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] Loyal but not faithful

By Philip | September 18, 2019

Quick tophat: A previous client of mine unexpectedly lost a whale client and is looking for some fill-in dev work (Shopify or general front end work). If you’re able to help connect him with any opportunities, please hit REPLY, let me know, and I’ll connect you with him.


The work I do allows me to see a dramatic change happen in some of my clients. I call it “the loyalty switch”.

The loyalty switch is when your primary loyalty switches from doing excellent client work to building an excellent business.

This switch is painful, because the new primary loyalty causes trouble for the existing business. You’ll hear yourself saying things like “This is the last effing time I $THING”, where $THING is the main revenue driver that got your business to where it is today.

The loyalty switch disrupts your business. I’m never worried when I see a client undergo the loyalty switch, though, because I know the old service-driven business needed to die, to rise again as an innovation or expertise-driven business. In fact, expediting this transition is probably why I was hired in the first place by this client.

The loyalty switch leads to rebirth. You change from believing that serving clients is the most important thing to believing that future value creation is the most important thing. Those are two very different kind of businesses!

Frida Kahlo is said to have told her husband Diego Rivera that she expected him to be loyal, but not necessarily faithful. This describes the transition period of the loyalty switch. Of course you’ll have to “cheat on” your new loyalty to future value creation by occasionally prioritizing client work. It’s an awkward period where you can’t fully lean on the new loyalty (future value creation), so you have dalliances with the old one (immediate revenue-generating client work in the old style).

The new loyalty will probably have you doing unusual, unpleasant things. Getting up earlier than usual. Taking more risk than usual. Getting outside your emotional comfort zone more than usual. Trying things you know you need to do but have no idea exactly how to do.

If you’re in the midst of or all the way through this switch, you don’t need me to tell you it’s worth it.

But for the rest of you… it’s worth it.

-P


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[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] Survey marketing wrap-up

By Philip | September 10, 2019

Back in May, I started an experiment I referred to as “survey marketing”. Today I want to wrap that all up in a bow. This will be what I hope is the kind of naval-gazing email at least some of you can learn something from. A “learn from my mistakes” email. 🙂

What I did

I figured that if I undertook some research, I could get permission from folks not currently in my audience to market to them by sharing back the results of the research.

I still believe this idea is sound. My first implementation of it could be improved.

Here’s what I did:

  1. I chose a question I wanted to answer.
  2. I designed a survey. It was OK, but could have been better.
  3. I recruited participants in my study from LinkedIn and my email list.
  4. I turned the survey results into a brief(ish) report, which I’ll link to momentarily.
  5. I shared the report back with survey participants last week.
  6. Now I’m sharing the report, along with lessons learned, with y’all.

So that’s the process that took about 5 months (of very part time work) to complete.

The results of what I did

Here’s a link to the report that came out of this survey marketing process: https://drive.google.com/file/d/195-JqXKQWZqldOIhZmezXGi-cOuuXhd6/view

I directly emailed this report to all the survey participants who, when they filled out the survey, indicated that they wanted to receive this report.

You’ll notice the final page of the report credits me for the work, briefly describes my business, and links to my site. Did this soft CTA result in a torrent of leads or new business for me?

No. 🙂 It might have generated a few email signups at most. Maybe.

So by the numbers, this first iteration of research-as-marketing was not an impressive success. It’s fair to say it was slow and did not move the needle very much.

Even so, I believe it’s the start of something good. It’s something I can learn from and iterate on, and I think a lot of successes start out in the same unimpressive way.

What I should have done instead

As I say in this episode of the Expertise Incubator podcast, if you’re going to conduct research, your question is everything: https://share.transistor.fm/s/7f8c489f

Ask the wrong question, get un-interesting or irrelevant results.

Ask too big a question, get crushed by the work of answering it.

Ask too small a question… actually, I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with that. It might provide limited insight set you up for additional research, but that’s fine. In fact, building up momentum from small wins might be ideal for folks like us. It might help us complete our research in less than 5 months. 🙂 So don’t be afraid to start small.

Iteration

My client Bob illustrates what I need to do with future research: own a question (and incidentally, own the right one):

I think I’m doing justice to Bob’s insight by simplifying it to this: become the best and most authoritative resource for answering a question that matters to your audience. In fact, this might be the best way of serving that audience and — as a second-order consequence — furthering your own mission. That’s the essence of what “owning a question” means, and you should still read Bob’s writing on it because my brief summary of the idea necessarily glosses over important detail. Furthermore, this idea is just so relevant to folks that want to become advisors rather than implementors. Bob’s articles are for research-driven organizations. Read. them. anyway. You’ll see the relevance.

The question I’d like to own is this: How do implementors become advisors? How do you marshal the credibility and access needed to change your market position from implementor to advisor?

I’ve been dancing around this question for years. Time to own it.

One category of answer to this question that I find completely unsatisfactory is this one:

Alan’s a smart cookie, but his answer here is incomplete and evasive. I think I can answer this question better, at least for folks who need more than a “Just Do It” slogan in response to the question of moving from implementor to advisor.

There are also related sub-questions. Here are just a few of many:

  • How do advisors bootstrap lead generation? For example, the folks at Newfangled have been very clear in their message that an email list smaller than ~2k won’t help your firm thrive. Why is this? Why do I know people with much smaller lists who have no problem generating advisory services business? Can I gather, organize, and interpret data that better answers this apparent mystery?
  • How do established self-made expert advisors identify opportunity? How do they know where to focus their expertise cultivation efforts? How do they measure progress? How much will they invest before calling something a dead end?

Answering these and many related questions in a transparent, applicable way using data that meets a reasonable standard of integrity is where I want to direct my future research effort.

You may have noticed that the question I asked in my first round of survey marketing was not the question I want to own. It has almost nothing to do with the question I want to own. 🙂

My question was a not-terrible first attempt, and it is an interesting one, but not for the purposes of helping my audience and inspiring others to join my audience. It was an interesting one for me. As Lyle Lovett sang, it was then I knew I had made my first mistake.

This research wasn’t a waste, it just was more useful to me than my audience, and so it’s no wonder it didn’t move the marketing needle for my business.

Still, I learned something useful.

According to my research, books, courses, and email lists are the triumvirate of reaching developers. My business needs to place much more emphasis on books. 1 Courses are a nut I (and a lot of others) haven’t satisfactorily cracked and so it’ll be a while before I consider trying again with a course. And — at least within the confines of my imagination — I’m already doing a decent job of using email. 🙂 So the findings of my research on my first question are a useful feedback mechanism for me and others trying to reach self-employed software developers. My research will lead to better decision making in my business. The immediate decision making change is that I need to get systematically better at conceiving, writing, and publishing books.

Future research that I conduct, however, will be organized under the umbrella of what will become the question Philip Morgan Consulting owns: How do implementors become advisors?

By the way, all of my Expertise Incubator participants are doing an excellent job of aligning their research questions with the question they want to own:

  • One is in the throes of writing up a killer report on what his study found.
  • Another is in the throes of coding some survey and interview data.
  • Another is implementing a GraphQL data store to help spot patterns in scraped data.
  • Another is collecting qualitative data for a solutions clearinghouse to serve her target market.
  • Yet another is building a software tool based on his study’s findings while also finding speaking opportunities to share those same findings.

This is an impressive group of people, and they have avoided the mistake of asking the wrong question. Perhaps the question I asked served as a warning to them. 🙂

-P

PS: If you’re new to this list and curious why I’m so into research, it’s because I hypothesize that using research to build decision making tools for your clients is one of two accelerants on the journey from implementor to advisor. The other is publishing.

A client recently told me that 2 months of the right kind of weekly publishing to an email list has increased his acceptance rate for talk proposals something like 50%!


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Notes

  1. And I’m pretty sure these do not need to be traditionally published books. I think the self-published, self-distributed book model works quite well for reaching devs. F500 CEO’s? They might need more in terms of what signals authority, including the imprint of a traditional publisher. But self-employed software developers? Self-published, self-distributed books as the mouth of a respectful, well-intentioned direct response marketing campaign work very well in both my personal experience and — to an extent — this method is supported by the research I’m writing about here.

[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] The Google squeeze

By Philip | September 4, 2019

I’m a big fan of disintermediated lead generation approaches, or ones where your access to an audience is mediated via a personal relationship with the human being who is the audience gatekeeper. Google leveraging it’s monopoly position in search only amplifies my appreciation for disintermediated lead generation approaches.

This, from Seth Godin, talks about Google as a monopoly abuser: Sooner or later, the shark gets jumped https://seths.blog/2019/08/sooner-or-later-the-shark-gets-jumped/

The Seth Godin piece references this Rand Fishkin piece, which seems well-researched: Less than Half of Google Searches Now Result in a Click https://sparktoro.com/blog/less-than-half-of-google-searches-now-result-in-a-click/

I’ll excerpt a few things for you that create a good-enough summary of Rand’s article:


We’ve passed a milestone in Google’s evolution from search engine to walled-garden. In June of 2019, for the first time, a majority of all browser-based searches on Google.com resulted in zero-clicks

Google is almost certainly even more dominant than the chart above suggests. That’s because mobile apps, which Jumpshot doesn’t currently measure, aren’t included — this is just browser-based search data. The Google Maps App, Google Search App, and YouTube are installed on almost every mobile device in the US, and likely have so much usage that, if their search statistics were included, Google’s true market share would be 97%+.

1. The percent of searches available as organic traffic from Google is steadily declining, especially on mobile.

2. Paid clicks tend to increase whenever Google makes changes to how those results are displayed, then slowly decline as searchers get more familiar with spotting and avoiding them.

3. Google’s ongoing attempts to answer more searches without a click to any results OR a click to Google’s own properties are both proving successful. As a result, zero-click searches, and clicks that bring searchers to a Google-owned site keep rising.


This is the entelechy of every super-Aggregator. As the Aggregator moves towards monopoly position in its space, the Aggregator gradually favors its own interest over its supplier’s interests.

In a search engine, you (your website, really) are a supplier, and those searching the web through Google are Google’s users. As Google figures out ways to make the experience better for users, it will. If these UX improvements involve things getting worse for suppliers, Google will make that tradeoff. Not every time, of course, but here we are almost 22 years later (September 15 is Google Search’s birthday), with Google capturing over 50% of the clicks that might have previously been sent along to their suppliers. So Google makes this supplier-user welfare tradeoff often enough, and in an incrementally increasing fashion, and as a result suppliers get squeezed. Technically, the value Google creates is simply being re-allocated away from suppliers (towards Google itself, which arguably reduces user welfare because it makes the web less open and diverse and wonderful). But still, if you’re a supplier — especially one who is dependent on Google search traffic — you’ll feel squeezed.

My response to Google’s (and other super-Aggregators) squeezing is somewhat reactionary: “Just get into a position where you don’t rely on Google!” This is not easy, but we providers of valuable expertise do have it easier than, let’s say, the typical SaaS or e-commerce business do. They tend to be much more reliant on organic search traffic than we need to, and much more constrained in how they can invest in connecting and building trust with prospective customers.

There are more nuanced responses, though, to the “Google squeeze”. 🙂

This is one that’s impressed me. How Long Does It Take for Content Marketing to Work? A Case Study.: https://growandconvert.com/content-marketing/how-long-does-it-take-for-content-marketing-to-work/

Grow and Convert’s writing on SEO strikes me as significantly more thoughtful and grounded in experience than most.

In particular, reading some of Grow and Convert’s thinking has got me 99% of the way there to embracing this admittedly dogmatic position: “If your advice isn’t contextualized in where a business is in its growth/maturity, then I’m ignoring your advice.” It’s a dogmatic heuristic, but I’m finding it such a useful filter for identifying and ignoring crap.

A client of mine also has a thoughtful approach to content marketing: https://contentaudience.com. Jim’s thinking about content and SEO is specific to relatively mature info-product businesses. For example:

and

The bottom line

  1. If you want to play the SEO game, know what game you’re playing.
  2. SEO, and other lead generation approaches, should be evaluated in the context of what kind of business you have, where your business is now, and where you’d like it to go.
  3. The business model dynamics that have a 22 year-old Google capturing >50% of search clicks will have every other super-Aggregator doing something similar at some point. Facebook/Instagram, Youtube, and others are not far behind Google.
  4. There are people who are thinking deeply about how to respond to the “Google squeeze”. If your business relies on SEO, pay attention to these people. If your business relies on SEO, you wish it didn’t, and you have or can develop expertise assets, I might be able to help.

-P


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[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] Why daily? (pt2)

By Philip | August 27, 2019

One more email about daily publishing. For context, here’s the previous one.

There’s a whole other area to explore here, which is the question of how daily publishing is received by your readers. And also the question of when in your career to embrace this daily publishing practice. And there’s also the other question: “Does it have to be writing, or can it be video, audio, etc?”

Let’s dig in.

You’ll read daily AND YOU’LL LIKE IT!

When it comes to marketing, we don’t get to choose what our prospects will accept and enjoy. They get to make that choice.

Granted, sometimes what your prospects accept and enjoy is somewhat invisible to them and so they can’t tell you about it because it was never a discrete, conscious choice for them. Fish evolved to live in water; they wouldn’t see this as a conscious choice they made. CEOs have “evolved” to accept and enjoy certain forms of marketing and reject or ignore others. They may not consciously understand why.

Is anyone “evolved” to prefer receiving daily emails? Some observations from my experience:

  1. Some folks who would ordinarily reject daily emails temporarily gain an appetite for them when faced with a painful, urgent problem the daily emails might help solve.
  2. The solution to some problems involves a mindset shift, and daily emails can be like drips of water wearing away resistance and effecting a mindset change. In these cases, emails with a blend of entertainment and information help avoid burning folks out while you apply the water drip therapy to their problem.
  3. Some desired outcomes are best accomplished with steady, incremental effort. Daily emails can help folks acquire skills with this kind of learning curve.
  4. Some domains that people want to be informed about are large enough and change frequently enough that daily emails can be a useful way of delivering informational updates or analysis without risk of reader burnout.
  5. There will always be some “email frequency fundamentalists” who will reject daily emails even if one of the above situations applies to them. They aren’t responding to the value proposition of your specific daily emails, they’re responding to their judgement about daily emailing in general.
  6. There will be folks who subscribe to daily emails out of curiosity or because they think the emails might be useful, but quickly stop paying attention to them because the volume of content is high and the relevance to their needs is not high.

I think your takeaway from this list should be this: for readers, the value of daily emails is contextual. A CEO who happily subscribes to a high quality daily briefing on their sector might reject a high quality daily marketing email. It’s less about frequency and more about the relevance of the content to their needs.

Daily publishing gives you more “at bats” than a weekly or lower frequency, so it gives you more opportunities to connect with your list members. The flip side is it gives you more opportunities to demonstrate irrelevance to their needs. 🙂

It’s important to understand the points I made above. If you want to be effective at reaching your market, it’s also important to understand what forms of marketing they will and won’t accept.

However, there may be times that you ignore what your market wants because creating future value for them involves a tradeoff. You might choose to — for a time — engage in marketing activities your market doesn’t accept in order to create future value for them. In other words, you might serve your market imperfectly now so you can serve them more perfectly later. That future perfected service is enabled by the current imperfect service.

This is how I tend to view daily publication: it’s a method for cultivating valuable expertise more quickly than client work alone would. The publishing applies productive pressure that accelerates your thinking and learning. Writing alone doesn’t apply this pressure — you have to publish. The rapid cadence gives you more opportunities to think “out loud” about things and forces you to become more opportunistic about finding interesting ways to convey your insights. And finally, using email for daily publication rather than a social media platform provides a confidential feedback mechanism for your readers.

Bottom line: yes, what your market prefers matters. But your ability to use effective means of cultivating expertise also matters, and if daily publication is one such method for you, then you can feel confident about using it to create future value for your market, even if only a small segment of your market wants to receive a daily email from you.

It might be obvious, but in case it’s not I’ll say: I’ve never heard anyone talk about marketing as a vehicle for expertise cultivation. Why not? We’re not F500 brands with huge siloed marketing departments and lawyers paid to keep us from making visible mistakes. Why shouldn’t we use our marketing activities to simultaneously deepen our expertise? 1

“I’m so glad I waited until my 50’s to get in shape!”

^^^ Said no one ever.

Is there a terrible time to embrace the daily publishing challenge? Is there an ideal time? Well, it’s like planting a tree. Generally, the earlier the better, except you do need to know where to plant that tree. Too close to the house, and it’ll grow into a nuisance, and too far away and it won’t provide shade or privacy.

If daily publishing is an effective marketing vehicle for your market, and you’re not using it as an expertise-cultivation tool, then start doing it whenever. Preferably now.

If you’re using daily publication to create future value through expertise, then think about when to start it using the following guidelines:

  • If you’re not clear on how you might focus your business, consider daily publication as a “stress test” for your level of interest in various ways of specializing. Don’t use daily publication as an expertise cultivation tool (yet). Instead, use it as a way to understand how deep your level of interest in a potential area of specialization goes.
  • Aside from the previous situation, consider daily publication after you’ve decided how to specialize, after you’ve gotten some traction with your specialization, and when you’re ready to work your ass off deepening your expertise.

Must it be writing?

My podcast partner Liston and I occasionally ask each other this question: does modern marketing demand that you use writing, or get better at writing?

Liston says, yes, you ultimately need to be a competent writer to optimize your marketing. The hippy part of me wants to imagine a big tent of all the freaky people doing great marketing, some of them writing but some of them doing things like turning on a podcasting microphone daily, verbally riffing, and producing extremely interesting, compelling, relevant stuff that their audience loves receiving.

I think the jury’s out on this question 2. And I also think for most of us, Liston’s right. Your daily publishing needs to be writing, or if it’s audio or video, it’ll rely on the same things that make for good writing (good structure, interesting verbal patterns, etc.), or at least rely on a solid written outline.

Must you have an audience?

No, but it makes things better.

This is one of the expertise bootstrapping problems. It’s easier to cultivate expertise (and opportunity) when you’re in contact with others. An audience’s questions help direct and focus your efforts. Their questions provide a useful reality check. An audience makes things better.

Publishing daily to a tiny or non-existent audience can be dispiriting, even if your original motivation was to deepen your expertise. You can even take the tiny audience size or slow audience growth as a condemnation of your expertise.

However, nobody outside of the children of monarchs or celebrities is born with an audience. The rest of us have to build one.

And yet, if you invite the goal of audience growth to the dinner party of expertise cultivation, you may find audience growth to be a very obnoxious dinner guest, constantly interrupting the expertise-cultivation conversation.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t care about reaching more people with your expertise, but the tension between that goal and cultivating the actual expertise can be an uneasy one. If you had to choose only one of the two, I’d choose expertise cultivation until a robust foundation of expertise is in place, then I might choose audience cultivation. The reality is that we don’t have to make either/or decisions like this, so I’d start out focusing on expertise cultivation primarily and audience growth secondarily until a robust foundation of expertise exist, then I might elevate the importance of audience-building.

I haven’t come across an easy mode for audience cultivation, so I believe we have to live as best we can with this tension between wanting an audience, suffering from not having a large audience, and starting out with a tiny or non-existent audience. I realize that this will cause some who could benefit from daily publication to avoid the practice, which is a shame.

Quitting

When might you transition out of daily publication into something else, or quit daily publication entirely? Quit when:

  • You start seeingdiminishing returns on expertise cultivation. You’d observe this over multiple months, not a shorter timeframe. What appear to be diminishing returns over a shorter timeframe of days or weeks might just be noise rather than signal.
  • Mission accomplished. You’ve built a foundation of functional expertise and daily publication was always more beneficial to you than to your market, so you’re now ready to channel that expertise into marketing that’s a better match for your market.

Wrap-up

There’s actually a lot more to say about daily publication. It’s a rich topic, and there’s more to say about the emotional challenge it represents, and more to say about the logistics of actually doing it.

I say some of those things here, in the first 9 episodes of this podcast: https://theexpertiseincubator.transistor.fm/episodes?utf8=✓&year=2018&month=

I know daily publication is not for everybody, but I hope more of you are seduced into trying it. Aside from specializing, it’s been the single best thing I’ve done for my own expertise.

-P


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Notes

  1. I know the answer to this question (fear of vulnerability) but I’ll leave the question hanging and move on rather than talking more about fear of vulnerability, which really deserves a separate treatment.
  2. And I think there’s an interesting research question embedded in there!

[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] Bonus Issue: Profiles in expertise

By Philip | August 23, 2019

Cultivating self-made expertise is a messy, iterative process.

It’s not like getting a graduate degree, which by comparison is a more tidy, linear process.

I think those of you on this track benefit from examples of in-progress self-made expertise.

David C. Baker, in his excellent book The Business of Expertise, has an expertise diagnostic he calls “Drop and Give Me 20”. Can you, on the spur of the moment, list out 20 insights or non-obvious observations about the clients you work with?

An Expertise Incubator participant, Jim Thornton, very recently shared the results of doing this Drop and Give Me 20 diagnostic:

https://contentaudience.com/strategy/insights-exercise-part-1/

Here’s a partial excerpt from Jim’s list:

Again, the full list is here, and well worth a look: https://contentaudience.com/strategy/insights-exercise-part-1/

If you want to look over the shoulder of someone who is cultivating super-valuable self-made expertise — specifically in the area of businesses that use content to serve an audience — then Jim’s email list is a good place to do that: https://contentaudience.com/emails/

-P

[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] Why daily?

By Philip | August 21, 2019

I advocate publishing something online, and doing so daily.

I advocate doing this during a certain phase of your career, but not necessarily for the whole career.

Why this madness?

What is daily publishing?

In pharmacology, there’s this concept of the minimum effective dose. Wikipedia defines MED as “the lowest dose level of a pharmaceutical product that provides a clinically significant response in average efficacy, which is also statistically significantly superior to the response provided by the placebo.”

The MED for daily publishing is 3x/week.

The reason I compare daily publishing to a pharmaceutical is because both of them change you, hopefully for the better. At its best, daily publication is steroids for your thinking, but without the negative side-effects.

Daily publishing involves publishing. If you write or create but don’t publish, you don’t get all the benefits because you’re not exposing your thinking to others in the same way. Publishing what you write or create builds a sort of honesty into the process. It raises the stakes.

You can’t just think or write any old shit; if you’re publishing what you write, you’re willingly subjecting yourself to feedback — perhaps from anonymous randos — so you feel pressure to maximize your performance, which is to say you feel pressure to maximize the quality and coherence of your thinking and your articulation thereof.

If you’re publishing something that you’ve written or created online 3x/week or more, you’re practicing daily publishing.

Again, why this madness?

The expertise enema

I advocate daily publishing for folks that need to cultivate a functional foundation of expertise, and would like to do so quickly even if the speed creates emotional discomfort.

What’s functional expertise? 1) It’s relevant and valuable in the marketplace. 2) You can articulate and apply it proactively in ways that help your clients.

I think of expertise like the human skin, which has three layers. The exterior layer of skin — the epidermis — is thin and somewhat lifeless compared to the others. Thank you, Wikipedia, for this illustration:

Most of us live in the “epidermis of expertise”. We understand how to do things, and call that expertise. Which, to be clear, it is. But it’s a kind of expertise, and it’s not the only kind nor is it the most valuable kind.

The dermis and hypodermis are the much thicker, much more alive layers of the skin. And in my model of expertise, these deeper layers represent deeper, more valuable expertise.

Daily publishing moves you from the “epidermis of expertise” to deeper layers, and it does so by forcing an “expertise enema”. (I’m loving the medical analogies today!)

Most folks who accept the daily publishing challenge start by sharing what they know about how to do things. This is good, but eventually you’ve shared basically everything you know about how to do $THING. What the heck do you do then? Do you quit this high frequency publishing?

If you’re following my advice, no, you don’t.

You keep going. You’ve “hit the wall”, and you keep digging, keep pushing, keep thinking, keep publishing, and keep striving.

What happens next, in most cases, is that you move through the epidermis of expertise and you enter the dermis. This isn’t an overnight state change; it’s a multi-month metamorphosis.

The “dermis of expertise” is the domain of knowing why, of seeing subtle distinctions, and the beginnings of mastery. In the dermis of expertise, you become aware of how context and second-order consequences interact with your area of expertise. You abandon simplistic ideas of how things work, and embrace the complexity and chaos of the real world and seek to cultivate an expertise that can at least survive this complexity and ideally work effectively within it. To do this, you engage in “side quests” where you recruit complementary forms of expertise in order to make your own more effective. You also keep working hard on cultivating your own expertise. You don’t lose focus either. Those complementary forms of expertise are secondary in nature, and organized around yours in order to strengthen your focus, not dilute it.

To move past the epidermis of expertise, you need the expertise enema. You need to quickly flush out of your system all the simplistic models your expertise is based on. You need to pick the low-hanging fruit of teaching what you know so that you can feel in your bones that you do not know enough and you must know more. You hit the wall quicker if you practice daily publishing, thanks to the expertise enema.

Hitting the wall hurts like hell. What lies on the other side of that wall, if you’re willing to push through to it, is the rewarding combination of power, pleasure, and humility that comes from exploring the dermis and hyodermis of your expertise.

That’s why

There’s a whole other area to explore here, which is the question of how daily publishing is received by your readers. And also the question of when in your career to embrace this daily publishing practice. And there’s also the other question: “Does it have to be writing, or can it be video, audio, etc?”

I’ll tackle that stuff next week.

In the meantime, if this idea of an expertise enema is interesting to you, check out http://theexpertiseincubator.com, where you join a small group of business owners and willingly embrace this challenge, and 4 subsequent challenges, that truly function as an incubator for your expertise.

To conclude, I ask you: was Marcel Proust talking about daily publishing here?

A pair of wings, a different respiratory system, which enabled us to travel through space, would in no way help us, for if we visited Mars or Venus while keeping the same senses, they would clothe everything we could see in the same aspect as the things of the Earth. The only true voyage, the only bath in the Fountain of Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is; and this we do, with great artists; with artists like these we do really fly from star to star. — La Prisonnière, Proust


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[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] Popcorn and toothpaste

By Philip | August 14, 2019

Is selling your services more like popping popcorn or pushing toothpaste through a tube?

Hey, it’s Philip, and I’m back with the last installment of a short series on the idea of CRMs. Not a how-to article on CRMs, but one on the thinking behind them.

No regular buying process

There are several reasons why a linear sales pipeline — or even a choice between multiple linear pipelines — doesn’t fit how my business works. The first is that my clients have no regular, standardized buying process for what I sell.

The easiest way to conceive of a regular buying process is to think about a business that has a procurement function. This is a highly professionalized function that has processes, expertise, and performance metrics oriented around buying stuff. If you’re ever dealing with procurement, it’s because your client has (or believes they have) a regular buying process for what you sell.

I find that if you’re selling consulting that facilitates change or innovation, then what you sell doesn’t fit into a regular buying process. Your change/innovation consulting services are sufficiently exotic to your clients that they can’t fit into their standard process for procuring services.

Your services may not fit a client’s regular buying process. And in turn, they may not fit into a pipeline model very well at all.

I think popcorn is a better model for how these sales work. Your leads are all kernels of popcorn in a pan, exposed to the “heat” of your marketing. Some combination of that marketing heat and other factors cause a kernel to pop, resulting in a sales conversation.

Could you have known ahead of time which kernel would pop? Nope! What value would there be in that knowledge anyway? We know that if we apply the right level of heat for the right amount of time to a pan containing oil and popcorn kernels and we stir it enough, we’re going to get delicious popcorn. Who cares which kernel pops first, third, or fiftieth?

High importance, low urgency (until it’s not)

I think a lot about how where your clients might place your services on an Eisenhower matrix:

Services on the Important row are easiest to sell, or at least easiest to sell at a premium price. But services in quadrant A are hands down the easiest of all to sell because they combine importance and urgency. I have to believe that the cost structure of running a hospital emergency room is not the only reason those services are priced high relative to other medical services. I think it also has something to do with the combination of importance and urgency creating latitude for premium pricing. Rush pricing for client work is predicated on the same combination of factors.

You don’t get to decide where your services land in the Eisenhower matrix; your clients do. You can try to use marketing to shift your clients perception of your services from one quadrant to another, but marketing’s ability to create shifts like these is quite limited compared to reality’s ability.

My clients see my services — and other change/innovation consulting services — as important but not urgent. Until, that is, they become urgent for reasons outside my control.

No amount of sales pipeline-ing can cause my services to become urgent for a client. No amount of willpower or “persuasion” on my part can cause my services to become urgent for a client.

Again, it’s like popcorn. I’m doing my part by applying the right amount of heat and stirring to the pan, but factors unique to each kernel of popcorn (moisture level, etc.) determine when that kernel pops. If you’re doing change/innovation consulting, these are examples of the kinds of factors that could cause a lead to “pop” and become a prospective client:

  • A competitor company gets some press for rolling out a new product. This triggers fear or anger in your lead and they say some version of “screw it, we need to act now” and reach out to you.
  • Your lead reaches some sort of breaking point and decides the pain of change is less than the pain of the status quo.
  • Your lead is new to a job where the expectation is that they’ll drive some kind of change.

I think you get the picture. There’s some triggering event that causes your lead — who already viewed your services as important — to also view them as urgent.

A CRM pipeline feature might be useful once a lead “pops” and becomes a qualified prospect, but before that point the pipeline feature isn’t very useful.

Simple sale

Most of my services are a simple sale because the service is packaged and priced beforehand in a standardized way, so the sales conversation is usually not about creating a totally custom engagement for that prospective client, but instead checking for fit between the prospect and my well-defined service. After 30 to 60 minutes on a call, most prospects have enough information to decide if my services are right for them. This is another factor that makes my sales more like popping popcorn than like pushing toothpaste through a tube. The state change from lead to prospect to client is quite fast in most cases.

The complete opposite could be true of your business. You could frequently face a lengthy, complex sales process. Some of your prospects might have significantly larger potential value than others, meaning you have reason to prioritize them over the less valuable ones. Despite differing deal values, your sales process might look roughly similar across multiple clients. This is the pushing toothpaste through a tube sales model. In this case, using a CRM where the model of a pipeline is a central part of the CRM might make a lot of sense.

Weird CRM

Quick recap: three aspects of my sales process made CRMs that heavily use a pipeline model not ideal for my business:

  1. No regular buying process
  2. High importance, low urgency
  3. Short, simple sale

If you’re thinking about starting to use a CRM, do consider how your typical sale works, and think about those three aspects of your sales process: Does it fit into a regular buying process? Where do your clients place your services on the Eisenhower matrix, and what implications for your sales process does that have? Is your sale short and simple, or lengthy and complex?

Most CRMs are designed for a somewhat lengthy but regular/standardized buying process, and if that’s not how your services are sold, then those CRMs are going to be a poor fit. They’ll feel clunky and over-featured. You’ll be fighting them each time you use them.

This kind of thinking led me to Affinity, a CRM meant for VC/PE investors and commercial real estate agents. Here’s a link to the product: https://www.affinity.co. That link, since I’m too lazy to monetize every drop out of my email list, is not an affiliate link (none of the links in my emails are affiliate links. See aforementioned laziness).

Affinity is a “weird” CRM for a consultant to use! It does have a pipeline feature but, critically, the product is not totally oriented around this feature. In Affinity, a pipeline is not a first-tier part of the data model.

Instead, Affinity is built around the assumption that your network is kernels of popcorn in a pan that you are “heating” through regular communication and looking for opportunities to join nodes of the network into mutually profitable deals.

I find this freeing. I can focus on my prospects’ needs rather than trying to fit them into a standard buying process that doesn’t really fit their reality. I can very easily spin up what Affinity calls lists to respond to known or emergent needs in my audience.

For example, I have 4 lists set up in Affinity, organized around the 4 main issues I help my clients with:

  • Seeking to specialize
  • Learning to generate leads
  • Seeking to cultivate deep expertise
  • Seeking to commercialize IP

As I become aware that people in my network are working on one or more of those issues, I’ll add them to that Affinity list. And I’m starting to apply additional effort to helping the folks on each of those lists.

One of the ways I’m doing that is the free quarterly roundtables I invited y’all to a few weeks ago. Because I’m bootstrapping these roundtables, I invited folks on my Affinity lists and this entire email list, but once I’ve gotten this system up and running, I’ll be able to fill those roundtables just from inviting folks on the Affinity lists.

Each quarter, I’ll create 4 e-book “anthologies” of the best emails from my paid email list and send the relevant e-book to everyone on those Affinity lists.

This could be done with other CRMs for sure. But there’s something about how Affinity is designed that makes this kind of focused “heating” of the “kernels” in my network easy to set up and execute. This is applying marketing “heat” in a more targeted way.

Lest this read like an advertisement for Affinity, I’ll close by saying: choose tools that fit your business. Don’t use Pipedrive or Copper or Salesforce or Affinity or whatever simply because it’s what “everybody else” seems to be using. Understand how your services are best sold, then pick a CRM that fits that approach.

If you sell change/innovation services, it’s especially likely you’ll be poorly served by conventional CRMs with their elevation of the pipeline model to first-tier data model. Good luck finding an alternative! Despite the CRM category being incredibly, incredibly crowded (ex: PieSync currently supports 66 CRMs, G2Crowd has 381 entries in their CRM category, and Producthunt has 1,769 entries for CRM web apps), there aren’t a ton of non-pipeline-oriented CRMs out there.

Happy Wednesday,

-P


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