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It took a mindset shift for me to grow my consultancy in to the 6 Figures. Get that mindset shift today and start your path to a growing sustainable business that doesn't require all your evenings and weekends.

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7 Books to make you a better consultant

1 Getting Naked

The biggest takeaway I had was to just ask questions if you don’t know. I do this even in everyday life because there is always someone that doesn’t know. I’ve decided I’m just the person that’s always going to ask.

2 The Price is Right

Best and shortest overview of pricing strategy around. Most people can sit and read this in a weekend.

3 Quitter

I’m sure you want to leave that job, or move on to the next phase in your business now. This book as all about the patience it takes to really launch your idea properly instead of killing it by jumping to early.

Every entrepreneur needs to learn some patience.

4 Boundaries

This is totally not a book about consulting, it’s about being a person that knows which problems they should take on. Clearly that’s an essential skill for consultants. You shouldn’t take on every project. You should be comfortable saying NO to prospects. This will give you tools for that, and for having better relationships all around.

5 Start with WHY

If you don’t have your purpose nailed down, you’re going to burn out when things get tough. You need to know why you do what you do.

6 Effective Client Email

This is my book all about writing good emails and vetting your clients with them. Grab it and start asking better questions of your prospects and earning more because of the questions you ask.

7 Writing Proposals that Win Work

Once you get past the initial prospect communications, you clearly want to win the work. Read this book to learn how to write awesome proposals that win pretty much every time.

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Marketing the Duct Tape Way

Over the years I’ve recommended Duct Tape Marketing more than once. I read it when I was getting my business started and found it very helpful. Any book that sticks with you for years is worth reading a second time. This is the real test of a book’s sticking power — if it holds your attention over time in spite of a flood of information you’ll take in between readings.

Some books, on a second read, turn out to not be as good as remembered. They may not be terrible, but they’re no longer as revolutionary as you once thought. Some turn out to be just as deep as you remembered, and in fact open your eyes to new horizons you didn’t even know existed with the first read.

To jump to the ‘punchline,’ Duct Tap Marketing felt more like the former than the latter on my second read. Yes there is some great advice in it, but it felt mostly like a rehashing of stuff I already knew. If you’re just starting to dig into marketing, this is still a great book, but if it’s going to be your fifth read in the marketing space, you’ve probably heard most of what author Jon Jantsch has to say. Expect to pick up some useful tips, but don’t expect them to be revolutionary.

The one big problem with the book becomes it’s strength

Before I state my big problem, I should note that I have the first edition of the book. I do not have the ‘revised and updated’ edition published in 2011. The copyright date on mine is 2006 which makes my big problem one that’s probably going to seem obvious to anyone.

In the first edition, the author did a poor job of anticipating where the internet would be 10 years later. Much of the advice I found in the section about online marketing was simply out of date and barely useful. If you have a more recent copy, I’d love to know if this has been updated.

That’s the only real flaw I found in the book though, and in fact it’s also it’s strength. Because it was the edition from 10 years ago it focused much more on face-to-face marketing techniques and paper-based methods than any other marketing book I’ve read in the last five years. This focus should serve as a great reminder to every single one of us not to put all our eggs in online marketing baskets. We need to get out and meet people and market to them.

If your business is stalled and all you’ve done is market online by sharing things on Twitter, it’s time to actually start real marketing and get out there to meet people who could use your services.

Some takeaways

Putting aside this obvious flaw in an older marketing book, there are still a number of great takeaways from Duct Tape Marketing.

We are all marketing

You simply can’t afford to be “no good” at marketing if you plan to stick around and grow your business.

How many creatives say they are terrible at marketing? I don’t think you’re actually terrible — it’s more likely that you feel a bit sleazy when you market. You get some picture of a dude in a cheap suit and slicked back hair and gold rings trying to sell you a beat-up car for the price of a new one.

I’d feel ridiculous in that getup as well but I’m in the business of marketing and so are you.1

If you get nothing else from this book, get this: You are in the marketing business!

You can’t afford to have marketing make you feel sleazy. You need to dive in and figure out marketing that works for you and the clients you want to serve. Take the time to build a good plan now and it’s going to pay off for decades to come.

A niche is going to get you profitable faster

By focusing on a very specific market niche you are free to develop products and services tailored to its specific needs. Your language and processes then can send a very clear signal that you do indeed understand those unique needs.

Almost every marketing book — and I’m sure every post I write about marketing — uses the word niche at some point. You’re probably tired of hearing it. I’m certainly tired of writing it, but the sad fact is that I talk to creatives every day who haven’t found a niche and admit that they’re not even trying.

They’re not trying because they just can’t say no to the pennies they’re earning now in favour of larger work in that niche once they have a good marketing plan in place.

As Jantsch says:

That’s one of the problems that small business owners suffer from. Many only need ten or twenty really good clients, but they focus attention on millions of people instead of using a laser-focused, education-based marketing program delivered to just enough ideal prospects to get the job done effectively, automatically and easily.

By focusing on ‘everyone’ that might maybe need some work from you some day you can’t target your marketing. You deliver bland ads that blanket a whole group of unrelated people and by sheer numbers you bring in some clients who want to pay you the pennies.

In all of your ads, you must decide the one thing you want your readers to know or do the most and then focus every word in your ad in directing them to that and only that.

Instead, as Jantsch says, by finding that niche and making your offerings fit that niche you can make each marketing message move your prospect along a journey from your base offerings to your high priced offerings. If you don’t niche your offerings though, it’s never going to happen.

You don’t sell what you think you sell

Here’s the funny thing about business. You don’t sell what it is you claim to offer. You sell what the eventual buyers think they are going to get from your product.

I don’t sell web development. I also don’t sell coaching services. What I sell is a web presence that makes more sales for a client. They’re purchasing more sales.

What I sell with coaching is a more profitable business so you don’t have to work all the time.

While clients may think they’re purchasing my time (which is great), what they’re really purchasing is the results listed above. If I can’t help my clients achieve those results then I’m wasting their money.

That mindset change in how you think about your business will transform not only your marketing, but your proposals and how you talk to clients as you get ready for their projects. You’ll start to focus on the outcomes they want, and when you can show them a brighter future that has those outcomes in it, you’re going to be able to charge more.

Jantsch wraps up

To finish off the book Jantsch gives us a high-level overview of the steps that will lead us to a good point with our marketing. These steps are:

  1. State your primary marketing goals for the year.
  2. Describe your ideal client.
  3. Write your core message points.
  4. Develop educational marketing materials.
  5. Outline your lead generation strategy.
  6. Describe your sales/education process.

Here I think he has an error, namely with the order of the first two items. I think you need to define your ideal client as the first step in a marketing plan. With that profile in hand you’re informed as you set your goals. Without it, you’re stabbing in the dark about your goals for the year, or making overly broad goals since you haven’t defined the ideal client that your goals should be targeted at.

Outside of that order issue, I think Jantsch has all the steps listed nicely at the end of the book as a good refresher for his reader.

Recommendation?

Despite my 2006 edition being outdated, I still find it a useful book in many ways because of its lack of focus on online marketing. I still recommend this as a good starter book for your marketing education. If you’re further down the path with a few marketing books under your belt, then it won’t be revolutionary, but you’ll still pick up many practical tips on how to streamline your marketing.

Get Duct Tape Marketing on Amazon

  1. My friend Brian wrote a great post about how we’re all in sales. You should read it to understand more how we’re all in sales/marketing all the time. ↩︎

photo credit: clement127 cc

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Listen deeply to find the real problem your client has

It doesn’t matter if you work for yourself (internal projects only), you work on client projects, or you’re employed with a direct boss. You’re only paid to solve problems with what you know.

One of the key things a great consultant does is find the real problems their clients are having. Good consultants solve whatever problem the client thinks they have currently, without digging deeper.

Great consultants dig deeper.

Someone buys a boat

When I worked in the paddling industry we had a great couple who came in and tried out kayaks for months. They were always polite. They brought coffee and donuts to the lake demo days. They often gave us a bit of a hand setting things up or tearing things down. Over the course of months as they searched for just the right boat for their needs, they dealt with every staff member at the store at length. I’m sure that each of us had at least a few hours into the sale of their boats.

On purchase day, I happened to be the one helping them at the lake. Just as they were about to leave to go purchase the boats at our location a few blocks away they asked this question.

Client: So…we’ve tried a lot of boats and talked to a bunch of staff members…

Me: We’re not on commission. Go purchase your boat and enjoy it.

Client: HA! Thanks for making that easy.

They were reluctant to ask what they needed to know for fear of offending me or the other eight staff members they’d dealt with. It was an awkward question to ask, and they were really beating around the bush trying to overcome their discomfort.

By seeing the real question I was able to solve their problem.

Find that fear

A few months back I spent a month talking about being effective with your questions. You don’t have to wait until you’ve started your own business to try out those methods.

When your boss assigns you a project, there is some problem you’re trying to solve. A good boss will love when you find that deeper problem and come up with a solution to solve it, not just the surface issue that’s presenting itself.

Start digging deeper with every project that comes your way. Find that deep fear the client has and take it away. The consultant that can take away those fears is the one that’s going to succeed.

photo credit: ian-arlett cc

Make sure you know what type of company you run

You may think you’re a developer or designer or coach or under water basket weaver. You’re not really any of those things though. Sure you may write code or design, but that’s not really what your job is.

May Marketing Series

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The most important things to read this year

When we’re young, we search and search for who we really are. This is often most apparent in our teen years as many of us run far from the beliefs our parents tried to instill in us throughout our years under their care.

In my house my brother went the route of tattoos and ‘punk’ style clothing, knowing full well it would anger my father to no end. There were many loud discussions about his choices as my father’s opinions were challenged and my brother pushed to find his authentic self.

of dirty hair

I was in my late teens and early 20s when I really strove to find the person I am now. I went through a phase with dreadlocks and what I call my ‘mountain man’ phase where I didn’t wash my hair for six months.

One thing I didn’t dive into, though, was opinions contrary to those I was brought up with. Challenging established beliefs is something many of us avoid. We fear that challenge because we wonder deep down inside if the things we hold dear can actually weather the storm of challenge. What if all our beliefs prove to be hollow? Under examination, will we be proven to be hollow, straw people with no substance?

of hard work

But here’s the thing:  By not really challenging our beliefs with differing opinions we run the risk that our beliefs will get blown over by some bigger storm later. Like muscles that get exercised to the point of breaking down and then build themselves back stronger, so too our beliefs can only truly become strong when we put them under pressure. Inside this pressure cooker is where they get refined. When they get broken down and we are forced to rebuild them, we almost invariably rebuild new beliefs that can withstand the force that crumbled the old ones.

So many people around you are lazy when it comes to self-examination. They sit back and read list posts online that confirm their beliefs and offers three new facts to spout when they get challenged. While they may feel they’re currently comfortable in their own skin, the sad truth is that they haven’t even started the quest to find that skin in which they fit.

Let’s agree to not be those people. If you’re religious like I am, dive into books that say religion is silly — and reason out why, in the face of evidence, that your beliefs may not be true. Then reconcile within yourself why you still sit firmly in your faith.

your reading

When I was working on my book on proposals I didn’t just read one book on writing good proposals. I read every single one I could get my hands on, including books on agile methodology that said proposals up front were a ridiculous waste of time. In fact the most important reading I did was books that I didn’t agree with. On those I made the most notes as I came up with arguments around why I didn’t believe them.

I had, also, during many years, followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from memory than favorable ones – Charles Darwin

Even in the midst of that I think I missed something. I didn’t effectively dive into the shoes of the writers of those books and try to understand their perspective. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it’s simply not something I thought of. This diving into the opinions of other so deeply that you understand why they hold them is the only way to really challenge your own beliefs. If you stop before that then you’ve stopped your work short of the best it could be.

of searching

In his book, The Shallows, author Nicholas Carr says this about Google:

…no matter how long the company is able to maintain its dominance over the flow of digital information, its intellectual ethic will remain the general ethic of the Internet as a medium – The Shallows

We spend much of our days searching for solutions to the problems we’re having. For most of us this portal to the Internet is Google. While there are many amazing things about this search engine and its ability to produce results relevant to what we want, there is also a secret, insidious side that warps our view of any field we investigate online.

Using its fancy algorithms, Google shows us relevant search results. If you’re looking for a local sushi place then this is great since Google will filter out all the sushi restaurants that you can’t get to for lunch today. If you’re looking into your deeply-held beliefs, this is damaging. By continuing to display only results similar to those we’ve clicked on before, Google is helping our confirmation bias grow ever stronger. We’re merely greasing the pathways of the beliefs we already hold. Since everyone is already deeply entrenched in confirmation bias as a way of life, we trend towards polarizing views, believing the ‘other side’ is some grand villain who does nothing but evil.

By continuing to feed our confirmation bias we risk turning into brittle beings, holding onto shallow beliefs with an iron fist. When the smallest challenge comes up we know deep down that the things we hold dear won’t stand up to the stress. So we go on defense — we lash out with name-calling and vitriol, hoping that by yelling loud enough we will prevent the dissenting voices from putting us to the test. Our vanity in this tells us to assume that the other side is dumb and worth our contempt.

If you don’t want to be that person, then be prepared to do the work required to have an opinion.

of the work

It really only takes one thing to develop a strong belief that can weather the storm of challenge with grace and eloquence. In the words of Charlie Munger:

I never allow myself to have an opinion on anything that I don’t know the other side’s argument better than they do.

We too must strive for this ideal, this quest to be able to master the opinion we don’t agree with. Not just understand the opinion, but become an expert on it. Doing so gives us credibility in the eyes of those with whom we disagree. Once they see us as an expert on their opinion they’ll have to concede that if we still don’t agree, we must at least have something valid to say.

That means that we need to learn to read a book properly. We need to move past just letting our eyes skim the page as we focus on the 77 other things currently vying for our attention. We need to focus deeply on that which is in front of us and realize that we’re saying no to many other valid opportunities which simply aren’t for us.

We must be willing to invest the time needed over years to really dive into both sides of an idea and reserve judgement until we have the required understanding.

When we slow down like that we can be the person that others look to as an expert. Our beliefs will be strong and reasoned and calm. We won’t feel the need to retort with vitriol and minor challenges to our beliefs because we know that we have put in the time needed to build our beliefs on a solid foundation.

Then we’ll be that quiet, strong person we seek to become. It won’t be tomorrow, or the day after, or next week or next year. But you’ll look back and realize that slow growth has produced something solid that you’re proud of.

photo credit: pahudson cc

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Are you changing this just because it makes you more comfortable?

There are lots of cool tools out now. Developers can dive into a new JavaScript framework almost every day and each one is bigger/better/faster than previous ones. These new tools are often shiny and fun, and there is nothing wrong with trying them out, but there is something wrong when you foist them on your clients.

Maybe you’re not a developer but you help clients with marketing. Let’s say you have a site analytics tool you prefer. Maybe it’s the CRM that your clients use, or their web content management system.

You should have tools that you know well, and that you prefer. However, don’t assume your clients will feel the same way. If you’re frequently changing every client to a new tool you are likely doing many of them a disservice.

Change for a reason

Just because you have your preferred tool doesn’t mean that it’s the best choice for your client. Even if it is the best choice, it doesn’t mean you should be the one to change what your clients use.

Before making any change on behalf of your clients you need to ask yourself a few questions.

1. Will this provide more value than it costs?

Any new tool takes time to migrate and then time to train users. Let’s say that the total cost of migration and training is $1000. Will moving to the tool earn them at least $3000 more this year? Will it earn them $10K more this year?

If your answer is, “I’m not sure” then you shouldn’t be making any changes.

Only change things for your clients if they’re going to earn back at least 3x the cost of the change.

2. What is the problem with their current choices?

All choices have trade-offs. A CRM that has great reporting may not have great tools for making connections between different clients with similar needs. If your ‘perfect’ CRM has those client connection tools it may be really tempting to change CRMs to get something you’re familiar with.

But is the lack of your favourite feature really a problem for your client? Are they losing money because of the problems with their current choices? Is it possible to solve that problem by changing how they use their current system?

If you don’t have a real problem causing the client pain, you don’t have a reason to make them use your preferred tool.

Make sure you’re solving a real problem with your changes.

3. Am I just choosing something that I feel comfortable with?

We naturally get comfortable with anything the more we use it. My chosen code editor is Vim, which has a particular way of working with text. Any time I try out another solution the first thing I look at is ‘does this have vim keys?’. I’m just not comfortable working with a code editor that doesn’t have this feature.

Consultants make decisions for their clients for the same reasons. They’re simply comfortable using Option A instead of what the client is currently using. They regularly ignore what’s in the best interests of their client just so they themselves feel a bit more comfortable.

Don’t be that consultant who makes changes for clients for the sake of personal comfort. Make sure that your client will earn more, and that any change will solve a real problem your client is currently suffering from. Finally, run your choices by someone you trust to help make sure that you’re not defaulting to something you feel comfortable with.

If you can do those things, you’re going to be providing much better service to your clients.

photo credit: legofenris cc

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You need to embrace this one thing to become the person you want

We all have some idealized form in our heads of the person we’re going to become. Maybe our ideal has bigger muscles than we do, or makes more money or is more respected in the industry.

Whatever it is, we aspire to be that person yet we often struggle with how to get there. We flail around trying many things, but almost all of us avoid one thing — almost as hard as we try to find many things to attempt.

If you are reading to become a better reader, you cannot read just any book or article. You will not improve as a reader if all you read are books that are well within your capacity. You must tackle books that are beyond you, or, as we have said, books that are over your head. – How to Read a Book

Just like you must read books that are over your head to become a better reader, you must do things that are hard to become better at your craft.

An athlete doesn’t go to the gym and work out with weights well within their physical limit and expect big gains in performance. They push themselves to the limits, over and over and over. The most elite athletes do this for months or years, and although they may barely see any improvement in performance, they’ll take that extra pound they can lift or those two minutes shaved off a marathon.

They don’t go for the easy life, they work hard every day.

In Shop Class as Soulcraft, author Matthew Crawford tells the story of a senior mechanic who can just ‘hear’ a problem with an engine. Maybe it’s not the sound but perhaps a certain pattern of glazing on a part and just know what the issue is. This level of knowledge, which we all aspire to in our craft, does not come with five easy tips or rote memorization of a series of rules. It only comes with years of practice. You have to miss seeing the signs 10 or 20 or 30 times and then suddenly it dawns on you. Maybe it’s even unconscious — something in the back of your mind peaks its head up and you suddenly realize you have a solution to your problem.

The point is, it takes time to get to this state of being in any part of your life. Sure, look for rules and tips that might provide a shortcut, but expect it to take years to become awesome at your craft. Expect failure and look for ways to push your knowledge.

It is only through struggle that we grow into the people we want to become. It’s that terrible client project you delivered poorly on — the one that finally convinced you to follow everyone’s advice and find a niche. It’s that next bad project — the one that leads you to cut out entire types of work because you realize it’s not fun and not where you excel.

photo credit: lord_dane cc

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You provide value by solving a client’s problem

I hate hourly pricing. Why? Because on the client side, it’s way too open-ended and for you, it doesn’t factor in the years of experience you’ve built up prior to the current project you’re pricing. It also puts the value in simply showing up, not in producing real results with your time.

Butt in seat??

Clients don’t pay you to simply show up and sit in front of your computer for the day. They don’t even pay you for the years you’ve spent in the industry. You can have 20 years experience and be worth $5 to a client.

The only thing that clients pay for is the application of your knowledge to their problem. If that’s confusing, let me say it again another way. The only thing that clients pay for is a solution to their problem.

They don’t care if it takes you 20 hours or 100 hours as long as the problem is solved. They don’t even care so much how much you charge as long as they see a return on their investment that is greater than your cost.

As my friend Megan recently said:

I’ve never paid out more or been simultaneously more dissatisfied with the output of other contractors (some, not all) than right now, in this entitled, inflated landscape. You know what undercuts our industry more than low rates and spec work? High rates and a bad experience. Inflated cost and a failure to deliver on time / respond promptly / be kind / kick ass.

All of those people she was working with simply expected that showing up was worth something. It’s not, so don’t settle for showing up.

photo credit: clement127 cc

Clients don’t want perfection – they want someone that digs in to the mistakes

If, no wait, we all make mistakes so WHEN you make a mistake don’t run from it. Clients don’t want someone that runs from mistakes they want someone that digs in to the issues at hand.

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Curtis McHale

Helping business owners not work all the time