One idea for starting a project in a new industry or with a new client: scan all client documents handed over as part of an initial data request, make a list of acronyms you find, and look up any that are unfamiliar.
Then: ask the client about any not found online, because those acronyms are likely company-specific.
Also: search online for “____ industry acronyms.”
How do you quickly get up to speed on a new industry?
Here is a reframing that I’m working on this week:
Instead of asking myself, “What should I do for [this person]?” I’m working on asking “What does [this person] need from me?”
So instead of asking:
“How can I help this client?”
“What does this client need from me?”
And at home, instead of asking:
“What should I do to be a better father?”
“What does my son need from me?”
When the subject of the sentence shifts, different answers emerge.
Here’s an exercise I’m working on right now.
Make a list of activities for each of these categories:
- Things I am now doing that only I can do
- Things I am doing that I could possibly have someone else do
- Things I am doing that I should definitely have someone else do
- Things I’ve already handed off to someone else
- Things I’m not doing now that I should be doing
When I actually write the list, I’m finding that stuff I had mentally put in the first category really fits in the second or third slot.
Veritux member Gary Chan runs Alfizo, an IT security consulting firm. His firm offers a set of free security awareness training videos that I recommend. Register here.
Sample insight from the video series that seems obvious in retrospect:
Many websites ask security questions you can use to reset your password (name of your first pet, name of your childhood best friend, model of your first car, etc.).
On all those questions, you should lie. Make up an answer and record it in the notes of a secure password tool.
There is a good chance that a hacker can find your childhood street address or favorite band or whatever, and then use that info to reset your password.
This past week I read Oliver Burkeman’s new book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals (recommended.)
Burkeman argues that time management systems and productivity hacks are ultimately self-defeating: “they do work – in the sense that you’ll get more done, race to more meetings, ferry your kids to more after-school activities, generate more profit for your employer — and yet, paradoxically, you only feel busier, more anxious, and somehow emptier as a result.”
He recommends that we adopt a different mindset towards time, one centered on a full awareness and acceptance of the “finitude” of our existence. After all, if we’re fortunate to live the actuarial 80 years, all we’ve got is 4,000 weeks.
He provides ten tools for “embracing your finitude”:
1. Adopt a ‘fixed volume’ approach to productivity. (Predetermined time boundaries for your daily work.)
2. Serialize, serialize, serialize. (Focus on one big project at a time.)
3. Decide in advance what to fail at.
4. Focus on what you’ve already completed, not just on what’s left to complete.
5. Consolidate your caring.
6. Embrace boring and single-purpose technology (e.g., Kindle reader instead of your phone)
7. Seek out novelty in the mundane
8. Be a ‘researcher’ in relationships (deliberately adopt an attitude of curiosity)
9. Cultivate instantaneous generosity (act on the impulse right away)
10. Practice doing nothing
Step 1: Write a list of 7-10 things that are irritating you.
Step 2: Pick 3 of those that you could do something about in the next three months.
This exercise helped me realize that the physical setup of my office has been a low-level drain on my energy level (tripping over wires, printer in my way). It only took an hour to rearrange the desks to eliminate the trip hazards and make space for a brainstorming area where I’ll be mounting three whiteboards on the wall.
Somehow, writing the list pushed me to action.
Veritux member Tim Streeter has published Contentment Commitment, based on a framework he developed to enhance the level of contentment in his own life.
Tim shared the framework with friends, and they shared it with their friends.
After a few hundred people had used it successfully, Tim felt compelled to share the approach with a wider audience.
The first step in the process he describes is to “reflect, rate, and rank” your current level of contentment across six dimensions and 36 sub-dimensions, and then list actions which could improve your satisfaction in these areas.
Tim, previously the Chief Operating Officer for Talent Acquisition at Accenture (100,000+ new hires per year!), has put together a program for companies that want to increase the contentment of their employees. If you know a firm that might be interested, you can contact Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s the set of six dimensions and their sub-dimensions:
- 1. Self
- 2. Partner
- 3. Dependents
- 4. Friends
- Going out
- 5. Family
- Aunts & Uncles
- 6. Community
From The Trusted Advisor, by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green, and Robert M. Galford. Excerpt from Chapter 3, “Earning Trust.”
In an instant, Charlie’s mind seemed to have been sucked dry. He had no idea what was meant by industrial consumables. Then, a revelatory thought popped into his mind: the man is talking about sandpaper! But that knowledge only served to deepen Charlie’s fear. He was sure that his firm had not done any such studies.
Charlie felt sure that if he told the client the truth, he could not win the business and would probably spend the rest of his career at his firms in leg irons and public shame. In the next millisecond, his training as a consultant kicked in, and he began formulating (in his mind) an answer.
“Not exactly,” he planned to say, “but we have done many marketing studies, some of them for products quite similar to industrial consumables.”
What products might be quite similar to industrial consumables, he would figure out later.
But just as Charlie drew breath to speak, his senior partner leaned forward. He looked directly at the client, and then said,
“None that I can think of.”
He paused for a long moment. then he looked the client in the eye, and continued:
“Given that, is there anything else that you think it would be helpful to discuss?”
The client looked unconcerned and then asked what similar experience the firm had that might be relevant. They proceeded with their pitch.
Had Charlie given his answer, it would have sacrificed his credibility and revealed his own focus on self-interest. It would have signaled to the client that he was willing to fudge his own credentials. Who would trust such a person.
The answer the senior partner gave contained quite a different subtext. It said:
“I will answer your questions, directly and truthfully, even if it means losing a chance at your business.”
Technique to boost creativity you may have heard of: Make a daily practice of writing a list with ten ideas to improve X.
This article suggests tweaking that technique: Pick someone you’d like to meet, and write down ten ideas that could improve that person’s business (or blog or website or podcast) and then send them the list.
I highly recommend Your Music, Your People, a recently released short ebook by Derek Sivers.
You can buy a copy or read the whole thing for free at that link. (How cool is that.)
The book is ostensibly written for independent musicians, but the messages apply equally to independent consultants.
Here’s a quote:
“Marketing means making it easy for people to notice you, relate to you, remember you, and tell their friends about you.
Marketing means listening for what people need, and creating something surprisingly tailored for them.
Marketing means getting to know people, making a deeper connection, and keeping in touch.”
Last week I shared the video of David A. Fields discussing the importance of crafting your fishing line. Here is Sivers with a similar message:
A curious answer to the most common question People will always and forever ask you, “What kind of music do you do?” You will always and forever have to answer that question. So have a good description prepared in advance. Many musicians avoid answering by saying, “We play all styles.” No you don’t. That’s like saying, “I speak all languages.” Many musicians avoid answering by saying, “We are totally unique.” No you’re not. If you use notes, instruments, beats, or words, you’re not totally unique. If you give people a non-answer like this, you lose them. You had the chance to make a fan, and you blew it. They won’t remember you because you gave them nothing to remember. You didn’t make them curious. Imagine if you had said, “We sound like the smell of fresh baked bread.”
Those of us in the advice business ought to read Henry Oliver’s article “Whose advice should you take?” – full of gems, a 4 minute read.
Samples: “The marginal cost of giving advice is way lower than of taking it.”
“What we are seeing is a pattern where advice tends to be good when it is based on expertise and relatively fresh. Real advice is closer to knowledge or informed opinion than wisdom. People mostly go wrong with their advice because they try and become the reverend sage who understands life, the universe and everything, rather than simply tell you the things you want to know like the quickest route to the station or how long it takes to do a certain sort of job.”
Our instinct is to want more.
More outbound phone calls.
More square feet.
More comments on our LinkedIn posts.
More good habits.
And there is nothing wrong with wanting more good things.
The problem is that our instinct when solving problems is to do more of something.
This study in Nature found that “people systematically default to searching for additive transformations, and consequently overlook subtractive transformations” and therefore “defaulting to searches for additive changes may be one reason that people struggle to mitigate overburdened schedules, institutional red tape, and damaging effects on the planet.”
Subtraction frees up resources, provides space, clears the field.
I’m inspired by Amanda Setili, who for years (pre-COVID) organized semi-annual events in Atlanta that brought together 40+ senior executives for a panel discussion or featured speaker. During COVID she has organized a series of virtual events.
A few outcomes of these events:
– Amanda collected content for her first book, The Agility Advantage
– Amanda learned what problems were top of mind for her clients and target clients
– Attendees made valuable connections with other attendees
– Amanda built a reputation as a key connector
– Multiple project opportunities came out of each event
– Amanda had a good reason to make outbound calls to all the people in her core network to invite them to come
We received very positive feedback from the session Amanda led last week on how she organizes these events.
You can download her client event planning checklist here.
Watch the video of the event here.
Umbrex member Tineke Keesmaat, Founder and CEO of TILTCO Inc., has published Succeeding in a Hybrid World: A Playbook for Leaders.
The Playbook, accompanied by a three-part podcast series, provides leaders a practical framework to re-imagine, re-build, and re-boot their organizations post-pandemic in a world where there is a mix of in-person and remote work happening for their teams.
You should really check out that link and download the document. The design is absolutely stunning.
Tineke used a mix of podcast interviews, research, and Roundtable discussions with business leaders, academics, and consultants to inform this comprehensive perspective.
A number of Umbrex members participated in these Roundtables to contribute to the perspective: Jay Altizer, Will Bachman, Nils Boeffel, Bernard Borowski, Susan Charnaux, Melanie Espeland, Jennifer Hartz, Rashay Jethalal, Aneta Key, John King, Agnes Kunkel, Stephen Redwood, Mike Ross, Amanda Setili, and Sarah Sonnenfeld.
Tineke will join me next week on an episode of Unleashed to share the insights from her Playbook.
On his podcast Invest Like the Best, Patrick O’Shaughnessy has a great interview with Jesse Pujji (iTunes), the former CEO and co-founder of Ampush, a leading performance marketing firm.
The episode is an excellent introduction to what performance marketing is and how it works.
One quote in particular from Pujji really struck me: whenever he hears a client say “that doesn’t work,” he encourages the client to restate it as “the last time we tried that, it didn’t work for us.”
Leaving open the possibility that under different circumstances, or with a slightly different approach, “that” might work in the future.
Setting: An initial discussion with a client who needs help on Project X. You’re excited because you’ve done Project X before, and you’ve shared convincing evidence that you’re an X-pert.
In this scenario, it is easy to forget to establish with the client the business value at stake.
After all, the client wants a problem solved, and you can solve it.
And yet the client may not have thought through the business value of solving the problem.
Having an explicit discussion makes the business implications more salient, and puts your fee in context with the expected return.
Neil Rackham calls these “Need-Payoff Questions” and covers them in Chapter 4 of Spin Selling.
David A. Fields covers these in the chapters on the Context Discussion in The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients.
Here are a few:
- How would this help your business?
- How will it be useful if [we get these insights from consumers / improve throughput on the line / get top team alignment / …]
- In what other ways could this help?
- Why do you think it would be a good idea to…
- Why do you need to….
- How will it benefit your customers if….
- What impact will it have if…..
- How will profitability / customer retention / sales productivity change if…
- Let’s assume the project is complete and has been very successful. Tell me how your world is different.
- What would this let us do that we can’t do right now?
Periodically I speak with consultants who are looking for advice on business development.
One of the questions I ask is whether the consultant has created a target list of clients – not just in their brain but on paper or in a spreadsheet.
Usually the answer is no.
One of the reasons we avoid doing this, I think, is that when we get explicit on which specific clients we’d like to serve, we must be willing to make choices and exclude every other company. (And we might miss an opportunity!!)
But the Universe favors focus, and a sort of magic happens when we find clarity on what problems we want to solve and for whom we want to solve them.
Once you have a target list, you can show it to people.
And you can ask a question that I learned from a career coach, Ellis Chase, fifteen years ago.
NOT: “Do you know someone at one of these companies.”
The question to ask instead is: “What do you think of this list?”
That question opens possibilities:
Perhaps the person will suggest other companies you should add (now that they know the type of client you’re interested in.)
Or tell you that one company on your list is actually a terrible choice.
Or offer to make an intro.
A list shows you’ve done your homework.
A list tells you who you need to call.
A list is a sign that you’ve turned pro.
In Episode 373 of Unleashed, I share tips on how to increase the chances that your client will pay you on time, based on my experience collecting on 1,500+ invoices over the last 13 years.
The episode covers:
1. What to include in the contract
2. Questions to ask after the contract is signed
3. What to include on your invoice
4. How to follow up after sending your invoice
Or if you aren’t into listening you can download a transcript.
Cyril Lagrange has the the most useful and engaging email footer I’ve come across. He gave me permission to share.
Here’s the email footer:
The first link takes you to his one-page website: a simple, clean, professional design (and a nice model if you’re ready to create your own website.)
The “My Favorite Digital Workplaces and Solutions” link takes you to this Airtable view of Cyril’s favorite tools:
The Credentials link takes you to his project list, also built in Airtable. Not everyone can get permission to list all clients publicly. If you can, it does help build credibility.
And the Toolbox link takes you to a Notion page that displays the frameworks and tools Cyril uses in his practice.
In a book that I recommend every consultant read, The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients: 6 Steps to Unlimited Clients & Financial Freedom, David A. Fields explains how to identify your core network.
This is a useful exercise. If you go through the steps, you’ll almost certainly find names you had forgotten about who you’ll want to reach out to.
Once you’ve identified your core network, you can establish at what periodicity you want to reach out to each person on your list. (Try quarterly for the A1s and at least annually for the B1s and A2s.)
Since I often find myself on calls suggesting that people follow David’s approach, I decided to publish a podcast episode summarizing what I learned from David’s book and our discussions. Check out Episode 357 of Unleashed.
By the way, definitely sign up to get David’s blog posts by email. Great tips every week.
[Download the above chart comparing entity types.]
Independent consultants starting out often ask what type of entity they should use to establish their practice.
Episode 353 of Unleashed could be helpful for consultants in the U.S. who have not yet established their entity.
In this episode, Jonah Gruda reviews the most relevant aspects of the five types of entities that are most commonly considered:
- Sole proprietorship
- Limited Liability Company
For each entity type, Jonah reviews:
- Formation requirements
- Liability Exposure
- Taxation at the entity level
- Tax rates
- Tax reporting
- Number of owners
- Self-employment tax
Jonah Gruda is a Tax Partner at Mazars and specializes in income taxation, executive compensation and stock option planning, estate and gift planning and wealth preservation.
Since I started my own practice 13 years ago, last week was the first time that I received payment for a consulting project by credit card.
It turned out to be simpler than I expected to set up. We already had a Stripe account for accepting payments for the Guide to Setting Up Your Own Consulting Practice. I entered the payment info on Friday and had the funds in our checking account on Tuesday.
I don’t recommend taking credit cards if you can avoid it – we lost 3% to Stripe – but in this case the client insisted.
In Episode 347 of Unleashed I discuss my experience accepting credit card payment, including the couple steps involved to receive the full 16 digit number.
Helpful exercise: Create a comprehensive list of every project you’ve worked on – as an independent, as a member of a firm, as an employee in industry.
You can download a template here.
Fields to consider including:
- Name of client company
- Name of client executive
- Client team members
- Consulting team members
- Project start date
- Project end date
- My employer at the time
- Primary location
- Description (situation; what did I do; what was the impact)
- Completed a case study?
- Sanitized work product available to share?
- Obtained a client recommendation?
- Client willing to serve as reference?
A comprehensive project list proves handy when you are asked to share your relevant experience on a particular topic. Just copy and paste.
Most people who do this exercise remember names of clients whom they ought to follow up with, leading to business development opportunities.
In Episode 140 of Unleashed, Jay Martin shares with me the benefits he has seen from maintaining an exhaustive project list.
“Show and Tell” is more powerful than “Tell.”
When independent consultants ask what’s the one thing they can do to increase the conversion rate of leads into projects, my answer is:
Create a portfolio of your templates and sanitized samples of your work.
When a client hires McKinsey, Bain, BCG, Deloitte, KPMG, LEK, or any other top firm, the client has a good sense of what she is going to get.
The output will look like the decks from previous projects, with different words and numbers.
When a client who hasn’t worked with you thinks about hiring you, however, she isn’t sure what you’ll deliver.
Yes, you said very nice things in the proposal meeting.
And you have a resume that suggests you did work like this before.
But can you still produce pages? Have you done this on your own?
Some independent consultants tell me that because of non-disclosure agreements, they can’t share any client work, even sanitized.
In that case, hire yourself and produce some sample output. This is possible whatever type of work you do.
Example: Commercial due diligence
Pick a company that interests you and create pages of total addressable market, competitor overview, value chain, product comparison, voice of the customer insights (do a few expert interviews). Prepare interview guides and the 3-week workplan.
Pick a industry you are familiar with and create a customer segmentation, a brand launch plan, a product roadmap. Write the consumer survey, the brief for the focus group.
Example: Leadership develop or top team alignment
Write a case study, Harvard Business School style, using pseudonyms for the executives. Describe the viewpoints of each stakeholder and what they experienced during the strategy offsite that you led
Example: Change management
Invent a scenario (e.g., roll out of a new ERP to the whole global finance team) and write a set of communications materials – the announcement, the training PPT, the sequenced roll-out plan, the FAQ
I’ve found that only 10-15% of independent consultants have samples of sanitized work ready to share and that those consultants are about twice as likely to get selected by a client after an initial meeting.
More thoughts on this in Episode 121 of Unleashed.
If you are planning to start a blog or a newsletter or podcast or other form of regular content creation, it is worth taking time up front to articulate – at least to yourself – your objectives.
It is easy to get distracted by metrics such as number of views or downloads, when those may have no relation to the reason you decided to create content in the first place.
For example, if your primary goal is to build relationships with potential clients by interviewing them for your blog or podcast, then the audience size doesn’t matter. You could meet your objectives with zero downloads.
On the other hand, if your goal is to build a marketing funnel for some paid product, then you do care about having an audience – but only to the degree that your audience includes potential buyers.
Here’s a incomplete list of reasons why you might want to create content – I add more color in Episode 344 of Unleashed.
1. Learn about a topic
2. Research for a book
3. Develop your skills
4. Business relationships with:
a. Potential clients
b. Potential partners
c. Potential suppliers
e. Other cool people
5. Marketing funnel for a paid product
6. Establish credibility
7. Have a reason to reach out regularly to network
8. Discover what you think
9. Become more observant
10. Help others
11. Save time by recording the advice you keep giving one-on-one
12. Just feel a need to express yourself
13. Monetize with advertising
I’ve worn glasses since 9th grade. My corrected vision has always been fine.
Then three years ago, age 47, I was experiencing serious eye fatigue when working on the computer.
I couldn’t keep the text in focus.
Over the course of a year, seemed like the problem was gradually getting worse.
I thought: “too much screen time, too much blue light.”
Finally I visited the optometrist. She gave me a prescription for intermediate lenses, designed for looking at a screen about two feet away.
I didn’t even know that was a thing.
Got a dedicated pair of glasses with these intermediate lenses and – boom – problem solved. Sharp focus, no eye strain.
If you know someone complaining of eye strain, ask them if they’ve talked to their optometrist about intermediate lenses.
Here’s 21 business development ideas to start off 2021, along with links to relevant Unleashed episodes:
- Create a portfolio of sanitized work (Episode 121)
- Create a project list (Episode 140)
- Update your LinkedIn profile (Episode 211)
- Set up a CRM system (Episode 172)
- Make outbound calls (Episode 170)
- Email a past client (“Would love to hear about your plans for the year”)
- Reach out to clients where you LOST a proposal, just to check in
- Update your resume (Episode 253)
- Ditch the yahoo, gmail, aol and get a professional email address
- Start a podcast and invite potential clients as guests (Episode 10)
- Comment on LinkedIn posts by potential clients
- Post 3-5 times per week on LinkedIn on the topic you want to be known for (Episode 235)
- Organize a virtual event
- Create, or update, your website (Episode 59)
- Create a course teaching some skill that a potential client might be looking for* (“How to organize an Integration Management Office”)
- Update your email signature to include your phone number (on the computer AND phone)
- Create – or refine – your Fishing Line (Episode 1)
- Ask past clients for feedback
- Build relationships with other independent consultants serving your niche
- Read The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients by David A. Fields
- [OK need your help: what’s a good #21? Let me know your suggestion]
Develop expertise. Become the best in your niche. We often hear that advice, and I’ve probably said it a few times.
Well, there’s also value in becoming BAD at something – particularly considering the incremental value per unit effort.
Example from chess:
If you have never played before and don’t know the rules, you are not even bad at chess. You are level 0. When people talk about the game, you have no intuition at all of what chess feels like.
Now let’s say you spend a full weekend with a patient tutor who teaches you the rules of chess, and you play a couple dozen games.
You are now bad at chess. Level 1. Any competent player will easily defeat you.
And yet you can now enjoy playing a game with someone at your level.
And you can imagine what it might be like to spend years studying openings and getting better.
Your universe has expanded.
A professional example: Tableau
If you’ve never programmed Tableau at all (level 0), it is difficult to manage a Tableau expert.
But with three or four days of self-study, you can get to level 1. Now you know what to ask an expert to do, even if you can’t do it yourself.
The value of going from level 0 to level 1 is greater than going from level 4 to level 5. As Tyler Cowen has written, “average is over.”
One strategy for life, then, is to become truly world class in one or two areas, and to get bad at lots of things.
Here’s a set of 100 tips for a better life published by Ideopunk on the blog LessWrong.
Check the link for the full list. #100 is a good reminder:
“Bad things happen dramatically (a pandemic). Good things happen gradually (malaria deaths dropping annually) and don’t feel like ‘news’. Endeavour to keep track of the good things to avoid an inaccurate and dismal view of the world.”
The end of the year provides a good occasion to reflect on what went well and what could have been improved. And to set priorities for the year ahead.
If you are looking for a template or set of prompts, here are five to check out:
For the past week I’ve been spending a half-hour each morning writing responses to prompts in The Ultimate Annual Review, created by Steve Schlafman.
Tara McMullin assembled this list of 30 Questions for Reviewing An Unusual Year.
A classic guide is Chris Guillebeau: How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review.
Hannah Braime, on her blog BecomingWhoYouAre, posted How to Do a Personal End-Of-Year Review
And Jay and Wendy Papasan offer the Kick Ass Guide To Your Couples Goal Setting Retreat, which you and your partner could easily spend a whole weekend working through
You might check how your professional email appears in the inbox of recipients by sending yourself an email to a personal account.
Some issues I commonly see:
- Instead of seeing the sender’s first and last name, just see the email address
- Sender’s first and last name are all lower case “first name” or some odd case “FIrst Name”
What’s the impact?
- The sender looks just a bit unprofessional to every recipient
- Adds a stumbling block when recipients using an iPhone try to Add Contact. Instead of first and last names automatically populating, the email address shows as the first name
- Makes it harder for the recipient to search for the sender by name in their inbox
Good news: Fixing your “display name” takes less than five minutes.
And of course you should not be using a personal email for consulting work.
If you are still using a gmail, yahoo, hotmail, or aol account, consider taking 30 minutes to buy a domain and get a professional email address.
In a previous survey, 2/3 of community members with a professional email address use G-Suite, 1/3 use Microsoft, and a tiny percentage use some other provider.
I used to start writing an email by first adding all the email addresses.
And then, once, I accidentally hit ‘Send’ on an email to clients when the email was still very much in draft form.
Write the email first, polish it, review it: and THEN add the email addresses as the last step.
On several occasions recently, well-qualified consultants didn’t get a project because, in the initial call with the client, the consultants spent too much time talking about their own experience.
Consultants may ask about our experience.
But they actually don’t care about our great case examples.
They care about their problem.
If clients do ask, “Tell me about your relevant experience in the widget industry,” try responding with a question instead of answering.
“Sure, happy to discuss some related work I’ve done. First, I’d love to understand a bit more about your current challenge so I can share the most relevant examples…”
Shift the conversation to the client’s problem and don’t look back.
Here are some questions off the top of my head – by no means an exhaustive list. Several of these I learned from David A. Fields:
- So, what’s the current situation?
- What have you done so far?
- Why are you looking for help externally?
- Why are you looking for help on this now?
- What outcome are you hoping to achieve?
- What would the business impact be of that?
- What sort of challenges have you faced so far in getting this done?
- Assume this project were to be a big success – what would that look like?
- This project could be tackled in a bunch of different ways: what’s your mental model of how the project should be done?
- What sort of timeline do you envision?
- To what degree is the internal team aligned?
- Why might some stakeholders support a different direction?
- Which internal stakeholders do we need to involve?
- When were you thinking of getting started?
- Who will be involved in the selection of the consultant to support this? What will the process be?
- What sort of budget do you have in mind?
- Is the budget approved? Or if not, what will that approval process look like?
- What would the background be of the ideal consultant for this project?
- What role do you see the consultant playing on this project?
- Let’s say you’ve got the final deliverable in your hands right now. Please describe it to me – what pages does it include?
- Let’s say we’ve completed this transformation effort. How do things work differently around here?
- What makes you think that I [or my firm] could be helpful on this? Why do you think we might be the right choice for you?
- What would be your top concern for working with a consultant with my background?
- What would you need to see from us to confirm this effort and get started?
Discussing these questions is a lot more interesting to the client than hearing about that similar project you did three years ago.
I got this tip from my son’s friend, who is staying with us at the farm for a week (after a negative COVID test.)
Izzy pulled his laptop for schoolwork out of his bookbag and then pulled out this 15.6 inch portable LED monitor to serve as a second screen.
The monitor – about the size of a Macbook – fits into a convenient carrying sleeve.
At home I’ve got two 27-inch monitors, but I’ll admit – I was not aware that “portable monitor” is even a product category.
I immediately bought one for myself to use as a second monitor when traveling. ($99 on Amazon.)
A new service that we’re offering to members – custom LinkedIn sourcing.
How it works: You let us know a set of criteria to filter on and the fields you’d like to get, and we’ll create a Google sheet with LinkedIn contacts, as in the example above.
A few use cases for this service are:
1) Business development – get a list of execs in your target niche
2) Identifying experts to interview for a project
3) Due diligence: identify every employee at a company to build an org chart outside-in
This service is for those members who don’t want to go through all the hassle of finding someone and training them.
We have hired a team of full time employees, trained them, and paid for LinkedIn Sales Navigator subscriptions.
Our current pricing on this service:
US$100 gets you a full 8-hour shift. This will usually get you about ~200-300 LinkedIn contacts with 5-6 columns of data. If you want more columns of data, or have more strict search criteria, you’ll get fewer, and if you just want name and LinkedIn URL you’ll probably get more. (During this trial period, the service is available only in units of 8-hour shifts.)
100% money-back guarantee if you aren’t satisfied.
Turnaround time: We’ll start on the next available shift (shifts start 8 p.m. EST Sunday – Thursday) unless we’re already fully booked for that shift.
If you’d like to use the service, submit your request here.
You can hire a college-educated full time employee – 40 hours per week – based in the Philippines for ~US$400 – $800 per month.
Consider what you could achieve with that leverage.
The best site that I’m aware of for hiring a full time employee in the Philippines is onlinejobs.ph.
You pay a flat fee of $69 per month to post a job and review resumes. You can hire employees directly without going through the site, and once you’ve found someone, you can cancel the month subscription.
There’s a certain magic in starting.
We may have the idea for a bold new initiative, think about it for months, making no progress.
Setting aside one hour, we get started.
And then, the universe conspires to bring the project to fruition.
This Sunday, many of us will get a free hour when we turn back the clocks.
Some ideas for what I call Start-Something Sunday:
1. Register a domain for that new company you’ll start
2. Sign up for a course on Coursera, Udacity, edX, LinkedIn Learning, or other site
3. Write the outline of a webinar or course you could teach
4. Create an account on Libsyn for your new podcast
5. Set up a note-taking system using Evernote, Roam Digital. or Notion and begin creating what Tiago Forte calls your Second Brain
6. Send a hard-written note to a former mentor letting her know what you’ve been up to recently
7. Get a Squarespace account and finally start building your website
8. Learn a sun salutation sequence to invigorate your mornings
Thanks for Margarita Soto for obtaining this new benefit for Umbrex members:
I’ve found Transferwise to be the best way to send or receive funds when a currency exchange is involved.
If I receive an international wire transfer via my bank, they charge a hefty fee – not as an explicit line item, but built into an unfavorable exchange rate.
If I receive the same payment via Transferwise, however, I end up with ~2% more funds received.
And when I’m sending funds when a currency exchange is involved, the recipient will get ~2% more if I use Transferwise than if I use my bank.
Also, Transferwise allows you to create accounts in different currencies – so if a client is paying me in GBP or euros or CHF, I can hold onto the funds in that currency, and use it to pay a subcontractor in that currency in the future, without having to convert to and from USD. I discuss Transferwise in more detail in Episode 247 of Unleashed.
Julia Cameron introduced the concept of morning pages in her seminal book, The Artist’s Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self.
The idea is simple enough: every morning, within forty-five minutes of waking up, you sit down and write whatever comes into your head, for roughly fifteen minutes.
It is not intended to be a journal.
You aren’t intended to ever read the entry again.
Many people have reported making stunning personal and creative breakthroughs after adopting this practice.
You could consider it a form of meditation.
I’ve been writing morning pages every day for the last two months. (While the canonical approach is to write at least three pages in long-hand, I type on the Belkin keyboard of my iPad.) For me, the practice helps reduce mental chatter, provides a sense of calm, and has led to some ideas I’m excited to implement.
Mekko Graphics is a plug-in originally developed for Bain that enables consultants using Excel or PowerPoint to quickly create compelling and insightful charts that go far beyond the standard built-in options.
Seriously, check out this PPT deck with 250 beautiful charts.
As knowledge workers, each one of us is running our own knowledge factory, but school and most workplaces teach us to run our ‘factory’ more like an artisan’s bespoke workshop, with each knowledge product we ship lovingly hand-carved and made-to-order.
Last Friday I shared the productivity lessons I learned from taking Tiago Forte’s course Building A Second Brain.
In case you missed it, here is a recording. (To see subtitles* when watching the video, click “CC.”)
I’d encourage you to check out the course. Next cohort will start in spring 2021. Link: https://www.buildingasecondbrain.com/
In the meantime, check out Tiago Forte’s blog, Praxis. A good post to start with is The PARA Method: A Universal System for Organizing Digital Information.
*PS: How to add subtitles to a video:
From otter.ai or other transcript service, get a .srt file (not a .doc file).
Then after you upload your video, you will also upload the .srt file.
Here are instructions for LinkedIn, Vimeo, and Youtube.
I dictated this section and had it transcribed with the otter.ai app. I haven’t fixed any typos, just added line breaks
Otter is a very powerful. Artificial Intelligence transcription tool. That’s very affordable for just $10, a month, you get 6000 minutes of transcription, that works out to .16 cents per minute. Here’s three ways you can use it.
Number one, when you’re out and about. You can leave yourself a voice memo, and have it transcribed and email to yourself.
Number two, if you have an existing audio recording. You can have it transcribed and that works very easily by just dropping the file into a dropbox folder.
Number three, you can connect otter to a zoom meeting and get live transcription. So check it out. It’s otter.ai.
I’m loving Airr, a podcast player app that allows you to highlight and share clips from podcasts.
When you are listening to a podcast and hear something you’d like to save or share, you just click a button.
By default the app selects a 45 second clip surrounding that point in time. You can adjust the start and stop point, and then title the clip.
Some of the more popular podcasts include transcripts. You can click on the transcript and jump to that section of the audio. With these shows, when you save an AirrQuote, you get the relevant section of the transcript as well as the audio clip.
You can export your AirrQuote to Evernote, email it, or export it in a variety of other ways.
You can also make the AirrQuote public, like I did with this clip about the pre-game rituals of professional athletes from The Productivity Show. (That conversation got me thinking about how business professionals could design a pre-game ritual to prepare for the work day – a potential future podcast topic.)
Do you find yourself reading books with amazing insights that you expect will transform your thinking — and then six months later you can’t even remember what the book was about?
Happens to me all the time.
I just signed up for an account with Readwise, which aims to address this problem.
Readwise sends you a daily email with text that you have highlighted when reading Kindle books, so you can review the passages you previously captured.
The tool also allows you to automatically sync the text of all those highlights to an Evernote account, where you can then integrate the passages into your own creative work.
Prefer physical books? With Readwise you can snap a photo of a page in a book. The app converts the image to text with OCR, and then you can highlight that text and save to your account.
This tip is from an exercise we did last week in Tiago Forte’s Building a Second Brain course.
Write down your twelve “favorite problems” and save in your notes app or desktop or some place you’ll see regularly.
The idea being: by writing them down and reviewing periodically, your mind will be working on these problems in the background.
Here are some examples from those shared by participants in the course:
How can I spend 75% of my time doing work that inherently gives me joy?
What actions can I take as a dad to develop resilient, clever, and kind children?
How can remote health monitoring help patients manage chronic diseases?
What am I going to do once my purchase agreement/employment contract ends with the company we sold our business to?
LinkedIn launched a feature in July that lets you show people how to pronounce your name.
If anyone has ever been unsure how to pronounce your name, consider taking thirty seconds to add the pronunciation to your profile.
Just open the LinkedIn app, click to edit your profile, and click on the banner.
Another recommendation from the Building a Second Brain Course: save articles and long newsletters to a read-later app.
This allows you to avoid distractions throughout the day and schedule focused reading time.
I’ve set up auto-forwarding filters for the newsletters I subscribe to.
They have similar functionality. This Medium article can help you choose.
I’ve tried using a digital task manager in the past, but gave up.
My list of to-dos was unorganized and became unmanageable.
For the last five years, I’ve used a notebook, writing a new task list each day, by hand.
I do like the physicality of the paper, but I often lose track of longer-term action items.
On Saturday, I set up a Todoist account, and it feels like a massive weight has been taken off my shoulders.
The key has been organizing tasks into a system of projects and areas, per Tiago Forte’s PARA method.
Todoist is a delight to use. Syncs across all devices, of course. Easily add a task from email. Move projects up and down to prioritize.
Note: Tiago Forte uses the task manager Things, but that tool is not available for the PC.
If you – or your client – ever needs to verify that a set of emails are valid, Neverbounce is a useful tool.
I recently used it to validate a list of 2,700 emails. Simple to use.
I uploaded a CSV file and within a couple minutes Neverbounce tested them all and identified 21 emails that are no longer valid.
Cost: $40 buys you credits to test 5,000 emails.
This free course launched last Friday and so far 1,874 people have signed up for it. About four hours of video content.
I went through 85% of the course videos over the weekend and highly recommend it to anyone who is – like me – new to Twitter and trying to figure out how to use Twitter (and not be used BY Twitter.)
Sign up for the course here: https://join.oliviercantin.com/
A few workshops that look awesome. I’d do all of these if I had the time.
The Marketing Seminar: “An Akimbo workshop for marketers who want to grow.” Registration for the next session starts September 15. Also check out the other workshops run by Akimbo, founded by Seth Godin.
Building a Second Brain: “Helping people save their best ideas, organize their learning, and dramatically expand their creative output.” Enrollment for the next cohort is open now through August 24.
Write of Passage: “Accelerate your career by writing online.” Next cohort starts January 27, 2021
How are you planning to invest in your skills this fall?
These shortcuts are handy for anyone using Google Calendar.
Not shown at left:
6 –> Full year view
Other shortcuts are here.
Five minutes that can save hours:
Whatever product you use, try doing a search for ” [product name] keyboard shortcuts”
While 170,000 companies are using Airtable, I only just heard of this tool, from Kim Calichio when we recorded Episode 310 of Unleashed. She and her team have been using Airtable to manage a volunteer-run effort that is feeding 700 families per week in New York City.
The Airtable website calls itself “part spreadsheet, part database” – looks like a powerful tool worth learning about.
Several members who could not join live asked for the recording of the July 23 webinar I did with Sree Sreenivasan and Dorie Clark on how to build relationships using LinkedIn.
Sree is a leading thinker on the use of social media, and he has given training on social media around the world. He has been the Chief Digital Officer of New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Columbia University. Since the pandemic started he has been leading a daily live call with experts.
Dorie was named one of the Top 50 Business Thinkers in the World by Thinkers50, and the #1 Communication Coach in the World by Marshall Goldsmith Leading Global Coaches Awards. She writes regularly for the Harvard Business Review and is the author of the bestseller Entrepreneurial You.
All of a sudden I’ve been hearing about Mural, “a digital workspace for visual collaboration.” While they’ve been around since 2011, have 100 employees, and received $23M in funding in January 2020, seems like COVID has been driving their growth as more people work remotely.
Check out the 100+ visual facilitation templates for everything from workshop planning to storyboarding to service blueprint.
On Thursday, July 16, from 12-1 p.m. I’m leading an interactive discussion to cover eight ways to find a job during the pandemic.
Primarily targeted at recent grads of college or B-school. Non-recent grads welcome too.
If you know someone who is looking, please feel free to share the link to register: https://bit.ly/eightjobs
Also: if you have ideas on how to find a job during the pandemic, please let me know. (I’ve come up with seven.)
Consider setting up an ongoing program of sending connection requests on LinkedIn to build your professional network in your niche.
This is in addition to sending connection requests to all the clients you work with and others whom you interact with.
Steps to do this:
- Decide on the profile of the person you’d like to connect with.
- Develop a reason for individuals who fit that profile to connect with you. Also note that, counterintuitively, some people may be more willing to connect to provide YOU with help than to RECEIVE your help. So consider asking for help.A few connection request ideas:
– I’m doing a project on XYZ and would value your insights
– I’m organizing this virtual event, would you like an invitation?
– I’m organizing a community for people interested in XYZ
– Would love to interview you for my blog/podcast/white paper
– I’m a fellow alum of Famous College. Would be grateful to get your advice on ABC
- Pay a freelancer to create a Google sheet for you listing people who fit the target profile. Sheet should have columns:
– First name
– Last name
– Current job title
– Current employer
– LinkedIn URL
– Location (maybe)
- Send your personalized LinkedIn connection requests to those on the sheet. Add columns to track:
– Date connection request sent
– Email address of the person (if they connect with you)
– Status of your follow-up
NOTE: If you get flagged by too many recipients as “I don’t know this person,” then LinkedIn will remove your ability to send connection requests unless you know the recipient’s email address. In general, if you send < 50 connection requests per day and at least 20% of the requests are accepted and only a small number are flagged “I don’t know this person,” you should be OK.
So start small – just 10 per day – and check the response rate.
On the browser version of LinkedIn, you get prompted if you want to add a personalized note – you should always do that.
On the LinkedIn app, perversely, LinkedIn hides the personalized invite three levels down. So following the above program is much easier on the browser.
If you DO want to send a connection request with the app, here is how to personalize it:
If you are looking to get business insurance, check out this episode of The Umbrex Guide to Setting Up Your Own Consulting Practice.
This episode includes an overview of 33 different types of business insurance that independent consultants may consider purchasing.
As an independent professional without the infrastructure of a large firm we need to build our own virtual team.
Section 4 of The Umbrex Guide to Setting Up Your Own Consulting Practice has 13 videos on this topic, with tips on how to find:
- Administrative Assistant
- Tax Accountant
- Insurance Broker
- Remote IT support
- Research support
Recommended if you’ve got some time available:
In 2009 I curated all the digital photos the family had taken during the year and made a 100-page, 11″x14″ photo book. Since then, I’ve made it an annual practice, and for the total joy received it has been one of my best time investments (30-40 hours each year to curate 20K digital photos down to ~200-300).
With changing digital formats and changing platforms, digital photos are evanescent. Unlikely your grandkids in 50 years will be able to access your Facebook or Instagram account; but a printed album can still be on the shelf.
I used to use MyPublisher until they shut down. Now I use Shutterfly. The premium 11×14 books are expensive (~$300 if you add 100 pages) but if you design it and wait around, you’ll eventually get an email with a 60-70% discount code.
Recommended pandemic activity: record family history.
Every Sunday morning for the past nine weeks, I’ve recorded an hour-long call with my dad. So far we’ve covered his time in elementary school, high school, college, the Army, grad school, meeting my mom, his professional career as a nuclear engineer, and my childhood. You can hear the most recent discussion, on his second career as a handyman, which he enjoyed a lot more than designing fuel for nuclear power plants.
Some of my dad’s stories are new to me, some I’ve never heard before; I’m glad to have this chance to preserve them.
Meanwhile, our kids have been interviewing their abuelita each week, and those calls help lift her spirits.
One aspect of in-person meetings that I’ve missed in the age of the videoconference is the ability to stand around a whiteboard and brainstorm.
This week I discovered that Zoom has a whiteboard feature built in. You need to enable the annotation feature (instructions here).
If you’re on the Zoom on your laptop, you can join the Zoom with your tablet and then click Share / Whiteboard, and you’ll be able to draw with your finger or tablet pen. You can also enable such that a group of users can annotate in parallel, though I haven’t mastered that.
If you don’t have an estate plan in place already, PLEASE get one drafted up, now.
The ROI is dramatic:
Attorney’s fees to draft up a full estate plan including a trust, power of attorney, health care proxy, all the guardian designation documents: ~$5,000.
Cost to go through probate if you don’t have a trust when you die: ~5-10% of your estate, plus all assets tied up for 9-12 months.
- What information you should gather before meeting with a trust and estates attorney?
- What is the benefit of creating a will?
- What are the benefits of creating a trust?
- What are the considerations in designating a guardian for your children?
- What other documents, besides a will or trust, should be included in an estate plan?
- How much will it cost to have the documents prepared?
- Why not use LegalZoom?
- How to select a trust and estates attorney
The past week, I’ve published five episodes with ideas on how to stay productive when a project gets delayed.
In Episode 236, I discuss how I use Evernote as my external brain. Evernote is a note-taking app on steroids.
In Episode 237, I discuss MixMax, which gives you email superpowers (if you use Gmail or G-Suite.)
In Episode 238, I cover 17 technology tools you may want to set up for your practice.
Episode 239 covers 14 ideas for investing in your marketing collateral.
Other tools mentioned once or twice include:
efileCabinet, Google Drive, eRoom, Opentext, SharePoint, Box, Citrix, Deal Room, Client Access, Sharefile, Salesforce, P Cloud, DocSend, Ansarada, MS Teams, BCMS
- Utilize tools to restrict the most sensitive information to “view only” — no printing or downloading. Remember, there is no requirement to put information in a data room, and sometimes the best way to share information is in-person
- Review usage metrics daily to ensure other party(ies) are keeping their commitments, and real deal work is occurring. Look for signs of inappropriate user id/password sharing as well – eg, one user has connected from 10 different devices
- Due diligence questions and answers should be logged carefully – include keywords, topics, whatever is meaningful in a data field so that they can be searched before potentially answering the same question(s) twice.
In the first 20 seconds of this 35-second video, the man in the bench is singing alone. Then one person – hard to tell who – joins him around 0:22, and within 8 seconds the whole crowd has joined in.
To be a leader, you don’t always have to go first.
It takes courage and leadership to be the first follower.
I once read (can’t remember where) a post making this same point, illustrated by this fabulous 3-minute video titled “Sasquatch music festival 2009 – Guy starts dance party.” If you are ever looking to illustrate the S-shaped market adoption curve, that video could be Exhibit 1.
If you are looking to raise your visibility by appearing as a guest on podcasts, one approach to getting booked is to do the work yourself: identify podcasts that could be a good fit, reach out to the hosts, and pitch yourself as a guest.
A more expensive but more efficient approach is to hire a podcast booking agency, such as Interview Valet. Those agencies typically charge a recurring monthly fee that works out to about $400 per podcast booking.
Another option which I just learned about from Rick Watson is podcastguests.com, which connects podcast guests and hosts. He has gotten booked on four podcasts by using the site, which costs just $99 per year for a basic subscription to be listed as an expert, or $299 for a premium subscription.
David A. Fields returns to Unleashed in Episode 221 to share tips on how to increase the conversion rate of leads into opportunities.
And of course sign up to get David’s weekly blog posts.
You know something that someone, somewhere, wants to learn. Consider creating an online course to share what you have to teach.
In Episode 220 of Unleashed, Umbrex member Paul Millerd discusses how he has created several online courses.
Follow Paul on Twitter @p_millerd
When you are meeting for the first time with someone new at a company you are serving, what do you say?
I used to take up the first five minutes of the conversation by force-feeding the person with a summary of the project.
Now I start with: “What have you already heard about this effort?”
In Episode 215 I explain why I find this question so valuable.
In Episode 213 of Unleashed, I share tips on how to source expert interviews for your projects, both through expert networks as well as how to find them yourself. (Here’s a transcript for those who prefer to read rather than listen.)
The episode includes tips on:
- Using an Upwork researcher to create the target list for outreach
- How to reach out and make the interview request on LinkedIn
- How much to pay an expert
- Benchmarks for response rate you should expect
- Pros and cons of recording the interview
- Suggested design of interviewee tracking sheet (Download a template here.)
Generally, it is more economical to source expert interviews yourself rather than using an expert network.
Great source for holiday cards (or other printing needs): NextDayFlyers.
- Far more economical than Shutterfly or other consumer brand
- You get complete artistic control and don’t need to use some pre-existing template
- No Shutterfly logo
NextDayFlyers would be primarily for U.S. customers. What are your recommendations for customers in other countries?
Canva is a fun design tool that doesn’t require a weeklong class to get started. I downloaded the app yesterday and in 5 minutes had created my first Instagram-style post (above).
The tool has templates for infographics, proposals, invitations, certificates, tri-fold brochures, menus, letterheads, tags, tickets, gift certificates and a couple dozen other categories.