Digital Innovation

Digital Innovation

This in-depth article from Boris Galonske explains how digitization helps improve resilience in commodity trading.

“Commodity trading suffers from shrinking margins and in some commodity classes also from low price volatility. At the same time operating environments struggle with manual routines, legacy processes and systems resulting in high cost income ratios (CIR).  

How can this challenge be addressed and how can the profitability and the resilience of trading businesses be increased?

Situation today

Commodity trading exhibits still several manual routines in its workflows, given the physical nature of the business and established processes in the industry. At the same time margin pressure increases as the inherent profitability of several trading businesses decreases. How can this be addressed?

Commodity trading business characteristics

Commodity trading businesses are typically lean by nature. Several years back, high performing businesses exhibited cost-income ratios (CIR) in the range of high 30% – medium 40%. These days these ratios are significantly higher. Large European commercial banks – as a comparison –  even exhibit cost income rations in the range of 70 % – 90% +.

 In order to tackle the profitability gap, analytics and middle office activities have been scaled down.

However parts of the trading process have remained untouched.”

Points covered in this article include:

  • How digitization can help
  • Reservations about digitization
  • How to approach trading digitization

Read the full article or download the PDF, Monetizing Digitization Levers, on the Silverberg Partners website.

From his company blog, David Burnie shares the first article in a three-part series on the future of P&C insurance in Canada and how the sector is evolving within. The series explores distribution, pricing and underwriting, and claims.

For many years, the insurance sector had been notoriously slow to evolve. Customers viewed insurers as difficult to do business with, while insurers saw little need for change. Products were largely commoditized. To “win,” many insurers had to form stronger relationships with brokers than customers to get a bigger piece of the pie, while sufficiently maintaining these key relationships to promote positive risk selection and maintain profitability.

What has changed in P&C insurance?

Over the past five to ten years, insurers reached a tipping point where fundamental change was inevitable. Legacy policy administration platforms were ageing and no longer supported, which exposed the sector to increased risk; insurers could no longer ignore the need for updated technology. Although the motivation for this transformation was to stabilize the business for continuity purposes, modernizing technology offered ancillary benefits in the hopes of creating more nimble and efficient organizations, supporting customer-centric cultures, and accelerating the pace of overdue innovation and change sector-wide.

Changes are the most apparent in the way insurers serve their customers. Customers can now interact with insurers in ways that they hadn’t been able to do in the past. Digital quotes are now virtually ubiquitous amongst carriers, and brokers and aggregators are evolving to enable digital purchases, though this is in its infancy in Canada. Moreover, insurers are beginning to offer customers the ability to service their policies online or through their mobile apps. Perhaps the most significant changes are emerging out of claims groups that are now starting to offer a complete end-to-end digital experience, which we will elaborate on in the third part of the series.

Insurers were late to the game, but they are beginning to meet the minimum expectations of customers in an ever-increasing digital world. Though many large-scale platform implementations are completed or underway, we’ve only reached the tip of the iceberg since many of these implementations are still going through growing pains for myriad reasons, such as:

Large-scale programs have been descoped in this age of minimum viable product (MVP) to get the core system off the ground and meet time and budget constraints.

Add-on technologies such as CRM and/or specific Insurtech products that will unlock benefits by integrating with core systems but were not included in the initial business case and require their own independent cases to get off the ground. In many cases, these have stalled or have their own long-term implementation time-horizon.

Insurers continue to adapt their long-standing processes to new ones to meet the out-of-the-box configuration offered by vendors or pre-configured cloud-based system integrators.

The transition from legacy to modern platforms is challenging. Moreover, converting policies from old to new is not without errors and inefficiencies when teams must work in two separate technology environments.


Key points include:

  • Distribution and service
  • Cost savings
  • Digital innovation

Read the full article, The Future of PC Insurance in Canada – Part 1 – Distribution, on

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
d. Authors
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:

  1. Create a portfolio of sanitized work (Episode 121)
  2. Create a project list (Episode 140)
  3. Update your LinkedIn profile (Episode 211)
  4. Set up a CRM system (Episode 172)
  5. Make outbound calls (Episode 170)
  6. Email a past client (“Would love to hear about your plans for the year”)
  7. Reach out to clients where you LOST a proposal, just to check in
  8. Update your resume (Episode 253)
  9. Ditch the yahoo, gmail, aol and get a professional email address
  10. Start a podcast and invite potential clients as guests (Episode 10)
  11. Comment on LinkedIn posts by potential clients
  12. Post 3-5 times per week on LinkedIn on the topic you want to be known for (Episode 235)
  13. Organize a virtual event
  14. Create, or update, your website (Episode 59)
  15. Create a course teaching some skill that a potential client might be looking for* (“How to organize an Integration Management Office”)
  16. Update your email signature to include your phone number (on the computer AND phone)
  17. Create – or refine – your Fishing Line (Episode 1)
  18. Ask past clients for feedback
  19. Build relationships with other independent consultants serving your niche
  20. Read The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients by David A. Fields
  21. [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.


Jim Klass shares a downloadable PDF that provides insight into the current disruption of the food industry with examples on how to use technology to improve cash flow and remove friction in the supply chain. 

Foodservice has changed…

A new Model is needed, one that creates value for all partners in the supply chain

Consumers will demand transparency, cleanliness and a frictionless digital experience

Operators must maximize each guest interaction their menu, and even their unit layout must change

Distributors can’t count on Sheltered Income and high-margin Exclusive Brands

Agencies will need to develop new types of offerings

Manufacturers must better understand consumer behavior and what is driving their away from home dining

Digital is the new currency


Key areas covered in this resource include:

  • IFMA projections
  • The overlooked divergence in operators
  • Why going digital is important


Access the full PDF,  The Future of Foodservice – Digital Collaboration to Help the Operator on the website.


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:

  1. Instead of seeing the sender’s first and last name, just see the email address
  2. Sender’s first and last name are all lower case “first name” or some odd case “FIrst Name”

What’s the impact?

  1. The sender looks just a bit unprofessional to every recipient
  2. 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
  3. 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.

Users of Gmail and G-suite
Users of Microsoft

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.

New habit:

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:

  1. So, what’s the current situation?
  2. What have you done so far?
  3. Why are you looking for help externally?
  4. Why are you looking for help on this now?
  5. What outcome are you hoping to achieve?
  6. What would the business impact be of that?
  7. What sort of challenges have you faced so far in getting this done?
  8. Assume this project were to be a big success – what would that look like?
  9. This project could be tackled in a bunch of different ways: what’s your mental model of how the project should be done?
  10. What sort of timeline do you envision?
  11. To what degree is the internal team aligned?
  12. Why might some stakeholders support a different direction?
  13. Which internal stakeholders do we need to involve?
  14. When were you thinking of getting started?
  15. Who will be involved in the selection of the consultant to support this? What will the process be?
  16. What sort of budget do you have in mind?
  17. Is the budget approved? Or if not, what will that approval process look like?
  18. What would the background be of the ideal consultant for this project?
  19. What role do you see the consultant playing on this project?
  20. Let’s say you’ve got the final deliverable in your hands right now. Please describe it to me – what pages does it include?
  21. Let’s say we’ve completed this transformation effort. How do things work differently around here?
  22. 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?
  23. What would be your top concern for working with a consultant with my background?
  24. 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.


Marcia Nuffer shares an article that highlights the pros and cons of learning online.

Online learning can be, and should be, as addictive as the other technologies we use.

We are addicted to technology.  Multiple studies say we check our phones between 50 and 80 times a day. Millennials up to 150 times.  Sure, 90% of that is probably checking the time, using social media, and taking selfies.  But a good part of that time is also used to look something up that we want to know.  Add in the time when we’re doing the same on our computers and, in many ways, you can say we already learn online all day.  

But in the workplace, when it comes to what we typically call online learning – the courses, modules, webinars, videos, and of course Zoom sessions available to us to do our jobs better, we turn to it much less frequently.  

What is keeping us from being hooked on online learning?

Well, of course, there are lots of reasons.  We are busy and it’s hard to break from work to “do learning.”  The right content is hard to find.  When we do find it, it is often not specific enough for our particular need.  We are not confident that the time investment will be worth it.  In fact, in research that a colleague and I conducted at a professional services firm, we found that employees primarily use two criteria to decide where to go for help:  Is it fast? Is it the best expertise?

And they do not have confidence that online learning will deliver on either of these.


Key points in this article include:

  • Supply and demand
  • Interpersonal topics
  • Technological innovation


Read the full article, Online Learning Addiction, on



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

You can of course do this yourself: I share tips in Episode 51 (How to outsource research tasks using Upwork) and Episode 213 (How to source experts for interviews.)

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

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.

Just write.

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.

David Goldstein, one of the Founders of Mekko Graphics, gave me a demo of the product, which you can watch as Episode 333 of Unleashed, or on Vimeo.

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:

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 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 LinkedInVimeo, and Youtube.

I dictated this section and had it transcribed with the 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

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.

You can use IFTTT (stands for “if this, then that.”) to connect many common applications with one another.

No coding required.

E.g., I used this applet to send all my Instapaper highlights to my Evernote account.

For more advanced integration options, check out Zapier.

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.

The two leading apps are Instapaper and Pocket.

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:

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?

Last Friday I shared tips on what to put in an email when you respond to project opportunities – either a direct client inquiry or with an intermediary.

You can view the recording of the webinar here and download the slides here.


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:

Also: if you have ideas on how to find a job during the pandemic, please let me know. (I’ve come up with seven.)

This weekend I’ll be working on my mid-year review.

Above are some prompts for reflection, from a tweet by Steve Schlafman.

Tiago Forte published his mid-year review – it is inspiring.

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:

  1. Decide on the profile of the person you’d like to connect with.
  2. 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
  3. 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)
  4. 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:

In case you missed the webinar last week on how to write a consulting proposal, here is a recording.

Here are the slides.

Here is a proposal template in Word.

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.

Umbrex is pleased to welcome Igor Buchatskiy.  Igor is a Managing Partner of BGlobal Capital. Prior to joining BGlobal, Igor has run large farming companies in all the major sectors of agriculture – animal husbandry, row crops and sugar production – and worked as a consultant specializing in Strategy, Operational Improvement and Digital Innovation for McKinsey & Co in Brazil and for Bain & Company in CIS. Igor has also co-founded an FMCG company that today is the leading producer of hummus in Ukraine with over 75% market share.

Igor has over fifteen years of international business development, agricultural and entrepreneurial experience, is passionate about agriculture and food, and always goes an extra mile in order to help entrepreneurs build great companies. He is an active mentor to the startups at the Techstars Farm2Fork program sponsored by Cargill and Ecolab and at the Impulse Accelerator sponsored by OCP. Igor sits on the Advisory Board of Hummingbird Technologies, a UK-based precision Ag platform operating worldwide.

Igor lives in Boston with his wife and son, his daughter Catarina is already in college.  He is hoping to get back to competitive tournament poker once the pandemic is over.  Igor is happy to collaborate on projects on Strategy/Operations/Digital innovation in Agriculture/FMCG/Mining worldwide.

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
  • Bookkeeper
  • Tax Accountant
  • Attorney
  • 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.

Hacking is up during the coronavirus pandemic.

In Episode 263 of Unleashed, information security consultant Gary Chan explains 12 action items to enhance your information security.

You can download the graphic above along with a summary sheet on Gary Chan’s website.

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.

In Episode 250 of Unleashed, trust and estates attorney Maureen Pritchard discusses:

  • 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

Maureen generously provided these files to get you started: Estate Planning Worksheet, this Will Design Sheet, and these 12 tips for guardianship.

The past week, I’ve published five episodes with ideas on how to stay productive when a project gets delayed.

In Episode 235, Mark Williams, aka ‘Mr. LinkedIn,’ provides advice on updating your LinkedIn profile. Mark is the host of the podcast Linkedinformed, which is one of my favorites.

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.

Last week I asked for recommendations in intelligence firms. Here are firms recommended by members of the community:

A few weeks ago I asked the community for recommended M&A data room tools.  The most frequently recommended tools were:
iDeals Virtual Data Rooms 
Deal Room
Merrill Datasite

Other tools mentioned once or twice include:
efileCabinetGoogle DriveeRoomOpentextSharePointBoxCitrixDeal RoomClient AccessSharefileSalesforceP CloudDocSendAnsaradaMS TeamsBCMS

Additional Tips:

  • 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, 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.

A friend who is the CTO at a public company told me he has been using Superhuman, and it makes him 3x more productive on email. I just signed up to test it with my Gmail account.

David A. Fields returns to Unleashed in Episode 221 to share tips on how to increase the conversion rate of leads into opportunities.

Hear more of David on Episode 1 (how to win clients), Episode 170 (how to make outbound calls), Episode 172 (how to set up your CRM system), and Episode 190 (on successful consulting partnerships.)

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.

Paul’s StrategyU teaches basic consulting skills. His Carve Your Own Path course takes you on a journey to reimagine your relationship with work, launch creating projects, and redefine ambition.

Follow Paul on Twitter @p_millerd

What are three things that you are really looking forward to the most?

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.

  1. Far more economical than Shutterfly or other consumer brand
  2. You get complete artistic control and don’t need to use some pre-existing template
  3. No Shutterfly logo

NextDayFlyers would be primarily for U.S. customers.  What are your recommendations for customers in other countries?

Ever need to store your bags for a few hours while traveling?

BagBNB is like AirBNB for your bags.

As an example, this map shows locations currently available to store bags near Times Square – just $6 per day per item.

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.

If you are organizing an event where more than ten people will show up, it is nice to provide name badges.

These are the best I’ve found. They’ve got magnets that go inside your shirt. No annoying pins or clips.

If you re-use the name badges, you can buy these insert refills.

A client asked for some advice on reducing accounts receivables balances, and as a problem-solving tool for his team, I put together the above checklist (download here), mostly based on my own experience of collecting on invoices over the past 11 years.

When kicking off a project, particularly one that involves a broad set of stakeholders, you’ve probably created one-page initiative charters.

You can download a PPT of the above version here.

At a breakfast with company founders last week, we shared favorite tech tools. Michael Cherkassky recommended DocSend, and half the table seconded the recommendation.

DocSend allows you to:

  • Securely share large files
  • Keep track of who has opened them
  • Get alerts if the document is forwarded
  • Get page-by-page analytics on where people spent time
  • Make edits to the doc after you send it
  • Auto-expire documents or turn off access at any time

Recap emails: A five-minute investment that dramatically improves the effectiveness of meetings and the client experience over the course of a project.  Further thoughts on Episode 203 of Unleashed.

In August I recorded 70 short videos for a course on how to set up a consulting practice. I will get them all edited and available online within the next month or so. Stay tuned.

I just got the first video back from our editor and would love your feedback on the design.

In this episode, I suggest that independent professionals discuss with their significant other and agree up-front on their vacation policy.

When 1.5 billion humans are already using WhatsApp, I recognize that this barely counts as a tip. Nevertheless, I’ve interacted with members of the community who still haven’t signed up.

WhatsApp is handy for making free international phone calls.

For cases where the other party doesn’t have a WhatsApp account, it is useful to also have a Skype account, of course.

Beyond WhatsApp and Skype, what tools do you use to make international calls?

Here is a sample proposal template that I’ve successfully used to win dozens of projects. You can download a Word version here. A friend sent this template to me 11 years ago and it has served me well.

Sometimes, a project needs a horizontal PPT-style proposal that takes a lot more work.  Knocking out a proposal in this vertical format, however, generally takes me about half an hour.

Section headings:

  1. Project context
  2. Objectives
  3. Scope
  4. Approach
  5. Team
  6. Timing
  7. Professional arrangements
  8. Use of this proposal
  9. Next steps
  10. Contact info

It takes about three minutes to set up 2 Step Verification (2SV, also called Two Factor Authentication), and the simple step is one of the most important things you can do to keep your email account from being hacked.

Chances are that
a) You know you should turn on 2 Step Verification
b) You haven’t done it yet

Why not do it now? It’s OK, this email can wait. Here are links to common services:

Google services
Microsoft account
Apple ID

The last four clients I’ve spoken with have all asked independent consultants to provide a sanitized sample of work.  Consultants without a sample deliverable are definitely at a disadvantage.

Is everything you’ve ever done so confidential that there is no way you can sanitize it? Then take a free day, hire yourself, and create a sample deliverable, outside in, e.g.:

  • Is your focus M&A? Then pick a recent publicly announced merger, and prepare the strategy document that you would have shown to one of the CEOs to justify the deal.
  • Do you specialize in operational improvement? Observe the Department of Motor Vehicles and create a one-day diagnostic of improvement opportunities (should not be hard to find some.)
  • Is your focus digital marketing? Pick a set of consumer brands and do an outside-in assessment
  • You’re an expert in PE due diligence? Pick a company that interests you, interview some customers and former employees, and put together some pages

Sending a handwritten note to a client is a nice touch, whether after an introductory call:

Such a pleasure to meet you; looking forward to exploring ways for us to support your Asia growth initiative.”

or at the end of a project:

So pleased to hear that the Board approved the recommendations you presented….

Having a stack of handsomely-designed correspondence cards (plus envelopes and stamps) on hand helps overcome the activation energy that this extra step of client service requires. makes beautiful 32pt cards, 4.13″ x 5.82″  (10.5 x 14.8 cm).

The chart is from The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviors, by Matthew O. Jackson, a fascinating survey of academic findings on how we are affected in all sorts of ways by the people with whom we are connected.

To me, the book reinforced the core mission of Umbrex:
To provide opportunities for top-tier independent consultants to connect with one another. 

And the book inspired this week’s tip: Connect on LinkedIn with other members of the Umbrex community.

You can find all members of the Umbrex community on the Umbrex website. The hyperlink on every member’s name goes to their LinkedIn profile.

The website’s filter tools allow you to find members who share your geography, function, or industry.

As always with LinkedIn, good etiquette is to include a personalized note, such as, “I’m a fellow Umbrex member [based in Munich] / [focused on pricing projects] / [focused on the high tech industry]. I tend to work with [type of clients]. My contact info is […..]. Looking forward to connecting.”

Note: if you aren’t in the habit of sending out multiple connection requests, you may want to limit to about 10-15 per day or LinkedIn may put restrictions on your account for possible bot activity. Over time you can increase the number gradually.

If you haven’t created a company page for your firm on LinkedIn, please do so – it is worth the five-minute investment of time, making a profile look more professional.  Here’s the instructions.

Even if you have automated and shifted from physical mail to electronic delivery as much as possible, some important communications still come in hard copy via the postal service.

If you are away from home for a stretch of time and live in the U.S., the United States Postal Service has a nice free feature called Informed Delivery (not available in all zipcodes.)  When you sign up, you get an email every morning with an image of the outside of all the envelopes arriving that day along with a listing of any packages being delivered.

Not so exciting when the incoming is junk mail (as in the sample below from my own inbox), but nice to know when a paper check from a client will be arriving.

What have you found to be the best way to send or receive funds internationally, when the transfer involves a currency exchange?

When I found that my bank charges a currency exchange fee of nearly 3%, I started using OFX, where the fee is under 1%.  Several Umbrex members have told me that they use Transferwise, which seems like a more powerful solution.

Note: the initial setup involves a bit of know-your-customer anti-money laundering administrative hassle, so if you anticipate needing one of these services, get it in place in advance.

I received an email from LinkedIn on Tuesday letting me know about a new feature:

Here is the text of the email:

“Today we’re piloting a new product dedicated specifically to business owners and freelancers: Open for Business. This new feature will enable you to showcase the services you provide on your profile, so that you and your business can be found in search on LinkedIn. From there, potential new clients can reach out to you for free — it’s as easy as that.”

I just added this new profile section to test it out. I don’t know if this feature is being released selectively, or if everyone can now add it.  If you have questions or insights about this new feature, please share on the Forum.

Here is a screenshot of my LinkedIn profile with the new section added:

Audacity is a free audio editor that does a lot of the basics pretty well.

I had the Chase Sapphire credit card for about a year before I bothered to get Priority Pass, which is one of the included benefits but requires an extra step to sign up.

For me, the Priority Pass membership alone justifies the annual fee for the Sapphire card, with the free access to lounges in nearly every airport. around the world.

When I travel with the family, I’ve never had a problem getting the whole crew admitted for free.

(In fact, writing this email from the VIP lounge in the airport in Guayaquil, Ecuador.)

There’s plenty of apps to read, review, and mark up PDFs.

I find LiquidText particularly elegant. It’s the closest digital tool I’ve found that feels like I’m reading and writing on printed pages.

You can highlight and make annotations on LiquidText – but that’s not what makes it great. My favorite feature is how you can pull out selections, organize notes, and add comments in one place from multiple documents.

LiquidText is currently available on the iPad. It should be available for Microsoft within the year.

Margarita Soto has been a fan of Scribd for years; I’m a late adopter.

Pay one monthly subscription and you get unlimited access to their library of books, audiobooks, and magazines.

Sarah Sonnenfeld loves Tripit, a tool that “makes sense of all your travel plans and creates a single itinerary for every trip.”

1. Forward your confirmation emails
2. Get a master itinerary
3. Download the app

At Top Tier New York last week, at one session we discussed favorite tech tools (thanks to Sarah Sonnenfeld for facilitating.)

For a SaaS project management tool that can be shared with clients, several members recommended TeamGantt.