- Phillip Morgan
Will Bachman 00:01
Hello, and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. I’m your host will Bachman. And I’m here today with Phillip Morgan, who is the author of The Positioning Manual for indie consultants. And he also runs a expertise incubator for independent consultants. It’s a program we’ll talk about that helps you build your thought leadership program. Phillip, welcome to the show.
Phillip Morgan 00:30
Well, thank you so much. It’s pleasure to be here.
Will Bachman 00:33
So why don’t we actually just start with the expertise incubator, a service that you provide for independent consultants describe for us this program that you run.
Phillip Morgan 00:45
Sure, it’s, it’s a small group, cohort based program, and almost everything you learn in this program is from your own experience doing two things that sound really simple, but they’re pretty challenging. So as a group, we spend nine months together. First three months, we spend publishing something on the internet, every day you work, we meaning you, people who participate in it, you sort of voluntarily accept this challenge of publishing something every day. And it sounds simple, it sounds like it will annoy everybody who’s on the receiving end of it. And one of those things, that’s true, it is simple, but it’s also transformative. It’s transformative, because you, when you’re publishing that much, you feel this implicit obligation to publish something valuable, as you’re publishing to an email list. And that forces you to pretty quickly churn through everything, you’d have to say that superficial, that anyone else could say. And then once you flesh that out of your system, then you the real work begins of publishing something that’s unique thinking that comes from you that only you could possibly put into the world. So it’s a simple kind of mechanical practice to get you to the good stuff in your thinking. The second part of the program, which is the last six months of it, we focus on what I call small scale research, which is it’s business research, it’s meant to address some uncertainty that your market has. And the things that come out of this program are things like a clear point of view, original research, and those are some of the foundational ingredients of thought leadership. So an easy way to think of it is it’s a program that helps independent consultants bootstrap their own ability to do thought leadership.
Will Bachman 02:54
Okay, can you give me some examples of the type of small scale research that people have done?
Phillip Morgan 03:01
Yes, I can. So there’s, there’s a range from? Well, let me interrupt myself well, and say that most of us in our travels across the Internet come across this kind of product, like, you know, a company like MailChimp every year we’ll travel trial, you know, trawl through their database and produce some kind of interesting report about what they’ve seen, like, what’s the best time to send the email to get the highest open rate? That’s a simple example, state of the industry reports are also pretty common. You know, what are the your peer companies doing? What sort of marketing are they using that’s working? That sort of thing. So it can range from that all the way to attempting to answer a specific question that your market cannot answer. So we’ll kind of put you in the hot seat for a minute. Sure. And I will get to those examples. But I just want to make sure folks understand what small scale research is. So like, what’s a question that that you or your clients face in their business? That there’s no like one single answer to first thing that comes to your mind?
Will Bachman 04:20
Well, a question a lot of our clients have is, you know, how do I find an independent consultant? For you know, has the following skill set? Right. And, and what you know, and what’s the typical rates for those people? How do I find them? And I mean, that’s what Umbrex does, right? That’s the service that we offer. So that’s a question. Okay, our clients have that we answer.
Phillip Morgan 04:43
Right? So sometimes those sorts of questions need like a customized, unique to you answer and sometimes they can be answered, maybe not completely and thoroughly, but at least partially answered in a way that speaks to the entire To everyone who has that question. A variation of that would be like what’s How effective is how many clients have found an independent consultant through social media versus some other channel. And if you’re the independent consultant who’s considering using social media, that would be a relevant piece of research for you. And so it can be as simple as surveying people or conducting a number of interviews to gather data, and then package that in a way that’s useful to the folks that you’re you’re trying to serve or reach. I think of a guy named Tom Miller. And the research he did. At the time, his business was focused on email marketing for consultants. That was like the name of the business, email for consultants. Or maybe it was email for experts. Anyway. Tom was curious, how do consultancies generate leads, what works, what doesn’t. So he surveyed maybe a little over 100 folks in this market, and did a bunch of interviews additionally, and that was enough data for him to start to see some patterns were based on how the company is, is specialized or not specialized, certain types of lead generation work better or worse, depending on the way the company is set up, and what their, you know, what their market focus is, etc. So that’s a nice example of the kind of research that I’m talking about.
Will Bachman 06:44
Okay, can you give just three or four other examples of kind of projects or research efforts that people in the program have done?
Phillip Morgan 06:52
Yeah, I can. So a guy named Kyle Bowen, his focus is on the museum industry. He’s a consultant for museums and cultural institutions. His was more his research work was more like a state of the industry survey. So you know, what issues are people concerned about in the museum, and cultural industry? I’m not recalling exactly what else. But we’ve all seen enough of those state of the industry surveys, I think, have a mental picture of what that looks like. That’s again, based on a relatively small number of surveys and interviews. There’s a guy named Steven Kinsley, who was Stevens, a software developer, and particularly focused in the world of cloud security. He was interested in the question, how do people who are using cloud services, think about the level of security that their application has? And is there some way to it was there any kind of relationship between their perception of the level of security and the actual level security and I realized, I’m not doing a great job of explaining this because it’s the Stephens expertise, not mine. But where it led him was to realize there was an underserved need in the market. And he’s building a software piece of software called canine letter K, the number nine security. So that was the outcome from from his research, not a report or a publication or white paper or anything like that. It was an idea for a software product. Those are a few more examples.
Will Bachman 08:46
So it sounds like an important part of your program is not merely kind of navel gazing and reflecting and sharing your own personal experience, but you’re really encouraging people to go out to the market. And whether it’s a survey or sort of interviews or some other way of engaging the market. It’s actually doing some primary research to generate some unique insights.
Phillip Morgan 09:10
That’s correct. I, I think it’s it’s kind of a shame that a lot of us hear the word research and we think, big, large scale research with a lot of rigor, and a lot of sort of statistical controls necessary to pull it off and a lot of money and time necessary. I think that there’s a really valuable layer underneath that in terms of size, where really ordinary people can just have a sort of empathetic desire to make things better for their market and do a little bit of research and actually can make things better. So that’s, that’s really where this all springs from is this belief that ordinary people can generate real valuable insight by using some simple tools?
Will Bachman 10:00
Walk me through through some of the specifics of that or an example. So what does that look like in practice? Someone does 10 interviews, or just walk me through how someone has actually done one of these research projects?
Phillip Morgan 10:18
So you want to start with a question that is not going to overwhelm your ability to, to execute on it. So that’s the first thing is just kind of a pretty small scope question. And I really push people to go smaller, not bigger, with these questions, because you can always go bigger later. Or you can always use the momentum of a small success to build to something bigger. So it starts with a question, you will do a brief literature review, which is a fancy word for googling. And, you know, searching using a few specialized sites that search Academic research papers, because what you want to do is make sure you’re not duplicating someone else’s effort. Because if you, if you if that’s the case, if someone’s already answered this question in a good way, that saves you the time and effort, and you can just move on to something different, or build on what they’ve already done. The method tends to be either about, I’m going to name a number, and I do so with some hesitation, because I wouldn’t want people to anchor too much that but around 30 interviews, will end up for the right size question will often clarify things tremendously, and produce this diminishing return of information. So the 31st interview doesn’t teach you nearly as much as the first or fifth or 10th interview. But I want to give that number so that folks realize this is a doable thing. This is not hard to spend 30 hours talking to people, there’s other time. But that’s one way to think of it. And another way to think of it is is sending a survey to a few 100 people, or maybe 500 or 1000 people and getting, you know, 75 or 100 responses for other kinds of questions that can be the method that gives you the the insight that you’re missing. And then it’s you know, spending some time with the data soaking in it, and looking for patterns and looking for something that you can articulate as, I’m not gonna say an answer, but it could just be a way of reducing the market’s uncertainty about the question.
Will Bachman 12:48
Alright, great. Let’s turn to your process. Yeah, so let’s turn to your book, The Positioning Manual for indie consultants. Let’s start let’s just jump to chapter two, the platformer advantage. Tell me about what is the platformer advantage.
Phillip Morgan 13:02
So you pick my favorite chapter we’ll. Platforms are things that lots of businesses use, and they need help implementing them. Those things can be business process frameworks, like Entrepreneurial Operating System, lean, agile, test driven development. There’s, there’s a lot of those kinds of business process frameworks. Story brand, is an example of that. They’re these sort of recognized ideas, businesses, hear about them and say that sounds good. Let’s do that. And then they then they not always, but often need help from outside consultants. platforms can be software like AWS, Windows Winix, those are software platforms, Salesforce would be a good example there. And they can be software tools, like programming languages, or frameworks. So that’s what a platform is. And the easiest way to specialize, is to specialize in a platform, you get this advantage. If it’s early on. I’m going to again, be specific in a way that sometimes I’ll be wrong, but most platforms have reached maturity and five to seven years. So some new platform comes on the market starts gaining popularity in about five to seven years, it will be a mature product for the first half of that time period. The platform owner is really busy. Just building and growing the platform. So if you show up as an independent consultant or any kind of you know, independent person, and you’re excited about the platform, you do this a lot in software. And then you start publishing, contributing best practices, creating training products that you might sell yourself. The platform owner is busy, they need your contributions for the platform to be considered a complete product, they will support your efforts to make the platform better, they will sort of amplify and give you visibility and opportunities, because you’re in their, in their early helping them build the platform, not in a formal sense, where you’re working for them. But in an informal sense, you’re part of that ecosystem. Once they start seeing growth start to level off, which it inevitably will, they switch modes to being less giving. And what they want to do is, is a thing that happens over and over again and want to turn your business into a commodity. Because the more standardized, and sort of high quality and consistent the vendors in the ecosystem are, the better it is for their platform. And the more vendors kind of standardize on rates that are economical and affordable to a wide range of clients, the better it is for the platform owner. So when they see growth start to level off, they will stop being quite so giving, and they’ll start sometimes competing with you, like they’ll maybe set up their own services division to find new ways to generate revenue. So platforms are really in the early days, an incredible boost, if you’re specializing. And in the later days, they’re kind of a threat, because they force your business to become more efficient. And if you started with the platform, in the early days, you’re not used to having to operate in such an efficient manner. You’re used to being more of an innovation business where a lot of your value comes from figuring things out. In the later days as a platform, your value comes from consistent high quality, lean efficient execution. Okay, so So I said, it’s a tough transition. Yes, go ahead. Well,
Will Bachman 17:25
okay, so I can, the way I’m interpreting this is, by platform, you’re talking about something like SAP. So you might say, Okay, I’m going to hitch my wagon to that horse and xiaobian, SAP focused consultant, I help implement SAP. So I kind of get, I kind of get that. And then SAP, you know, will help maybe promote you or amplify, you invite you to conferences, maybe you’re a speaker or something. In the early days. Beyond the software platforms, I’m not sure how the metaphor holds for something like, if you’re a change management consultant, or strategy consultant, or lean operations consultant, or supply chain consultant, where it’s not so much dominated by some, you know, software company. How does that metaphor carry over to those areas?
Phillip Morgan 18:23
Well, it may or may not. The best examples are anything where there’s a New York Times bestselling book that says, here’s how you do any of those things you just mentioned. I can’t I don’t have any examples in mind for here’s how you do you know, supply chain management. Yeah, we have a
Will Bachman 18:45
blue chain blue ocean strategy, right? That’s a book that came out like, oh, innovation, blue ocean, etc. Find some blue space? Yeah, sure. It’s a good one. Yeah. But like, you could call yourself Well, I’m a blue ocean implementation consultant or something. But kind of, I mean, when you’re what suggesting that, okay, you take that as your platform and and then you publish a bunch of stuff, but how to apply blue ocean to the dog food industry, and you become a blue ocean expert in some niche.
Phillip Morgan 19:14
Right? Yeah, the best example there is on the Entrepreneurial Operating System. And that’s one where, a year year and a half ago, the people who own that IP said yes, you can be an implementer but you have to operate as a franchise. And that was a significant change to how they wanted to control and own that IP. Prior to that, I think they were pretty happy for anyone to show up and say I’m an EOS implementer. So that’s the most vivid example I can think of, of the kind of transition from like a friendly to a less friendly environment or a unstructured to a more structured environment around the platform. But there are plenty of platforms that are more idea based, where that may never happen, because the people who put it out into the world don’t want to exert that kind of control. So you’re definitely right, I think well, that they’re, like I, you know, the blue ocean folks, I struggle to imagine them ever getting to that point where they have that kind of like, closed system mentality of oh, we need to control and heavily monetize this. My guess is they’re just happy to do the consulting they do and let others do what they want with the ideas. But it is, a lot of times, I’m not always, but a lot of times I’ve advising clients from a somewhat risk averse perspective. So I want to make sure they understand that in some cases, this is what happens with the platform, but not in every case, as you point out.
Will Bachman 20:52
Okay. And I suppose there’s some pros and cons of using a platform, you know, one is that if you sort of pick one that isn’t really taking off, you could, you know, get,
Phillip Morgan 21:06
you pick a loser,
Will Bachman 21:07
you pick, pick one that doesn’t really take off for the next few years and yours, I’m an expert in this, you know, XYZ software, and then nobody’s really calling for that. Or you sort of are relying on someone else’s brand and IP. So it’s easy to have copycats, as opposed to coming up with a platform yourself and saying, no, not the blue ocean strategy. I have the green ocean strategy. It’s very different, you know? Right. So talk to me about the next chapter, then earning visibility without a platform, how do you, you know, how do you encourage consultants to build visibility, when if they’re not connected up with one of these software companies or other ideas,
Phillip Morgan 21:51
that I think depends a lot on their context, and how quickly they want to get results. So you can I use the analogy of renting the infrastructure you need for visibility. And without it’s, it’s things like speaking at conferences or events. It’s, you know, getting in front of someone else’s audience, the way I’m doing right now, with your audience. That’s, that’s all kind of borrowing or, quote, unquote, renting someone else’s infrastructure, that is almost always going to be faster than building your own. But, you know, once again, you don’t own it, you don’t control it. And it’s not like you really own anybody else’s attention or visibility. But there are things like your own email list or your own podcast, these are things that you have more control over and more ability to benefit from in the long term. So if you have more time, the simple I mean, the simple message of that chapter will is if you have more time, you probably want to build it yourself. And if you have less time, meaning you need results quicker, then you’re going to want to rent or borrow someone else’s infrastructure, all of which is easier if you’ve decided to specialize. Because without that, you just don’t know where to where to go to, you know, reach out to someone and say, Hey, can I be on your podcast? Or are you looking for speakers or whatever it is like that, that decision about where to focus? Is you a real advantage when it comes to earning visibility?
Will Bachman 23:36
And then talk to me about beach heads, you have this chapter, the importance of thinking in terms of beach heads, what’s that term mean?
Phillip Morgan 23:44
Well, a beach head is a sort of a temporary place where you can focus a lot of force and establish some forward momentum. And this analogy of a beachhead was my attempt in the book to try to help people realize that specializing building a market position is a process that happens over time. And you might have something in mind for 1020 years down the road that’s much bigger and completely unachievable on day one. So you might make a decision to specialize in a way that doesn’t represent your ultimate goal. And it’s also an attempt to try to let folks know that all of this is about momentum. None of this is about like perfection on day one. When you decide to specialize, you’re you’re doing something that builds up momentum, but from there other possibilities reveal themselves and, you know, as I’m saying this, I’m like, Wow, this sounds so obvious. But that’s that’s what the idea of a beachhead is about So anytime you specialize, you’re just trying to find the place that’s going to be easiest or best for you to get started. And then from there, you can refine and things will change, you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. So you’re always going to be responding to what’s happening in the larger world. And it. So that’s really the point is, nothing is permanent. The way I like to joke about it is you’re not getting a face tattoo, when you decide to specialize. It’s not that permanent.
Will Bachman 25:29
He talked about the five ways of specializing in the book walk walk us through those five different ways of specializing.
Phillip Morgan 25:37
Yeah, there’s two main categories there, there are what are known as vertical specializations. And so with those, you can choose a market vertical, otherwise known as an industry or a sector, manufacturing, finance, higher education, those are three really different verticals. So that could be how you decide to focus, you could focus on an audience, which is a group of businesses that have something in common, but they’re not necessarily in the same industry. So nonprofits are an audience. There are nonprofits in lots of different verticals. But they have something important in common, which is their business model. And sometimes, you know, they kind of see the world and in that nonprofit, he, you know, we’re here to serve not make money kind of a way. Those are the vertical specializations. Arzamas, specializations are focusing on either some functional area of the business, like you mentioned earlier supply chain. That’s a great example of a horizontal, lots of companies have a supply chain management function. And so when you specialize horizontally, you’re specializing in that skill set or that expertise. And you don’t really care what industry your clients are in. The other form of horizontal specialization is focusing on a platform, we’ve talked about that a fair bit. And then the fifth is this. Basically, you can think of it as a productized service, where you specialize a service that you offer in a really sort of unique way. One of my favorite examples of that is this company, worst of all design, and they do branding, but they deliver it in a particular way. That’s only going to appeal to a really narrow slice of the market. They do these one day, branding sessions, or workshops. And so in one day, you can have this full day experience with them and walk away with the thing you wanted, it’s not open ended, you know how much it’s gonna cost, you’re not worried if it’s going to drag on for weeks or months longer than it’s supposed to. And so those the way the services design makes it specifically appealing to a really narrow slice of the market. So that’s the fifth way is specializing a service.
Will Bachman 28:00
Can you share any success stories, examples of consultants that you have known or worked with who, you know, worked on building a thought leadership visibility, and that led to, you know, some good things happening with their business?
Phillip Morgan 28:18
Let me think down through the list of, but what specific, what kind of specific example could be most helpful? You’re an
Will Bachman 28:27
independent consultant who started with not publishing and then they go, went through your program, started publishing every day for 90 days. And then they did a research project and published something in the state of our industry. And that led to all sorts of inbound leads people finding them online, people reaching out to them. Right. I mean, that’s the goal, right? That’s the goal of the program, right?
Phillip Morgan 28:52
Well, actually, the goal is not LEED this isn’t about lead generation, like during the nine months. It is it’s more focused on just sort of inputs or prerequisites to that. Let me see here. I can scroll down through the list of folks from the past. I think this guy named Gayoom is my favorite example humza French guy living in Seattle, and his focus is on well, he would have started out he would have described it as like strategic storytelling. So a sort of management consulting focus, where the ideas on you know we’re going to kind of get our story straight within our business so we can have our employees become more aligned and more effectively communicate with the market. What what it is we do, he tends to work With not exclusively startups, but yeah, that’s a little bit more where things are skewed for him. And so writing about that a lot led him to this point where I think he would, I think he would say this to anybody. Nobody knows what storytelling means. And there’s no evidence that it really works. storytelling as a business tool is what I mean. Not this is not some broader condemnation of storytelling in general, but just storytelling as as a business tool, the way he was applying it, that created this moment where I wouldn’t not have wanted to have been in his shoes, I think he was pretty frustrated. And it created this curiosity. Is there something good here, and we’re not just just not doing it right, or what would work better. And what he arrived at is it there is something valuable, there needs to be thought about differently. And so he created his sort of invented his own framework for approaching storytelling where he now talks about it as a strategic narrative, and talks about it as a system of four kinds of stories that you need to figure out in order to effectively do business storytelling. So that’s where he is now he has a really great framework. And when he emails people and says, Hey, I want to tell you about my framework. And when I say emails, people, I mean, people who are strangers and don’t know him, but when he can, you know, tell them sort of hint at this framework that he has, and talk about how storytelling, the way it tends to be practiced, is ineffective and doesn’t work. Then he gets people on the phone to to hear him out and hear what this new thing is. And he’s in the process of turning that into what’s next, which is, you know, a flow of inbound leads. That’s fantastic. That’s maybe the best, I think that’s a wonderful. Like, that’s exciting to me, because the numbers aren’t showing up yet. In terms of, well, you know, on the spreadsheet, I can show you the impact of this work. But that’s always preceded by conversations where people say, Okay, I’ve never heard this before. Tell me more. So to me, that’s a leading indicator of good things to come.
Will Bachman 32:32
That’s great. Philip, if listeners wanted to follow up and find you online, or reach out, where would you point them?
Phillip Morgan 32:41
I would point them to an email course that talks about positioning because that’s such a foundational thing. I would point them to positioning crash course.com. And that would let them kind of dip a toe in further and see what this idea is about and see if it’s relevant. That’s the one place I would send folks. And easily Google if that’s not the thing that we’re looking for. But yeah, positioning crash courses. thing I would suggest next. Alright,
Will Bachman 33:12
well, we will include that link in the show notes. Phillip, thank you for joining today.
Phillip Morgan 33:16
Well, it was a pleasure. Thanks for having me.