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How to Become The Recognized Authority with Jonathan Stark

April 30, 2021
Episode 2
The Recognized Authority Podcast Cover

The podcast that helps experts & consultants on the journey to becoming a recognized authority in your field, so you can increase your impact, command premium fees, work less hours, and never have to suffer a bad-fit client again!.

Becoming an expert in your field takes a lot of work and effort. But if you want to be recognized as an authority, you need to do more.

In this episode, you’ll hear from Jonathan and Alastair as they discuss how to become that recognized authority.

Show Notes

Jonathan is fantastic, I could chat to him all week about this stuff if he’d let me. Here are 4 take-aways I got from him:

  1. First on differentiation, when you’re trying to set yourself apart from your competitors and avoid being seen as a commodity, Jonathan suggests a couple of ways to find that “big idea”:
    • Is there something that that you believe strongly but starts a fight every time you talk about it. Not just being a troll, but some kind of contrarian viewpoint that you can actually support.
    • If you were going to have a TED talk, what would it be about? It has to be something high level, it’s got to be really big picture.
  2. Secondly, he talks about specialization as focus. You have got to come up with some kind of focus, and once you have that focus, you go all in on that focus in your marketing. Not necessarily in your service delivery.
  3. Thirdly, Jonathan boils marketing for consultants down to a very simple concept: writing and speaking, writing and speaking. Do one of each. The speaking could be traditional speaking at conferences or it could be guesting on podcasts or even hosting your own. The same for writing: it could be a regular column in a trade magazine, it could be a blog or publishing regularly to your email list or even writing books regularly like someone like Richard Newton who talks about this in Episode 4 which is available right now for you to listen to.
  4. And I have to do bonus 4th take-away because there was just much in that episode: just showing up in a market is marketing. Showing up and help the people in your market get what they want, that’s marketing. Another one of Jonathan’s mantra’s is “Help people you like get what they want”. Simple and incredibly effective.

Jonathan has a wealth of resources available to help with pricing & running an expert business:

Guest Bio

Jonathan Stark is a former software developer who is on a mission to rid the world of hourly billing. He is the author of Hourly Billing Is Nuts, the host of Ditching Hourly, and writes a daily newsletter on pricing for independent professionals.


Jonathan Stark  00:00

Here’s the thing, marketing is bad word for a lot of people. It’s like used car salesman, slimy, pushy, persuasive. That’s bad marketing, the good marketing, you don’t notice. You don’t think it’s marketing. Starbucks is marketing to you like the design of their store is marketing. Showing up in the marketplace is marketing. So if you come at it with a posture of service, trying to help the people in your market, which is really hard if you haven’t picked a very specific market, because everybody needs different things, and they talk about their needs in different ways. But if you if you show up, and help people you like, get what they want. That’s marketing.


Alastair McDermott  00:44

Hello, and welcome to Episode Two of Marketing for Consultants. This is the podcast that helps independent consultants and subject matter experts to get more clients without having to beg for referrals or make soul-destroying cold calls. I’m your host, Alastair McDermott. And today my guest is Jonathan Stark. Now Jonathan is somebody who I’ve been following for a long time, I have been part of his group coaching. And I’ve also paid him for one-on-one coaching. So this is somebody who I listened to who I’m really excited to have on here. He is a former software developer, who is on a mission to rid the world of hourly billing, he’s the author of “Hourly Billing is Nuts,” the host of Ditching Hourly and writes a daily newsletter on “Pricing for Independent Consultants.” Jonathan, apart from your own podcast, you also co-host a podcast called The Business of Authority. So I’d like to start there, can you can you just tell us a little bit about what authority is, what it means to you? And how you came to be hosting a podcast called The Business of Authority?


Jonathan Stark  01:47

Sure, well, first, I think a good place to start is it’s not the kind of authority it’s not managerial authority. So not like a boss who, whose real authority you have to respect. It’s the, it’s more like earned authority. So something like a thought leader would have where they’re in authority on a subject. So in my mind, that’s different than an expert, because an authority is recognised as an expert, an expert doesn’t isn’t necessarily recognised as an expert. So I might be an expert at martial arts, but if nobody knows, then who cares? I mean, it’s, it might be nice for me. But the the sort of expert level, is, I think of I think of sort of technician, expert authority, where a technician is someone who works, you know, works with their hands, even if it’s in a digital context. And they’re paid to do their job, like a labour type of thing. And then as you become an expert, you’re really good at it, you probably want to change your, your business model or your pricing approach, because you’re actually good at what you do. And if you charge by the hour, you get punished for being good at what you do. And then a level up from that, to me is what I call the authority level, where someone is well-known for being an expert at a thing, maybe they’re not the best expert in the whole world, but they’re the one everyone knows.  So it’s thought leaders, and you know, someone that would be an expert witness or had a TED talk, those sorts of things. So it’s about visibility about being known by being seen, kind of, but by defining that you’ve almost answered the question already, can you just talk about why that is so important in our fields, for people who are experts who who are trying to generate leads for their business? Sure, but before we even get to the business aspect of it, the a lot of folks who are sort of going beyond that expert level and getting into the authority stage, they’re really worried, not worried, but they’re there, they desire to have a bigger impact. They’re sick of their expertise just being applied on a onesie-twosie basis with individual clients and not making a bigger impact. So, so consciously moving into an authority space, often if I mean, you know, if not all most of the time, but certainly often is about having a larger impact. So you’ve got this vision for some sort of desirable future state, and you’re on the mission to try and get it there. And it can take, you know, you can end up seeing the same things over and over for 10 years, and you don’t mind because it’s going to have that bigger impact that you’re going for. As a side effect. of that. You’re going to get tonnes of leads. Because your your people can see sense and see and believe that you are trying to make this big change, whether it’s whatever it might be, you know, it could be a cultural change. It could be some sort of technology change, whatever. It’s some sort of innovative transformation that you are on a mission to achieve. And you are not afraid to kind of put all your eggs in one basket and lots of lots of people are afraid to do that to kind of go all in on a specialty or some sort of mission or something like that. So it really resonates with people because they’re like, wow, that person is doing something scary, they must really care or that, you know, they’re there, for whatever reason, whatever their motivation is. So you just get loads of leads. And then the question is, how do we the way we talk about it on business and authority is, how do you fund your mission, it’s not about making a million dollars, it’s, it’s about this transformation, that you’re trying to make, this idea that you’re committed to, your big idea, and making it happen. But you know, you got to put Cheerios in the bowl, right? Every week, you have to get some income from that to be able to keep coming back and showing up and in continuing continuing the mission. So you know, you have to, you have to capture some of the value you’re creating so that you can keep doing it. But it becomes a secondary concern. It’s like, it’s a trivial concern.


Alastair McDermott  05:47

Yeah. So. So for some people listening to that, they might say, you know, it’s not that trivial. When I’ve got, you know, medical bills, or, you know, we’ve we’ve got to, we got to pay the mortgage, and they’re not at the point where that’s even a consideration. And so I think at that, that that early stage, do you have to do something different, or, you know, when you’re in that place, maybe it’s a place of scarcity, or it’s just a place where you’re a little bit under pressure? And you’re listening to this podcast, and you’re saying, you know, this is not a trivial concern for me, what do you have to do at that point?


Jonathan Stark  06:20

Right. So let me let me clarify, it’s not, it’s not trivial in the sense that it’s unimportant in the sense of having to think about it, because they’ll, it’s not like, like, right now, folks that are getting very few leads, one lead a month, one lead a year. That’s, that’s a completely different world to live in, and someone who’s getting 100 leads a day, if you’re getting 100 leads a day, monetizing that to fund your mission is trivial. That’s what I met, it’s, it’s, it’s a trivial effort to figure out a way to make money at it. If you’re getting no leads, then, you know, you’re just not recognised as an expert at what you do or you, are you are recognised or you’re not recognised certainly as the one and only you might be just one of many management consultants, or software developers or web designers. And you’re just not attracting any, any attention because you just look like another apple in the in the basket.


Alastair McDermott  07:17



Jonathan Stark  07:17

So I’m different about this one.


Alastair McDermott  07:19

So how do you go then from not having that big idea of where you where you are just another apple in the basket? How do you go from that place, to developing your own big idea? Which you can then then take and build, build your authority and build your brand on?


Jonathan Stark  07:37

Right? It’s kind of like asking, How do I decide what I care about, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s different for everyone. I, I recognise after talking to hundreds and hundreds of people that I have a superpower for, for being able to just pick my next thing. I just like there’s a lightning strike. And I’m like, that’s what I’m going to do. And I just go for it doesn’t have it happens like once every 10 years, you know, so it’s not like I’m thrashing and constantly distracted. It’s not like that. But I know that almost nobody, almost nobody is that way. I don’t know where I got that from. But the way that I work through it with people is to look for, look for something they care about, you know, I’ll have a conversation with them and they’ll say something that completely lights them up, like the entire tone and vibe of the energy just shifts like 180 degrees. And it’s funny, because a lot of times that thing is really obvious to them, but they don’t see it, because they don’t know how to make to survive doing it. So they just, you know, they’ll say something like, “Oh, I want to help mission driven animal shelters,” you know, whatever, you know, some some really high minded thing, or it could be super big picture. “I want to change the way you know, I don’t know US presidential presidential elections work,” “I want to get money,” you know, whatever the mission is, right? But then it never occurs to them to consider that as a source of income, because they cannot imagine how they would make money from it. They can’t imagine or they or they, they believe that the target market has no money. Or maybe the target market doesn’t have enough money to buy the kinds of things they currently sell. And it doesn’t occur to them to sell other things to those people. So they have these, they have this blind spot where the mission is obvious, the vision is completely obvious, or the purpose or the big idea is completely obvious to me, because I can see their whole their whole personality change when they start talking about it. But it’s invisible to them. Because they’re like, oh, like I can’t charge $200 an hour to people running an animal shelter or I can’t do a quarter of a million dollar software project with someone running an animal shelter. It’s like okay, we’ll do something else. You know, you could take those same skills, maybe build a plugin that you sell to every animal shelter in the country for $30 a month and they can’t afford that and now would find your mission to save more animals with your software development skills. So getting creative about how you package your expertise is something that people are not great at, it is not a natural thing. So but that is that’s the,


Alastair McDermott  10:16

You’re talking there about, you know, creating different types of products and services and packaging, a different price points, right.


Jonathan Stark  10:22

Yeah. So if your market can’t afford, you know, if you’re not selling to, you know, enterprise clients, you’re not going to be getting $5 million for a software project, or whatever big projects that you do. Okay, fine. If you know, if you can’t sell that, package your expertise in a different way, write a best selling book, you know, there’s the, you know, dozens and dozens of ways to package your expertise. And if you’ve come very well known as the go to person for that, instead of selling giant projects to giant, you know, a couple of giant projects, two giant clients per year, you could sell 1000s, or 10s of 1000s of books, or plugins, or access to a code base, I mostly work with software developers. So that’s why I have so many software examples.


Alastair McDermott  11:11

Yeah, as a former software engineer, I appreciate your examples. Yeah, so we have a lot of independent consultants, from old school kinds of different fields, somewhere coming from kind of the traditional management consulting background somewhere, green consultants, or even some of the kind of shoulder industries like architects, they’ve maybe left a firm that they were working for, they’re quite experienced, and they’re at the stage now of, of starting out on their own path. They’re looking for that big idea. They’re looking to build their authority. Maybe they found something that they believe in, what’s the next step? How do they get started on the pathway towards it already?


Jonathan Stark  11:50

Right? It could be when you’re, if you’re listening to this, and you’re asking yourself, I don’t know what my big idea is, or whatever the case may be, or I don’t know how to differentiate myself, then you could ask, especially in a consulting space, it’s it’s all about your intellectual property. It’s all about your smarts, your IP. So one thing that I ask people is, what is something that you believe strongly but starts a fight every time you talk about it. So like a some kind of contrarian viewpoint that you can actually support. So not just being a troll, and saying, you know, whatever spaces versus tabs, let’s start a fight, you know, but something something that is that you think is fundamentally broken about your space, that would be one way to potentially find something that would be a probably a never ending, emotional Well, for the person I’m working with, to just always be writing about that, you know, so that that can be one approach. Another approach I’ll use for people to try and trigger a thought is, if you were going to have a TED talk, what would it be about, and that forces people to, you’re not going to do a TED talk about, about how to set up like your development environment, it has to be something really high level, it’s got to be really big picture. And sometimes that will, you know, work, you know, talking to someone about that and kind of workshopping with them, they can get to the the fundamental, they’ll get the sometimes we’ll get to a foundational reason why they went into what they do at all.


Alastair McDermott  13:21



Jonathan Stark  13:21

So they might, they probably don’t even remember. But it could be a fundamental, high level evergreen, kind of kind of leadership, thought leadership that comes out of that. And then once they want the ad, I have the thing, like whatever the thing is, the third thing could be that you just want to specialise in particular niche. So you want to niche down in a particular market that you feel is underserved, or that you’re uniquely capable of helping, but whatever, you got to come up with some kind of focus. And then once you have that focus, you go all in on that focus in your marketing, right, not necessarily in your service delivery, and all of that stuff, although eventually I think that will, that will be a sort of trailing indicator, you will eventually be doing just that, but focus on that in your marketing. And that laser focus is gonna, it’s gonna start a fire, I use a magnifying glass analogy. So like the energy of the sun is enormous, but it’s not going to start a fire in your front yard, you know, it’s not going to set the leaves on fire on its own. If you but if you take a magnifying glass and you focus that energy on a specific point, the fire can start and then it can spread. So then it’s it’s spreading without you constantly trying to like, you know, you don’t have to keep starting it over and over again. And that it’s that focus that creates that spread. So as a starting point, I it’s it’s almost, I mean, I’ve rarely seen it fail. I’ve rarely seen it fail. I’ve seen people give up on it too early, but I’ve rarely seen it fail getting some kind of laser focus, right.


Alastair McDermott  14:56

So what we’re talking about is we’re talking about building your authority. By by finding something you deeply care about some kind of mission or something you believe in strongly, and developing intellectual properties and writing, writing a lot of contents around this may be a blog posts, writing a book you mentioned earlier, something like that, right?


Jonathan Stark  15:17

Writing and speaking, those are the two things you have to do writing and speaking, if you want to be in authority writing and speaking, writing, speaking, writing and speaking. So I would only do one of each of those, if you’re on your own, it’s, it can be a lot of work at first until you get into the rhythm. And the, you know, it but it could take whatever form. So speaking back, when I was doing it, that meant flying to conferences and and, you know, getting up on stage in front of people and all of the things with that. But, you know, I got sick of that I get sick of flying around in this year, of course, no one’s flying around, really. So it became podcasting, you could do live streaming on YouTube, whatever people need to hear your voice. And then you need to be writing stuff. And I think the writing is less, it’s less about content, marketing, and SEO, and it’s more about honing your ideas. So publishing, and I think publishing daily sounds like a lot of work, but it’s actually easier than weekly. If you’re publishing all the time, then you’re going to burn through all of the shallow stuff very quickly, you’re gonna be getting lots of feedback from people. And you’re going to be polishing your ideas in in the in the in public, in a way that makes them just just diamond hard.


Alastair McDermott  16:31

Right, let’s talk about the daily publishing thing for a minute. This is something I was speaking with a mutual friend of ours, Philip Morgan about recently. And he’s a big fan of it. He said it was a game changer for him. I think you’ve said something similar.


Jonathan Stark  16:45

Everybody that does it. It’s a game changer.


Alastair McDermott  16:48

I, I’ve recently started this myself. And so I know the fears that people go through with this. And you know, how, you know, I won’t have enough to say, I’m going to annoy people. I’ve personally had conversations with people pushing back on this really hard saying, either I don’t want to get your emails every day, or I’m not going to look at them. If it was sent to me once a week, I’d be more interested. How, if somebody is in this place where they’re thinking about daily, can you talk about some of those fears and why they should do it anyway?


Jonathan Stark  17:25

Yeah, so the fears come from getting lots of bad email. So, you know, but but you, dear listener, you’re not going to send bad email. That’s what the bad marketers do. And yes, when I started, I had all the fears, Philips, the one that dragged me kicking and screaming into it. And he was 100%. Right? I absolutely love it. It’s my favourite part of my my work life every day. And you know, I haven’t sent out I just did you know, we’re recording this at the very beginning of 2021. I just did my retrospective for 2020. And my list, I emailed every single day in 2020, sometimes more than once. Sometimes, you know, sometimes I do it late, whatever, you know, but it worked out to like it sent 365 email 369 emails last year. So more than slightly more than one a day on average. And my list size grew 65%. And my unsubscribe rate is 0.1. And my open rate is 29.8. Plus, so yeah, so those are very good numbers, isn’t it?  Yeah. So if somebody was like, I would never want to bother people every day with a message, then don’t bother them send a message that they’re going to be glad they open every time that whenever I sit down to write and press send, my whole goal is to make sure or do everything I can to ensure that the person who opens it is going to be glad they spent the 30 to 60 seconds it takes to read the message. So if you are always focused on that, giving them a positive ROI on their time investment, they will open them and they will not unsubscribe, and they will tell their friends. And then when you’ve got and then when it comes time to fund the mission, and you want to launch a new workshop or a book, then you’ve got all of these people where you are top of mind you’re in that group of people, you’re famous in that group of people, you are the recognised expert, the authority on whatever, see, but you have to have already picked the focus. So if you want to, you’re going to become you can’t just be an authority on stuff. I carry that Jonathan stuff Jonathan cares about. It’s not that’s what my blog used to be 10 years ago, just like, Oh, this happened. I’ll blog about that and just read, of course, it was ridiculous. No one read it. But if you pick a focus, and you write about it daily, and you deliver positive ROI to your readers, then they are going to perceive you as the authority on whatever your focus is, right?


Alastair McDermott  20:07

I’m, I’ve already bought the Kool Aid, drinking the Kool Aid, because I think I came to this personally because I was trying to find that topic to be an expert in. I was trying to write those blog posts, and I realised I was just trying to be too broad. I had a brand called Website Doctor, and I was trying to be an expert in websites. And it is just way too broad. Can we talk about that a little bit? Like, what is too broad? What’s too narrow? How do you find that kind of the right level of granularity there?


Jonathan Stark  20:39

Yeah, I’ve worked with hundreds of people, maybe 1000s, if you count, but you know, if you’re on my mailing list, or people who email me have like one on one phone calls. And I can only think of one or two people who were too focused, it almost never happens that you’re too focused. And, and it sounds counter-intuitive, because if you think of, if you think of the ocean, the ocean has, you know, scientists estimate the ocean has 3.5 trillion fish in it. And so you’d think, “Oh, well, I’m going to take my net. And I’m going to go throw in the ocean, because there’s 3.5 trillion fish there.” But you can imagine, you can just picture if you’ve got this net, it’s this was like a butterfly net, scoop, you know, a shovel, basically, you are not going to walk down to the shore and be scooping and fish out. Even though there are so many, the ocean is huge, almost beyond comprehension, how huge it is. So if you take that same net, and you go over to a 15 foot above ground swimming pool that has 1000 trout in it, you’d be pulling trout out all day, even though there’s only 1000 there, and there’s 3.5 trillion in the ocean. So it’s counter-intuitive, because you’d think the idea of focusing on only 1000 potential customers would be crazy, when you could go after 3.5 trillion customers. But I hope the visual, like a fish jumping out of this pool, that you could just scoop them out at will. And you know, whatever, you know, you probably don’t even need 1000, you probably only need 100. If we switch the metaphor to clients, and you’re doing services, and you haven’t created productized services or other products, you probably can’t even handle 10 clients a year, like a solo person to have 10 like, like hardcore clients, that will probably be too much. So if you want to pick an industry that only has 1000 potential clients in it, I don’t think that’s a problem. The only problem I’ve ever come across. And it’s it people think it’s more common than it is I’ve only heard about it actually occurring once is if the market is so small, and so cutthroat that they will not work with someone who works with their competitors. So if you imagine, you’re just going to do like, local Google ads for locksmiths in Providence, Rhode Island, then you’re just like taking people’s money. So to beat each like, like they’re just fighting with each other. And they’re paying you and you’re getting paid on both sides. You know what I mean? It’s like a zero sum. If you’re in a market that feels very zero sum very cutthroat and competitive. And have only seen this once everyone listening to this probably thinks that applies to them, but it probably doesn’t. So the one, you know, the one market was like plastic surgeons and, like, long story, they also have other marketing constraints where they can’t make certain claims is a very complicated market was it was that’s a tough one. But by and large, if you are, you’re almost certainly not segmenting your market enough. Just pick an ideal buyer, based on some segmentation, demographic, psychographic, or whatever, and go after those people. And you’ll find that you’ll find that the fish are just jumping into the boat instead of you like, you know, tooling around the ocean, dropping your net in and coming up with nothing.


Alastair McDermott  24:03

I’ve heard you say before, that you don’t care all that much about search engine optimization for you personally, plus your thoughts on SEO, when it can be useful and why it’s probably not.


Jonathan Stark  24:16

Right. I think there are a lot lots of businesses, I think SEO is pretty important. But for for these kinds of businesses expertise based or authority based businesses, I think it’s a sign that you aren’t doing a good job with your focus. They should be people should be searching for your and your publishing. So your positioning and your publishing. If you are, if you’re positioned well, and you’re publishing regularly, people are not going to search for a management consultant. They’re going to search for your name. So if you if you’ve got that really narrow positioning, and you’ve got in your publishing, then the word is gonna spread. If you know there’s, there’s a tacit assumption that you’re good at what you do that you do deliver results and all of that stuff, but let’s just assume that That stuff’s that that’s usually not a problem. Usually people are good at what they do, usually they can deliver results. The problem comes when their their marketing is too blurry. They’re not publishing enough. It’s not that perceived as valuable. And they are in someone’s googling for a marketing consultant, a software developer, if they’re googling that, if their mind in their mind, they’re looking for apples to apples comparisons. And, and they aren’t going to be able to tell the difference between you and anyone else, except for on based on one factor and that factor is price. So if you are, if you’re playing the SEO game, then you’re going to you’re going to not exclusively, but in general, you’re going to be attracting price buyers, who don’t want to pay for the best. So it’s to me, it’s a losing strategy, they should be Google like it. But the number one, the number one search for my website, when I stopped tracking it, but when I used to track it was my name. So the whole goal, if you’re an independent consultant is become famous for something in a space, and then people will just look for you. And they won’t even be they won’t even be considering anyone else. There you won’t, you’ll have no competitors.


Alastair McDermott  26:17

And at that point, SEO is irrelevant.


Jonathan Stark  26:20

It’s irrelevant, right? I mean, like, I don’t think it hurts you. But I wouldn’t spend one minute thinking about it. Right?


Alastair McDermott  26:27

Okay, I want to jump back to something else you were talking about. So there’s, there’s a couple of clients or friends of mine, who are consultants they’ve come from, from consulting firms where they’re in mid six figure jobs, or they’re very highly paid. And so they’re starting out. And they realise it’s very difficult to get to make that same kind of income, when you start out on your own as an independent consultant, even when you’re doing similar scale of projects. So something I’m wondering about is what do you think about scaling up your income? as an independent consultant? He talked a bit about productized services, is that the way forward? Or, you know, should you be looking for larger kind of whale clients? Or how do you think about that?


Jonathan Stark  27:14

There’s three, three big buckets. One is to sell low cost stuff to lots of people. The middle one is so you know, medium price things to have more free, fewer people, and the top one is sell like, really expensive stuff to a small group of people. So it’s kind of like luxury at the top, commodity at the bottom. But you know, and, and like something in between?


Alastair McDermott  27:38

And is that a business model decision or?


Jonathan Stark  27:41



Alastair McDermott  27:42



Jonathan Stark  27:43

Yeah. So so at the high end, if you want to probably the easiest, I want to, I want to say the easiest way, but I guess it depends. If someone just went solo, and they just want to keep doing, you know, they they gain this expertise, or this mastery of some kind of skill while they were in house at some big consulting firm. And they’re like, “Oh, I want to go solo.” And they, they basically, so often, they basically act like an employee they keep they keep all the employee mentality, they plan to build themselves out by the hour, because that’s how they were built out at the at the firm. And they just want to get clients to do this hourly thing. And they find out pretty quickly, you know, if you come out of McKinsey there, they can charge way more for your time, then, even though it’s the exact same person, it’s still you. There’s no way nowhere way you’re going to come close to the same hourly rate. So you’ve got to fit because you don’t have the you don’t have the brand anymore. You know, the the CEO can’t say we hired McKinsey, they’d say we hired Bob, who’s Bob, well used to be at McKinsey, oh, how can we left you know, so you’re automatically not going to have the marketing gravity to get any anywhere near the hourly rate. So if you do want to, if you do want to keep doing that kind of project work, that’s one-on-one client engagements that are custom every time, then value pricing is your path to increasing your profits and getting back to some kind of income that’s remotely resembles what your salary was. Another way, that’s, that’s one way. And you can mix these things, by the way, but that’s one way value pricing, really high end custom projects, right.  A middle way that is easy for a lot of the easiest one for a lot of people I work with. It’s the it’s the sort of Goldilocks middle. This one’s just right one where the creative productize service where the scope is fixed, no matter who buys it, it’s basically the same scope. They set a price for it that they’d be happy to receive in exchange for that amount of work, and they deliver some predictable result. So this could be something like an innovation workshop or a strategy session or design sprint or a blueprint or roadmap kind of thing where it takes a few hours across the course. A couple of weeks, and you can put a price tag on it and put it up on your website. And it’s, you know, it might be a non-trivial investment for your buyers, but it’s going to be way less expensive than engaging in a custom project. So it gives you a way to kind of start a relationship, a financial relationship with them, or an economic relationship with them deliver great results, and then maybe the, you can use that as a doorway into a longer term engagement, if you even want to, that you would value price.  And then the smallest the smallest thing, so little things to lots of people would be things like books and courses, you know, video courses or other kinds of courses, workbooks, templates, starter files, boilerplate code, plugins, all of these things where you can use your expertise, again, thinking software, but whatever you can apply to any field. And you create these info products and other sorts of products that lots of people can buy at a low price. So it’s kind of back to your point about a business model questions like, do you want to have loads of customers? Or do you want to have a small set of clients? Or do you want to be somewhere in between?


Alastair McDermott  31:09



Jonathan Stark  31:10

Because they can all work together?


Alastair McDermott  31:11

Yeah and I think Blair ends talked about how he shifted. He shifted his business model from being a consulting firm to being a training firm. So he,


Jonathan Stark  31:21

Actually didn’t want to fly.


Alastair McDermott  31:22

Yeah, he took that step. Kind of, I don’t want to say down because I don’t think that’s it’s, it’s, it’s kind of teared like that. But he took that step across to kind of a larger base of of customers, rather than smaller number of clients. I just want to talk about your own personal experience in business. I think we can learn a lot from failure. I’m just wondering, is there any particular failure that that you consider a big learning experience for you in your own business?


Jonathan Stark  31:56

Oh, yeah. Yep. So I, all of this stuff that I’m talking about, I definitely learned the hard way. I had some good guides along the way. But definitely, there’s some some hard lessons, the one that really pops out to me is, in 2009, I got a book deal. The book came out in early January 2010, something like that. It was very popular, real niche book, software industry, O’Reilly published it, you know, real, probably the best software publisher. It was a huge hit, like translated into seven languages. They, I was getting conference talks all the time, it was keynoting. And there were clients were just lining up to work with me afterwards, like I’d go, you know, I had no kids. My wife was had a great job, executive position. And, you know, we had plenty of money, it was fine for me to fly around. It was fun. And so I, you know, wrote the book, you know, remember writing, speaking, writing, speaking. So, consultants, the model is write a book and go on the conference circuit and talk about it when the conference circuit someday comes back.  So if you, I was doing that. And I knew it was working for me. But, you know, time went by I started getting sick of flying around all the time started speaking less. Next book deal came along, and it was torture, but I did it. And then the next book deal after that came along, and I said, “Now Forget it. I’m sick of this.” Stopped writing books. And I wasn’t writing anything else. So I stopped writing. And I stopped speaking. And guess what happened? All of a sudden, my leads that were magically showing up in my in my inbox every couple of weeks disappeared.


Alastair McDermott  33:36



Jonathan Stark  33:36

And you can’t turn that this does not turn on a dime.


Alastair McDermott  33:39



Jonathan Stark  33:39

So right. So fortunately, I had my my main product was a retainer product. So an advisory retainer, not like a lawyer retainer, but like an advisory retainer, where I would have these clients who would need access to my brain on a regular basis needed to get expert answers to particular kinds of questions. Fortunately, for me, I had a few of those over the years and those extended through, but still, it was a scary year or two, where I was like, wow, I haven’t gotten a lead in months. You know, and my focus at the time was mobile, and I could tell that mobile was plateau I knew it was plateaued. So the industry wasn’t going to really growing more. It was it was a big problem. And the mistake I made was failing, resting on my laurels failing to realise that without speaking gigs and constantly writing you know, at least coming out with a new book every 12 to 18 months then the the well was going to go dry, the garden died, the garden died, and I was like, wow, okay, now what?


Alastair McDermott  34:44

Yeah. Do you consider writing marketing?


Jonathan Stark  34:47

Oh, yeah. 100% but but here’s the thing like marketing is bad word. Like for a lot of people. It’s like used car salesman, slimy, pushy, persuasive. You need to cut that’s bad marketing, the good marketing You don’t notice. You don’t think it’s marketing, like Starbucks is marketing to you like the design of their stores marketing, like, kind of like, not everything’s marketing but but coming, showing up in the marketplace is marketing. So,


Alastair McDermott  35:17



Jonathan Stark  35:17

If you come at it with a posture of service, like trying to help the people in your market, which is really hard if you haven’t picked a very specific market, because everybody needs different things, and they talk about their needs in different ways. But if you if you show up and help people you like, get what they want. That’s marketing. Sometimes they’ll pay for marketing it, I mean, a book you buy it, but to me, it’s more important than the marketing is way more important than the money.


Alastair McDermott  35:44

Oh, yeah. Yeah.


Jonathan Stark  35:45

So it’s kind of a there can be a grey area. There’s there definitely money making things that are not marketing. So like doing a client project for 18 months is not marketing. You’re not doing it. You’re not showing up to the market. You’re just doing work.


Alastair McDermott  36:00



Jonathan Stark  36:01

So anything,


Alastair McDermott  36:01

And that’s when we get into that feast or famine cycle?  Exactly. You get to the end of a gig like that, where you have been working 40 hours a week for 18 months, and the garden’s dead when you come out of it. So I was speaking recently, with the guru of specialisation, Philip Morgan. And I was deeply interested in this because Philip has worked with me on my own specialisation. And so I asked him, where he first learned that he needed to specialise his business. And he said, “Oh, Jonathan Stark, Jonathan told me one day he needs to specialise.” So I’m just wondering, where did you find this concept of specialisation? When did first occur to you?


Jonathan Stark  36:45

Yeah, I back my way into it. And here’s exactly how so my one and only corporate job was at Staples. Like their headquarters, I would work in their doing building software in their advertising department. I became dissatisfied with that. But I didn’t go straight solo. From there I went to a firm, I was building stuff in FileMaker, went and went to a prominent FileMaker firm. And when I got there, the owner was very generous with his expertise and his time, his business acumen. It was obvious to me that, like the phone would just ring like every week, the phone just rang and people wanted to work with us. And I was I was like, Well, of course they do. The firm’s really well known, but they they weren’t well known when they started, they got well known how did they get well known? Well, Chris, the owner, he wrote books. He wrote books that people liked, that they kept using, you wrote good, useful books. And guess what else? He wrote a monthly column in the trade publication. And I connected those two things. It was, you know, some people might not connect those things, but because they just think, Oh, well, they’re famous. So of course, it’s easy for them. It’s like, well, they got famous, they didn’t they were born famous.


Alastair McDermott  38:01

They made themselves famous.


Jonathan Stark  38:02

They did stuff that made themselves famous, right. So and I just I saw clears day writing books, leads to customers.


Alastair McDermott  38:12



Jonathan Stark  38:12

Writing leads to customers. And there was no podcasting didn’t even exist back then there was like, there was nothing else. There was no YouTube. This is before YouTube. It was books. So at the time, I was like, oh, okay, I didn’t, I didn’t understand the mechanics. I didn’t understand why it was working. But I could see that it was working. And that’s why when I went solo, I was like, I need to write a book, like I have to read a book, because then I’ll be the guy that wrote the book on thing. And that is a differentiator. I didn’t, I didn’t understand that what I was doing was positioning myself, I didn’t understand that I was differentiating myself. But I from the outside, I was just copying Chris. And it totally worked. But you know, there are so many more options these days. I mean, we’re talking like almost 20 years later at this point. Lots of other options for people to publish. But I think you need to pick either a writing is some version of writing in some version of speaking, and do it regularly, at least weekly, if not daily.


Alastair McDermott  39:16

I have a final two part question. What is your favourite business book? And what is your favourite fiction book?


Jonathan Stark  39:23

Oh, wow. So many, if I had to pick a favourite business book for someone who’s going to do value pricing, it would be “How to Measure Anything” by Douglas Hubbard, which isn’t actually, I mean, it is a business book. It’s not what you’d expect, but it will, it will make it possible it will open your eyes to what you need to understand to do value pricing well, so I probably go with that. And my favourite fiction book is probably “Girdle Escher Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid” by Douglas Hofstadter. Well, that’s a deep cut, though. I love the expanse series. If you’re if you’re into sci-fi and looking for something new, the expanse is absolutely mind blowing.


Alastair McDermott  40:09

That is hilarious because I asked Philip Morgan. And he said, “Can I cheat? Can I give you a TV show instead?” I get kind of used to the expanse.


Jonathan Stark  40:16

Yeah, the TV show is good. It’s really good. But the books are


Alastair McDermott  40:20

Awesome. Jonathan, thank you so much. It’s been amazing to talk to you here today. I really appreciate you taking your time to come on.


Jonathan Stark  40:26

Anytime. My pleasure.


Alastair McDermott  40:31

Jonathan is fantastic. I could just chat to him all week about this stuff. So okay, so normally what I do at this point is three takeaways. So I’m going to give you three, actually, I’m going to give you four takeaways from this. So first, on differentiation, when you’re trying to set yourself apart from your competitors, and avoid being seen as a commodity. So Jonathan suggests a couple of ways to find your big idea. One thing is, is there something you believe strongly but starts a fight every time you talk about it? So not just being a troll, but having some kind of contrary and viewpoints that you can actually support? Another is if you’re going to have a TED talk, what would it be about? So it’s got to be something high level, it’s got to be something big picture. And so those are two ways to kind of differentiate yourself. Okay. Second thing is where he talks about specialisation as a focus. And you’ve got to come up with some kind of focus. And once you have that focus go all in on the focus in your marketing, not necessarily in your service delivery, but in the focus. And it’s the focus that creates the spread. It’s kind of counter-intuitive, but that’s the way it works. Thirdly, Jonathan, worlds marketing for consultants down to a very simple concept, writing and speaking, writing and speaking, do one of each. The speaking could be traditional speaking at conferences, or it could be guesting on podcasts or even hosting your own. The same for writing. It could be a regular column in a trade magazine, it could be your blog, or publishing regular to your email list. Or even writing books regularly like somebody like Richard Newton, who talks about how he does this on episode four, which you can download right now. I do have a fourth bonus takeaway, because there’s just so much in this episode, and that is just showing up in a market is marketing, showing up and helping the people in your market to get what they want. That’s marketing. And another one of Jonathan’s mantras here is help people you like get what they want. Simple and incredibly effective.  Thanks for listening. If you gained any insights or tips from this episode, please share it. It might just be the thing to help someone in your network. If you share the show notes link. It’ll include a podcast player and all the other information from today’s episode.