Alastair McDermott: How to Get Clients without Relying on Word of Mouth Referral (DWG #026)
My guest today Mr Alastair McDermott. I’ve known Alastair since about 2007 or so, we even had a business project together for a few years and even to this day he’s very much who I call on for a different
perspective and his very valuable insights.
As it happens, he also did a fabulous job on the recent upgrade to almcbride.com. Known as the websitedoctor, he more recently focused in on what he was doing for years already, which is marketing for consultants.
Alastair helps independent consultants to generate more leads consistently so they can eliminate their dependence on referrals, and get out of the feast-famine cycle. He does this by helping them create and execute a simple, effective marketing strategy that works for their business and client base.
He is a former software engineer, now marketing consultant. He built his first website on GeoCities in the before-time of 1996, and he was been hooked on websites ever since. He left a “safe” corporate job in early 2007 to start and grow his first business during the worst recession in modern history – that was a wild ride. Along the way he co-founded several start-ups, some of which were mildly successful, and he has written a book called “Running a Website with WordPress: A Quick Guide for Business Owners”.
- The risks of action and more importantly inaction
- Your website is not for you, it’s for you client
- The dangers of word of mouth referral
- Replacing word of mouth referrals but not replacing the trust
- Content marketing; educate and entertain
- How to start becoming an authority in your niche
- Everybody gets imposter syndrome
- The Dunning-Kruger effect; why experts are less confidence in their knowledge than beginners
- The Specialization Advantage
- The downside of the platform specialist
- Horizontal specialization in the problem or outcome rather than the customer / client
- Why choosing a vertical specialization is most advantageous
- The rolodex moment
- How to start creating valuable content for your niche audience
- Enlightened self interest and fiduciary responsibility
- Web design as a translation project: search for the underlying, unspoken needs
Al McBride 0:02
Okay, we’re recording. And welcome to the dealing with Goliath podcast. The mission of dealing with Goliath is to sharpen the psychological edge in business leaders with skin in the game who want to be more effective under pressure, uncover hidden value and increase profitability.
Al McBride 0:22
With expert guests across the business spectrum we deliver gems of insight, delving into their methods, their thinking and approach to problem solving. This is the longer form podcast format, where we have the time to delve a little deeper into the guests experience, stories, and priceless nuggets of lessons learned. I’m your host Al McBride.
Al McBride 0:43
My guest today is Mr. Alastair McDermott. Now I’ve known Alastair, since way back in 2007, or so, we actually even had a business together at one point to business project for what nearly two years I think at the time, and even to this day, look, he’s very much who I’d call whenever I want a different perspective, or new, valuable insight, or even just to check that my thinking is going in the right direction.
Al McBride 1:12
So he’s hugely valuable to me. And he’s also did a fabulous job as it happens on the recent upgrade of Al mcbride.com. So if you ever up my website, everything that looks good, there’s due to him. He is known as the website doctor and more recently focused in on what he has been doing for years, which is marketing for consultants.
Al McBride 1:33
So in that vein, Astra helps independent consultants to generate more leads consistently. So they can eliminate the dependence on referrals, and get out of the feast famine cycle. He does this by helping them create and execute a simple yet effective marketing strategy works for their business and client base.
Al McBride 1:52
He’s a former software engineer, now marketing consultant, he built his first website on geo cities in the before a time of 1996. That was way back then. And he has been hooked on websites ever since.
Al McBride 2:05
He left a safe corporate job and earn he has been seven to start and grow his first business during the worst recession in modern history. And that was a pretty wild ride. along the way. He co founded several startups, one of which was with me and proud to say, some of which were mildly successful.
Al McBride 2:22
And he has written a book called running a website with WordPress, a quick guide for business owners who knackered after that one I was tricked. And known to me is ‘other Alastair’, welcome to the show.
Al McBride 2:34
Welcome. Great to have you on here. Good to have you. A few people, of course, the more eagle eyed will have spotted you on the short interview format. Got some good feedback there. And I know there’s a ton of things we can talk about it as we always do. I thought I’d get a few of those gems to the audience. So we sort of have your back on the show. So thanks for coming on.
Alastair McDermott 2:57
Great, great to be here.
Al McBride 2:57
Yeah, there’s so many things we can talk about. But I know you have. I know you have many interesting opinions and things. And I’d love to delve into them. Let’s let’s just start with your thoughts around risk, because we were talking about this a couple of weeks ago. And so he had a lovely, so lovely perspective that a lot of people might get some value out of.
Alastair McDermott 3:17
Yeah, I guess, I think what we were talking about is the risk of taking some action. And quite often we’ll see in particular in business, and just in general, that people are afraid of the risk of taking some action, when they’re not considering the risk of inaction.
Alastair McDermott 3:35
And that sometimes it can be more risky not to do something than to do something, whether that be the right thing or the wrong thing. And I think that when you’re considering the risk of something, like for example, starting a business or staying in a job, you know, I think that that, you know, particularly nowadays jobs aren’t as safe as they used to be.
Alastair McDermott 3:54
And, and so in in from one perspective, it might be safer to start your own business. So, you know, depending on what you do. So I think that in in almost every circumstance, you need to weigh the risk of inaction. And and look at how, how that might be coming into play.
Al McBride 4:13
It’s a very good point, because I, you know, I think you and I, we’ve always well, for years now we’ve run our own show our own projects in various domains. So we’re kind of used to it.
Al McBride 4:22
But as I said, this is where people, I think they have a false sense of certainty and a false sense of security within action, because they think, oh, if I stay where I am, you know, that’s safe, but that’s not necessarily the case, is it?
Alastair McDermott 4:39
Yeah, and sometimes even just staying where you are and having nothing happened. That’s opportunity cost. And that’s kind of a risk in itself. You know,
Al McBride 4:47
you’re missing out. Yeah, I mean, the bad thing is FOMO. But the other side as you say is, is opportunity cost. Absolutely. Absolutely. And you once wonderfully said your website is not for you.
Al McBride 4:58
It’s for your client. And I love that because, you know, an awful lot of my perspective is all about it’s not about you, it’s about your audience or for negotiations to have is not about you think about put your perspective on your counterpart, you know, move that focus. Yeah. So how does that work out in in website terms? What would someone do differently when they when they focus more on their clients?
Alastair McDermott 5:22
Well, I’m, so I’m talking to business owners. And you know, I’ve talked to thousands of business owners over the last decade and a half, about websites. And one thing I hear coming over and over again, is some form of assumption. And oh, people don’t want that, or people don’t do that on websites.
Alastair McDermott 5:39
People don’t read, people don’t look at pictures, people don’t look at videos, people don’t scroll down, and lots of assumptions about what visitors will and won’t do on websites. And a lot of a lot of business owners or even people in marketing.
Alastair McDermott 5:54
They’re there, they’re not really looking at the fact that the website is not really for you, if the end user is is the customer or the visitor who wants to use your service, and you need to make the website fit their needs, and and make it for them. And sometimes that’s including videos and having long pages that people will scroll down and having information that maybe you personally wouldn’t look at or wouldn’t read.
Al McBride 6:21
Right. It’s an interesting one to remember, my uncle worked on one of the big bank website redesigns that 15 years ago. And there was huge pushback, because he wanted to design us how a customer uses it, whereas they had a design literally by the departments. So yeah, I grew up with these things don’t do things to things don’t go together, like Yeah, but when you’re a customer, you want those three options in a row, you know?
Alastair McDermott 6:47
Yeah, I think my background is in software engineering. And it is a very kind of software engineering software developer viewpoints. When you’re, when you’re building these systems, you try and replicate the the the internal structure of an organization.
Alastair McDermott 7:03
And you need somebody to advocate for the end user to to say, look, from, from a user perspective, here’s what they’re trying to do. Here’s what we should, here’s how we should mold what we’re doing to fit that, rather than trying to force the user into the boxes that we want.
Al McBride 7:20
I mean, that brings up another topic, which is, you know, that eternal dilemma, particularly with consultants, or even with creative people, when you’re when you’re working with them. We’re doing client work should say, how you give them what they’re asking for what they want versus what they need. Yeah. How do you balance those two?
Alastair McDermott 7:41
Well, I think you have to, you have to slip the pills into the ice cream, or, like you have to you have to give them what they need, as well as what they want. And I mean, ultimately is driven if somebody doesn’t want something, it doesn’t matter how much they need it.
Alastair McDermott 7:57
So you have to try and it’s a balancing act, you have to try and, and and maybe coming back to your thing, it’s negotiation as well, you know, but but selling people on the concepts and the ideas and showing them why it’s important.
Al McBride 8:14
That that’s what it’s all about winning them over with a better way to get to where they’re trying to go to, I suppose. And tell you, you know, you have a lot of interesting perspectives.
Al McBride 8:26
As I said, it’s always it’s always a pleasure and a and usually usually insightful talk to you about all sorts of different things, but particularly in your industry, what do you believe that a lot of people don’t?
Alastair McDermott 8:39
Hmm, I think a few few different things.
Al McBride 8:43
Quite a few. But pick one or two? Yeah.
Alastair McDermott 8:46
Okay. So Well, one thing, and I know that this will will resonate with some people or not with others, but I think that referrals and reliance on referrals is dangerous. And now I’m saying that from the context that in the professional services space, probably 95% of business is through referrals and word of mouth.
Alastair McDermott 9:09
But I think relying on that, and that alone is very dangerous. Because if So firstly, it’s just it’s very hard to generate referrals in on a regular basis. And secondly, it’s very hard to raise your prices when you are based on referrals.
Alastair McDermott 9:29
Because referrals tend to come from people who are similar to the people who were referring you. And, and you can get into this feast and famine cycle, where you’re just on this kind of roller coaster, you’re working on a project, you haven’t really you know, you’re working on the project, you haven’t really put out or built a pipeline, and you get to the end of the project and you don’t have any any work coming. So
Al McBride 9:52
this is a pipeline problem, isn’t it where you what you want to be doing is doing the work so when you have what you want to be doing it To the best of your ability and for the betterment of the client and all that good stuff. But as you say, then you’re dropping the ball on filling the pipeline for when it’s done.
Alastair McDermott 10:08
Yeah. So I think that, that, that people, like my clients and your clients, I expect, right, I suspect, I think that they are probably not spending enough time on marketing. Right. Which is another issue.
Al McBride 10:24
Because most people don’t like marketing.
Alastair McDermott 10:26
Yeah. And I think that what what a lot of people think of as marketing is not really like they’re thinking of kind of either, you know, horrible sales pressure tactics, like you might see on TV, or cold calling or things like that, you know, or just advertising.
Alastair McDermott 10:46
Where, whereas I think that marketing can be done a lot of different ways. But the ways that are appropriate for professional services arganda very different.
Al McBride 10:56
Right? Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, this is, you know, referrals are great. Of course, they are, it’s a warm introduction. I mean, we all know that. But as you said, it’s getting the regularity of them having a dependable list.
Al McBride 11:09
I mean, I know, you’re not just saying this, I mean, I know you did a ton of research on LinkedIn, and you had several thousand responses to various different surveys to find out exactly what the reality is.
Al McBride 11:22
I know, you’re not just saying that, but referrals, because a lot of people, you know, referrals are sacred. And that’s part of a good relationship building system. So can I just get a lot of emotional pushback? So what’s your solution to go with 30 even replace referrals?
Alastair McDermott 11:39
Okay, well, yeah, so I did a survey through LinkedIn mostly. And I’ve had over 1000 responses now to, to guess, a handful of different survey questionnaires that I put out. And it’s just given me a lot of insight into different aspects of marketing, particularly for consultants and professional service providers and kind of knowledge based and experts, those types of businesses.
Alastair McDermott 12:07
What I found was that there seems to be three big buckets in terms of generation of business. One is the referral and networking bocket. The second is the cold calling, or I bam, sometimes cold emails, or sometimes LinkedIn messages.
Alastair McDermott 12:27
And then the third is inbound. And inbound is probably the least used it but it’s the one that that people are really interested in right now. And a lot of people think that it doesn’t work for our types of business.
Alastair McDermott 12:42
That, you know, for example, I’ll hear people say SEO doesn’t work for consultants, and things like that. So, but actually, it can do if you do it the right way. And so so those are the three, those are the three kind of options.
Alastair McDermott 13:00
And I think that most most people’s business development activities will fit into one of those three. And usually, it’s the referrals and networking based. And so what I’m trying to do is help people to, to do the third, which is inbound.
Al McBride 13:16
Yeah. And just before we get further into inbound, you know, one of the things that surprised me when you were when we were having a chat about the, the data from your LinkedIn studies on consultants and professional service providers, was where the blame went for when people were essentially going out of business or business was drying up.
Al McBride 13:41
I remember, you know, some people were saying, Oh, it’s my age one lit, one guy literally was I’m too young. And he had another guy the other end of the spectrum, saying, Oh, I’m too old, that seems to be why I’m not getting any more work. They couldn’t see that it’s because it’s saturated their network, and they’d reached the limit of it.
Alastair McDermott 13:57
Yeah, I think like, referrals can work if you are, if you have a good network already. And if you are the you are an extroverted networking type of person that can work really well for you. And if you have a particularly long sales cycle and long sales projects, so for example, I was talking to somebody and their average project length was five years, well, they only need to find a new client every five years. Right. So
Al McBride 14:26
they need to start looking in the last year or two
Alastair McDermott 14:28
Yeah, so you’re too so they only needed a network of 20 or 30 ideal clients and you know, they’re set for life they will never, you know. But at the shorter your sales cycle, the shorter your projects, the more the more of a network you’re going to need.
Al McBride 14:44
Absolutely and so you know inbound for a lot of people is kind of a hot topic at the minute I mean, I’m I’m heavily involved with and as you know, through Tom Poland and the whole leads ology thing, and and there’s a parallel here exactly.
Al McBride 15:00
But a lot of people are like, okay, so I’m willing to give inbound a look, I’m willing to give it some time and resources. So what is that third way? Then? How do people start to go about what’s involved?
Alastair McDermott 15:13
Okay, so, so inbound marketing, from my perspective is content marketing. And another way of talking about content marketing is to call us education, marketing or authority marketing, right? It’s all it’s all.
Alastair McDermott 15:27
For me, it’s all the same thing. It’s about creating educational content that will educate your ideal client, and sometimes entertain them as well. Particularly, if you’ve got a good sense of humor, and you’ve got, you can do that you can mix it in.
Alastair McDermott 15:41
But usually it’s, it’s about educational type content, stuff that is really useful. It’s insightful, it’s it’s helpful to them and solving the problem that they have. And it’s about creating that content in and putting it out there and putting it out there on a regular basis, and developing your authority, because you are seen as putting out good content on a particular topic.
Alastair McDermott 16:06
That is insightful, that is informative. And when you when you build up a body of work like this, that can help to replace the trust, because this is the really crucial thing and professional services. The reason why networking is so important, and referrals and word of mouth is so important is because it passes trust.
Alastair McDermott 16:29
Yes, what we’re what we’re selling, usually in professional services, is an invisible intangible service. And quite often, it’s very expensive and very risky. And so you need a huge amount of trust, it’s not transactional, it’s not like buying a bar of chocolate or a pair of Nikes.
Alastair McDermott 16:46
It’s a, it’s something that’s not very well understood, quite often, the client, and the provider will start a project without even knowing what the scope of the project is. So in order to, and also the client knows that they’re going to be entering into a relationship with this provider as well.
Alastair McDermott 17:03
And all of those things come together to make it so that trust is really crucial. And that’s why the personal referral is so important. And that’s why the content creation on authority, and doing things like writing books or doing a podcast, that’s why that’s so effective, because it’s replacing that.
Alastair McDermott 17:24
It can substitute for that trust, because they can see your body of work, they can see what you’re putting out there, they can listen to your voice on the podcast, see you on videos. And so it replicates that.
Al McBride 17:35
So I love that it’s a lovely point that it’s that same trust that you’re building up slowly, usually slowly, through all this content that you’re creating. As you said authority marketing or content marketing, as it comes under lots of names. How does someone start going about becoming that authority in that niche?
Alastair McDermott 18:00
Well, I think I think it really starts with writing. Now I’m sure there are other ways to do this. Like, you know, you can, if you really don’t like writing, you can do things like dictating, or you can see can you find somebody to interview, but you need to draw the idea is out of your head and put them down on paper and in online.
Alastair McDermott 18:24
And so you need to get those ideas out of your head. And the other thing is part of the process of creating the content, forces you to develop your logic and to formulate your thoughts. And so the actual process of writing actually makes you better. And so that actually helps to develop your authority and your expertise.
Al McBride 18:49
Right, because there is that issue with imposter syndrome where a lot of people go, Yeah, I know, I’m good at what I do. But I don’t know if I’m good enough to be like the poster person for this for my area.
Al McBride 19:02
Yeah, people often also fear you know, the spotlights somewhat want to do the work. They know they’re they’re well adequate when they get the gig. But it’s putting yourself up there and having a point of view that’s a little bit more tricky. What would you say to someone people who have that issue?
Alastair McDermott 19:20
Okay, so first thing is, everybody has imposter syndrome. Everybody gets it. And even the most experienced who, you know, experts who know their stuff. There are very few people who don’t get it me and maybe it needs to be a psychopath to not have imposter syndrome, you know. So, yeah, so I think that first of all, you got to acknowledge look, imposter syndrome is normal. And also there’s the Dunning Kruger
Al McBride 19:50
I was gonna say it is exactly the Dunning Kruger effect. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.
Alastair McDermott 19:55
Yeah. And so experts are less confident in their own Knowledge and then people who know less than them. Yeah, so and so yeah. So look, you’ve got to acknowledge that and just bear that in mind.
Alastair McDermott 20:08
The other thing is, and I’m a big fan of specialization. And the more that you specialize, the more you go deeper into a niche or a niche. The more that you go deeper onto a topic and do the same types of projects repeatedly, the more you develop your knowledge, and the more of an expert you become in that area. And so that, that can also give you reassurance because when you’ve done 20, similar projects, you can be pretty sure that you know what you’re talking about.
Al McBride 20:39
And that makes a lot of sense when you say I suppose I know we’ve had this similar conversation on around specialization, horizontal versus vertical specialization, you might explain a bit a bit about the difference.
Al McBride 20:53
But but also a lot around that a lot of the reluctance is around literally the fear of loss, you’re cutting off opportunity in the hope of getting greater opportunity. So yeah, how do you allay people’s fears about that? First of all, horizontal and vertical specialization, be good to get your take on what what are they? What’s the difference?
Alastair McDermott 21:13
Okay, so just in terms of types of specialization, so first of all, there’s a generalist, and a generalist is pretty good at lots of things, and maybe even very, very good at lots of things. But I think it’s very difficult to be a true expert in everything.
Al McBride 21:29
Right? And can you give an example? Maybe? Well, sure,
Alastair McDermott 21:33
um, as we go through it as a web designer,
Al McBride 21:36
Alastair McDermott 21:37
I was a generalist. Um, and so I would do a website for, for a financial advisor, and for a charity, for a medical charity, and for a dentist for a shop for, you know, so So for all sorts of different different types of businesses.
Alastair McDermott 21:58
And so that would be very much a kind of a generalist and, and also, not just providing the website, but also doing other things like search engine optimization, or Google AdWords and things like that. So providing multiple services to lots of different types of businesses.
Alastair McDermott 22:13
And it’s basically being kind of like a full Services Agency. And that’s a very much a generalist kind of model. Okay, so so then there is, there’s there’s three other types of specialization as l see it. Which one is the platform or tool specialization? And that’s where you say that we specialize in this one thing. So we specialize in Amazon Web Services. If you need something done with Amazon Web Services, we can do that. Or WordPress, or
Al McBride 22:42
gonna say you went specialized into WordPress very early, which was
Alastair McDermott 22:47
Yeah, usually I did. Yeah. And so that in in one sense, it was useful because I happen to pick the right horse. WordPress became very popular. So I kind of, I started using WordPress exclusively in about 2006 or so.
Alastair McDermott 23:07
And I didn’t build websites and any other system after that. And so that was that was quite good, because it blew up in popularity became bigger than every other system put together. So yeah, that was a bit lucky.
Alastair McDermott 23:19
Both the real there is also a commoditization, particularly over time, any tool that comes out at the start, you’ve got the early adopters, and they’re going to be specialists in the tool and and but over time, what happens is more important more people get, get on that same horse, then it’s it’s becomes more more commoditized. So that that’s one issue with with platform. But the other issue is,
Al McBride 23:47
which is a benefit as a platform for you. I mean, I’m sure there’s a benefit for the clients. But what was the benefit? When you said, Okay, I’m just gonna do WordPress, did it speed up
Alastair McDermott 23:57
systems and processes? Really? This is impressive, okay. Yeah, just you just using the same tools over and over again, really helps
Al McBride 24:03
you just get much better and faster at them.
Alastair McDermott 24:05
Oh, absolutely. And you can do things like you can automate and things like that as well, you know,
Al McBride 24:11
okay. And what’s the next one, then?
Alastair McDermott 24:14
Yeah. And Okay, so then we have vertical and we have horizontal. And so these so horizontal, I tend to think of as a problem or as a solution, we kind of want one of the same. So horizontal specialization is saying, let’s say we we help businesses with search engine optimization, and that’s what we do.
Alastair McDermott 24:42
Whether you’re a dentist or a job we want to we will do we will do our pride our service or you know, and horizontal and, and platform sometimes kind of overlap, like what we do Google AdWords, for example, you know, And they can get a bit wider as well, you could say, well, we do we do marketing, or we do online marketing.
Alastair McDermott 25:06
And that’s kind of really, really wide horizontal. And then there’s vertical. And vertical is the one that really interests me. And that is picking a specific industry or niche. And so for me, I’ve picked consultants and management consultants in particular.
Alastair McDermott 25:24
And that is picking one vertical and saying, This is who we specialize in, this is who we work with. And so when you do that, you are turning away everybody else, but you’re doubling down for your particular niche. So and what are your ideal clients?
Al McBride 25:41
Say? So what’s the advantage in doing that? I’m sure there’s many because, you know, as I said, a lot of people would be like, yeah, that sounds great. And then they think, oh, but I have to cut all these other people out and say I
Alastair McDermott 25:52
am most people don’t say that’s great. Most people say, Oh, my God, that is terrifying.
Al McBride 25:56
Okay. So they go straight to terrifying.
Alastair McDermott 25:59
Right. Usually, yeah. So, so big advantage. Yeah. What’s the big advantage in vertical specialization for me is that your clients congregate, right. And so they have a trade journal, or a number of trade journals and magazines or newspapers.
Alastair McDermott 26:15
They have particular websites that they’re on, they have associations that they’re that they’re in, they have memberships, they have particular conferences that they always go to. They have professional bodies, all all of these things that you get when you focus down.
Alastair McDermott 26:33
And, you know, like I was talking to somebody in, in the states recently, and there’s an association of precision machinery parts. I’m like, that’s, that’s really getting quite niche down, you know, but if you if you want to sell to companies, to manufacturers who make precision machine parts, there is an association, there is a magazine, you can advertise in those conferences you can go to, and you can you can target your clients.
Alastair McDermott 27:02
And you can, you can just address that market in a way that you never could, if it was generalist. And I came, by the way I came to this, because I was encountering this problem myself, when I was trying to write blog posts on my generalist websites, and trying to write blog posts for everybody means writing it for nobody. So you need to have something specific. So writing content becomes so much easier because you’re addressing a particular market.
Al McBride 27:32
Right? So we’re going back to being much clearer than when you’re creating the content to make you the authority or be seen as greater authority. It I mean, you’ve also mentioned this idea of the Rolodex
Alastair McDermott 27:47
test, or what was the call, right? Yeah, the Rolodex moment. I think that comes from. Yeah, so the Rolodex moment is if if you tell somebody who you work with, and it’s a specialist, it’s a specialist area, it’s a vertical, it’s much easier for them to identify if they know somebody,
Al McBride 28:06
Alastair McDermott 28:07
So if I say, Yeah, I work with independent consultants and small consulting firms, people will know if they know a consultants or they know somebody that that that sounds like. Whereas vice that, oh, yeah, I work with professional service providers, it doesn’t really connect, there’s no, for most people, they won’t immediately picture somebody.
Alastair McDermott 28:27
So whereas whereas they do probably do know somebody who’s a consultant, or if you get more specific, do you know, any management consultants, and you can mentally go through your head and say, yeah, it’s so
Al McBride 28:37
true. Because even if because if you said what a lot of people would say, like, Oh, I build websites, or I build high end websites, which is better what you do not even who you serve, people sort of go Oh, that’s nice. But I don’t particularly know anyone who needs a website, because a lot of people don’t say that when they meet their friends. But as I said, if you go I do marketing services for management consultants, they go, Oh, yeah, I know, three management consultants.
Alastair McDermott 29:05
Maybe, maybe they don’t, they will keep you in mind. I mean, even if they don’t, but it certainly makes it easier for them to figure that out.
Al McBride 29:13
Very true. Very true. So tell me more about how to create content and in that regard, of creating that authority, in making those connections to your ideal client base, which is now significantly narrower and focused. Yeah, continue to do that like,
Alastair McDermott 29:31
well, it is it’s so much easier if you’re, if you’re writing to one audience. And I can attest this by simply looking at my blog, where for, you know, for 13, 14 years, I was writing about one blog post every six months. And whereas now I can quite easily write one a week. There’s just no problem with finding ideas.
Alastair McDermott 29:54
And so yeah, it’s much easier to create the content, so how to actually create it. The first thing I would suggest is just imagine somebody comes to you, maybe it’s a friend of yours.
Alastair McDermott 30:10
So imagine that somebody comes to you, maybe it’s a friend of yours, and they’re, they’re in trouble. And you can help them. And they say to you, look, I’m going to be out of business in 30 days, unless we put into place the thing that you do. And so what are all the things that you would tell them?
Alastair McDermott 30:27
And write those down? So what are the things that you would tell them because they’re in trouble, and you can help. And that can be a good prompt, a good kind of writing prompt or wait to start generating the content.
Alastair McDermott 30:40
If that doesn’t help, or once you’ve exhausted that, look at the questions that you’ve had from clients and emails and in the conversations that you have, because they will tell you the things that are important.
Alastair McDermott 30:50
It’s really simple. And if you haven’t had enough of those conversations, the next thing to do is just talk, start talking to people more, talk to your ideal clients just have some better problems that they’re encountering. There’s almost no downside to picking up the phone and calling a client or a potential client. And not from the point of view of trying to sell them on something, which is to have a conversation, I
Al McBride 31:14
hear that I mean, I’m a huge advocate, as you know, of those discovery conversations, before any negotiation or serious sales sort of conversation. So I’m a huge fan of that, of doing your discovery of asking open ended questions and letting people speak. And just to mention on that, you know, we talked about this before, where an awful lot of people are a bit reluctant.
Al McBride 31:38
So, you know, sometimes people are a bit reluctant, but often, then they think, okay, you are actually just here to listen and to learn. And it’s shutting them up is usually the problem.
Alastair McDermott 31:48
Yeah, I think you really have to come from a from, from a from a positive place where you’re really going to be saying, Look, I’m here from the point of view of wanting to do right by you.
Alastair McDermott 32:03
I’m not going to try and sell you. I’m not going to try and it’s the enlightened self interest of of not doing any kind of sales pitch and just caring about, is there any way I can help you?
Al McBride 32:14
Right? I mean, this was why you had a surprisingly high response from your surveys, and then interview requests from the LinkedIn work, right?
Alastair McDermott 32:25
Yeah, yeah, I
Al McBride 32:26
think so a bit higher than what was expected?
Alastair McDermott 32:29
Well, I think part of it is the way that you write the write the messages and just say, Look, I’m not going to follow this up with a horrible sales pitch. You know, because that’s what almost every LinkedIn connection request is these days, is you get this connection out of the blue.
Alastair McDermott 32:43
And then the next thing you’ve got somebody trying to sell you forex or something, you know. So just reassuring people like that. That’s not what I’m about here. And, and I really do think it’s enlightened self interest. It’s, it’s this this thing of fiduciary responsibility, and, and really caring. Can you help the other person?
Al McBride 33:05
This? Yeah, there’s an old phrase of Jay Abraham, we came across many years ago. And because some people know exactly what it is, particularly if they’re lawyers and accountants, but for those who aren’t what what does fiduciary responsibility mean to you?
Alastair McDermott 33:19
It means putting the client and their needs before your own, even if it costs you money,
Al McBride 33:27
Alastair McDermott 33:29
I was basically just putting other people just caring about other people. And lots of people say it in different ways. Like, I know that there’s the friend of mine Liston Weatherill and his businesses called serve, don’t sell. And that’s just a great way of putting it you know, this
Al McBride 33:45
is true. I mean, on our expert panel, which I know you were in the audience, you asked a few great questions. Christine Schlonsky was big about that. When you get clear on the service and the value that you bring Yep, to your potential client without in any way being pushy as such. Then then it becomes much easier to have actual sales conversation because you have their interests at heart.
Alastair McDermott 34:06
And they can tell people can tell when you’re talking tell. Like we are the best lie detectors to human being is the best lie detector. We know when there’s something shady or somebody is trying to push it, you know?
Al McBride 34:19
Look, I remember one of the first conversations we had back in 2006. I remember you telling me, you talked to a client of a 10 grand deal. And down to, I think it was 2500 or something. Yeah, yeah, you were one of the few or the dast I remember this guy he does like four or eight different people and they’re all like eight to 12 grand was the quotes for what he was asking. They just did what the guy I asked because you’re the only one I said okay stop saying Tell me about your business. Huh? How does it work? I remember you’re like okay, there’s the he ordered it was cleaning products or something any order.
Alastair McDermott 34:56
They always ordered. Industrial cleaning products to schools and factories. He didn’t need e-commerce
Al McBride 35:03
Alastair McDermott 35:04
not not at that point. I mean, maybe maybe I’d advise him differently now. But But back at that point, his customers were not ordering online, the procurement departments in hospitals weren’t putting their credit card numbers in online and
Al McBride 35:17
the orders weren’t changing much.
Alastair McDermott 35:19
Yeah. So So yeah, there was, yeah, I probably I probably give that particular guy maybe slightly different advice. And I can imagine he would. Well, that’s what was
Al McBride 35:28
saying, you actually asked questions about the real need behind it. And he was very gently educated with your knowledge that actually didn’t need ecommerce. He didn’t need all these things he thought he needed that sounded buzzword at the time.
Al McBride 35:42
No other web developer at the time thought to do that no other consultant thought to do that. And that was quite kind of so that was always the embodiment when people whenever I described fiduciary responsibility, I literally give that example. That it’s potentially talking yourself out of some money, but serving better.
Alastair McDermott 36:03
Hmm. Yeah, I guess it’s going back to trying to figure out what what are they actually trying to achieve here? what’s the what’s the true business goal here?
Al McBride 36:12
And this brings us on to another topic that we’ve discussed many times with me which this eternal struggle of web design as a translation project.
Alastair McDermott 36:23
Hmm. Yeah, so. So I think a few different things about web design. And one, one thing that I think about is it’s trying to take the vision of the business owner or the person who’s tasked with the website, take their vision and translate that into a website.
Alastair McDermott 36:44
While also making sure that it’s meeting the business goals, which are usually dependent on the end user, not what the business actually tells you. So you have to try and translate all of that and figure all those parts out, how does that actually work together?
Alastair McDermott 37:02
Because quite often, somebody will say, you know, we have to have a video on the homepage. And you’ve got to then try and work back to that. And so I had that situation where I had somebody insisting on having a video loading on the background.
Alastair McDermott 37:19
And it does look really cool when you when you visit a website, and you see that, but quite often it can cause the website to slow down. And it’s usually unnecessary. And so I was really trying to push back against that. And so I had to find out, you know, why?
Alastair McDermott 37:33
Why is he so insistent on having this. And so ultimately, what I found out was that the this this was for, this was for an organization where the CEO, was actually under pressure from the board. And one of his deliverables was to get a website that looked really impressive that was really mattered to him, was that it needed to look really impressive.
Alastair McDermott 37:59
That’s why it had to have this video. And once I understood that, I stopped pushing back so hard, because I understood, okay, this is genuinely important to him. And what I said to him was, look, this isn’t so good for the end user. But it didn’t tell them that I that I knew that behind the scenes stuff.
Alastair McDermott 38:15
Well, but you know, I, I didn’t push back on that once I understood that because suddenly, it made sense to me why it was a big deal for him. So so we kind of, we like we optimized the video so that it would load as fast as it possibly could, which is still a little bit slower, personally, that I would like both. But I understood where he was coming from, you know?
Al McBride 38:35
Yeah, cuz, you know, the speed load time is huge for SEO that even fractions of a second second, people bounce off far more. So it is a huge factor. But it’s also sounds like a very interesting parallel for a lot of consultants as well, where often you’re being told things by clients and they seem a bit off or daft even. And there’s often a deeper more Well,
Alastair McDermott 39:03
the reason behind them. The the guy in the TV show house, what does he say? Everybody lies,
Al McBride 39:08
Alastair McDermott 39:11
Yeah, they don’t sometimes they don’t tell you what, what’s what’s really going on. So you’ve got to try and interpret it and figure it out.
Al McBride 39:18
Exactly. Give them that space, that it’s not just a daft request. And yeah, and some real reason behind it.
Alastair McDermott 39:24
I mean, sometimes you just have to come back with them with, you know, logical arguments as to why you shouldn’t do it that way. Or, sometimes what you can do is you can you can say, Well, look, let’s test it. Let’s make version a and version B, and see which people prefer C which does better in testing. And that completely,
Al McBride 39:44
absolutely, in that sort of gentle struggle with clients in a good way to try and get inside their heads to see what they’re actually asking for and where the need is coming from for certain things, certain aspects.
Al McBride 39:58
And then as I said, trying to Then bring in the third party, which people forgotten the equation being the clients because that’s who it’s ultimately for, and trying to balance all those elements. But as goes, struggles, I know you’ve had a, certainly a few in your career as well as everyone has, but what were some of those bigger struggles you’ve encountered? And how did you solve them?
Alastair McDermott 40:22
I’m sure, I think the biggest the biggest one probably was the lack of specialization. And that was probably the hardest thing to figure out. And, and then to start to turn the ship, because it takes quite a while. It’s a slow process. So what I what I figured out was, so but back about, I’d say, nearly five years ago, now, I realized, okay, I’m not an expert here.
Alastair McDermott 40:55
I can never be an expert in websites, because it’s just too general. And, and so I needed to, to find some way to niche down or to niche them. And so trying to figure that out, and, and so I started a process of starting to learn about specialization.
Alastair McDermott 41:15
I found a guy who’s a specialist in specialization, called Philip Morgan. And he’s now a business coach of mine. And, and I read everything that he puts out, he’s a very smart guy. And so through process of reading a lot about it, and talking with people like Philip, I started the process of, of specializing, and that was quite slow. And it was very difficult. And it was scary as well, because I went through the same fears.
Alastair McDermott 41:49
I know that other people do where I was, I mean, you are literally turning down opportunity. That’s that’s what you’re doing in order to create better opportunity. But yeah, it was very scary. But I think that was probably the hardest thing for me. But I’m very glad that I did it. And I found it to be very beneficial. Excellent,
Al McBride 42:10
excellent. to flip that into a counterpoint. What are some of the red flags for you, when you see a client or a project that makes you think, ah, I need to back away from this one other than the specialisation, because that’s a little bit more obvious now.
Al McBride 42:26
But even in the last five or 10 years, you’ve learned a huge amount from more difficult clients or difficult projects, or how do you get better? So what are some of the red flags that you look out for?
Alastair McDermott 42:39
Well, I think that any kind of creative, or consultants, Freelancer or any anybody working in that world, who’s been around for a while, will have this kind of automatic, almost instinctual kind of red flag detector, where you look for things.
Alastair McDermott 42:58
The wording, the way that people word things. low end clients tend to be horrible customers. And so get out of the get out of the low end of the market. Don’t don’t do services for people with very little budget.
Alastair McDermott 43:16
They tend to want a lot more than people who have higher budgets, for some strange reason. Those who have larger budgets are much more reasonable, and their expectations are kind of more realistic. And that’s it. That’s a lesson that you learn, I think pretty quickly.
Al McBride 43:33
I mean, I remember all that. Because when I used to coach coaches, that’s what I one of the points I used to give them was, they had to do, you know, 50 hours, pro bono. And they were getting frustrated, the clients were only making a bit of progress.
Al McBride 43:47
It’s like, when the clients pay you money, their progress goes up, because it’s the whole story in their head of Oh, I’m paying money for this, therefore making this happen. Whereas pro bono, you’re thinking, Oh, well, we’re just seeing how it goes.
Al McBride 43:58
It’s much less skin in the game as I use the phrase. So we’re saying if you can get them any advancement and improvements for free, then you’re gonna do great when they’re paying you. Yeah,
Alastair McDermott 44:09
yeah. Then another thing is just any kind of micromanagement, and that’s usually easy, easy to detect, yeah. In the wording, and just people who don’t respect your time or just don’t seem to have respect for for you as a professional. And so
Al McBride 44:28
remember, we’ve had conversations about that one before where sometimes you and you know, people in the same boat, or similar boat, or sometimes people, you start in a very, I’ve taken in as an expert, and then the relationship doesn’t stay on that and that footing. I mean, that hasn’t been a problem for you for a few years now. But
Alastair McDermott 44:49
yeah, and I guess in part just because I spot those, I was just thinking another red flag indicator is somebody who’s determined to use one particular tool to solve a problem quite often Hmm.
Alastair McDermott 45:00
Quite often, again, it’s going to be a micromanagement thing. If they’ve decided this is what I want. Now, sometimes that’s not fair. Sometimes they have just made a good that they’ve started their analysis.
Alastair McDermott 45:12
But I think what what, you know, they’re they’re doing research into it and they think, Okay, this is, you know, for example, somebody says, Oh, we definitely want to do in WordPress. And that’s fair enough, you know, when I’m doing good logic behind that decision. But usually, it’s better to just revisit the original business goal and just verify, okay, does this actually meet the objectives?
Al McBride 45:32
Yeah, very good. Very good. And on that note, we’re coming to the last stretch here. But if someone wants to learn more about your industry, your area, so potentially either marketing but more so maybe this idea of authority marketing and and vertical specialization, what might be some of the books or blogs that you could point them to to get a better feel for that?
Al McBride 46:02
I mean, other than your own, of course, which will be very much prominent in the in the show notes, but is there anywhere else that you divide? Invite them to read?
Alastair McDermott 46:11
Or watch? So there’s, there’s a lot I mean, I can give you a list with to go in the show notes, I’ve suggested reading. But where would I start? I know that HubSpot have some good information, particularly their more recent blog posts.
Alastair McDermott 46:31
On inbound marketing, that’s a good place to kind of get a general idea for inbound marketing. If you’re in the professional services space, there’s guys like Jonathan Stark, Philip Morgan, Ian Brody, Drew McClellan, David C, Baker, Blair Ens, and I’ll give you links for those.
Alastair McDermott 46:51
And all of those are people who I would follow and listen and read what they put out. And personally, you can probably tell by the bookshelf behind me, personally, I love books. And I think that books are one of the single best investments you can make.
Alastair McDermott 47:06
Because it’s crazy to think that for just 20 quid, you can get the value of some experts, best ideas distilled down into this very easy to read format, usually Now, I know that sometimes sometimes the books aren’t so great, but a lot of the time, you can get incredibly valuable ideas and concepts from books. So I strongly recommend, you know, reading books from the from the top people, and if that’s if that’s your preference, you know,
Al McBride 47:35
absolutely, absolutely. Yeah. And those are those those are those names and those links to their blogs and to their books will be in the show notes. I just heard it I know a lot of the guys that you’re talking about but I just laughing because I haven’t heard of Blair Ens in a little while and he is a remarkable at negotiation. practitioner
Al McBride 47:56
Also how he trains because he works as you well though, with creatives in particular. And he does have some remarkable exercises he works people through to improve their negotiation.
Al McBride 48:10
Okay, mindset more than even our tactical level. Mm hmm. And so I’m a huge advocate of his so absolutely. And as you said, your mentor Philip Morgan and Jonathan Stark as well are
Alastair McDermott 48:22
Yeah, and by the way, most of those people are also on podcasts. Yeah, this is another great resource is is so the to Bob’s podcast is Blair ends and David C. Baker. Great has a great podcast with with Rochelle Moulton called the business of authority.
Alastair McDermott 48:42
That one I would really recommend for people want to get into kind of inbound marketing enough. So that will be that plus reading blogs like the HubSpot blog and and things like that. Yep.
Al McBride 48:56
It’s sounding stuff. All right, Alastair? We’ll, we’ll pause it there until we talk again. Thank you so much, my friend.
Alastair McDermott 49:03
Thanks for having me.
Al McBride 49:04
Absolutely. Brilliant stuff. Cheers. Talk soon.
Alastair McDermott 49:07
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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- Liston Witherill: Serve Don’t Sell https://servedontsell.com/
- Alastair’s coach: Specialist in Specialization Philip Morgan https://philipmorganconsulting.com/
- Rochelle Moulton: The Business of Authority https://rochellemoulton.com/
- Jonathan Stark: https://jonathanstark.com/
- Ian Brodie: https://www.ianbrodie.com/
- Drew McLellan: https://www.drewmclellan.com/
- David C Baker: https://www.davidcbaker.com/
- Blair Enns: https://www.winwithoutpitching.com/
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