Stories about Software


Why “I Do High Quality Work” Is Both Good Policy and Terrible Positioning

In a relatively recent post, I teased writing about the “attractive nuisance” of freelancers and aspiring business owners branding their work as “high quality.”  And now I’m going to do just that.  I think this is important.

But I’ve got to say, sometimes it feels like I’m just swimming in contrarian hot takes and click-baiting my way to, well… to I don’t know what exactly.  I mean, it’s not like I have any real mission on this site other than talking about whatever pops into my head.

Still, though.  I swear I’m not just an aspiring middle aged edgelord.  There is a method to the madness.

High Quality Work Itself is, Of Course, Desirable

To prove it, I’ll make clear that I have no actual problem with the ideas of doing things well, mastering skills or taking pride in one’s work.  I wouldn’t advise you to do things poorly.

After all, just recently, I re-caulked my shower and never once thought, “meh, I’ll just spray this stuff at the seams until it’s everywhere and call it a day.”  Instead, I got out the rubbing alcohol, putty knife, painter’s tape, and worried at it until I had a smooth, symmetrical bead.

Off the cuff, I’d say situations where doing shoddy work is any kind of advantage, in a vacuum, are really quite rare.  Maybe rapid prototyping or something…?  With most work personal and professional, there’s no need to overthink whether excellence trumps mediocrity.  It does.

The trouble is that positioning your work as “high quality” is a much different beast from doing work that is high quality (which, I might argue is just table stakes for conducing business and not a differentiator).

Confused?  No worries.  I’ll explain.

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Check Out This One Weird Trick for Entrepreneurial Success

Alright, I did it.

I finally created a blog post title so tongue-in-cheek that it came back around the other side of the screen, like in PacMan, and is actually kind of true.  Hear me out.

What I want to do here is offer one simple tactic — seriously, just one, and it is simple — to help you as a moonlighter, freelancer, or prospective business owner.

(Brief editorial aside.  Thanks for your patience with the lack of content here.  My wife and I had our first baby a month ago, and he came several weeks early, so it’s been a bit of an adventure.  But everybody is happy, healthy, tired, and working our way toward whatever normal life looks like from here forward.)

Info Product Marketing is A Desolate Space Wasteland

I don’t know if I’ve said this explicitly on the blog yet or not, but I have a hypothesis that info products aren’t really a viable standalone business.

They seem tantalizingly viable to side hustlers, but sustained success remains eternally out of reach.  You’ve just got to grind until, well… forever.  In that sense, they’re ironically identical to the very job they claim to replace with “money while you sleep.”

Because of this, info products and their beast masters have a marketing lifecycle that resembles a star:

  1.  They wink powerfully into existence with a fusion explosion of creativity and enthusiasm.
  2. During a stable period of hope, they burn their own fuel sustainably for a time.
  3. They burn through their reserves and bloat out into red giants, in an impressive display that actually represents their death throes.
  4. They leave behind a sad, dark husk that drifts unnoticed through the universe.

Due the sheer expanded volume of (3), this is the stage during which you’re most likely to encounter them.  This is the stage for the grinder’s grinder, going on an absolute blitz of guest blog posts, podcast appearances, and short-lived presences on community sites like DZone, dev.to, etc.

What you’ll encounter in this situation is someone on a veritable bender of “don’t miss out on this opportunity to learn the 12 secrets to earning a promotion from C++ Software Engineer III to C++ Software Engineer IV!”

If you give it a little thought, you’ll realize something.

They’re not actually solving any kind of problem that you have, or that anyone has, for that matter.  Instead, they’re just balling up whatever they’ve happened to do in the last few years, and desperately hawking it for $899 the steep, can-you-believe-it discount price of $199, ZOMG!!!!!

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Marketing 101: Marketing Isn’t What You Think It Is, Freelancers

I’ll admit that I’ve been beating around the bush for some time in my business of freelancing series.  Ever since my sales 101 primer, you all have been asking me to talk about marketing.

Specifically, this bit from the end of that post was of interest:

Which means that the key to a good, honest sales process, is a good, honest marketing apparatus.

So forget outsourcing your sales to unpaid or conflicted affiliates and don’t go overboard on warm or cold outreach.  Instead, start asking yourself the fundamental question, “how can I help good prospects find me on their own?”

A lot of people like the idea of prospects finding them.  And understandably so.

But I’ve demurred a bit, mainly because marketing without niching is kind of nonsense.  Generalists are commodity laborers, which means the only way to get prospects to come to you, really, is by being the cheapest option on a platform like Upwork (at least in terms of total cost of ownership since, remember, “I’m the best” == “I’m the cheapest in the long run.”)

So I’ve suggested that we need to work through some niche case studies in order to really get into the meat of marketing.  But I’m realizing that we don’t need to get into the meat for me to start teaching you a bit about it and to start you understanding it.

In that vein, today, I want to help you understand what marketing really, truly is, at its core.  And to do this requires clearing up a fundamental misunderstanding.

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It Turns Out Your Prospects Don’t Like When You Assume They’re Stupid

I’ve been traveling a lot lately.  And, while this is good for the vagabond’s soul, it’s not good for recording videos.

So instead of continuing to treat you to niche case studies (those are coming, though), I’m getting back to my roots and writing.  I’m going to classify this, like all of my other recent posts, as “business of freelancing.”  But it’s really a bit of an interlude, since it’s not a logical continuation of my last post, which was about how to conduct market research to identify niches.

For today’s post, let’s assume that you’ve either found a niche, or else are just flailing around as a generalist, and you’re doing some prospecting.  I want to talk about prospecting — specifically, one great way not to do it.

What is Prospecting?

Perhaps before we go barreling too far down the road to business acquisition anti-pattern, I should define what I mean by prospecting.

I’m not talking about going out and looking for oil or whatever, and I don’t really have a formal, official definition.  Instead, I’ll explain what this means to me so that you understand what, exactly, I’m talking about for the rest of the post.


  • Marketing is the process by which you create awareness of your offering.
  • Sales is the process of maneuvering leads (ideally, ones brought about through your marketing), through your sales process and to customers.

Clever readers may notice a gap here.

What if I don’t really have any marketing to speak of, and my phone isn’t ringing with inbound business?  How do I get leads into my sales process?

The various hustling you do to address this situation, dear reader, is known as prospecting.  (Please don’t confuse this with marketing.)

A Prospecting Example

If I were in your shoes, interested in learning about business concepts, I’d want a concrete example.  So, in true Golden Rule spirit, let me offer that.

My business, Hit Subscribe, is a specific kind of marketing partner.  We help dev tools companies make engineers aware of their offerings (usually via blog posts).  These days, I’m doing 2-3 sales calls per week, and here are the ways those come about:

  1. Inbound leads through word of mouth.  Current customers refer people they know, or customer contacts switch companies and bring us along for the ride.  This is an instance of marketing.
  2. People reach out because they read a guest post of mine somewhere or saw a talk.  This is another instance of marketing — specifically content marketing.
  3. I hang out places where our customers hang out, introduce myself, and forge relationships.  This is prospecting.

In the loosest sense, I think of marketing as strategies to facilitate passive (from your vantage point) awareness.  If Hit Subscribe impresses a customer into a referral, or someone reads a blog post I wrote and reaches out, we’re expending no specific effort to reach this person.

But prospecting is active and tailored.  You’re identifying and targeting possible customers.

And because you’re initiating the relationship, you need to exercise a lot more care in how you do this.  Which brings me to the meat of the post.

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Conducting Market Research Calls to Identify and Validate Niches

Recently in this series, I wrote about how you don’t “pick” niches.  Rather, you discover potential niches, form a niche hypothesis, and then validate them.

I also recommended two pretty dependable ways to validate (and, if needed, tune) them:

  1. Creating valuable content around the niche hypothesis.
  2. Conducting market research.

Today, I’d like to focus on this second concern.  Let’s do a deep dive on scheduling and conducting market research calls.

Understand the Lay of the Land

Before I go into detail, I want to establish some ground rules to help you not be awful.

When people help you with your market research, there’s extremely limited upside for them.  Basically just the opportunity to have someone interview them and express interest in their opinions.  But that’s really it.

So make no mistake.  This is a one-sided exchange and they are doing you a favor.  As such, the least you can do is walk in the safe middle between these two extreme behaviors that will make them low-key hate you:

  1. You claim to want to pick their brain but, bait and switch by begging them to pay you to do something.
  2. You truly want to pick their brain, but have no focus or agenda, so you turn the call into undirected career advice and therapy.

Veering toward either one of these danger zones is a veritable blueprint for how to suck.  You need to stay in the middle by having a focused agenda, but with no expectation beyond the meeting itself.

And the easiest way to do that is to recognize that either one of the danger paths involves making the conversation about you and your needs.  This conversation is, instead, about them and theirs.  If you keep that top of mind, you’ll do fine.

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