Consulting Tips

Zoom Bingo

April 16, 2021

What’s missing that you’d add to a video conference bingo card?

What didn’t work

On his podcast Invest Like the Best, Patrick O’Shaughnessy has a great interview with Jesse Pujji (iTunes), the former CEO and co-founder of Ampush, a leading performance marketing firm.

The episode is an excellent introduction to what performance marketing is and how it works.

One quote in particular from Pujji really struck me: whenever he hears a client say “that doesn’t work,” he encourages the client to restate it as “the last time we tried that, it didn’t work for us.

Leaving open the possibility that under different circumstances, or with a slightly different approach, “that” might work in the future.

Need-Payoff Questions

March 26, 2021

Setting: An initial discussion with a client who needs help on Project X. You’re excited because you’ve done Project X before, and you’ve shared convincing evidence that you’re an X-pert.

In this scenario, it is easy to forget to establish with the client the business value at stake.

After all, the client wants a problem solved, and you can solve it.

And yet the client may not have thought through the business value of solving the problem.

Having an explicit discussion makes the business implications more salient, and puts your fee in context with the expected return.

Neil Rackham calls these “Need-Payoff Questions” and covers them in Chapter 4 of Spin Selling.
David A. Fields covers these in the chapters on the Context Discussion in The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients.

Here are a few:

  • How would this help your business?
  • How will it be useful if [we get these insights from consumers / improve throughput on the line / get top team alignment / …]
  • In what other ways could this help?
  • Why do you think it would be a good idea to…
  • Why do you need to….
  • How will it benefit your customers if….
  • What impact will it have if…..
  • How will profitability / customer retention / sales productivity change if…
  • Let’s assume the project is complete and has been very successful. Tell me how your world is different.
  • What would this let us do that we can’t do right now?

Create a target list of clients

March 19, 2021

Periodically I speak with consultants who are looking for advice on business development.

One of the questions I ask is whether the consultant has created a target list of clients – not just in their brain but on paper or in a spreadsheet.

Usually the answer is no.

One of the reasons we avoid doing this, I think, is that when we get explicit on which specific clients we’d like to serve, we must be willing to make choices and exclude every other company. (And we might miss an opportunity!!)

But the Universe favors focus, and a sort of magic happens when we find clarity on what problems we want to solve and for whom we want to solve them.

Once you have a target list, you can show it to people.

And you can ask a question that I learned from a career coach, Ellis Chase, fifteen years ago.

NOT: “Do you know someone at one of these companies.”

The question to ask instead is: “What do you think of this list?”

That question opens possibilities:

Perhaps the person will suggest other companies you should add (now that they know the type of client you’re interested in.)
Or tell you that one company on your list is actually a terrible choice.
Or offer to make an intro.

A list shows you’ve done your homework.
A list tells you who you need to call.
A list is a sign that you’ve turned pro.

Collecting fees on time

March 12, 2021

n Episode 373 of Unleashed, I share tips on how to increase the chances that your client will pay you on time, based on my experience collecting on 1,500+ invoices over the last 13 years.

The episode covers:

1. What to include in the contract
2. Questions to ask after the contract is signed
3. What to include on your invoice
4. How to follow up after sending your invoice

You can listen on the website or subscribe to the show on iTunes or Spotify.

Or if you aren’t into listening you can download a transcript.

Capturing attention with your email footer

Cyril Lagrange has the the most useful and engaging email footer I’ve come across. He gave me permission to share.

Here’s the email footer:


The first link takes you to his one-page website: a simple, clean, professional design (and a nice model if you’re ready to create your own website.)



The “My Favorite Digital Workplaces and Solutions” link takes you to this Airtable view of Cyril’s favorite tools:



The Credentials link takes you to his project list, also built in Airtable. Not everyone can get permission to list all clients publicly. If you can, it does help build credibility.



And the Toolbox link takes you to a Notion page that displays the frameworks and tools Cyril uses in his practice.


Ryan Holiday’s 100 Rules of Life

This list of 100 Rules of Life from Ryan Holiday has some real gems. A few of my favorites:

28. Do the verb, rather than being the noun.

39. When evaluating an opportunity, ask yourself: What will teach me the most?

62. Belief in yourself is overrated. Generate evidence.

87. Have unrelated hobbies.

Identify your core network

February 26, 2021

In a book that I recommend every consultant read, The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients: 6 Steps to Unlimited Clients & Financial Freedom, David A. Fields explains how to identify your core network.

This is a useful exercise. If you go through the steps, you’ll almost certainly find names you had forgotten about who you’ll want to reach out to.

Once you’ve identified your core network, you can establish at what periodicity you want to reach out to each person on your list. (Try quarterly for the A1s and at least annually for the B1s and A2s.)

Since I often find myself on calls suggesting that people follow David’s approach, I decided to publish a podcast episode summarizing what I learned from David’s book and our discussions. Check out Episode 357 of Unleashed.

By the way, definitely sign up to get David’s blog posts by email. Great tips every week.

Comparison of common entity types

February 22, 2021

[Download the above chart comparing entity types.]

Independent consultants starting out often ask what type of entity they should use to establish their practice.

Episode 353 of Unleashed could be helpful for consultants in the U.S. who have not yet established their entity.

In this episode, Jonah Gruda reviews the most relevant aspects of the five types of entities that are most commonly considered:

  1. Sole proprietorship
  2. Partnership
  3. Limited Liability Company
  4. S-Corporation
  5. C-Corporation

For each entity type, Jonah reviews:

  1. Formation requirements
  2. Liability Exposure
  3. Taxation at the entity level
  4. Tax rates
  5. Tax reporting
  6. Compensation
  7. Number of owners
  8. Self-employment tax

Jonah Gruda is a Tax Partner at Mazars and specializes in income taxation, executive compensation and stock option planning, estate and gift planning and wealth preservation.

Jonah can be contacted through Mazars or LinkedIn. Or by email:

Accepting payment by credit card

February 12, 2021

Since I started my own practice 13 years ago, last week was the first time that I received payment for a consulting project by credit card.

It turned out to be simpler than I expected to set up. We already had a Stripe account for accepting payments for the Guide to Setting Up Your Own Consulting Practice. I entered the payment info on Friday and had the funds in our checking account on Tuesday.

I don’t recommend taking credit cards if you can avoid it – we lost 3% to Stripe – but in this case the client insisted.

In Episode 347 of Unleashed I discuss my experience accepting credit card payment, including the couple steps involved to receive the full 16 digit number.

Create a comprehensive project list

February 5, 2021


Helpful exercise: Create a comprehensive list of every project you’ve worked on – as an independent, as a member of a firm, as an employee in industry.

You can download a template here.

Fields to consider including:

  • Name of client company
  • Name of client executive
  • Client team members
  • Consulting team members
  • Project start date
  • Project end date
  • My employer at the time
  • Primary location
  • Description (situation; what did I do; what was the impact)
  • Industry
  • Function
  • Completed a case study?
  • Sanitized work product available to share?
  • Obtained a client recommendation?
  • Client willing to serve as reference?

A comprehensive project list proves handy when you are asked to share your relevant experience on a particular topic. Just copy and paste.

Most people who do this exercise remember names of clients whom they ought to follow up with, leading to business development opportunities.

In Episode 140 of Unleashed, Jay Martin shares with me the benefits he has seen from maintaining an exhaustive project list.

Show and Tell

January 29, 2021

“Show and Tell” is more powerful than “Tell.”

When independent consultants ask what’s the one thing they can do to increase the conversion rate of leads into projects, my answer is:

Create a portfolio of your templates and sanitized samples of your work.

When a client hires McKinsey, Bain, BCG, Deloitte, KPMG, LEK, or any other top firm, the client has a good sense of what she is going to get.

The output will look like the decks from previous projects, with different words and numbers.

When a client who hasn’t worked with you thinks about hiring you, however, she isn’t sure what you’ll deliver.

Yes, you said very nice things in the proposal meeting.

And you have a resume that suggests you did work like this before.

But can you still produce pages? Have you done this on your own?

Some independent consultants tell me that because of non-disclosure agreements, they can’t share any client work, even sanitized.

In that case, hire yourself and produce some sample output. This is possible whatever type of work you do.

Example: Commercial due diligence
Pick a company that interests you and create pages of total addressable market, competitor overview, value chain, product comparison, voice of the customer insights (do a few expert interviews). Prepare interview guides and the 3-week workplan.

Example: Marketing
Pick a industry you are familiar with and create a customer segmentation, a brand launch plan, a product roadmap. Write the consumer survey, the brief for the focus group.

Example: Leadership develop or top team alignment
Write a case study, Harvard Business School style, using pseudonyms for the executives. Describe the viewpoints of each stakeholder and what they experienced during the strategy offsite that you led

Example: Change management
Invent a scenario (e.g., roll out of a new ERP to the whole global finance team) and write a set of communications materials – the announcement, the training PPT, the sequenced roll-out plan, the FAQ

I’ve found that only 10-15% of independent consultants have samples of sanitized work ready to share and that those consultants are about twice as likely to get selected by a client after an initial meeting.

More thoughts on this in Episode 121 of Unleashed.

Why create content on a regular basis?

January 22, 2021

If you are planning to start a blog or a newsletter or podcast or other form of regular content creation, it is worth taking time up front to articulate – at least to yourself – your objectives.

It is easy to get distracted by metrics such as number of views or downloads, when those may have no relation to the reason you decided to create content in the first place.

For example, if your primary goal is to build relationships with potential clients by interviewing them for your blog or podcast, then the audience size doesn’t matter. You could meet your objectives with zero downloads.

On the other hand, if your goal is to build a marketing funnel for some paid product, then you do care about having an audience – but only to the degree that your audience includes potential buyers.

Here’s a incomplete list of reasons why you might want to create content – I add more color in Episode 344 of Unleashed.

1. Learn about a topic
2. Research for a book
3. Develop your skills
4. Business relationships with:
a. Potential clients
b. Potential partners
c. Potential suppliers
d. Authors
e. Other cool people
5. Marketing funnel for a paid product
6. Establish credibility
7. Have a reason to reach out regularly to network
8. Discover what you think
9. Become more observant
10. Help others
11. Save time by recording the advice you keep giving one-on-one
12. Just feel a need to express yourself
13. Monetize with advertising

Intermediate lenses for working on screens

January 15, 2021

I’ve worn glasses since 9th grade. My corrected vision has always been fine.

Then three years ago, age 47, I was experiencing serious eye fatigue when working on the computer.

I couldn’t keep the text in focus.

Over the course of a year, seemed like the problem was gradually getting worse.

I thought: “too much screen time, too much blue light.”

Finally I visited the optometrist. She gave me a prescription for intermediate lenses, designed for looking at a screen about two feet away.

I didn’t even know that was a thing.

Got a dedicated pair of glasses with these intermediate lenses and – boom – problem solved. Sharp focus, no eye strain.

If you know someone complaining of eye strain, ask them if they’ve talked to their optometrist about intermediate lenses.

21 business development ideas for 2021

January 8, 2021

Here’s 21 business development ideas to start off 2021, along with links to relevant Unleashed episodes:

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

Get bad at something

January 1, 2021

Develop expertise. Become the best in your niche. We often hear that advice, and I’ve probably said it a few times.

Well, there’s also value in becoming BAD at something – particularly considering the incremental value per unit effort.

Example from chess:

If you have never played before and don’t know the rules, you are not even bad at chess. You are level 0. When people talk about the game, you have no intuition at all of what chess feels like.

Now let’s say you spend a full weekend with a patient tutor who teaches you the rules of chess, and you play a couple dozen games.

You are now bad at chess. Level 1. Any competent player will easily defeat you.

And yet you can now enjoy playing a game with someone at your level.

And you can imagine what it might be like to spend years studying openings and getting better.

Your universe has expanded.

A professional example: Tableau

If you’ve never programmed Tableau at all (level 0), it is difficult to manage a Tableau expert.

But with three or four days of self-study, you can get to level 1. Now you know what to ask an expert to do, even if you can’t do it yourself.

The value of going from level 0 to level 1 is  greater than going from level 4 to level 5. As Tyler Cowen has written, “average is over.”

One strategy for life, then, is to become truly world class in one or two areas, and to get bad at lots of things.

100 Tips for a Better Life

December 24, 2020

Here’s a set of 100 tips for a better life published by Ideopunk on the blog LessWrong.

Check the link for the full list.  #100 is a good reminder:

“Bad things happen dramatically (a pandemic). Good things happen gradually (malaria deaths dropping annually) and don’t feel like ‘news’. Endeavour to keep track of the good things to avoid an inaccurate and dismal view of the world.”

Conduct an annual review

December 18, 2020

The end of the year provides a good occasion to reflect on what went well and what could have been improved. And to set priorities for the year ahead.

If you are looking for a template or set of prompts, here are five to check out:

For the past week I’ve been spending a half-hour each morning writing responses to prompts in The Ultimate Annual Review, created by Steve Schlafman.

Tara McMullin assembled this list of 30 Questions for Reviewing An Unusual Year.

A classic guide is Chris Guillebeau: How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review.

Hannah Braime, on her blog BecomingWhoYouAre, posted How to Do a Personal End-Of-Year Review

And Jay and Wendy Papasan offer the Kick Ass Guide To Your Couples Goal Setting Retreat, which you and your partner could easily spend a whole weekend working through

Update your email display name

December 11, 2020

You might check how your professional email appears in the inbox of recipients by sending yourself an email to a personal account.

Some issues I commonly see:

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

What’s the impact?

  1. The sender looks just a bit unprofessional to every recipient
  2. Adds a stumbling block when recipients using an iPhone try to Add Contact. Instead of first and last names automatically populating, the email address shows as the first name
  3. Makes it harder for the recipient to search for the sender by name in their inbox

Good news: Fixing your “display name” takes less than five minutes.

Users of Gmail and G-suite
Users of Microsoft

And of course you should not be using a personal email for consulting work.
If you are still using a gmail, yahoo, hotmail, or aol account, consider taking 30 minutes to buy a domain and get a professional email address.
In a previous survey, 2/3 of community members with a professional email address use G-Suite, 1/3 use Microsoft, and a tiny percentage use some other provider.

Adding addresses to an email

December 4, 2020

I used to start writing an email by first adding all the email addresses.

And then, once, I accidentally hit ‘Send’ on an email to clients when the email was still very much in draft form.

New habit:

Write the email first, polish it, review it: and THEN add the email addresses as the last step.

Talk less / Ask more questions

November 27, 2020

On several occasions recently, well-qualified consultants didn’t get a project because, in the initial call with the client, the consultants spent too much time talking about their own experience.

Consultants may ask about our experience.

But they actually don’t care about our great case examples.

They care about their problem.

If clients do ask, “Tell me about your relevant experience in the widget industry,” try responding with a question instead of answering.

“Sure, happy to discuss some related work I’ve done. First, I’d love to understand a bit more about your current challenge so I can share the most relevant examples…”

Shift the conversation to the client’s problem and don’t look back.

Here are some questions off the top of my head – by no means an exhaustive list. Several of these I learned from David A. Fields:

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

Discussing these questions is a lot more interesting to the client than hearing about that similar project you did three years ago.

Portable monitor for a second screen

November 20, 2020


I got this tip from my son’s friend, who is staying with us at the farm for a week (after a negative COVID test.)

Izzy pulled his laptop for schoolwork out of his bookbag and then pulled out this 15.6 inch portable LED monitor to serve as a second screen.

The monitor – about the size of a Macbook – fits into a convenient carrying sleeve.

At home I’ve got two 27-inch monitors, but I’ll admit – I was not aware that “portable monitor” is even a product category.

I immediately bought one for myself to use as a second monitor when traveling. ($99 on Amazon.)

New service offering for members: LinkedIn sourcing

November 13, 2020

A new service that we’re offering to members – custom LinkedIn sourcing.

How it works: You let us know a set of criteria to filter on and the fields you’d like to get, and we’ll create a Google sheet with LinkedIn contacts, as in the example above.

A few use cases for this service are:

1) Business development – get a list of execs in your target niche
2) Identifying experts to interview for a project
3) Due diligence: identify every employee at a company to build an org chart outside-in

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

This service is for those members who don’t want to go through all the hassle of finding someone and training them.

We have hired a team of full time employees, trained them, and paid for LinkedIn Sales Navigator subscriptions.

Our current pricing on this service:
US$100 gets you a full 8-hour shift.  This will usually get you about ~200-300 LinkedIn contacts with 5-6 columns of data.  If you want more columns of data, or have more strict search criteria, you’ll get fewer, and if you just want name and LinkedIn URL you’ll probably get more.  (During this trial period, the service is available only in units of 8-hour shifts.)

100% money-back guarantee if you aren’t satisfied.

Turnaround time: We’ll start on the next available shift (shifts start 8 p.m. EST Sunday – Thursday) unless we’re already fully booked for that shift.

If you’d like to use the service, submit your request here. to hire a virtual worker in the Philipppines

November 6, 2020

You can hire a college-educated full time employee – 40 hours per week –  based in the Philippines for ~US$400 – $800 per month.

Consider what you could achieve with that leverage.

The best site that I’m aware of for hiring a full time employee in the Philippines is

You pay a flat fee of $69 per month to post a job and review resumes. You can hire employees directly without going through the site, and once you’ve found someone, you can cancel the month subscription.

The magic of one hour

November 3, 2020

There’s a certain magic in starting.

We may have the idea for a bold new initiative, think about it for months, making no progress.

Setting aside one hour, we get started.

And then, the universe conspires to bring the project to fruition.

This Sunday, many of us will get a free hour when we turn back the clocks.

Some ideas for what I call Start-Something Sunday:

1. Register a domain for that new company you’ll start

2. Sign up for a course on Coursera, Udacity, edX, LinkedIn Learning, or other site

3. Write the outline of a webinar or course you could teach

4. Create an account on Libsyn for your new podcast

5. Set up a note-taking system using Evernote, Roam Digital. or Notion and begin creating what Tiago Forte calls your Second Brain

6. Send a hard-written note to a former mentor letting her know what you’ve been up to recently

7. Get a Squarespace account and finally start building your website

8. Learn a sun salutation sequence to invigorate your mornings

Transferwise to send international payments

October 30, 2020

Thanks for Margarita Soto for obtaining this new benefit for Umbrex members:

I’ve found Transferwise to be the best way to send or receive funds when a currency exchange is involved.

If I receive an international wire transfer via my bank, they charge a hefty fee – not as an explicit line item, but built into an unfavorable exchange rate.

If I receive the same payment via Transferwise, however, I end up with ~2% more funds received.

And when I’m sending funds when a currency exchange is involved, the recipient will get ~2% more if I use Transferwise than if I use my bank.

Also, Transferwise allows you to create accounts in different currencies – so if a client is paying me in GBP or euros or CHF, I can hold onto the funds in that currency, and use it to pay a subcontractor in that currency in the future, without having to convert to and from USD.  I discuss Transferwise in more detail in Episode 247 of Unleashed.

Morning pages

October 27, 2020

Julia Cameron introduced the concept of morning pages in her seminal book, The Artist’s Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self.

The idea is simple enough: every morning, within forty-five minutes of waking up, you sit down and write whatever comes into your head, for roughly fifteen minutes.

It is not intended to be a journal.

You aren’t intended to ever read the entry again.

Just write.

Many people have reported making stunning personal and creative breakthroughs after adopting this practice.

You could consider it a form of meditation.

I’ve been writing morning pages every day for the last two months. (While the canonical approach is to write at least three pages in long-hand, I type on the Belkin keyboard of my iPad.) For me, the practice helps reduce mental chatter, provides a sense of calm, and has led to some ideas I’m excited to implement.

Mekko Graphics

October 14, 2020


Mekko Graphics is a plug-in originally developed for Bain that enables consultants using Excel or PowerPoint to quickly create compelling and insightful charts that go far beyond the standard built-in options.

Seriously, check out this PPT deck with 250 beautiful charts.

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

Begin building your own second brain

October 13, 2020

As knowledge workers, each one of us is running our own knowledge factory, but school and most workplaces teach us to run our ‘factory’ more like an artisan’s bespoke workshop, with each knowledge product we ship lovingly hand-carved and made-to-order.

Last Friday I shared the productivity lessons I learned from taking Tiago Forte’s course Building A Second Brain.

In case you missed it, here is a recording. (To see subtitles* when watching the video, click “CC.”)

I’d encourage you to check out the course. Next cohort will start in spring 2021. Link:

In the meantime, check out Tiago Forte’s blog, Praxis. A good post to start with is The PARA Method: A Universal System for Organizing Digital Information.


*PS: How to add subtitles to a video:
From or other transcript service, get a .srt file (not a .doc file).
Then after you upload your video, you will also upload the .srt file.
Here are instructions for LinkedInVimeo, and Youtube.


October 6, 2020

I dictated this section and had it transcribed with the app.  I haven’t fixed any typos, just added line breaks

Otter is a very powerful. Artificial Intelligence transcription tool. That’s very affordable for just $10, a month, you get 6000 minutes of transcription, that works out to .16 cents per minute. Here’s three ways you can use it.

Number one, when you’re out and about. You can leave yourself a voice memo, and have it transcribed and email to yourself.

Number two, if you have an existing audio recording. You can have it transcribed and that works very easily by just dropping the file into a dropbox folder.

Number three, you can connect otter to a zoom meeting and get live transcription. So check it out. It’s

Use Airr to “highlight” and save clips from podcasts

September 29, 2020

I’m loving Airr, a podcast player app that allows you to highlight and share clips from podcasts.

When you are listening to a podcast and hear something you’d like to save or share, you just click a button.

By default the app selects a 45 second clip surrounding that point in time. You can adjust the start and stop point, and then title the clip.

Some of the more popular podcasts include transcripts.  You can click on the transcript and jump to that section of the audio. With these shows, when you save an AirrQuote, you get the relevant section of the transcript as well as the audio clip.

You can export your AirrQuote to Evernote, email it, or export it in a variety of other ways.

You can also make the AirrQuote public, like I did with this clip about the pre-game rituals of professional athletes from The Productivity Show. (That conversation got me thinking about how business professionals could design a pre-game ritual to prepare for the work day – a potential future podcast topic.)

Use Readwise to capture, review, and integrate insights from books

September 22, 2020

Do you find yourself reading books with amazing insights that you expect will transform your thinking — and then six months later you can’t even remember what the book was about?

Happens to me all the time.

I just signed up for an account with Readwise, which aims to address this problem.

Readwise sends you a daily email with text that you have highlighted when reading Kindle books, so you can review the passages you previously captured.

The tool also allows you to automatically sync the text of all those highlights to an Evernote account, where you can then integrate the passages into your own creative work.

Prefer physical books? With Readwise you can snap a photo of a page in a book. The app converts the image to text with OCR, and then you can highlight that text and save to your account.

IFTTT to connect your applications

September 13, 2020

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

No coding required.

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

For more advanced integration options, check out Zapier.

Twelve Favorite Problems

September 11, 2020

This tip is from an exercise we did last week in Tiago Forte’s Building a Second Brain course.

Write down your twelve “favorite problems” and save in your notes app or desktop or some place you’ll see regularly.

The idea being: by writing them down and reviewing periodically, your mind will be working on these problems in the background.

Here are some examples from those shared by participants in the course:

How can I spend 75% of my time doing work that inherently gives me joy?

What actions can I take as a dad to develop resilient, clever, and kind children?

How can remote health monitoring help patients manage chronic diseases?

What am I going to do once my purchase agreement/employment contract ends with the company we sold our business to?

Show people how to pronounce your name on LinkedIn

September 7, 2020

LinkedIn launched a feature in July that lets you show people how to pronounce your name.

If anyone has ever been unsure how to pronounce your name, consider taking thirty seconds to add the pronunciation to your profile.

Just open the LinkedIn app, click to edit your profile, and click on the banner.

Read it later with Instapaper or Pocket

September 4, 2020

Another recommendation from the Building a Second Brain Course: save articles and long newsletters to a read-later app.

This allows you to avoid distractions throughout the day and schedule focused reading time.

I’ve set up auto-forwarding filters for the newsletters I subscribe to.

The two leading apps are Instapaper and Pocket.

They have similar functionality. This Medium article can help you choose.

Todoist task manager

September 3, 2020

I’ve tried using a digital task manager in the past, but gave up.

My list of to-dos was unorganized and became unmanageable.

For the last five years, I’ve used a notebook, writing a new task list each day, by hand.

I do like the physicality of the paper, but I often lose track of longer-term action items.

On Saturday, I set up a Todoist account, and it feels like a massive weight has been taken off my shoulders.

The key has been organizing tasks into a system of projects and areas, per Tiago Forte’s PARA method.

Todoist is a delight to use.  Syncs across all devices, of course. Easily add a task from email. Move projects up and down to prioritize.

Note: Tiago Forte uses the task manager Things, but that tool is not available for the PC.

Neverbounce to validate email addresses

September 1, 2020

If you – or your client – ever needs to verify that a set of emails are valid, Neverbounce is a useful tool.

I recently used it to validate a list of 2,700 emails.  Simple to use.

I uploaded a CSV file and within a couple minutes Neverbounce tested them all and identified 21 emails that are no longer valid.

Cost: $40 buys you credits to test 5,000 emails.

Free course: Twitter Growth, Influence & Monetization

August 28, 2020

This free course launched last Friday and so far 1,874 people have signed up for it.  About four hours of video content.

I went through 85% of the course videos over the weekend and highly recommend it to anyone who is – like me – new to Twitter and trying to figure out how to use Twitter (and not be used BY Twitter.)

Sign up for the course here:

Online workshops to enhance your skills

August 25, 2020

A few workshops that look awesome. I’d do all of these if I had the time.

The Marketing Seminar:  “An Akimbo workshop for marketers who want to grow.” Registration for the next session starts September 15. Also check out the other workshops run by Akimbo, founded by Seth Godin.

Building a Second Brain: “Helping people save their best ideas, organize their learning, and dramatically expand their creative output.” Enrollment for the next cohort is open now through August 24.

Write of Passage: “Accelerate your career by writing online.” Next cohort starts January 27, 2021

How are you planning to invest in your skills this fall?

Cover emails that work when responding to project opportunities

August 18, 2020

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

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

Welcoming new member Sara Zanichelli

Umbrex is pleased to welcome Sara Zanichelli. Sara has 10+ years of strategy consulting experience, as core member of Financial Services Practice at BCG and previously at Simon-Kucher & Partners (recognized as world leader in pricing consultancy). After BCG, she held managerial roles in ING Bank (innovative digital bank, agile pioneer), being responsible for customer value management (marketing, pricing, customer intelligence, complains) and later serving as tribe leader for lending products.

Sara spent the last 6 months in Qatar, working on digital strategy and transformation projects at Oliver Wyman. She is in the process of relocating to Singapore with her husband.

Sara is happy to collaborate on digital transformation and marketing projects.

Google Calendar keyboard shortcuts

August 11, 2020


These shortcuts are handy for anyone using Google Calendar.

Not shown at left:
6 –> Full year view

Other shortcuts are here.

Five minutes that can save hours:

Whatever product you use, try doing a search for ” [product name] keyboard shortcuts”


August 4, 2020

While 170,000 companies are using Airtable, I only just heard of this tool, from Kim Calichio when we recorded Episode 310 of Unleashed. She and her team have been using Airtable to manage a volunteer-run effort that is feeding 700 families per week in New York City.

The Airtable website calls itself “part spreadsheet, part database” – looks like a powerful tool worth learning about.

Building Relationships Using LinkedIn

Several members who could not join live asked for the recording of the July 23 webinar I did with Sree Sreenivasan and Dorie Clark on how to build relationships using LinkedIn.

Sree is a leading thinker on the use of social media, and he has given training on social media around the world.  He has been the Chief Digital Officer of New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Columbia University. Since the pandemic started he has been leading a daily live call with experts.

Dorie was named one of the Top 50 Business Thinkers in the World by Thinkers50, and the #1 Communication Coach in the World by Marshall Goldsmith Leading Global Coaches Awards. She writes regularly for the Harvard Business Review and is the author of the bestseller Entrepreneurial You.


All of a sudden I’ve been hearing about Mural, “a digital workspace for visual collaboration.” While they’ve been around since 2011, have 100 employees, and received $23M in funding in January 2020, seems like COVID has been driving their growth as more people work remotely.

Check out the 100+ visual facilitation templates for everything from workshop planning to storyboarding to service blueprint.

8 ways to find a job during the pandemic

On Thursday, July 16, from 12-1 p.m. I’m leading an interactive discussion to cover eight ways to find a job during the pandemic.

Primarily targeted at recent grads of college or B-school.  Non-recent grads welcome too.

If you know someone who is looking, please feel free to share the link to register:

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

Mid-Year Review

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

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

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

Pro-active, ongoing LinkedIn connection request strategy

Consider setting up an ongoing program of sending connection requests on LinkedIn to build your professional network in your niche.

This is in addition to sending connection requests to all the clients you work with and others whom you interact with.

Steps to do this:

  1. Decide on the profile of the person you’d like to connect with.
  2. Develop a reason for individuals who fit that profile to connect with you. Also note that, counterintuitively, some people may be more willing to connect to provide YOU with help than to RECEIVE your help. So consider asking for help.A few connection request ideas:
    – I’m doing a project on XYZ and would value your insights
    – I’m organizing this virtual event, would you like an invitation?
    – I’m organizing a community for people interested in XYZ
    – Would love to interview you for my blog/podcast/white paper
    – I’m a fellow alum of Famous College. Would be grateful to get your advice on ABC
  3. Pay a freelancer to create a Google sheet for you listing people who fit the target profile.  Sheet should have columns:
    – First name
    – Last name
    – Current job title
    – Current employer
    – LinkedIn URL
    – Location (maybe)
  4. Send your personalized LinkedIn connection requests to those on the sheet. Add columns to track:
    – Date connection request sent
    – Email address of the person (if they connect with you)
    – Status of your follow-up

NOTE: If you get flagged by too many recipients as “I don’t know this person,” then LinkedIn will remove your ability to send connection requests unless you know the recipient’s email address. In general, if you send < 50 connection requests per day and at least 20% of the requests are accepted and only a small number are flagged “I don’t know this person,” you should be OK.
So start small – just 10 per day – and check the response rate.

On the browser version of LinkedIn, you get prompted if you want to add a personalized note – you should always do that.

On the LinkedIn app, perversely, LinkedIn hides the personalized invite three levels down. So following the above program is much easier on the browser.

If you DO want to send a connection request with the app, here is how to personalize it:

How to write a consulting proposal

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

Here are the slides.

Here is a proposal template in Word.

Business Insurance

If you are looking to get business insurance, check out this episode of The Umbrex Guide to Setting Up Your Own Consulting Practice.

This episode includes an overview of 33 different types of business insurance that independent consultants may consider purchasing.

Build your virtual team

As an independent professional without the infrastructure of a large firm we need to build our own virtual team.

Section 4 of The Umbrex Guide to Setting Up Your Own Consulting Practice has 13 videos on this topic, with tips on how to find:

  • Administrative Assistant
  • Bookkeeper
  • Tax Accountant
  • Attorney
  • Insurance Broker
  • Remote IT support
  • Research support

Family photo album

Recommended if you’ve got some time available:

In 2009 I curated all the digital photos the family had taken during the year and made a 100-page, 11″x14″ photo book. Since then, I’ve made it an annual practice, and for the total joy received it has been one of my best time investments (30-40 hours each year to curate 20K digital photos down to ~200-300).

With changing digital formats and changing platforms, digital photos are evanescent. Unlikely your grandkids in 50 years will be able to access your Facebook or Instagram account; but a printed album can still be on the shelf.

I used to use MyPublisher until they shut down. Now I use Shutterfly. The premium 11×14 books are expensive (~$300 if you add 100 pages) but if you design it and wait around, you’ll eventually get an email with a 60-70% discount code.

Recording family history during the pandemic

Recommended pandemic activity: record family history.

Every Sunday morning for the past nine weeks, I’ve recorded an hour-long call with my dad. So far we’ve covered his time in elementary school, high school, college, the Army, grad school, meeting my mom, his professional career as a nuclear engineer, and my childhood. You can hear the most recent discussion, on his second career as a handyman, which he enjoyed a lot more than designing fuel for nuclear power plants.

Some of my dad’s stories are new to me, some I’ve never heard before; I’m glad to have this chance to preserve them.
Meanwhile, our kids have been interviewing their abuelita each week, and those calls help lift her spirits.

Whiteboard apps for videoconferences

One aspect of in-person meetings that I’ve missed in the age of the videoconference is the ability to stand around a whiteboard and brainstorm.

This week I discovered that Zoom has a whiteboard feature built in. You need to enable the annotation feature (instructions here).

If you’re on the Zoom on your laptop, you can join the Zoom with your tablet and then click Share / Whiteboard, and you’ll be able to draw with your finger or tablet pen. You can also enable such that a group of users can annotate in parallel, though I haven’t mastered that.

Enhance your information security

April 28, 2020

Hacking is up during the coronavirus pandemic.

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

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

Create an estate plan

If you don’t have an estate plan in place already, PLEASE get one drafted up, now.

The ROI is dramatic:

Attorney’s fees to draft up a full estate plan including a trust, power of attorney, health care proxy, all the guardian designation documents: ~$5,000.

Cost to go through probate if you don’t have a trust when you die: ~5-10% of your estate, plus all assets tied up for 9-12 months.

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

  • What information you should gather before meeting with a trust and estates attorney?
  • What is the benefit of creating a will?
  • What are the benefits of creating a trust?
  • What are the considerations in designating a guardian for your children?
  • What other documents, besides a will or trust, should be included in an estate plan?
  • How much will it cost to have the documents prepared?
  • Why not use LegalZoom?
  • How to select a trust and estates attorney

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

Making productive use of time when projects get delayed

March 31, 2020

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

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

In Episode 236, I discuss how I use Evernote as my external brain. Evernote is a note-taking app on steroids.

In Episode 237, I discuss MixMax, which gives you email superpowers (if you use Gmail or G-Suite.)

In Episode 238, I cover 17 technology tools you may want to set up for your practice.

Episode 239 covers 14 ideas for investing in your marketing collateral.

Competitive Intelligence Firms

March 24, 2020

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

Data room tools recommended by the community

March 17, 2020

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

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

Additional Tips:

  • Utilize tools to restrict the most sensitive information to “view only” — no printing or downloading. Remember, there is no requirement to put information in a data room, and sometimes the best way to share information is in-person
  • Review usage metrics daily to ensure other party(ies) are keeping their commitments, and real deal work is occurring. Look for signs of inappropriate user id/password sharing as well – eg, one user has connected from 10 different devices
  • Due diligence questions and answers should be logged carefully – include keywords, topics, whatever is meaningful in a data field so that they can be searched before potentially answering the same question(s) twice.

To lead, be the first follower

February 11, 2020

In the first 20 seconds of this 35-second video, the man in the bench is singing alone. Then one person – hard to tell who – joins him around 0:22, and within 8 seconds the whole crowd has joined in.

To be a leader, you don’t always have to go first.

It takes courage and leadership to be the first follower.

I once read (can’t remember where) a post making this same point, illustrated by this fabulous 3-minute video titled “Sasquatch music festival 2009 – Guy starts dance party.” If you are ever looking to illustrate the S-shaped market adoption curve, that video could be Exhibit 1.

January 30, 2020

If you are looking to raise your visibility by appearing as a guest on podcasts, one approach to getting booked is to do the work yourself: identify podcasts that could be a good fit, reach out to the hosts, and pitch yourself as a guest.

A more expensive but more efficient approach is to hire a podcast booking agency, such as Interview Valet. Those agencies typically charge a recurring monthly fee that works out to about $400 per podcast booking.

Another option which I just learned about from Rick Watson is, which connects podcast guests and hosts. He has gotten booked on four podcasts by using the site, which costs just $99 per year for a basic subscription to be listed as an expert, or $299 for a premium subscription.

Superhuman email

January 23, 2020

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

Increase your conversion rate

December 18, 2019

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

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

And of course sign up to get David’s weekly blog posts.

Create an online course

December 11, 2019

You know something that someone, somewhere, wants to learn. Consider creating an online course to share what you have to teach.

In Episode 220 of Unleashed, Umbrex member Paul Millerd discusses how he has created several online courses.

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

Follow Paul on Twitter @p_millerd

Journaling prompt of the week

December 5, 2019

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

What have you already heard about this effort?

November 20, 2019

When you are meeting for the first time with someone new at a company you are serving, what do you say?

I used to take up the first five minutes of the conversation by force-feeding the person with a summary of the project.

Now I start with: “What have you already heard about this effort?”

In Episode 215 I explain why I find this question so valuable.

How to source expert interviews

November 13, 2019

In Episode 213 of Unleashed, I share tips on how to source expert interviews for your projects, both through expert networks as well as how to find them yourself. (Here’s a transcript for those who prefer to read rather than listen.)

The episode includes tips on:

  • Using an Upwork researcher to create the target list for outreach
  • How to reach out and make the interview request on LinkedIn
  • How much to pay an expert
  • Benchmarks for response rate you should expect
  • Pros and cons of recording the interview
  • Suggested design of interviewee tracking sheet (Download a template here.)

Generally, it is more economical to source expert interviews yourself rather than using an expert network.

Printer for holiday cards

November 6, 2019

Great source for holiday cards (or other printing needs): NextDayFlyers.

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

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

BagBNB (Luggage storage)

October 30, 2019

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

BagBNB is like AirBNB for your bags.

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


October 23, 2019

Canva is a fun design tool that doesn’t require a weeklong class to get started.  I downloaded the app yesterday and in 5 minutes had created my first Instagram-style post (above).

The tool has templates for infographics, proposals, invitations, certificates, tri-fold brochures, menus, letterheads, tags, tickets, gift certificates and a couple dozen other categories.

Best name badges ever

October 16, 2019

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

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

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

Accounts Receivable Process Review Checklist

October 9, 2019

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

Initiative charter

October 2, 2019

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

You can download a PPT of the above version here.


September 25, 2019

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

DocSend allows you to:

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

Recap emails

September 18, 2019

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

Establish your vacation policy

September 11, 2019

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

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

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

Free (or cheap) international phone calls

September 4, 2019

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

WhatsApp is handy for making free international phone calls.

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

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

Proposal template

August 28, 2019

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

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

Section headings:

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

Turn on 2 Step Verification to protect your email account

August 21, 2019

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

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

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

Google services
Microsoft account
Apple ID

Sanitized work sample

August 14, 2019
The last four clients I’ve spoken with have all asked independent consultants to provide a sanitized sample of work.  Consultants without a sample deliverable are definitely at a disadvantage.

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

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

Correspondence cards

August 14, 2019

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

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

or at the end of a project:

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

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

Connect on LinkedIn with other members of the community

August 7, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Company page on LinkedIn

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

USPS Informed Delivery

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

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

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

Transferwise and OFX

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

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

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

New LinkedIn Feature: Open for Business

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

Here is the text of the email:

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

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

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


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

Priority Pass

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

TeamGantt (what project planning software do you use?)

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

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

How do other consultants market their practice?

Michael Zipursky surveyed consultants on how they market their practice; you can check out the results here. I interviewed Michael on Episode 120 of Unleashed.

One stat: 41% said making outbound phone calls is the marketing activity they dislike the most.

(On Episode 170, David A. Fields shared his advice on how to make outbound calls.)

How do you market your practice?
What has worked?
What have you tried, but didn’t get any traction?

How do you expose yourself to new ideas? (Recommended app: Feedly)

Feedly is an app I love to discover and then follow blogs.

The discovery tool is great: enter one blog that you’d like to follow, and then the app suggests a series of other blogs on the same topic that you might also like.

Some of the favorite blogs in my feed are (and I don’t agree with all of them. Part of my goal is to regularly read writers I disagree with, to challenge my thinking)

Marginal Revolution
The Big Picture
Farnam Street
A Learning a Day
Gabe the Bass Player
Gene Expression
Sasha Dichter’s Blog
Slate Star Codex
The Story of Telling
Flowing Data

How to start a podcast

I believe that hosting a podcast is such an amazing opportunity for independent professionals. A single activity that allows you to simultaneously:

  1. Build relationships with your guests (potential clients)
  2. Learn something
  3. Raise your visibility / build credibility in your chosen niche

In case you missed the “How to start a podcast” session last Friday but wanted to attend, we recorded the session, and here is the video.

And you can download the PDF of the presentation here.

How to set consulting fees

A listener of Unleashed asked for advice on how to set fees, and I shared my thoughts in Episode 174. I’ve added that episode to Unleashed Essentials.

In this episode I refer to, and strongly recommend, Chapter 22 of The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients: 6 Steps to Unlimited Clients & Financial Freedom, by David A. Fields.

Novelist and Umbrex member Tim DeRoche emailed me two reactions to the episode:

“First, I try to set my rate so that I *lose* maybe 10-20% of potential projects because the client says I’m too expensive.  That tells me I’m at the outer edge of what the market will bear for someone like me.

Second, I will often discount for smaller companies.  They usually have smaller budgets and lower expectations.  But I enjoy working with smaller organizations, so it’s partly related to your idea of the Fun Discount.”

A cool way to hire an employee for your firm

David A. Fields is hiring a Principal to join his firm, and I thought his approach is worth sharing, for anyone who is looking to grow their team.

First, there is a detailed video explaining the position. Then an online application that sorts for those who are seriously interested. Pretty cool idea to have an in-depth video of the person you will be reporting to.

Can’t get no satisfaction?

Gotta love a 2x2x2 matrix.

Eden McCallum in partnership with London Business School did a survey of independent consultants and current consultants.

A web version of the results is here.

A different downloadable version of the results is here.

How to make outbound calls

April 24, 2019

Outbound calls are one of the best ways to keep relationships strong and stay top-of-mind with decision makers.

But making outbound calls – even to people in your core network – can be awkward.

It helps quite a bit, though, if you have a plan for what you’ll say and how to steer the conversation.

At the Top Tier events last year, one of the highest rated topics was David A. Fields sharing his approach to making outbound calls, including:

  • Why you should not always try to “add value” whenever you make a call
  • What to say if you reach voicemail
  • How to navigate “The Turn” if a possible project opportunity gets mentioned
  • What to say when asked what you’ve been up to

David was kind enough to return to Unleashed as my guest to discuss his approach on Episode 170, which we’ve added to Unleashed Essentials – the top episodes I encourage people to start with.

You can download for free the call outline that is excerpted above by going here. That link will also take you to a Script Bank that David developed.

Browsing top-ranked papers on SSRN

April 12, 2019

This chart is pulled from the article “Notes on Designing Your Company” by Kevin J. Boudreau, Harvard Business School working paper 16-131. You can download the full document here.

This was the second-most downloaded article on SSRN (Social Science Research Network) the week of March 18th.

SSRN is a fun place to browse – you can get a free account, see the rankings of the most-downloaded papers, and download papers for free.

Other top-ranked articles include (free account required to download):

  1. A Brief Introduction to the Basics of Game Theory
  2. Some Simple Economics of the Blockchain
  3. The Evolution of Fintech: A New Post-Crisis Paradigm?
  4. 18 Topics Badly Explained by Many Finance Professors
  5. How a Botched Study Fooled the World About the U.S. Share of Mass Public Shootings: U.S. Rate is Lower than Global Average

Yes, you should get long term disability insurance

An Umbrex member asked me last week if I’d recommend that she get disability insurance.

Short answer: Absolutely.

It is a bit of a hassle, but I would encourage everyone (in the U.S., at least) to get long term disability coverage. The process takes 4-6 weeks, and there is never a better time to start than right now.  Cost is ~1-3% of annual protected income.

A good website to compare quotes is Policy Genius.

I discuss considerations in buying disability insurance and the factors that affect the price in Episode 157 of Unleashed.

The (70 : 30) Squared rule

We all know the 80-20 rule. What about the (70 : 30) Squared Rule?

The (70 : 30) Square Rule says when you are having an initial context discussion with a client, client should be speaking 70% of the time, and consultant should be speaking 30% of the time. And when the consultant is speaking, 70% of that 30% should be asking questions.

Once we’re in the room, the goal is not to establish our credibility, but to deeply understand the problem.

It is hard to self-monitor to actually know how much time we are talking vs. asking questions. Consider asking a colleague to join you and give you feedback. Or record a call (if legal in your jurisdiction) and listen to yourself.

More thoughts in Episode 159 of Unleashed.

A single piece of paper

March 13, 2019

Instead of a whole deck, what if you go to a meeting with one piece of paper? I love this infographic created by Umbrex member Ian Tidswell.

I can imagine having a robust two-hour discussion based on this one page alone. Have you ever gone to a client discussion with just one piece of paper?

100+ Tech tools and apps for social sales

Found this on LinkedIn, posted by Chelsea Peitz.

LinkedIn posts

February 27, 2019

Over the past week I’ve been binge-listening to the LinkedInformed podcast with host Mark Williams, thanks to a tip from Mahan Tavakoli. I’ll be sharing my key takeaways in this weekly email. Here’s one:

I’ve been writing sub-optimal posts on LinkedIn. I generally do a post about each episode of Unleashed with the name of the guest, a short summary, and a call-out to subscribe to my weekly email.

I’ve learned that anything that smacks of being self-promotional is disfavored by the algorithm and limits views. And that ideally, posts should invite conversation. Pose a question.

According to Mark Williams, if you are seeking to raise the profile of a post and increase your own profile as well, the best thing you can do is comment on the post (perhaps ask a question of the author). Liking a post is OK, but doesn’t help as much.  Sharing a post is not as good as commenting on it, because it breaks the connection with the other comments on the post.

I’m curious about what you are posting. If you’d like me to comment on your LinkedIn post, mention me with an “@Will Bachman” and I’ll see if I can think of something to add to encourage conversation.

Compare: independent professional vs independent consultant vs freelancer

February 20, 2019

Umbrex member Caleb Williams asked me my perspective on the difference between these terms:

  1. Independent professional
  2. Independent consultant
  3. Independent contractor
  4. Independent advisor
  5. Freelance consultant
  6. Mercenary

Since I’m trying to learn how to do video, I posted my two-minute answer here. Would love to see your thoughts on those terms in a comment to the video post.

Incidentally, I used Headliner to do the captions. It transcribes your video and adds the captions for you. Pretty great tool.

The Lifespan of News (interactive visualization)

February 6, 2019

Interactive scrolling display of the lifespan of news at

I can imagine using a similar visualization on a consulting project (perhaps the impact of a series of promotional campaigns?

Enhancing our clients’ experience

January 9, 2019

If you were a taxi driver, what might you do to increase your tips?

How about:

  1. Providing phone charging cables to the back seat
  2. Asking the passengers what music (if any) they would like to listen to
  3. Learning a bit of local history and offering to, e.g., tell passengers what movie scenes were filmed on which block, or where famous murders took place, or which apartment buildings have empty condos owned by Russian oligarchs

Those ideas (which might or might not work – haven’t tested them) have nothing to do with the basic function of a taxi: to get you from point A to point B.

But they do affect the client experience.

Starting with Episode 128 of Unleashed, published yesterday, I’m doing a six-part podcast miniseries on ways to enhance the client experience, based on a framework developed by David A. Fields that we used at the Top Tier events in 2018. Several dozen Umbrex members contributed ideas during the workshop.

Episode 128 introduced the series, and Episodes 129-133 (today through Sunday) provide some suggested ideas on how to improve the client experience across these five phases of a project: 

  1. The proposal phase
  2. Onboarding / kickoff phase
  3. Project execution
  4. Wrap-up
  5. Post-project


From the School of Life – Three questions towards self-knowledge

January 2, 2019

An exercise for daily reflection that I’ve been working on.  Pick one of the above questions and write for fifteen minutes.  If it is helpful, make a list of things while considering the following categories:

  • Work
  • Relationships
  • Children / Parents
  • Health
  • Money
  • Things I have to do / want to do / am afraid to do

Now, the next step would be to begin unpacking each item you’ve listed.
For items you are anxious about, try answering:

  1. What steps do you need to take?
  2. What do others need to do?
  3. What needs to happen when?

Getting it on paper makes things a bit more manageable.

This is from Self-Knowledge, published by the School of Life.