My business is struggling. Here’s my plan to save it.

Web traffic totally dead

My 2022 Year In Review was very late to publication. In fact, it’s still not published as I write this in early June of 2023, although I plan to publish it before I publish this piece.


Because it feels bad. The sub-title is “A weird year” and 2022 sure was a weird year.

I want to drill down on one particular aspect of that weirdness: my business turning from boom to bust on a dime, and what I’m doing to try and save it.

DISCLAIMER: This post is bound to get deep into some nitty-gritty detail. If you skip this one, I don’t blame you. But if you want to ride along through a pretty rocky period of uncertainty to see how I make decisions and think through hard problems, keep on reading…

How I got here

First, a brief history of the business. There’s a lot more detail in my annual Year In Review posts, which I’ve been doing since 2015, so if you want lots of detail, check those out. But for now, he’s a high-level summary…

I quit my last day job in September of 2015 as I finished writing Fearless Salary Negotiation. The plan was to publish it, promote it, and live off of the income from it while I built a software business. I quickly realized how foolish my plan was—selling enough books to pay my bills each month would require its own business, which of course needed to be built in addition to the software business I was already building—and that I had to make a choice: Build a business around Fearless Salary Negotiation or go all-in on the software business and hope to get traction before my runway ran out.

I decided that the salary negotiation business was more interesting to me, so that’s the direction I chose. I shut own the software business and went all-in on the salary negotiation business.

When I quit my day job, I had an 18-month runway—enough cash in the bank to pay my bills with no revenue. That might seem like a long time, but a common axiom in the entrepreneurship circles I run in is that it takes about 18 months for any business to really find its stride. So I had the bare minimum runway, on average.

And of course by the time I had the above epiphany and decided to shut down the software business and focus on the Fearless Salary Negotiation business, I had burned about three months of that runway self-publishing and launching the book.

So, for all intents and purposes, I started my business in January 2016 with about 15 months of runway. It grew very slowly and, through trial and error and some careful planning, I managed to find my stride just before my runway ran out. That was May 2017.

Ever since I started the business it has grown every year:

2016: Infinite growth because I started at zero
2017: 150%
2018: 100%
2019: 50%
2020: 15%
2021: 35%

2021 was about 12x the revenue of 2016 and every year showed positive growth (even during the pandemic).

Zooming in on September 2022

Adding to my list above:

2022 (through August): 3%

So basically flat year-over-year, or on pace to be about the same as 2021, which had been my best year ever.

Starting in April 2022, I kept my eye on the local housing market, just to see what was out there. It all started when a friend sent me a link to a really cool house on Zillow, piquing my interest and getting the wheels turning in my mind: “I’ve been in this house—my first house—for a long time. My business is growing and I can definitely afford to upgrade. Why not just see what’s out there?”

I watched the market pretty closely for the next several months and even went to see a few houses, but nothing really caught my eye.

Then I found an amazing house that I immediately felt was the one for me. It was a stretch, but I talked to my wealth manager, accountant, and several smart people to figure out whether it was worth making the move and whether I could really afford it.

The verdict: “Yes, you can afford it. It’s a little more of your monthly spend that the common wisdom says it should be, but your business is healthy and you have no debt, so you’ll be fine. Your disposable income will drop a little bit, but you won’t be strapped for cash and will still be able to do all the stuff you do now. But instead of socking all of the leftover away in the bank, you’ll be spending some of it on a mortgage and upkeep.”

I made an offer, signed a contract, and sent some cash to escrow.

Within a few days, I felt a disturbance in the force. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something seemed a little off about my business. I had been doing the same thing for more than five years so I just knew how the regular rhythms of the business felt. And something felt weird.

I couldn’t even really point to specific stats or data. But, anecdotally, it felt like there was just less inbound interest in working with me all the sudden. In case you don’t know, I should say: My business was built around helping senior engineers and engineering managers who were changing jobs to big tech companies.

Of course now we know that this was the beginning of a recession in big tech. It turns out that my business was a leading indicator of the health of the employment market in that industry.

But at the time, it seemed likely it was just a blip. My business has had cold spells before—in 2019, I had a 12-week stretch without any new clients—and this might just be another cold spell.

So I was under contract for a new house, which would represent a big increase in my monthly spend, and my numbers were based on a business that had grown every year since it began and was on pace to at least match the previous year’s revenue, which would be more than enough to comfortably make the move to the new house. But I also felt like the business might be slowing down.

What to do?

There were two chances to get off the new-house train: During the inspection period, I could essentially back out, get my escrow money back (which was a big chunk of change), and hit reset on the house-buying process; and before I closed, I could back out and eat the escrow money (which was significant, but was also already a sunk cost).

Remember: All I really had was a feeling that something was off. Nothing concrete. If I decided to pull the plug, it would be based almost exclusively on a hunch.

I only had a 10-day inspection period, and everything came up roses. I considered bailing on the house, but decided that 10 days of “something feels funny with my business” just wasn’t enough of a sample size to make such a big decision. I could still take the next few weeks before closing to see how things went and eat the escrow money if I had to.

Onward to closing.

I now had a checklist with three items on it in order to “thread the needle” on this move without drowning:

  1. Get approved for financing on the new house. The bank was extremely fastidious in this process and sent me a barrage of requests for documents that seemed like it would never end. Although my broker said approval was inevitable, it sure didn’t feel that way.
  2. Sell my old house for an amount that would let me cover the down payment on the new house and put some cash in the bank as a cushion.
  3. Hope my business was only temporarily chilly and not entering a major downturn or dying.

The next few weeks were interesting because I was simultaneously neck-deep in the approvals process for financing on a new mortgage and trying to sell my old house and digging deep into the current state of the business to see if I could figure out if there was a problem or if I was just in a short-term cold spell or something.

It was extremely stressful and I would literally wake up in the middle of the night running numbers, asking myself if I could really afford this, and wondering what would happen if I went through with the purchase and my business died.

I called my wealth manager and accountant again: “You sure I can afford this? What if my business falls off a bit?”

“You’re fine.”

Funky math

Making things even more complicated was a funky mathematical situation that I found myself in. I basically had two options:

  1. If I felt my business might be slowing down for a bit, making my financial situation too dicey to buy the new house, I could just stay put and eat the escrow money (which was a meaningful amount of my cash on hand). That would leave me in a situation where I had not much cash, but also had a still-very-low burn rate which would enable me to make that little bit of remaining cash last quite a while.
  2. If I felt the business actually wasn’t slowing down or the slowdown would be short-lived (a few months, say), then I could just go through with the purchase. That would mean selling my old house, putting most of the equity toward the down payment on my new house, but also pocketing the remaining equity.

The funky math was as follows: Staying put would actually leave me less time on my runway than buying the new house because I would be able to pocket so much of the equity from selling my old house. My burn rate would be higher at the new house, but my savings would be higher still such that I would have more months of expenses covered.

You may already have noticed a complicating factor here: I had not actually sold my old house and therefore did not know what actual amount of equity would be realized when I sold it. If I sold it.

I had a pretty good idea what my house would sell for—recall, I had been watching the housing market for about six months—so I knew about pretty much every house that went on the market in certain areas and certain price ranges. I had a guess what my old house would sell for, but I couldn’t know that for sure until I actually sold it (or try to).

Selling the old house

This brings us to a new conundrum: Selling my old house to cover the down payment on the new house and (hopefully) generate some additional equity to use as a runway if I actually went through with everything.

I was very fortunate that my Mom had recently sold the house I grew up in and she had enough cash in the bank to cover my downpayment in the short-term and help me avoid a home-sale contingency on my offer on the new house. We are not a wealthy family—this was just fortunate timing, and there’s probably been no other time in my family’s history when someone had this kind of cash just sitting in a checking account, but I digress.

Once I signed the contract on the new house, I began trying to sell my old house. At first, I tried to sell it through my own network. I posted about it on Facebook and my church bulletin board and got a surprising amount of interest right away.

I thought it would be cool to sell to someone I knew since I had worked so hard to make my old house comfortable. For all the people I talked to, I offered it at the same price, which was a few percent below what I thought it would sell for if I put it on the market.

I quickly had someone interested, they visited the house, then visited again a week later, and eventually sent me an offer for the amount I had asked for. It was a cash offer, which was great because it meant I wouldn’t need to worry about all the financing stuff and the associated timeline risk.

Let me pause here for a second since I sort of glossed over something that is important: I was under contract for my new house and needed the equity from the old house for the downpayment (to repay my Mom) and also hoped to have enough left over to put in the bank as a cushion in case my business was slowing down. For this buyer, the process from “anyone want to buy my house?” to “offer in hand” was about three weeks, leaving me about a week or so from my scheduled closing on the new house. This was a tight timeline that had me a little nervous.

It turns out that the potential buyer and I could not agree on terms for the contract, so the deal fell through. I had another offer or two from my network, but they didn’t come to fruition either. Now I’m a week from closing and I do not know if my old house will sell or how much it will sell for.

I thought I knew what my house would fetch on the open market, but I was not sure and now I had a few data points that said, “Someone thought about buying my house for a few percent less than what I think the market value is, but they backed out. Therefore it’s possible I have overestimated the market value of my house.” (Shoutout to all the Bayesians reading this.)

Meanwhile, the Fed was rapidly raising interest rates to fight inflation, thus increasing mortgage rates, which seemed likely to cause the market to cool off a bit. To give you some insight into how fast this happened: When I signed the contract on my new house, I locked in at 5.125% on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, and by the time these deals to sell my old house fell through, mortgage rates were closer to 7% and rising.

Worst-case scenario would be if the house didn’t sell at all. Then I would not be able to cover the down payment on the new place or have cash in the bank and I would still have a property and a mortgage to take care of in a time when it was unclear how dependable my normally-dependable business income would be.

I hit the big red button: I asked the realtor who sold me my new house if she would help me sell my old house. We got photos, listed it on a Friday, had an open house on a Saturday, had three or four offers on Sunday, had a bidding war on Monday, and I ended up selling my house for … $1,000 more than I thought it would sell for on the open market. Cash.

“All that build-up over like 10 paragraphs and you just end the story like that?” That’s what it literally felt like in real time.

Closing on the new house

Around this time, I was finally approved for financing on the new house. It was a slog, but we got it done.

At least I could check that off the needle-threading list. Now all that remained was actually selling my old house for enough to cover the new house’s downpayment and (hopefully) put some cash in the bank, and hoping my business was still strong.

I was in for the long haul now. Closing for the new house was set, financing was approved, and I had a contract to sell my old house in a timeframe that would work well for the move.

So I had checked one box (financing on the new house) and was on track to check a second box (sell the old house), and was keeping an eye on the business, which seemed to be chilly at the moment (third box).

Let’s pause and I’ll show you a graph. This shows weekly visits to the main pages that drive my business (these are all company-specific pages about negotiating job offers and most of my coaching leads come through these pages).

Web traffic looks ok but doesn't bounce back after summer slump

Normally my search traffic ticks back up after Summer, but not this time

It looks like a pretty normal chart until the marked data point. Typically, around August 1, the summer slowdown starts to abate and the graph heads back up to April-ish levels of traffic. In this way, my business has always been somewhat seasonal, so it’s slower in the Summer months when people are vacationing more and business moves a little bit slower.

The uneasy thing I was feeling at the time was that the traffic to those pages hadn’t returned to pre-summer levels yet, and therefore I had fewer coaching prospects than expected for that time of year.

This is an extremely narrow window to make any real judgements on, but it’s what had given me pause earlier: If this wasn’t just an anomaly and was instead a downturn, what would happen? How long would it last? How bad would it get? And what would the financial ramifications be as I started paying a significantly higher mortgage?

I decided this wasn’t enough evidence to bail on the “buy new house, sell old house” plan, so I moved ahead.

I closed on the new house as scheduled. Then closed on the old house as scheduled. And ended up with a nice cash cushion in the bank, just in case the business was in for a slower-than-normal end of the year.

Covering all my bases

I’m the kind of person who plans for all contingencies. This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s why I was able to plan years out to eventually quit my day job and have an 18-month runway to start something new from scratch. It’s also why I sometimes move slowly and get stuck analyzing and getting input on new ideas rather than just shipping things.

But in this case, it was clear that I needed to make absolutely sure that I did whatever I could to shore up my financial situation just in case the disturbance in the force I felt was a real business downturn.

By the time I closed on my house something was up with big tech. To illustrate this, I just googled “2022 big tech layoffs” and grabbed the first article that mentioned a timeline. Here is is:

Tech layoffs in 2022: A timeline

If you click through to the second page (I’m not sure why the article is paginated), you’ll see that it starts with “Twilio: Sept. 14—850 people”.

This was two weeks into the under-contract period on my new house. Seems small, but it’s something after a huge, years-long hiring boom in big tech.

I needed to hedge my bets, and I had just put a substantial down payment on a new house, so I went looking for options to tap into that equity if I needed to. I started by looking into a HELOC—a line of credit against the equity in my new house—and found that would be the best option. Specifically, I wanted access to a line of credit without having to borrow or pay fees if I didn’t need the cash.

Sure enough, I found a HELOC that was a revolving line of credit that was essentially an interest-payments-only line of credit with a balloon after 10 years. I could borrow, pay only interest, and would have 10 years to pay back the principle. But I didn’t have to borrow or pay any fees if I didn’t want to. It was just a line of credit that I could have in my back pocket if I really needed it.

This was also dicey—I needed to move fast. By the time I moved into my house and the dust settled, I was about two months into a business slowdown and I did not know how long it would be slow. Part of vetting loans is income verification and stuff like that, so I needed to get the HELOC handled before my income dropped off too much. That meant it needed to be done by EOY 2022, giving me only a few weeks to get everything done.

Sure enough, the HELOC was approved and opened before end of year. I had bought and moved into my new house, sold my old house, paid mom back for the down payment money she loaned me, put some cash in the bank as a cushion, and been approved for a backup line of credit that I could use if things got really dire or if I had an unexpected large expense (which is what keeps most homeowners up at night).

For the first time in a few months, I could actually sit back, breathe a sigh of relief and start looking over the business to see what was going on under the hood.

Sliding, sliding, sliding

But I still had that third checkbox: The business needed to return to normal.

It wasn’t looking good.

Here’s the same chart above, through the beginning of December 2022:

Image showing web traffic bottoming out

That bad feeling starts to get real

Ruh roh.

If you run a business and look at metrics, that graph probably looks pretty terrifying. And let me tell you, it was. By then, the big tech layoffs had spread pretty far and the numbers were getting much bigger.

Oracle: 200 people
Microsoft: 1,000 people
Stripe: 1,100 people
Meta: 11,000 people
SalesForce: 950 people
Amazon: 10,000 people
Cisco: 4,100 people
HP: 6,000 people
Amazon (again): up to 20,000 more people

The worst-case scenario that I had been a little worried about a few months earlier was actually coming true. Many of those are the companies whose new hires are my coaching clients. Amazon was the single-biggest driver of my business at the time.

To put a fine point on this: My business was built around these companies hiring new people. A “slowdown” would be a hiring freeze or just a reduction in hiring projections. This was a full on bottoming out: Not only were they not hiring, they were letting everyone go and the entire big tech employment market was seizing up.

People who otherwise would’ve been looking to make a move to a new employer were either being laid off or just sort of trying to keep their heads down, hoping to keep their jobs until the dust settled.

Here’s that same graph through May 2022 (the last full month before I write this):

Web traffic totally dead

This was basically the worst-case scenario, and here’s what it looks like in reality

This time, I have marked the week after I signed the contract on the new house. This is the week when I called a friend and said, “Something feels weird with the business.” It’s a month before the layoffs ramped up, but a month after my inbound traffic fell below the normal expectation for this time of year.

That same friend later said, “Your business was a leading indicator of trouble in the big tech hiring world. That’s remarkable.” It is pretty remarkable. I had dug so deeply into a particular niche that when it started to go south, my business immediately started trending down.

My revenue follows that curve. It’s now down 70-90% from last year’s revenue, depending on which month you look at.

A lifeline with Salary Negotiation Mastery

Just before all of the house stuff started, and before the business started slumping, I finally started working on a project I had been planning for a couple of years: Salary Negotiation Mastery.

It’s a self-serve program where I show the learner how to negotiate their job offer using the methodology I’ve developed over the past six or so years of coaching full time.

I had carved out a pretty narrow niche of people to work with one-on-one, and I was pretty busy with coaching for several years. So busy that I continually narrowed my niche to exclude a lot of people that my methodology would help. This way, I could continue working in my chosen niche and offer something for those outside my niche who wanted to negotiate with my help.

It was long overdue—I probably should’ve done this years ago—but I just didn’t have time to do it because coaching had been so busy. Ironically, I decided to just go for it and then the coaching business dropped off so I actually had lots of time to invest in making it really good.

This was fortuitous because it meant some extra revenue from pre-orders and early sales over the next several months. Forty percent of my Q4 2023 revenue was pre-orders for Salary Negotiation Mastery.

The main business driver for creating the program was that coaching revenue is very lumpy—one month can be fantastic and the next month can be terrible—because it’s a low-volume business. My result fee structure has helped smooth this out over the years by increasing overall revenue, but also just by nature of the lag from the end of each engagement until the payment of the result fee. It’s pretty random, which has a revenue smoothing function overall.

I finished building the program in January and launched it to get some more early sales. Now it’s in the “build a marketing funnel” stage, which is probably the thing I’m the absolute worst at in my business. But if I can figure out how to get it in front of the people who will benefit, then I think it could be a boon to my business.

This is just a working theory for why my business has fallen off

Before I transition to my plans to turn things around, I want to emphasize that my theory as to why my coaching business slumped so hard starting last September is that my chosen niche—Senior Software Engineers and Engineering Managers going to big tech companies—more or less evaporated when big tech companies starting laying people off instead of hiring.

It’s possible that theory is wrong and the business slumped for some other reason. If that is another reason, I don’t know what it is. But if I’m right, then the business is essentially dormant while big tech resets head counts to match the current economic situation.

So my working assumptions are: the business slowed down because my niche has temporarily gone away, the overall economy is actually very good in terms of hiring, and my current niche will come back … eventually.

The problem of course, is the word “eventually” is extremely vague and my runway has a pretty specific length. If there was a magic wand I could wave to understand if and when the current business will come back online, things would be much easier to plan out. But no such wand exists, so all I can do is make some educated guesses and plan for the most likely scenarios.

Where I’m going

So that’s where I am now.

What to do about it?

How and why I chose my current niche

Before we look forward, let’s look back. Here’s my current niche (described through my positioning statement):

I’m a Salary Negotiation Coach for Senior Software Engineers and Engineering Managers going to Big Tech companies like Google and Amazon

That has evolved over time.

How my coaching business started

My first-ever coaching client was a freelance copywriter who was transitioning into a full-time role. While I was writing Fearless Salary Negotiation, a friend reached out because he was negotiating a new job offer. Since I was writing the book, I offered to coach him pro bono so I could test my methodology and see how it held up in the real world.

It held up really well and my friend did well in his negotiation. Once the book was published, I sent him a copy since he had helped me vet the process that I wrote about.

A little more than a year later, his wife reached out and asked if I could help her negotiate. I told her sure, and she asked me what my rate was. I hadn’t really even considered coaching people one-on-one before this, so I didn’t have a rate to quote her. But she was a freelance copywriter, so I said, “Whatever your rate is, that’s my rate.” She said ok and we were off to the races.

We got a good result and I think we were both really happy with the experience. She sent over my payment and then I asked her why she had hired me even though she already had my book and her husband had been through the methodology with me.

“I just wanted you to tell me exactly what to do.”

This was a huge lightbulb moment for me. Even though she had a copy of my book and her husband had been through a negotiation using my methodology, it was still worth it for her to hire me and pay me to walk her through the methodology for her situation.

A couple months later, another acquaintance reached out and asked if I could help her negotiate her healthcare administration offer, and she asked what my rate was. I told her I could help and quoted a rate that was about 60% higher than the what I charged my first client. She instantly hired me.

Interesting. Another data point pointing to coaching as a viable option for my business.

Believe it or not, I was very resistant to this idea. When I began building the business (I was maybe six months in at this point), I planned to create a “passive income”-type business. I wanted to put products online, have people find them, and make sales without manual intervention, so one-on-one client work was more or less the opposite of what I set out to do.

Of course, I had a few friends who immediately said some version of, “You know… this coaching thing seems promising. That is a valuable service and I bet you could make a really good living with it.”

I happened to be attending a conference full of very smart people while I was working with my second-ever coaching client. The sentiment there was the same: This coaching thing could be really valuable. I also got some extremely valuable advice on how to structure the offering, price it, etc.

I went home and (still sort of reluctantly, if I’m honest) put up a landing page for my coaching offering. People starting hiring me pretty much right away.

My first positioning statement would have been: “Salary Negotiation Coach”. This is extremely broad because it implies “…for everyone.” That sounds great! “Everyone” is a huge market! But that’s not how business works.

Narrowing my niche

Still, folks were hiring me. Here’s a list of the types of clients I was working with as I wrote the book and for my first few paid engagements:

Software Developer
Software Developer
Healthcare Admin
Physical Therapist
Materials Engineer
Marketing Manager
Software Engineer
Software Engineer
Software Engineer
Software Engineer
Software Engineer
Software Engineer

You can see a trend develop right away. One of the first public speaking engagements I had was for a (now-defunct) coding bootcamp in Orlando.

Here’s a fun story that I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone. I spoke to this bootcamp twice. It’s a two-hour drive each way, and I was hoping to sell a few copies of my book to help cover expenses. The second time I went, I got a parking ticket that wiped out any profit I would’ve earned on those books. I was obviously doing this mostly for marketing purposes, but it would’ve been nice to at least break even on my costs.

ANYWAY, there was immediate interest for my coaching offering, and I inadvertently created some good content for Software Developers as “sawdust” from that talk. But other people were hiring me too, and from a wide variety of industries.

Eventually, I realized that a lot of Software Developers were hiring me and that Software Developers tended to get bigger results in nominal terms (they were being offered larger salaries and therefore an increase in their comp was worth more dollars).

I eventually decided to specialize and updated my positioning statement to:

“Salary Negotiation Coach for Software Developers”

Much narrower, but still very broad.

I started to build a reputation as the salary negotiation guy for software developers. More and more people hired me.

I noticed that more senior Devs were hiring me and they were getting even bigger results from our work together. I was getting pretty busy, and I realized that one thing driving my business was that my service was so cheap relative to the results I was getting for my clients.

Time to raise rates. I created a complicated pricing structure that was basically designed to charge more for folks with bigger job offers. It worked well enough, and my revenue per client started going up because I was capturing more of the value I created (even if I was doing it in a clunky way).

I eventually changed my fee structure to be simpler: A flat fee to work together (my service fee) and a percentage of the improvement we negotiated (my result fee). The business kept growing.

The Senior Software Developers were becoming the segment that got the most value from my coaching, and I was getting enough business from that segment that it made sense to update my positioning yet again:

“Salary Negotiation Coach for Senior Software Developers”

Narrower still!

Here are the next two iterations:

“Salary Negotiation Coach for Senior Software Engineers and Engineering Managers”

“Salary Negotiation Coach for Senior Software Engineers and Engineering Managers going to Big Tech companies”

You can probably see how these changes happened: I had more than enough work to make a living and the data told me those were the folks benefiting the most from my coaching offering.

This is also a pretty narrow niche (though still huge in terms of the total addressable market).

The benefit of having such a narrow niche is that when those people find me, they know I’m their guy. I’m very specifically describing a group of people which sends a powerful signal that I can help them (especially with all the testimonials I’ve accumulated over the years).

There’s also one huge downside: If that narrow niche hits any economic speed bumps, so do I (see above).

It has always felt restrictive

I think that narrow niche was the right thing to do as I worked to build my business and establish a brand.

But it felt pretty restrictive from the start, and continued to feel more and more restrictive.

I kept narrowing my niche for two reasons:

  1. I could see who was benefiting from my help.
  2. I wanted to work in the highest-leverage situations I could.

I’ve always had an application as the first step for any coaching engagement. The application has been pretty much the same since the beginning (with a few small tweaks here and there).

When I first started coaching, and realized how good Software Developers’ results were, then I would always review a new application by looking straight to the “What is your line of work (industry and job)?” question. I wanted to see “Software Dev” or something like that. Later, I would hope to see “Software Dev” paired with “tech” or “big tech”.

Then I would look at the “What stage are you at in the job hunting process?” question. I was hoping for “Job offer in hand”.


Those were the clients who got the best results and therefore got the most value from my coaching. And “job offer in hand” meant their need for my help was the most acute; they urgently needed my help. Since my fee structure is based on the value I create, that meant more revenue for the business.

Over time, I began to scan the applications differently. Instead of “industry and job”, I would first look at “What’s the annual compensation of your offer?”. I had to be selective about who I worked with because I only had so much bandwidth, so I started looking for folks with higher compensation to work with and hence higher potential result fees.

Since more-senior folks tend to get bigger job offers, I started to evolve my positioning.

I called it “moving up the org chart”. The higher up the org chart, the better the pay and the more leeway to negotiate.

In addition to “these folks get more value from my help”, this was the main driver for my continually-narrowed positioning. I was trying to manage demand for my service while staying within the niche I had carved out, so I moved up the org chart through a series of positioning-narrowing moves.

Conventional wisdom is that a narrower niche is easier to cater to because it’s so specific. Basically, the more specific a persona I need to market to, the easier it is to speak in a way that resonates with them.

But I felt very restricted by this.

I think that’s mostly because I was using job title and type of organization as a proxy for the thing I was actually optimizing for: income. The bottom line is I only have so much time to invest in helping my clients, and I need to use that time in the highest-leverage way possible. But I also want to help as many people as possible. It’s a Catch-22 in some ways.

So once the big tech slowdown happened, I had to start thinking deeply about my business, whether it continues to be viable, and who I can help.

Then I had an epiphany (which will hopefully seem obvious to you by now)…

How and why I’m choosing a new niche

Why don’t I just directly work with the folks I had been trying to find by proxy over time?

The conventional wisdom when starting a business is that you choose a narrow niche because it’s easier, cheaper, and faster to iterate and build in a niche. It’s much easier (or cheaper, at least) to start a new company that specializes in making the world’s best athletic socks than, say, a general apparel company. The questions you’re asking that early are things like, “Who wears athletic socks? How do we find them? What do they look for in a good sock?”

That’s pretty narrow, but it might be even easier to start with “men’s athletic socks” or even “men’s tennis socks” because the questions get more and more specific and easier to answer.

If that company starts super broad, they have to answer questions like, “Who wears apparel? Where can we find them?” When you’re just starting out on a shoestring budget and you’re planning your product development and early marketing plans, these answers to these questions (“Everyone!” and “Everywhere!”) are not useful or budget-friendly.

But it’s also true that as businesses grow, they expand—either horizontally or vertically—to serve other niches or simply expand their chosen niche.

“We’re going to sell the world’s best athletic socks” is a narrow-ish niche. And if that company succeeds, they start to realize things like, “Hey. You know what? We’ve gotten pretty good at designing socks, sourcing materials and manufacturing them. How different are t-shirts from socks? We could probably do that too, right?” They expand their scope to leverage the expertise they’ve accumulated over time.

This happens constantly and usually sounds like this at a dinner-table conversation:

“Where’d you get that shirt?”

“ACME co. It’s new. You like it?”

“ACME co.? The yoga pants company?”

“Yeah, they’re selling men’s casual apparel now too.”


This is called “economy of scope”, which is a cousin to “economy of scale”.

They already have designers on staff, know how to source materials, how to negotiate contracts with a manufacturing facility, they have distribution, and so many other things that are needed for the new products, so why not expand into t-shirts?

My new positioning statement

In my case, I already have a methodology that works really, really well in my chosen niche. And I know it works well in a broader niche (people higher up the org chart). Why not expand my niche?

Which leads me to my new positioning statement:

I’m a Salary Negotiation Coach for high earners

I’m a huge fan of “alignment of incentives” and this is similar. For the past few years, I had mostly been trying to work with high earners, but I was doing it through a side door, which made a lot of new-client intro calls more difficult than they needed to be.

Half of my clients over the past 18 months were not “Senior Software Engineers or Engineering Managers”. They hired me despite my positioning statement, not because of it. And I was able to help them get great results.

It’s impossible to know this, but I suspect there were many more folks who would’ve considered working with me, but they self-selected out since they were not described by my positioning statement.

My new positioning statement is an umbrella covering my previous niche

The best part is my previous niche is still perfectly covered with my new positioning statement. Those folks were almost all high earners.

That’s the high-level benefit. But there’s a lower-level, tactical benefit too: All of my current marketing and collateral is still useful for those folks. The landing page, emails, scores of podcasts I’ve been on, articles on my site, and everything else I built to help those folks will still be just as helpful to those folks.

That’s also true for my coaching offering—it will continue to be just as valuable to Senior Software Engineers and Engineering Managers going to Big Tech companies as it was before. And when big tech hiring stabilizes, I’ll be there waiting to help those folks negotiate their job offers.

But meanwhile, I’ll also be helping high earners in other jobs and industries, just like I have been. But now those folks—the high earners who might have previously seen my positioning and thought, “Oh, that’s not for me.”—will feel that my coaching service could be right for them.

Timing is everything

This probably would not have worked when I first started the business. When people hire me, they don’t know who I am so I rely on a lot of credibility-building proxies to help them trust that I know what I’m doing.

For Software Engineers, I had one very nice built-in indicator that I could help them: I am a software engineer. Same for Engineering Managers: I was a people manager. I added “going to big tech companies later”, but only after I had worked with many folks going to big tech companies.

Over time, I built more credibility such that those folks hired me and continually trusted me with more and more valuable negotiations. Eventually, virtually all of my clients were also “high earners”, but it didn’t start that way. And if I had just started out with a focus on “high earners”, I would’ve had a bear of a marketing problem.

What about Salary Negotiation Mastery?

The beautiful thing about this move is it only increases the potential reach and value of Salary Negotiation Mastery. Here’s the short version:

My salary negotiation coaching offering is for high earners who need help negotiating an offer right now or in the next couple of weeks.

Salary Negotiation Mastery is for folks who are not yet high earners but want to be, or who simply don’t have the budget for my one-on-one coaching offering, or who are looking ahead and want to be prepared for future job offers and negotiation opportunities.

Salary Negotiation Mastery is also a great way for folks who don’t know me to get to know me without a formal engagement so they can decide if salary negotiation coaching is right for them down the road.

I have been looking into potential partnerships that would enable me to work with other folks whose audience might benefit from Salary Negotiation Mastery, but it has been challenging because of my current positioning. “Will this work for non-engineers?” is a question that virtually every potential partner asks. “Yes!” is the answer, but it takes a while to explain that.

Now I won’t have to explain it.

“Will it work for folks who are not yet high earners?”


“Will it work for [specific industry]?”


That’s all there is to it. Easy.

What’s next

Now I have a new positioning statement. Ironically, that was the easy part (even though it was really, really difficult to make this decision) and this is when the hard work begins.

The list is long and ranges from “update entire website” to “change twitter bio”.

I have to rework the Fearless Salary Negotiation website (which I have been quietly doing behind the scenes for the past month or so anyway). I need to write some new landing pages. I have to update a whole bunch of email sequences.

And I have to start answering that difficult question, “Where do I find high earners who have job offers to negotiate so I can help them?”

But! Those people are already finding me and (I think) walking right by the store because my previous positioning statement didn’t appeal to them. So my first task is to just make sure the people who are already finding me know they’ve come to the right place. That’s actually pretty easy: Update a few pages on my website and write a new coaching page.

I’m working on that now. (Well, not now because I’m apparently writing a short book about my new positioning, but next.)

How you can help

If you’ve read this far, first of all, thank you for your time.

I had no idea this post was going to be this long, but here we are. As you read, my business has been more or less dormant for about nine months and I’m hoping this new positioning will kickstart it.

If any of these things are in your wheelhouse, I’d be grateful for your help:

  • If you know any high earners (more than $200k income per year) who are changing jobs soon, please tell them about my salary negotiation coaching service. Referrals are my most important way to find new clients to work with.
  • If you know someone who has an audience of high earners, I would love to meet them and talk about ways I can share my salary negotiation expertise with them. This could be a podcast guest appearance, an article on their site, or any number of things with a focus on adding value to their audience. Would you please ask them to get in touch?
  • If you read the previous two and thought, “Well, I know folks Josh could help but they’re not high earners … yet.” Would you tell them about Salary Negotiation Mastery? It’s a fantastic program and it will help them get the maximum compensation next time they negotiate a job offer.

Thank you again for reading this. I think it’s extremely important to document big changes like this because it helps me remember what I did and why I did it. It also helps me avoid falling prey to any number of logical fallacies that are easy to succumb to in the moment.

There’s also a tendency for entrepreneurs to write about their wins and gloss over the hard times. Entrepreneurship is hard and I think it’s a disservice to aspiring entrepreneurs to hide the difficult parts. I’ve fought to avoid that since I started my business and I’m not going to start leaving out the tough stuff now.

I hope I can write a glowing update in a few months or a year, but that’s absolutely not a certainty. If this doesn’t work, I’m not sure what I’ll do. For now, I’m laser-focused on making it work. Wish me luck!

My 2018 Year In Review: Finally making a good living

It’s been three years since I quit my day job to build the Fearless Salary Negotiation business. It’s finally paying off.

I didn’t think this year would go so well for my business, especially considering that I was almost out of runway only 18 months ago. But my 2018 income is very close to what it was when I quit my day job in 2015, and now I have the freedom, flexibility, and personal satisfaction that comes with making a living from something I built from scratch.

The decision to double down on salary negotiation coaching in 2017 continues to pay dividends as I work with more clients and raise my rates to capture more of the value I create with my work.

That’s the business side of things.

Personally, things are great. I’m fortunate to have a very close group of friends. I’ve gotten better at running, and I’m pretty good at making omelettes. Of course there are things I would like to work on for 2019, but 2018 was amazing!

Here’s a Table of Contents so you can jump to wherever you want…

2018 Goal Review

So how did I do this year? Let’s take a look at my 2018 Goals.

Make a good living

The goal was I want to make $10,000 per month in net revenue in 2018. More specifically, I would like to do that by selling $5k in products and booking $5k in coaching per month for the year.

I missed this goal, but not by very much. And each $5k sub-goal is pretty close to what I actually did.

The difference between hitting and missing this goal comes down to a consulting retainer that ended in September after about a year. If that kept going, I would’ve made it.

I also could’ve made it if October wasn’t so horrible revenue-wise.

To be honest, this is bonkers to me. I didn’t actually think I might hit this goal—I just wanted to make sure I set an ambitious-but-achievable goal to maximize my earning potential in 2018.

I did hit a secondary goal, which was to double revenue year-over-year from 2017 to 2018. I did that from 2016 to 2017, and it seems like “do twice what I did last year” is a reasonable goal that can be achieved through good planning, execution, and moderate growth.

More traffic

The goal was I would like to build my organic search traffic to 100,000 unique visitors a month.

This one is interesting. I did hit this goal, but then traffic fell off and settled in around 80,000 visitors a month.

2018 Organic Traffic

The good news is that with more traffic came more revenue, so there was a direct benefit to this goal.

Improve at Sales

Here’s that goal: My goal is that 2% of email subscribers become paying customers within the first 30 days.

This was a huge miss. HUGE miss.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is I did build one funnel—the one that gets the most traffic—that pretty consistently converts 1% of subscribers to customers for a $47 product.

So there’s a lot to build on there.

Help other businesses get more search traffic and email opt-ins

Ehhh, I did some of this but not very much. I worked with a few clients to tweak their SEO, and I worked with some clients on their content strategy. But I just didn’t feel motivated to push this part of the business.

I think there are still things to focus on in my core business and I didn’t want to get too distracted.

Running goals

  • 10k – Sub-8:00 pace Hit it with a week to go in 2017
  • 5k – Sub-7:00 pace (currently 7:14)
  • Mile – Sub-6:00 pace (currently 6:08) Ran a 5:54 mile in August
  • 400m – Sub-60s pace (currently ~64s~ 62.75s)

I’ll write about this later, but I also ran a PR for 15k and finished my first Half Marathon.

A detailed 2018 Year In Review – Business

At the beginning of this year, I felt like the trajectory was in the right direction, but I still had some concerns. I started the year in a bit of a cash crunch as I was still digging out from the financial hole I dug to get through 2017.

To free up cash for 2017 taxes, I had parked some expenses on a 0% credit card. It looked like I would be able to pay it off before the interest rate jumped in August, but it would be close. I also decided all 2018 taxes would be taken off the top and held in a dedicated account so I wouldn’t have to scramble to pay taxes this year.

Saving ahead for 2018 taxes plus paying down that 0% card meant 2018 could be sort of a financial grind. I knew that was likely when I made those decisions in 2017, and now it was time to pay the piper.

January was mediocre, but then things took off: February was my best month ever, and March, April, and May were all consecutively better.

By June, I was out of the woods and starting to replenish my savings. It was almost exactly one year from “Uh oh, I might have to get a day job.” to “This seems to be working and I have some room to breathe again.”

With the exception of a horrible October, the second half of the year was great (but not quite as strong as Q2). I may be doing enough business that I’m able to spot some seasonality, but I’ll have to wait and see.

For now, things are good with the business and I finally feel like I can relax a little and enjoy what I’ve worked to build over the past few years.

Salary negotiation coaching

In June of 2017, I repositioned myself as a salary negotiation coach for experienced software developers. Before that, I was basically positioned as an author who also did some coaching.

That shift in focus is what saved my business.

I kept pulling on that thread in 2018 and it continues to pay off in a few ways.

First, I’ve gotten more and more reps negotiating job offers with big tech firms, so I know their playbooks. This has made me more confident and gives me the tools to pitch my coaching offering more effectively.

Second, I’ve been able to raise my prices so I earn more for my work by reaching a more experienced market where my work has more value. Basically, I’ve enabled more and more experienced software developers and senior managers to find me when they have job offers, and their job offers are usually very substantial, which means their improvements are often substantial.

The combination of those two things is what has really enabled my coaching business to take off.

I also really like what I do. It’s fun to help people who’ve worked so hard to build a valuable skill set actually capture more of the value of the skill set they’ve built.

Product sales

Selling digital products is at once a boon to my business and an enigma. Traffic and sales were up this year, but I continue to suspect that I’m selling far less than I should given my traffic levels, and the quality and value of my products.

This has to be a focus for me in 2019. With over a million visitors to my site in 2018, I should be selling a lot of products.

Email list growth

I hit some pretty big milestones this year. I was this close to hitting 35,000 email subscribers before I pruned almost 10,000 subscribers. Since I started building my list in January 2015, I’ve had more than 60,000 people join my list. About 20,000 of those unsubscribed over time, and I pruned another 12,000 or so.

The churn is normal. The pruning is sort of controversial among my peers. But the bottom line is I had a ton of people on my list who were not opening or interacting with any of my emails, and I don’t think it’s good for anyone if I keep emailing those folks.

So I’ll end 2018 just shy of 30,000 active email subscribers. That’s crazy to me. I had 600 subscribers after my first full year doing this. Now I get more than that in a typical business week.

Now I just need to get better at aligning my product offerings to my email subscribers’ needs.

Consulting retainer

I also had a fun opportunity to consult with a very successful business. It was an unusual arrangement without any real parameters: Just come hang out, observe what we’re doing, and make suggestions to help us improve.

It worked really well for a while and it was a ton of fun, but the business itself eventually became so active that I found myself lost in the shuffle. I would love to do more of this sort of thing, and it’s good to have this experience so I can help define the desired outcomes—for myself and for the business—of this sort of engagement better in the future.

Essential Salary Negotiation Email Pack

Last year, I made a small product called The 15-Minute Counter Offer. I was trying to learn more about how I could help folks finding when they needed help negotiating a job offer.

What I found was that most of those people were in a real hurry—they had just a few hours from the time they found myself site until they had negotiated their offer.

So I built The Essential Salary Negotiation Email Pack to help with their specific needs in a very short timeframe. That product, plus The Salary Negotiation Crash Course—a more in-depth-but-still-streamlined, end-to-end job offer negotiation course, offered as an upsell to the email pack—made almost $12,000 in 2018 and I didn’t start selling it until April.

This is by far my most successful new product and I hope to create a similarly successful offering for folks who aren’t sure how to ask for a raise in 2019.

Overall stats

Here are some high-level stats for 2018 (all as of December 26):


There were 1.023 million New Users on, and 90% of those were from organic search traffic.

My email list

Here’s an updated list of end-of-year email subscribers:

December 2015: ~700
December 2016: ~2,500
December 2017: ~11,500
December 2018: ~28,500

In 2018, I had 24,300 new email subscribers, but since I pruned about 12,000 recently, active email subscribers is “only” 28,500.

Here’s a graph of my email list growth in 2018:

2018 Email List Growth

No hockey stick this year—just consistent growth.

Conversion rates

They’re basically the same as they were last year—about .4% of email subscribers purchase something from me in the first 30 days. The consistency is a little deceptive as I did significantly increase conversions for one funnel, and I also significantly increased opt-ins for all other funnels.

Last year, I said, “If I hit [5% opt-ins and 2% conversions] by the end of 2018, I should be able to hit my revenue goals.”

On one hand, it’s really frustrating to see such a huge miss. On the other hand, I almost hit my revenue goals anyway, so if I actually find a way to get those sorts of conversion rates I’ll be doing very well.

A detailed 2018 Year In Review – Personal

Two things stand out when I think back on this year: traveling and running.


2012 was the beginning of a years-long plan to build a business and stop working for other people. That’s vague, but it’s about as specific a plan as I had in mind.

I started by getting a good-paying day job to leverage my prior career experience and newly-acquired MBA. I used that income to start paying down debt as aggressively as I could, and I began slowly acquiring the basic skills I would need to (eventually) build a successful business.

For the next few years, I was either paying down debt or saving up a runway while basically working seven days a week on my day job and side projects.

In 2015, debt free and comfortable with my runway, I quit my day job to focus full-time on building a business. For a little over two years, I worked really, really hard seven days a week. I think that sort of work was necessary to build the basic infrastructure of my business, but it was also very taxing.

In 2017, I decided the seven-days-a-week schedule needed to end, so I sort of re-entered normal society and focused on community. Either the foundation I had built would facilitate a real business or it wouldn’t—it was time to find out.

So I stopped working so much, but I still wasn’t earning enough to take non-business trips or anything like that. I had to pass on a number of super fun trips to avoid burning too much of my savings.

That changed in 2018 as my business actually started to take off.

Ski trip

I went skiing for the first time since high school and I loved it. My friends go on a ski trip every year, and I was always a little jealous I couldn’t make it. But I also remembered absolutely hating skiing, so it didn’t sting too badly to miss that part.

I figured I would give it a shot this year, mostly so I could say, “See! I went skiing and it’s still awful!” But it turns out I really liked it, and that getting ski lessons is actually very useful. Who knew?

I had a blast and I can’t wait to get back out there in 2019.

Our group at Vail


I also went to Boston with a couple college buddies in June. It was amazing. I hadn’t taken a trip like that in a very long time, and it was everything I hoped for.

Classic Allen face

I have a lot of “Allen makes this face at a sporting event” photos

Running stuff

At the end of 2017, I asked “Am I a runner now?” In hindsight, that question was pretty naive. The answer is vey clearly no.

Runners run a lot more than I do. I am a hobbyist and I made progress on my hobby this year.

My first 15k

In January, I ran my first 15k and it did not go well. Turns out that running a 15k with the flu just isn’t a great idea. But I finished and my time wasn’t terrible (for a guy with the flu).

My first 15k

Sub-6:00 mile

One of my original running goals was to run a sub-6:00 mile. It took me a few tries and about 18 months, but I smashed that goal with a 5:54 in August.

My six-minute mile time with 400m splits

This may have been my most satisfying PR yet because it as almost exclusively mental. I had to try and fail a few times to understand exactly how to run a fast mile, but once I understood it I was able to knock it out.

15k PR on a training run

I was prepping for a Half Marathon and I ran an 8:00-flat pace 15k. This wasn’t even on my list of goals, but it felt pretty good. When I started running at the beginning of 2017, I set a goal of running this pace for 10k. So it’s cool to run that time for a longer distance.

15k training run - 8:00 pace

My first Half Marathon

I was planning to run a Half Marathon earlier in the year, but the aforementioned flu ruined my training and I bailed. Plus, the Half I was going to run would be during the winter and the weather was going to be awful.

A wise friend told me, “Do you really want your first Half Marathon to be a miserable experience? Why not just wait for a better one?” So I did.

I ended up running a Half in sunny, 60º weather and it was a pretty good experience. The one hitch was that the course was only 12.1 miles, so I literally had to go the extra mile to finish.

At least we got cupcakes at the end.

My first Half Marathon (with cupcakes!)

I ended up with a pretty good pace of 8:24. I was very happy with my race strategy as I felt I did the best I could, and I’m certain I could go quite a bit faster with better training.

That said, I doubt I’ll run too many more Halfs. I’m glad I did it, but it really took a toll for like two weeks after the race.

2019 Goals

I’m going to keep things pretty simple this year.

Double revenue again

I have no idea if this is possible or how I will do it, but I don’t think it’s a crazy goal.

Can I double product revenue? I think I can, although I don’t quite know how. I have the traffic and products to do it. There are also a lot of sub-goals that I won’t write about here, but which I think will help with this high-level goal.

Can I double coaching revenue? Yes, by more consistently booking clients and continuing to raise my rates.

This year, I earned pretty much what I earned in my last year of full-time employment. That feels amazing. But I didn’t quit my day job to make the same money I made before. I quit my day job to earn multiples of what I was earning before (among other things). So I want to continue pursuing that as long as it doesn’t require me to return to being a hermit.

Sub-7:00-pace 5k

I’ve been chasing this one for a while, and I probably should’ve tried to knock this out when I ran the sub-6:00 mile earlier this year. Unfortunately, I was battling some injuries and decided to slow down before I really hurt myself. I would like to check this one off the list.

Sub-60-second 400m

I’m honestly not sure if I can do this or not. For one thing, I’ve got nagging injuries that basically prevent me from sprinting. But if I can get healthy, I think I’ve learned enough about proper running that I can do this.

This wasn’t one of my original running goals (I wasn’t sure I’d ever break 70s), but I think it’s still an achievable stretch goal. Or maybe it’s not. I dunno.

More trips

I travel to relax, and I’d like to do that more this year.

I’d like to take another trip with the Boston crew this summer. That trip was a lot of fun and I think the three of us are pretty much an ideal traveling group.

A trip to Europe would also be great—I miss Italy—but I don’t have anything specific in mind yet.

Would I have tricked you with this Halloween costume?

As you can see, my friends and I go all out on Halloween—we do not mess around:

Wonder Woman Halloween Ensemble - 2017

That’s our ensemble costume from last year. I played Charlie, the military-looking guy on the right side (Wonder Woman’s left side). Friends and strangers alike have commented on how much I looked like Charlie, right down to his posture and facial expression.

That’s pretty cool!

But my appearance as Charlie was built on a dirty little secret…

I hadn’t even seen Wonder Woman and I had no idea who Charlie was before I put on the costume.


I did just enough to pull it off. Here’s what I did once we finished my makeup:

  • Watched a one-minute Wonder Woman clip featuring Charlie
  • Studied pictures of him on Google
  • Asked friends to describe Charlie to me

I didn’t need to be Charlie for Halloween, I needed to look like Charlie for Halloween, and I only had to keep it up for a couple hours.

In a weird way, I’ve built an entire business on this concept. My customers don’t need to be negotiation experts—that’s my job!—they just need to know enough to negotiate a job offer or two and then they can go back to their normal lives.

They can do this through self study or even hire me to coach them through it.

Maybe it’s time to update my coaching page to say “I’ll show you how play the role of ‘Expert Salary Negotiator’ next time you get a job offer”.

How salary negotiation coaching is like cooking a tricky pasta recipe

My favorite Italian recipe is technically called Penne allo scarpariello, but I just call it “the penne dish”.

A couple of friends brought it back with them after they spent a year living in Salerno, Italy. I was hooked the first time I tried it, so I asked them for the recipe.

Here are all the ingredients:

  • Penne pasta
  • Campari tomatoes
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Butter
  • Salt
  • Red pepper flakes

And here’s the basic process to make it:

  • Cook the tomatoes in butter
  • Remove the peels when they break
  • Add salt and red pepper flakes
  • Add grated parmesan and a little more butter
  • Cook the pasta
  • Mix the pasta and sauce
  • Eat

The penne dish

It’s delicious! And the process to make it is pretty simple…assuming you know what you’re doing.

As you can see, there are only six ingredients, and yet I ruined it the first couple times I tried to make it on my own. Both times, I missed something small that ended up being a big problem.

So I went back to my friends and asked them to show me how they did it.

I immediately realized where I had messed up: The first time, I had the heat just a little too high, and I overcooked it; the second time, I had the heat a little too low and the cheese didn’t melt properly so it had a funky, gritty texture.

Now I can make the penne dish in my sleep and it’s perfect every time. My friends love it and I love making it.

But when I share the recipe with other people they never try to make it. Even though there are only a few ingredients, it’s too intimidating knowing that there are subtle things you have to get just right in order for it to work.

So I always offer to show them how to make it—just like my friends showed me—pointing out the subtle things along the way. Then they get it.

Salary negotiation is exactly the same way

I wrote the book on salary negotiation—it’s called Fearless Salary Negotiation and thousands of people have read it and used it to make more money.

It’s a detailed recipe with a few simple ingredients for getting paid what you’re worth. And it works for a lot of people who have used it to earn a lot more throughout their career.

But sometimes there are more nuanced situations where a subtle tweak here or there can have enormous benefits. And sometimes, people just prefer to have someone else—an expert—do the work for them.

My very first paid coaching client already had a copy of my book, but she still reached out and asked if I would help her with her salary negotiation. I was a little surprised that she reached out, but I knew I could help so we got to work.

We were able to improve her job offer by several thousand dollars, and I was really happy for her. But I couldn’t quite understand why she reached out and asked to pay a steep fee to work with me rather than just buy my book.

I had to know why she hired me instead of trying a DIY approach, so I asked her, “Why did you hire me instead of just reading my book?”

Her answer gave me everything I needed to know to build a thriving coaching business: “I just wanted you to do it for me.”

That’s why I offer one-on-one full-service salary negotiation coaching for experienced software developers. For those who just want someone to do the work for them, and for folks who can stand to make a lot more money with a subtle tweak to my salary negotiation recipe, salary negotiation coaching is an amazing value.

I recently worked with J.B., an experienced Software Engineer who had a strong offer that we turned into an amazing offer:

Testimonial from J.B., a Software Engineer

And the best part is that I love negotiating job offers, so it’s a lot of fun for me while being valuable for my clients.

If you or someone you know might benefit from salary negotiation coaching, here’s where you can learn more and apply for a 15-minute intro call:

>> Learn more about salary negotiation coaching

Where was this video BEFORE my first time skiing?

I couldn’t see through all the snow spraying me in the face, so I just closed my eyes and waited for impact. Another skier was trying to stop before he ran me over, and he barely missed me. I had fallen – again – and couldn’t get up.

This was my first ski lesson. It was not going well.

Even better, the skier trying to avoid me was my good friend and instructor, Scott. He was much better than I was and he didn’t have much patience for teaching a newbie how to ski.

I would just sort of point myself down the mountain and try to maintain some control while zipping down in a straight line. When I eventually got to the bottom, I would either coast to a stop or intentionally wipe out to avoid hitting anyone.

It was awful, and I was content to never ski again.

Then my friends convinced me to give it one more shot, on powder this time. So I’m heading to Colorado next week to try again. They insist it’ll be a lot more fun than I remember.

We’ll see!

It’s a big investment—time and money—for something that could turn out to be really un-fun. So I put on my “learn a new thing, even if it might be unpleasant” hat and started doing some research.

I found this fantastic video on YouTube—it’s exactly what I needed:

How to ski | 10 beginner lessons for the first day of skiing

What impressed me most is how the instructor anticipates almost every fear that I have about skiing. “How do I turn?” “What if I fall?” “What if I accidentally end up on a slope that’s uncomfortably steep?”

He’s been teaching for so long that he’s heard all of those concerns before. His list of “10 beginner lessons” probably came directly from hundreds of terrified students who have said, “What if I fall? How do I get up again?!” as they pictured themselves stuck on the side of a mountain, people zipping by as they struggle to stand up, for hours and hours and hours.

After watching that short video, I have enough confidence to give it a shot. I’m still going to take lessons the first day, but I’m a lot less worried about embarrassing myself than I was before.

Most people feel the same way about getting a raise. Maybe they tried it once before, but it didn’t go very well. So they gave up and decided to just wait for their next raise to come along whenever it happens to come along.

Sometimes, they don’t even get that far—the idea of asking for a raise and having to defend their request may be so daunting that they never even try.

Does that sound familiar?

Now it’s February again and most companies are gearing up for performance evaluation season.

You know you’re underpaid, and you want to do something about it, but you don’t know where to start. Last time you tried, nothing came of it, so why try again?

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I’ll be your expert instructor showing you how to get your next raise in just 7 short video lessons with clear action items to help you make steady progress to your goal.

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This isn’t working

Nick Saban did something truly remarkable on Monday night: He benched his starting quarterback and brought in a backup for the second half of the National Championship football game.

It’s hard to describe how crazy this is – it’s never happened before.

Football coaches are notoriously stubborn. They learn a system that they like, and they hold onto that system at all costs. And this often gets them fired as they start losing games to newer coaches who have figured out how to beat their go-to system.

But Nick Saban isn’t an ordinary coach. He’s probably the best college football coach ever because he’s constantly evaluating the situation and looking for opportunities to adjust.

In this game—the most important game of the season—he evaluated his game plan, said THIS ISN’T WORKING and switched to a completely different game plan at half time.

I call this “optionality” – maximizing the number of options available at any time, and having a plan to choose and execute the right option for a given situation.

This wasn’t some sort of knee-jerk reaction to falling behind: They had practiced for this, and they ran a totally different offense with their backup quarterback in the second half.

AND IT WORKED! His team, the Alabama Crimson Tide, came back and won the game!

Optionality and your career

You knew this tie-in was coming, right?

We can all learn a lot from Nick Saban’s strategy in the National Championship. If I had to sum it up in one sentence, I would say…

Always keep an eye out for new options and have a plan to take advantage of the best options when your current plan isn’t working.
An easy way to increase your career optionality is learning a new skill—a programming language, software tool, or soft skill—so you’re ready for an opportunity that might be available soon. A harder way is to earn an advanced degree (like an MBA) or certification.

This is a big shift in thinking, but it’s worth it: Instead of just waiting for new opportunities to present themselves, you can proactively look for new options to take advantage of them.

That’s how you improve the trajectory of your career.

Fearless Salary Negotiation will show you how to proactively pursue raises and promotions using methods that work. Check it out if you’re due for a raise!

>> Click here to learn more about Fearless Salary Negotiation

How I get into the Christmas spirit every year

Every year, my friends and I watch as many Christmas movies as we can between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We have an elaborate system to nominate and veto movies until we have three movies to choose from, then we vote for our favorite.

It gets pretty crazy with people forming alliances and using complicated strategies to watch the movie they want, and we spend a lot of time arguing about what constitutes a “Christmas movie” (Die Hard is a Christmas movie, Die Hard 2 is not).

Here’s how it works…

The group nominates three movies. Each person can nominate one movie. Each person also gets one veto—they can veto any movie that’s already been nominated, and they must replace that movie with another nomination.

Once there are three nominations and no more vetos, we all vote for our favorite. The movie with the most votes wins. If there’s a tie, then there’s usually some campaigning before we re-vote for the movies that tied. If there’s still a tie, I think we flip a coin or something.

If it sounds complicated, that’s because it is: Sometimes the nomination process is as long as the movie we choose.

We’ve already had four movie nights and my guess is we’ll have five or six more before Christmas. Here are the movies we’ve watched so far this year:

  1. Better Watch Out – Is this a Christmas movie? There were…disagreements.
  2. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York – One of the best Christmas movies.
  3. Trading Places – Yes, the one about trading pork bellies. No, this isn’t really a Christmas movie—turns out the TV version is quite a bit different than the full version.
  4. Jingle all the Way – What’s not to like about a Christmas movie starring The Governator?
  5. Christmas Vacation – Chevy Chase at his best, and a timeless movie that gets better with time.
  6. Home Alone – The quintessential Christmas movie.
  7. The Santa Clause – A solid Christmas movie with one of my favorite Christmas movie characters: Neil.

A pretty good lineup, but we still haven’t watched my favorite…

Christmas Vacation

There’s just something about Clark Griswold’s dogged determination to have a Merry Christmas despite the universe conspiring against him at every turn. Hopefully I’ll get this one on the list while there’s still time.

And I’m still hoping for It’s a Wonderful Life and Home Alone this year.

UPDATE (12/19/2017): We have watched a few more movies since I originally posted this, so I’ve added them to the list above. We’ve had a really solid lineup so far this year!

Speaking of Christmas…

Give them a lifetime of bigger paychecks

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Tough career advice over lunch at a cheap BBQ joint

“What are you doing for lunch today? Wanna go to Sonny’s?”

I was a Project Manager on a team of about 8 people at a company of about 30 people.

Still, it was a pretty big surprise that my boss wanted to go get cheap BBQ for lunch.

I had been doing pretty well, impressing clients and even winning some awards. My co-workers seemed to like working with me. I tried to give good input and share my opinions in the right situations.

But I could sense this wasn’t a back-patting sort of lunch—Humble Pie would probably be on the menu.

Sure enough, my boss had one central message for me:

“Your input in our team meetings is often critical but thoughtful. And that’s good—we need that kind of input to keep improving as a team. But the way you share your input and accept feedback could be more collaborative and less harsh.”

He told me my body language was negative. I didn’t seem to be engaging to find solutions so much as simply venting about my frustrations. When my work was scrutinized, I wasn’t open to suggestions that could help me improve.

This was pretty hard to hear, and I didn’t take it well at first (reinforcing his reason for sharing this feedback).

But the more we talked, the more I understood that the actual words I spoke were only part of the equation. We work with people, not robots, so our facial expressions, body language, and tone all contribute to how others perceive us.

I began to see that he was simply advising me to get out of my own way. By seeming standoffish and resisting input, I was making others less likely to offer feedback that could be valuable for me and our team.

I made two major adjustments that I still use today:

  • I forced myself to actively listen to all feedback without passing judgement in the moment.
  • I decided that I would not criticize something without having at least one thoughtful solution to the problem.

If you’ve sat in a meeting with someone who has no idea what they’re talking about, then you know how hard these things are to do in practice.

So it took a while to make these adjustments, but they paid off in spades.

It became easier to solve difficult business problems because I really listened when my colleagues identified things we could improve.

I also found that I had access to more unique opportunities because I became known as a thoughtful collaborator who could work with a team to solve difficult problems. Those opportunities helped me get promoted faster and get better paying jobs with more responsibility.

I’m glad my boss took me to lunch and shared difficult feedback over cheap BBQ that day. My career has been much better for it.

Something to think about

If you took yourself to lunch to share one piece of career advice, what would it be? That might be a good place to focus your energy as we head into the home stretch of 2017.

How I prepped for hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma smacked the state of Florida last week, and I live in Gainesville, FL, directly in the path of most of the trackers’ projections before Irma made landfall.

When Irma was in the Atlantic, it ramped up to a Category 5 hurricane, which is a pretty scary prospect for us Floridians. A Cat 5 hurricane can do a lot of damage, so it’s important to make sure you’re prepared.

Here’s a summary of my #HurricanePrep the day before Irma arrived:

  • My buddies and I played a round of disc golf—I shot one over, which is pretty good considering I haven’t played in a year or two.
  • Then we went to Wal-Mart and stocked up on the essentials. Here’s what we had in our cart:

Groceries for hurricane Irma prep

  • Then we went to Satchel’s pizza for a Satch Pan (Satchel’s take on a deep dish).
  • I moved anything that looked like a projectile out of my yard and into my laundry room.
  • I made arrangements to ride out the storm at a friend’s house where the power almost never goes out.
  • We watched football.

I know, I know: It sure doesn’t look like we took Irma very seriously. The truth is that we probably OVER-prepared for Irma given what we knew at the time.

Prepping for the right things

The worst part of a hurricane is the storm surge, but storm surges require lots of water (like an ocean). Gainesville is land-locked, which significantly mitigates the risks of a hurricane because we’re unaffected by storm surges and hurricanes have to cross a lot of land to get to us. As hurricanes move over land, they weaken, so they’re much weaker when they get to Gainesville than they were when they made landfall.

What I didn’t mention above is that my friends and I are all life-long Floridians, and we’ve seen and prepped for lots of hurricanes. Since we have so much experience with them, we can filter out all the noise coming from the Weather Channel Hype Machine™?, and we know that there are just a few important things we need to do any time a hurricane blows through town:

  • Get some water
  • Get enough non-perishable food and a few batteries to last a few days in case the stores close
  • Find a decent house to shelter in place (preferably one that doesn’t usually lose power in storms)

So when hurricane season rolls around, we know all we need to do is a few key things to make sure we’re ready. As long as we do those things, we’ll be ok for most hurricanes that reach Gainesville.

Irma flooded streets and downed a few trees, but not much else. This is 34th St here in Gainesville – a main road that goes north and south right through the middle of town:

A Gainesville, FL street flooded during Irma

And here’s the view from my house looking down my driveway. You can see the water line in my yard—fortunately my house is raised above the street just a bit!

My house after hurricane Irma

Asking for a raise boils down to a few key steps

Asking for a raise can feel overwhelming. But in my experience as a hiring manager, I’ve learned that there are just a few key things you need to do to to prepare ahead of time. If you focus on these things, then process becomes a whole lot simpler and a whole lot less overwhelming:

  • Pick a time when there’s budget available
  • Ask for a specific salary
  • Show how you’ve already earned the raise
  • Follow up

When you prepare well and take the right steps, then asking for a raise is much easier for you and your manager.

Not sure where to start when it comes to asking for a raise or promotion? Fearless Salary Negotiation will show you how to estimate your market value, and has a step-by-step process you can use to get your next raise or promotion.

The Tick-Tock of my BBC News Channel Interview on Live International TV

I got up and went to Starbucks like I do almost every morning. That’s where I go to get some coffee, catch up on the news (specifically, that means reading Twitter), and plan my day. I like having a routine, especially in the morning, because it reduces the number of decisions I have to make when I’m sleepy and my brain isn’t fully functional.

8:00 AM Eastern Time

So I got my coffee, found a table by the window, and popped into Tweetbot to see what was happening. I saw the little dot that said I had a new mention, so I checked it.

That’s what I saw. The BBC? Interesting! I replied right away and we did the “follow each other so we can DM” dance.

8:05 AM Eastern Time

I wrapped up coffee time and headed in to my office, which is about 2 minutes from Starbucks. It would take a few minutes for Tammi to follow me back and DM me, so I figured I might as well move to my office so I could set up for my interview.

At this moment, I wasn’t even sure what kind of interview we were talking about. Most of the time when I get this sort of request, it’s for either an email interview or a phone interview, and those usually end up published online.

So I was thinking this might be a phone interview that might be aired on TV or transcribed for quotes for online, TV, or radio use.

To be clear: I had no idea I was going on national TV soon.

8:17 AM Eastern Time

Tammi DMs me her email address and lets me know that they’re on air in 45 minutes, and would I be free then?

Now I know this is a live interview. I’m still not sure if it’s audio-only or video. I’m assuming audio-only.

8:21 AM Eastern Time

Tammi emails me with a summary of what they’re talking about and asks some questions to give me a sense of what sorts of thing I might be asked on the air.

She also mentions that it would be great if we could do a live interview for TV, and asks if I have Skype.


I confirm that will work and answer the questions she asked to show that I know what I’m talking about.

As an aside, I’ve found that any time I’m asked questions about my subject, giving very thorough answers is almost always the best way to go. It demonstrates my expertise and gives the asker as much information as they need so that can pare it down to whatever they were looking for. Over-delivering in this particular area has gotten me a ton of good opportunities to contribute to large outlets.

We also exchange a few more emails about logistics like my geographic location.

Meanwhile, I start setting up my office for a Live TV interview. I cleared my whiteboard, raised my laptop on a pile of books so the webcam was eye level, set up two super-cheap desk lamps I keep handy for key and fill lighting, and began testing everything to make sure it looked and sounded ok.

8:34 AM Eastern Time

Tammi asks for my phone number so a producer can reach out to me to start getting ready to go on air.

I continue monkeying with my setup so it looks as professional as possible on such short notice.

8:42 AM Eastern Time

A producer from the BBC News Channel calls me to confirm some details and tell me what’s going to happen.

This call lasts one minute.

I continue fiddling with technical stuff and testing things to make sure everything works. I mess with my bookshelf so it’s not totally barren. I drink water to make sure my throat isn’t dry. I fire up my lights so they can warm up in time. I talk to myself out loud a lot so my voice warms up as well (I’ve been awake for about an hour at this point, so I’m still feeling and sounding sleepy).

I log into Skype and hang out waiting for the BBC to call.

8:58 AM Eastern Time

The BBC calls me on Skype. A different producer this time.

He does some basic checks to make sure everything is ok. I’m on camera now and planted in front of my laptop. I won’t move a muscle for the next 12 minutes.

I don’t see anyone on the other side, but I can hear Shaun Ley interviewing a guest and talking. There’s a commercial playing.

9:06 AM Eastern Time

Shaun Ley is talking about me. Now he’s talking to me, but I can’t see him. All I see is a green dot on my MacBook, and some stars from the bright lights in my face.

Shaun asks me some questions and I answer them while I continue staring at the green dot.

9:09 AM Eastern Time

Shaun and I are finished talking and a producer thanks me for my time. We disconnect on Skype and my 15 minutes is over.

In only an hour and nine minutes, I had spoken with three BBC producers over four different mediums, plus talked with Shaun Ley on Live TV.

But my time with the BBC wasn’t quite over.

1:06 PM Eastern Time

Here we go again!

This one was a slower burn, but the tick-tock is still interesting.

I exchanged DMs with Sophie and sent my phone number so we could chat about the interview.

1:34 PM Eastern Time

Sophie says she’s calling soon.

1:45 PM Eastern Time

Sophie calls for an exploratory chat where she asked several questions about different aspects of salary negotiation and the gender pay disparity.

The interview would be quite a bit later in the day, so I think she was trying to get as much information as possible to enable them to ask questions that dovetailed with their programming while complementing other discussions they would have over the next several hours.

We wrap up after 16 minutes and I’m told the interview should be at 6:05 PM Eastern Time, and that they’ll call me a few minutes before that.

6:01 Eastern Time

A BBC 5 Live producer calls to make sure everything is set up. We do some technical tests to make sure they can hear me and then I am in the queue.

I can hear Stephen Nolan talking with a Sky reporter and the conversation is a little… contentious? BBC News and Sky are competitors, so this is to be expected.

I confess I was a little nervous that I might be walking into a tricky situation, so my guard was up a bit.

The interview with the Sky reporter went a little longer than I expected, but then I could hear Stephen transitioning to our interview.

About 6:15 PM Eastern Time

I’m on! This was a much less difficult interview logistically, but the questions were more challenging. We didn’t have as much time as I expected, but it was a good interview overall.

6:23 PM Eastern Time

The interview was over, the producer thanked me for coming on, and that was it.

Here’s my BBC 5 Live radio interview: