It can be difficult to look at someone who has achieved success in something like building out a consistent way to attract clients and to picture yourself ever being able to achieve that same level of success. It can feel like they got to where they are overnight, as if by magic. But obviously, that’s not true. Behind all of these success stories are journeys with unexpected twists and turns of months and much more frequently years of consistent hard work to figure it all out.
Josh Doody has an awesome niche: he is a salary negotiation coach. As the title implies, he helps his clients to negotiate a higher salary, helping them to earn thousands of dollars more per year. Not a bad problem to solve. But Josh didn’t start out as an expert on salary negotiation. In fact, he originally worked as an electrical engineer, and the path he took from that career to salary negotiation was definitely not a straight or obvious one. Josh shares how this transition happened, the twists and turns along the way, and steps that he took to build his business, one small piece at a time.
Josh shares with us:
Josh is a salary negotiation coach who helps software developers get more high-quality job offers and negotiate higher salaries and author of Fearless Salary Negotiation.
But Josh's background is in computer and electrical engineering at the University of Florida. After college, he worked at a department of defense firm as an electrical engineer. He was bored but did manage to get lots of raises for his salary. At one point, his boss graphed out his career path over the next 25 years, if he stayed with the firm, a steady rise of responsibility versus salary at a 45-degree angle. It was steady, safe, but not an enjoyable prospect.
Josh decided to change careers from an electrical engineer at the department of defense firm to a project manager and consultant for a 30 person software development company. He has since made several more drastic career changes.
Because of Josh's ability to reinvent himself and change careers, people who knew him well started coming up to him and asking for advice on taking job offers, feeling stuck on their jobs, profit maximizing types of questions, etc. Josh then ended up in the talent development industry and discovered how companies decide to pay people.
Fast forward, Josh had a decade of experience consulting with people on how to hire, what friends should do in their careers, etc, and Josh decided to write a book. The book became his calling card which introduced him to other people who needed help in coaching. The coaching grew over the past year until it is a huge part of his business.
This winding path is common in the freelancing world because people tend to gather one skill, set it aside, nurture another skill, set it aside until...
“That unique combination of 6 or 7 skills may not exist anywhere else in the world. There may literally be nobody else that can stack those 7 things next to each other. Then you end up with a unique person with a unique background and unique experience that they can use to consult.”
Back to the pitch, why work with software developers? At first, Josh was attracting mostly software developers. At first, Josh was afraid to niche down and only target software developers. But, Philip Morgan, helped encourage Josh to niche, and voila, he now targets software developers.
He had the background in computers and software development, letting him understand how software developers work and think. That meant software developers were comfortable working with him and why he was able to attract them.
For Josh, niching happened in two phases.
The first phase was based on his experience and providing social proof. The proof came mostly in the form of his book. Josh had practiced and refined his methods while coaching friends and family pro bono. Slowly, he started taking on coaching clients who sought him out.
The big breakthrough happened after his friend suggested that he flip his business on its head. Instead of being an author who also offers coaching, Josh should be a coach who is also selling a book if the coaching client can't afford him or isn't a good fit.
Phase two. Josh reviewed his coaching resume and found out that almost all of his clients were software developers. This was partially a result of his appearances on developer podcasts.
“If they were finding me without any sort of marketing or positioning to them, then they would certainly find me if I told them explicitly, 'I am here to work with you.'”
Josh started writing copy on his coaching page focussing on software developers, have testimonials from software developers, show that software developers have been successful with his help, etc.
Although it was scary, and he thought he might lose all his customers, it turned out, he had nothing to fear.
“You know what, forget it. I'm going to try it. I need to make this change anyway. If I'm going to do it, I'm going to go all in. I totally shifted to software developers. And, of course, since I did that, I've literally had trouble keeping up with applications and communicating back to people who are applying while I'm working with existing clients.”
Why does niching work?
Josh speculates that because his original website copy was open and undirected, “I coach everybody!”, people would ask themselves, “Well, can he coach me?” They think that because they didn't see themselves as a client on the website, maybe the coaching is meant for someone else. Everyone thought this, software developers, designers, everyone.
When Josh focused on software developers, the software developers saw themselves on the website and now knew that Josh could help them. No question. The other people who visit the site, the designers, etc., still don't see themselves so they still don't contact him. So Josh is actually getting more applications.
The second thing that makes niching work is the more successful referrals. Josh is specifically telling people that he coaches software developers. So now, when people have friends that are software developers who are looking for new jobs, they know exactly who to refer them to, Josh. Josh has gotten a lot more referrals now that he has niched.
From the book to the coach
Josh was bouncing around the idea of writing a book for years after people were asking him questions. He had answered so many questions over and over that he thought it would be worth while to write it down. He started writing it chapter by chapter, would use a chapter as a lead magnet, send it out to his lists, get feedback.
Early on, Josh had help from Josh Kaufman who helped him rethink the book from "Take Control of Your Career: A Career Management Guide" (what Josh originally set out to write) to "Fearless Salary Negotiation: A Step by Step Guide to Getting Paid What You're Worth", created an ROI optimized outline, and proposed a publishing strategy for Amazon to ensure the book would be a success.
While writing, Josh still worked his day-job. But when it came to publicizing and publishing, he decided that to do it right, he had to quit his job. He published the book, create an e-book version, and a short online course. He was also building an SAS at the time to bring in extra income for him.
“The plan was: quit the job, publish the book, 4-5 months later have enough digital product revenue coming in that I'm paying all my bills, then go back to my SAS. That didn't happen.”
Instead, after publishing and not seeing the money come in as naively expected, he was advised by several people to start coaching. But he still really wanted the digital product empire to succeed so he only took on coaching clients that happened to find him.
But, in early 2017, his revenue suddenly went away as people stopped buying his products. Maybe it was just the time of year when people don't want to switch jobs, but anyway, Josh was in trouble.
That's when Josh's friend told him to reposition as a coach with digital products, rather than author with coaching. Josh didn't even realize that he could position himself this way a year earlier because he hadn't previously coached before. After taking on a few coaching clients, this repositioning made a lot of sense and saved him from the fear of not being able to pay the bills.
Service or Product
But, Josh had to give up his vision of a digital product empire, a passive income from a SAS product, and instead trade time for money as a coach.
“It's really fun for me because I don't have to work all that hard in terms of mental effort, but instead I can really focus on my clients, respond to what they need, and focus on keeping clients happy.”
Coaching doesn't scale as well, but it does scale and scaling isn't an issue yet. And he does really enjoy it. In the short term, Josh is making a good living, providing good value for people, and enjoying it. In the future, something else can come along. Coaching and products might still have a place together.
Also, coaching and services often return a higher amount of effective hourly rate compared to products. If feels good to get the notification of a sale of a product while out enjoying music at a bar, but it doesn't take into account the hours of development and marketing to get that product out there.
The transition to coaching was made a bit easier because Josh had already done all this marketing for the book to position himself as an expert. People were already coming to the website for his products, but he redirected these links to go to his coaching pages. Basically, he had built a funnel from the marketing material towards his coaching.
Building out the Funnel
The easy way for people to become clients is through referrals. Josh makes sure that people who he has worked with know that he is open for business and looking for new clients, that they know how to contact him, and know that he is looking specifically for software developers.
Now, for everyone else. First, people have to get to his site. Most of the traffic to Josh's site is organic so Josh has put in some effort into SEO. The conversion rate is relatively low, but that's not the point. Josh can monitor the quality of lead magnets and how interesting they are. Once they come to the site, Josh gets people to sign up for his mailing list with a nice lead magnet. He follows up by sending as much valuable information that he can give towards the reason they entered the site. He gives them a lot of stuff for free.
In the newsletters, Josh gives them lots of free stuff, templates and processes, and drips in some personal stories about his own experiences and then offers his coaching services or directs to his book for more detailed information.
Josh also continues to reach out to new people through his appearances on podcasts and his articles on other websites like glassdoor.com, Fast Company, Business Insider, and CNBC.
It used to be 70-80% of his time was spent on business and marketing stuff (managing the website, writing lead magnets and articles, refreshing relationships and asking for referrals, getting on podcasts, etc.). Now that he has a lot of clients, he now spends about 60-70% of time directly on coaching his clients. He doesn't have to put as much work into the business side now since all of his initial hard work is paying off. But he still does!
“I do stuff manually until it hurts to continue doing it manually. Then I systematize it. It's really easy to arrange deck chairs on the Titanic kinds of stuff with your business.”
Only build systems when you actually need it.
Most of the time, people find Josh, need the services, and hire him right away, rather than lingering around reading the mailing list for a few months before asking for help through services (coaching) or products (the book). That means that the mailing list isn't the thing driving sales for Josh. Instead, the people who are hiring him have probably come across him on other podcasts or articles and sought him out for help directly. They often have a job offer or a job offer is imminent so they need help with negotiation right now!
Josh always asks people to fill out an application to get him as a coach, followed by a 15 minute call where Josh asked them some questions and gets a feel about their needs and makes sure they are a good fit. Then, Josh hits the ground running helping them negotiate for their salary.
- Fearless Salary Negotiation
- FT 031: Positioning Your Consulting Business with Philip Morgan
- The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman
- Getting to 180,000 yearly organic visitors in under 12 months
- Josh's article on Skill Stacking on GlassDoor.com
Find Josh online: