As a freelancer, I positioned within the first two years to focus exclusively on development for a kind of website using a content management system called, “Joomla.” This helped me to double my earnings and grow a small team. However, Joomla declined and our robust lead flow dwindled away to nothing.

I decided to try and fix things and really understand how the agency business model worked. I networked more with other agency owners, attended conferences, worked with coaches, and studied agencies.

One of the things I learned was that most agencies had no lead generation plan and many did well despite this. They subsisted on a low, but fairly consistent flow, of word of mouth / referrals.

This mystified me because we received almost no referrals, despite doing great work and having happy clients. All of our leads came through SEO and directory marketing.

During this period, I decided to reposition the agency and the first thing I looked at was our client list. I wanted to know where we had built up experience in specific industries. What I found was that we were all over the place: universities, start-ups, corporations, small businesses, pharma, healthcare, e-commerce, etc. etc. It was disheartening because there was no signal in our previous work identifying where there might be opportunity.

After these experiences, I believed that we were an anomaly, an outlier, somehow weirdly different from every other agency I encountered.

Lately though, I’ve realized that it all makes sense.

I had implemented a horizontal positioning strategy where I was focused on a technology, rather than on a vertical market. This ensured we had clients that were all over the place and that would rarely talk to each other. Hence, no referrals. The only way for us to reach people needing help was to be where they searched for it (Google and SEO).

Beyond the implications of horizontal positioning, what’s interesting to me was that I carried around this belief that we were somehow a unique snowflake. I didn’t understand why our experience was different and rather than try to understand, I chalked it up to random chance.

I mention it because I’ve been writing about edges of development. That was/is an edge: I had this implicit belief that I knew enough and that if I didn’t understand something, it was unknowable, unsolvable. Blindspots in knowledge.

Featured image is Odin in disguise as a wanderer, by Georg von Rosen (1886). Odin is associated with knowledge and is supposed to have traded one of his eyes for wisdom. The cost and benefit of experience. Used under public domain.