Marketing Habits, Matryoshka Dolls, and SOPs

How do you get better at a marketing habit? The trick is realizing you’ve got three things stacked together like a Russian nesting doll:

  1. The core habit you’re looking to build (e.g., guest on 2-3 podcasts/month). This is the vision, the goal, and or the outcome you’re working towards.
  2. The process you’re following to execute on that habit. These are the steps you’re taking when you execute your habit (e.g., research podcasts, find an email address, send intro email, repeat tomorrow).
  3. The specific tactical steps you’re following within that process This is the Standard Operating Procedure ( you follow when you’re working on executing on your habit.

With me so far?

These three pieces are stacked inside each other, like a nesting Matryoshka Doll (Russian Doll/Stacking Doll). You’ve got the core habit (e.g., get on podcasts), but inside that you’ve got the general process you’re following, and inside that you’ve got your specific Standard Operating Procedure.

Why is the process or SOP necessary?

First, separating these three bits gives you clarity on what to work on, optimize, or fix. Have you picked a habit? Do you have clarity on your process for your habit? Have you written an SOP? If you’re missing one of those pieces, you’ll struggle with your habit.

If you’re running into friction or not seeing the outcomes you want, it might be that the habit you’ve picked is the wrong one for your market or it might be that your process or SOP for the habit is janky or half-baked. If that’s the case, instead of thinking, ‘UGH. Time to switch habits,’ you can start to investigate improving your process for that habit.

Second, SOPs give you a repeatable playbook to follow. When it’s time to execute a marketing habit, you can open up your SOP and follow the process.

That means when you sit down to work, you won’t have to spend time remembering/figuring out what exactly you need to do. Instead, your SOP gives you a checklist-esq process to follow that you can iterate/optimize/refine over time.

Let’s say that you’ve decided to follow my advice from Chapter 4 of Get More Leads (, and you’re building a Content Beachhead (a collection of articles/videos to reach and attract your ideal clients on a platform they spend time on).

In that case, creating your Content Beachhead is your core habit.

Executing that habit will focus on researching your audience, creating the content they’re looking for, and then publishing/promoting your content.

That’s the process you’re following.

To make that process as easy as possible for you to follow and execute, you’ll want to document the steps you’re taking each time you execute on that habit.

That’s your Standard Operating Procedure (aka, the three sexiest words in the English language 😏).

When it’s time to work on and execute your habit, you won’t need to spend time remembering what to do. Instead, you can pick up your Standard Operating Procedure, remind yourself of the steps to take, and then get to work on your habit.

What I love about this division is that it provides clarity on what to work on optimizing when stuff goes wrong:

  • Are you struggling to execute your habit? Work on improving your process to know what steps you need to take.
  • Are you executing on your habit, but it’s taking longer than you’d like? See if you can refine your Standard Operating Procedure, so your process takes less time moving forward.
  • Are you executing on your habit but aren’t seeing results? If you’re doing the thing, executing on your process, and shipping, but it isn’t working, think about if you’ve picked the right habit for your target market. It might be that you refine your habit to reach your target market better.



How do you get started building a marketing habit?

How do you get started building (or rebuilding) marketing habits? Better yet, what can you do to make those habits as easy as possible for future you to stick with?

Well, first, you need to pick a habit to work on. Maybe that’s doing some podcast outreach or creating a content beachhead to engage with your market where they already are (more on that inside Get More Leads

No matter which approaches you decide on, you want to end up with ~1-3 regular marketing activities that you’re engaging in and building up as a habit. Some will stick for the long-haul; others will fade away after a few months, giving you room for new habits.

Alright, that gives you the big picture focus. But what about implementation? How do you avoid (or overcome) the challenges that come up when you get started working on these marketing habits?

To dethorn that rose, you want to take a few minutes and write down some notes (and answer a few questions) about the marketing habits you’re attempting to build. Here are the questions I like thinking through:

  • What are you attempting to do?
  • What would a small success look like?
  • What resources will you need?
  • What challenges might you run into?
  • How much time do you need to set aside (and how often) to work on this habit?
  • What could go wrong (and what will you do to get back on track)?

Together, your answers to these questions start to give you a plan for building a marketing habit.

But how can you make those habits as easy as possible to build and stick with, even when the going gets tough (or the brain gets distracted)? More on that topic in tomorrow’s letter.



How do you get started marketing again after a break or pause?

The hardest part about marketing is getting started again after a pause. The muscles are weak. The voice is scraggly.

Put another way, if you’re on the wrong side of it, inertia is a pain in the butt. Getting started after a break is hard.

The trick? As John Cage says, “begin anywhere”. With anything inertia- or habit-related — like marketing yourself or generating leads — the secret isn’t to aim for big, huge, ambitious marketing outcomes, but to aim to build small, slow, steady marketing habits.

Those small habits, over time, build up to big outcomes.



But when should you throw out the initial price?

In yesterday’s letter, I shared that, ‘hey, you shouldn’t throw the initial price out for a project until you’ve asked questions and thought the project through.’

I mentioned that there were occasional exceptions to this approach. Y’all wrote in to ask about those exceptions.

So, let’s talk about those exceptions. When can (or, should), you throw out the first price on a call? And what risks do you accept by doing so?

Exception One: Productized Services

Productized services are services with a fixed scope, fixed price, fixed timeline, and fixed deliverables. By standardizing your offering (and shrinking the range of options), you make it easier to quote a price immediately. There’s less uncertainty for you or the client.

There are fewer ways the scope can unexpectedly shift with a productized offering, so you’re safe throwing out that initial (standardized) price.

Here’s an example:

<them> We need help with our website. Our marketing is terrible, and our homepage is out of date. Can you help us refresh our homepage to tell our story better?

<you> I’d be happy to help. I have a ‘Homepage Refresh’ offering. I meet with your executive team, talk through where the homepage is lacking, interview you about your brand and upcoming marketing focus, and then draft an updated version of your homepage to address the issues (with one revision included). The project will take six weeks from kickoff to delivery, and you’ll get the final copy (and layout suggestions) in a Google doc. The price is $3,500. Would you like to move forward?

Because you’ve standardized your process (and turned your offering into an off-the-shelf product), there’s less risk on the project. There are fewer bits you’ll need to figure out, you already know the steps you’ll take, and you’ve optimized the process the client will be moving through.

All of that adds up to it being less risky for you to throw out the first number. So go ahead!

After all, instead of quoting them a price on a squishy service offering (where the scope is made up customized to the client’s needs), you’re quoting them on the price for a standardized product you’ve delivered before.

Exception Two: You’re Selling Roadmapping

Roadmaps are strategy- and discovery-focused initial projects, typically sold as a productized service.

The goal of a roadmapping project (or as I like to call it, a roadmapping session – are to:

  • Discuss the project with the client
  • Identify unknowns or potential sources of risk
  • Get on the same page in terms of goals, target outcomes, budget, and timeline
  • Define a plan outlining the next steps to take to move the client towards their desired outcome

Roadmaps are excellent at reducing risk for you and your client. When you meet, talk through the client’s goals, and define a plan to follow, you’re getting on the same page and identifying (and eliminating!) sources of risk.

I love roadmaps. I recommend them to nearly every client. (In fact, Double Your Ecommerce’s Website X-Ray is a strategy- and discovery-focused SEO roadmap, focused on identifying the top ~5-8 SEO opportunities and issues facing a Shopify store and defining a plan for what high-impact optimizations to tackle first.)

When you’re facing down a project with a squishy scope where the client wants a price, and you need more information before you can share a price, you should recommend that they start with a roadmap.

Here’s an example:

<them> We need help. Our competitors are outranking us in Google. We don’t know why that is, and we’ve tried EVERYTHING. How much will it cost to fix our SEO and get us ranking #1?

<you> I’d be happy to help, but, alas, I don’t know enough yet to quote you a price that’s more than a wild guess. To help you move forward, I recommend we start with a discovery- and strategy-focused project to build a roadmap on how to get you moving towards #1. My roadmaps are $1,000, and at the end of our work together, you’ll receive a strategy document from me outlining the recommended path forward, a list of recommended high-priority projects, and a price quote for the next project we should work on together.

Because you need more information, it makes sense to start with a roadmap. And because you can sell roadmaps as fixed-price productized services (learn more here:, it’s very easy to quote a price for this discovery work.

Bottom-Line Recommendations

  • Don’t throw out the first price until you’ve asked questions and thought the project through
  • If you’re selling a productized service, it’s easier to quote a price because your process, deliverables, timeline, and price are all standardized. (The client is buying an off-the-shelf product from you, like a can of soup at the grocery store.)
  • If your client doesn’t have the information you need (or you have many questions to ask and think through), you should start by recommending a roadmapping session. That will make it easy for you to determine what steps to take and share accurate and realistic estimates and prices with the client.

And if you’re looking to learn more about selling and delivering roadmapping sessions (and how to sell them as a productized service), I recommend you check out Quick Start Roadmapping.

Inside, you’ll learn:

  • What goes into selling and delivering a roadmapping session
  • How you can get started selling strategy and discovery to your clients
  • The process to take a client through from ‘you have a new lead’ to ‘how to deliver your roadmapping project.’

Plus, templates. Glorious templates to help you sell, perform, and deliver roadmapping sessions, including:

  • Project Questionnaire Questions Swipe File (learn what questions to ask in your roadmapping sessions)
  • Roadmapping Meeting Agenda (get a battle-tested agenda as a starting point for your roadmapping meetings)
  • And the advisory sheet, “Top Mistakes To Avoid With Roadmapping Sessions” (avoid the common pitfalls as you get started selling roadmapping)

Learn more about how you can get started selling roadmapping right here:



Should you give out a price on an initial call?

A reader recently wrote to ask if I share numbers (e.g., price estimates) during an initial conversation with a prospect.

I told that them I do not. And except in some unique cases, I strongly recommend against it.


A few reasons.

First, what’s the absolute worst that could happen if you give a price on the spot on the phone?

Well, you could end up…

  • Leaving money on the table
  • Underestimating the work required
  • Ending up with a less profitable project

Not great things, tbh.

So, how do you overcome this?

First, you must never forget ‘The First Rule of Negotiation’: Don’t give out the first number until you have enough information to anchor your price.

That means before you share a price, you want to make sure you have answers to these questions:

  • Where do they need help?
  • What’s their current situation?
  • What outcome are they looking for?
  • What are they looking to invest in a solution?


Because until you have a solid understanding of those elements, you don’t have enough information to estimate (e.g., guess at) a price.

And! Even if you’re on your initial call with a prospect and you get all of that information, you still shouldn’t give out the first number on that call.

Not for any nefarious purpose.

Not for any reasons of psychological trickery.

Just for one simple reason: you should think through the project before you give out a number.

  • What seems challenging?
  • What seems easy?
  • What seems risky?

Once you’ve thought through the project and started to understand both what the client is looking for (e.g., their expectations) and what will go into the project (e.g., your work), you can share a price.

At that point, the information you’ve collected will help you anchor your price quotes.



Hodgepodge Offerings

Let’s put on our imagination caps for a moment and head back to the year 1996…

It’s Thursday. The week before your nephew’s birthday. (The nephew whose birthday you’ve forgotten for the last three years.)

You head to the local mega toy store to snag a gift.

When you arrive, you remember that your nephew loves power rangers. And loves pizza. (Maybe? You think? It’s hazy…)

But browsing the shelves, you don’t see that ‘Mighty Morphing Pizza Slinger’ that you know exists (and know that he would love). You see some power ranger toys. And you see some pizza-related toys. But none in the same box. Hmm.

So you wave down a clerk and explain the situation.

You can see what they carry. But it’s not quite what you need. You’d like the clerk to:

  • Open up one of the Power Ranger toys
  • Open up one of the Pizza-related toys
  • Combine the parts in one box (for gift-wrapping ease) but leave out a few of the pieces that don’t make sense
  • Seal the box up (so it doesn’t look awkward)
  • Sell the result to you for the price of one toy

After all, they have the parts sitting right there. Why not make your life easier? You are — after all — the customer.

After listening to your request, the clerk kindly and politely says, “No.”

You see, we sell specific products here. You can buy a power ranger toy, you can buy a pizza-related toy, or you can buy both! But we can’t take our products off the shelves, customize them for you, or change your pricing. What you see is what we have available. Now, how can we help you?

Now, jump forward back to the year 2019 2021.

How often do leads, prospects, and (sometimes!) clients ask you for precisely this sort of customization?

Maybe you sell a few standardized services or packages — productized services or not! — that you have defined and listed on your website for easy purchase. But leads show up who want you to customize your services for them. “Drop that, add this, nix the other thing, and make it available as a 2-for-1 on net-60 payment terms.”

As service providers, there can be a strong desire to meet these requests. After all, they have a situation, and they think you can help, so shouldn’t you get started helping them? Crack open those offerings, mix them, and get them something that (while awkward and a potentially ill-advised combination) helps them out with their situation?


Just like our fictional store has specific products available for sale (the packaged products on their shelves), you (most likely!) have defined products, offerings, and packages available for purchase.

Maybe yours are productized offers with a defined price, timeline, and scope. Perhaps they’re packages, defined offers, or initial service offerings that you’ve found work well for your clients, your market, and your skills.

When someone shows up and requests something custom, they’re saying, “Hey, I see what you have for sale in your store. But I’d like you to make me something special.”

Sure, sometimes that can be a peanut butter-and-chocolate moment that helps you launch a new offering or see a unique opportunity in the market.

But most of the time (99.95%), it’ll turn out to be an awkward jumble of an offering that hasn’t been thought through.

Just like a store is in the business of selling the products on its shelves — and not cracking them open and mixing them in a bespoke offering — I encourage you to follow that same approach with your service offerings.

Treat what you’re selling as defined ‘sealed in a box’ offerings (not a bunch of loose parts to be picked through and assembled like legos).

And if a lead shows up and insists on custom, bespoke options, then I have three paths for you to consider.

  1. Offer them a roadmapping session. Before you start to mix the parts from two different services, sit down and talk through what outcome they’re looking for, their goals, and what they already know. Then, based on that, recommend a made-to-fit project and quote for their unique situation. (
  2. Let them know that custom projects have custom pricing (that starts at $Xk). You can price custom projects high, making it easier to nudge people to your lower-priced standardized offerings. Sure, you can build them the custom offering of their dreams, but it’ll have a substantial price tag on it.
  3. Just tell them ‘No.’ If you aren’t in the business of building custom offerings, tell them that. “What you see is what we have for sale.”



The Dreaded “What are your rates?” Question

Top-hat: Did you have trouble taking yesterday’s 7 question survey? If so, you can fill it out here on a new, better working form:

Today, Lee W. writes in with a question about pricing and project rates:

How do I overcome the “what are your rates?” or “how much do you cost?” question? I understand telling them that I can’t possibly know what that is before understanding x, y, and z. I also have said before, “first we define you objectives, metrics, values..”. But those initial answers are somewhat hollow (though legitimate) in my view.

When you encounter this question, flip it back to the prospect or client. Ask them what they’re looking to invest in this project.

Lee is correct that it’s impossible to know what the cost of (or investment for) the project will be before you define the objectives, metrics, values, and outcomes.

But that still leaves you facing down the question. So what do you say?

Here’s my favorite script to use in this situation. When asked what the cost is, I ask what the client is looking to invest.

What are you looking to invest in this project to achieve the outcomes you’re looking for?

Like Lee pointed out, it’s challenging to answer their question without knowing their budget. So, ask them.

Are they looking for a $10 solution or a $10,000 solution? Until you know, you won’t be able to recommend anything more specific than a general range (e.g., it’ll cost somewhere between $10 and $10,000…).

Think about walking into a store to buy a new phone. You could ask the salesperson, “Hey, I need a new phone. It needs to be fast, have a lot of storage, and have a good camera. What’s it going to cost?”

But until you share what you’re looking to invest, the salesperson won’t be able to answer with more than a general guess or a range.

What they recommend will change depending on what you’re looking to invest. $250? Buy the Moto G Power. $1500? Get the iPhone 12 Pro Max (and a fancy case).

But it all starts by you flipping their question around and asking:

“What are you looking to invest?”

And if they’re unable to answer? If they don’t know what they’re looking to invest?

Then you should recommend they invest in a fixed-price paid discovery or roadmapping engagement (

In that engagement, you’ll work collaboratively with them and their team to define and clarify the project’s goals, objectives, and value. Then, you’ll identify and propose a range of solutions (for different budgets).

(What’s that engagement cost? Well, ideally, you’re selling it as a fixed-price productized service so you can quote them a price immediately, e.g., $2,500. You can learn more about how to sell, price, and deliver roadmapping engagements with Quick Start Roadmapping



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