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How to Become a Recognized Expert in your Field

There is a difference between being good at what you do, and being recognized for being good at it. But how do you become a recognized expert in your field, and establish your reputation as a thought leader?

That was the topic of a recent Umbrex Presents conversation with Dorie Clark, a Wall Street Journal best-selling author, consultant, and keynote speaker.

“We know this is a really noisy and crowded environment,” Clark said of the business marketplace for independent consultants. “We need to make sure that the people who could benefit from us and from working with us actually know who we are and are familiar enough with us to actually seek us out.”

Ultimately, that is what enables consultants to charge premium fees and have a full roster of clients.

“You want somebody to come to you as a sole source provider because they already know and believe that you have the ability to solve their problem. They already have a high degree of trust in you and your capabilities. Becoming recognized for your expertise is what enables that to happen,” she said.

Dorie Clark on how to become a recognized expert

Click the image to watch the full video of Umbrex Presents with Dorie Clark

How to become a recognized expert: 3 key components

When Clark started her consulting firm in 2006, she didn’t have a lot of high-powered connections, but she knew she had to find a way to break into the networks of people who didn’t know who she was or what she could provide them.

To do this she analyzed the process, gained an understanding of what it would take to get there, and then execute it. She identified three key components to becoming recognized for your expertise.

  • Content Creation: Sharing your ideas and expertise publicly so people know what they are.
  • Social Proof: Giving people, at a glance, confidence in who you are, your credentials and capabilities. 
  • Network: Knowing the right people — and as importantly, them knowing who you are.

“Those three interact as kind of a flywheel, and are what enable us to become fully recognized for our expertise,” Clark said. 

Focus on your weak areas

One trap Clark sees consultants fall into is to keep doing the things they’re already good at, without expanding their horizons and capabilities.

People can be really over-indexed and successful in certain areas, and feel like they’re doing so much to build their platform and not seeing the results they want. Clark says the problem might be that they’re doubling-down on the things they’re already good at, and not lifting up the areas they have neglected.

In her Recognized Expert self-assessment toolkit, available for free, consultants can answer a series of questions that will result in a graded score that analyzes where they are on this journey, and identifies areas for improvement.

“The further along we get, we tend to have one area that is perhaps more of a weakness than others, and eventually you’re going to have to correct that weakness.” 

Eventually, a consultant needs to be fairly proficient in all three components — content creation, social proof, and networking — so Clark advises that once you’ve successfully built up in one area, focus on the areas that are more lacking in your platform.

Allocate marketing time consistently

Most consultants and independent freelance professionals are familiar with the “feast or famine” cycle: you have plenty of work and are busy doing that work, but when those projects end suddenly you’re left without an adequate project base.

Clark says the answer to that is to make sure you are always allocating a certain amount of your time to marketing yourself and building your platform as a known expert.

If you’ve been a consultant for a while and are quite busy with work on a regular basis, perhaps that allocation is only 10% of your time — and that’s fine, Clark says.

But if you have had this kind of choppy business model where it’s so much work, then no work, on repeat, that implies that more resources should be spent on marketing your brand and business. 

“I think that most people need to keep a steady drumbeat of time allocated for marketing,” Clark told the audience. “I would say probably 25 or 30% of your time is not a bad ratio. You have to be doing the work now so when your current projects are ending you will have other new things coming to you, and you won’t have to stress out about it.”

Finding your breakthrough idea

Stand Out: How to find your breakthrough idea and build a following around itIn Clark’s book, Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea & Build a Following Around It, she writes, “To make a name for yourself, you have to capitalize on your unique perspective and knowledge and inspire others to listen and take action. But becoming a recognized expert is a mysterious and opaque process. Where do the ideas come from, and how do they get noticed?”

She says many successful consultants are great at what they do and have a high level of expertise, but they may still struggle with identifying their “breakthrough idea” or their own unique value proposition.

She advises people to be gentle with themselves about this process — it’s a long-term undertaking that is built gradually.

“It took me about seven years to figure out what eventually turned into the thing I became known for,” she said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t start striving for that earlier, but I don’t think we should be beating ourselves up.”

There’s a certain amount of time during which a consultant is finding product/market fit, and as they figure that out it begins to refine into their breakthrough idea that will position themselves above the noise to become a recognized expert in that niche.

“It’s not something that happens super early on; you often have to feel your way into it,” she told viewers. 

She also offered a couple of key questions to ask yourself to begin identifying this:

  • Where do I have a competitive advantage?
  • What’s not being talked about or being done?

How to build a following around your idea and expertise

This goes back to the three-step process Clark shared at the beginning:

  • Share through content creation
  • Social proof
  • Networking

The first step gives people something they can share to demonstrate and spread your recognition. This can include writing articles, hosting and/or guesting on podcasts, sending a newsletter, giving speeches, producing videos, etc.

“This is how people who don’t know you personally can discover you and your ideas,” she said. “Your clients know you, your clients think you’re great, but they don’t have something to pass on.”

They can recommend you to others, but that doesn’t travel very far. It’s a one-to-one concept, whereas when you give them ways to share your expertise through content, it becomes a one-to-many scenario. A piece of content gives the ability to be shared with dozens, hundreds, even thousands of people through email and social sharing.

“Over time, it begins to take on a life of its own and becomes many-to-many, which is the final stage. Friends three generations down are forwarding it, and then it becomes viral.”


In our discussion on how to become a recognized expert in your field, we took questions from the Umbrex Presents audience.

What about writing a book? What’s the right time and way to go about it?

The first step before even thinking of writing a book is to build your platform. Unless you go the self-publishing route, you will need to have an established audience and be well-known in your field to get a publisher and be a successful author. 

“You have to figure out the problem of how to become sufficiently famous,” Clark answered. When she was working on her book proposals, she came up against this and in response, began building her following through blogging and speaking engagements.

“You should probably wait as long as you possibly can to get a book deal, because the longer you spend on the platform building process getting your name widely known, the better off you’ll be.”

How often should you publish content?

That varies, but at a minimum consider publishing at least once per month. Less than that, and you run the risk of people forgetting who you are.

“You do need to have more frequency so people stay with you and you can build that snowball up enough that it’ll start rolling downhill,” Clark said.

Her advice: if you currently publish content quarterly, try to do so monthly. If you publish monthly, try to up that to bi-weekly or weekly.

“If you’re doing anything weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, I think that’s in the reasonable range in terms of content creation.”

Dorie Clark on how to become a recognized expert

How does one get published in publications such as Forbes and Harvard Business Review?

Clark has created an entire course on this topic, “Writing for High Profile Publications.” The first step, of course, is identifying and writing an article that has high appeal for such publications.

When thinking about getting into these types of publications, she says people often fail to reverse engineer the process.

“We come up with an idea that we think is clever.” However, HBR or Forbes won’t be interested in it if it’s not in their wheelhouse, unique, and offers something of value not found elsewhere. 

“You’re going to get nowhere with it, even if that’s the best article possible,” Clark said. “It’s really important to spend the time upfront to reverse engineer. Not just read [those publications] to get the content, but what are the types of content, what are the angles, what are they doing and what are they not doing, and how can I write an article that will fit in with that?”

Invest in understanding the publication and its intended audiences — that is who your article should be speaking to.

“Another key element is really understanding in-depth what has already been done. You might have a really good article, but if something similar to it has already been done by that publication, it’s no-go.”

You need to really research to see what’s been done before that’s related to it, and even link to that piece in your own article. This proves to the editor that you’re familiar with what they publish.

“Then position your thing so that it’s different,” she advised.

While these publications have submission guidelines on their websites, it’s always easiest to break in with a warm lead. This can mean getting connections with people who already write for the publication — but if you don’t already have those connections, it’s a longer process, and Clark offered a word of caution.

She has a rule called “no asks for a year.” When you first connect with someone, you don’t ask them for their editor contact or anything else right away. These are important and highly-prized connections people don’t just give out to people they don’t know.

Rather, you have to give before you get — over time, build up a genuine relationship with that connection, and be helpful to them before you make an ask.

What’s the best way to link the authority you’ve built to leads coming into your funnel?

 A social connect or follow is worth much less than an opt-in email subscription. 

“That’s what we should be striving for — trying to get people off social. That doesn’t mean they can’t follow you on social, but the goal is to take those followers and turn them into people signing up for your email list,” Clark said.

She had some advice on the low-hanging fruit to accomplish this:

  • When you’re creating content, make sure you are meticulous about including a sign-up link driving people to your website — or even better, a simple landing page with just one call to action (subscribe, download, etc.), that can then redirect to your website.
  • With a podcast or video, make sure you always provide a way for the audience to follow or subscribe, and to get in touch with you.

What about involving potential clients in content creation?

“This is a terrific suggestion, and something I would definitely recommend,” Clark said. “There’s just two caveats to go with that.”

The key phrase here is “potential clients.” If you’re writing for a mainstream publication, journalistic integrity prevents you from writing about your actual clients. But if they’re a potential client — particularly one you’d like to get to know and build a relationship with — that’s perfectly appropriate to write about.

Clark noted that when you’re creating content for your own blog or podcast, it’s fine to include your actual clients (consider if permission is needed).

The second thing she cautioned about was the potential for those you’re writing about to think of you as a journalist — not as an expert consultant with something to offer them.

“In their head, they might think, ‘Oh he’s a journalist, he interviews people.’ You have to make sure they understand that [you’re a consultant].”

In the course of the interview, you have to make sure you’re dropping in references to your work, your clients, and your services so that the subject clearly understands you are a consultant.

What are your recommendations for becoming a stand-out content producer?

Simply doing it is one way, Clark said. Through practice and repetition, you will find yourself getting better. 

Another good rule of thumb is to think about whether you would be interested in reading that article or listening to that podcast. This is basic, but something many people overlook. 

Content is often created simply because the producer thinks that’s what should be done or that’s what clients want. However, that topic might be something that’s been covered extensively already, rather than honing in on your specific expertise and knowledge.

“If you can come up with an article that you yourself would be like, “Yeah I would totally read that, it sounds very interesting,’ that’s the bar we should be striving for,” Clark said. “If it’s interesting for you, it probably will be interesting for other people as well.”

When it comes to ideation for your content, one good tactic is to look at the questions you get asked most often. That can be one of the best generators of content ideas, to write an article or produce a podcast or video around those questions or topics that come up again and again.

What are some tips for promoting your content?

“I think it’s true that we sometimes drop the ball right when we get to the finish line,” Clark said, adding that when the piece of content is completed, the job is not finished.

“One theme that I talk about in Stand Out is, if you have taken the time to create something that really is a great piece of content, you want to spend far more time trying to get it out than you might imagine.”

The real question, she said, is: how do you do something once, and make it count 10 times?

The trick is not to share it on LinkedIn or Tweet about it once, but rather create a strategy around promoting that content. Some ideas include:

  • Pull an intriguing and relevant quote and share that, with a link to the article, two days later.
  • Create a short video of yourself talking about the main insights you share in the content, or learned from creating it, and post that video on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and/or  other channels.
  • Take a picture of yourself at work on the piece of content (at your keyboard, in front of the podcast microphone, etc.) and post that to give a “behind the scenes” look.
  • Do a livestream where you answer questions that are related to the topic.

“It’s thinking about, for all the different channels that you’re on, what is the way you could optimize this? There’s a lot of ways to continue to get juice from it far beyond what most people do.” 

What about publishing on platforms such as LinkedIn, versus building your own stand-alone brand?

Anytime we are dependent on any one thing, we are taking on a higher risk. That’s true if you have just one client as a consultant, and it’s true if you rely too much on one external platform.

“For most consultants, LinkedIn is one of the best — if not the best — places to get clients,” Clark said. “I respect its reach and I respect what it can do. But I also am fully cognizant that this is a publicly traded company, and there are choices they might make in the future that could make it relatively devastating to our ability to reach people.”

While she has a large following on LinkedIn and utilizes it, she also understands that can be taken away tomorrow.

“Meanwhile, my personal email list is much smaller, it’s one-fifth the size of my LinkedIn following — but it’s actually much more valuable,” she shared. “I control it, these people have raised their hands in a super proactive way to opt in to the list.”

This allows her to build a substantial relationship with those subscribers in their inbox, rather than on an external platform that is noisy and has a lot of competition for attention.

“I would really try as much as you can to prioritize getting them onto your email list.”

Clark advises to diversify so you have multiple contact points, and make sure to meet your audience where they are at — if your target audience is not on Instagram, don’t waste your time there. 

Dorie Clark on how to become a recognized expert

Click the image to watch the full video of Umbrex Presents with Dorie Clark

Final thoughts

“If you want the straightest path between doing the thing and getting business from the thing, what you should probably do is create content that is tightly correlated with what you want people to hire you for,” Clark said.

The goal or ideal scenario is to create a piece of content that your ideal client will read or watch or listen to, and feel that it is speaking to them and providing exactly the information or solutions they are in need of.

“I think for all of us, one of the things we should strive for — which not only enhances our bottom line but makes for a better quality of life in the long-term — is to develop enough of a professional reputation and enough recognized expertise that people come to you. The balance of power shifts in your direction, and that makes an enormous difference.”

About Dorie Clark

Watch the video replay of Umbrex Presents with Dorie Clark.

Dorie Clark is the Wall Street Journal best-selling author of books including The Long GameReinventing You, and Stand Out, which was named the #1 Leadership Book of the Year by Inc. magazine. She is a professor at Duke University Fuqua School of Business, a consultant, and keynote speaker. Dorie was named one of Top 50 Business Thinkers in the World by Thinkers 50. Learn more about Dorie at and download your Recognized Expert self-assessment toolkit here.

Stand with Ukraine: How Umbrex Members Have Stepped Up To Help

Stand with Ukraine

In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Umbrex launched a Stand With Ukraine initiative to provide support in several different ways. More than 130 members of our community have volunteered for a working group supporting Ukrainians impacted by the war of Russian aggression, and have raised more than $10,000 to go directly to Ukrainians.

The working groups we have set up include:

  • Sourcing: Reach out to businesses, governments, community groups to source donations of needed supplies.
  • Distribution: Identify organizations (from international aid to local Ukrainians groups) who can help distribute supplies to those in need.
  • Support Freelancers: Identify Ukrainian independent professionals in need of work; help source project opportunities for them.
  • Support Orphan Foster Families: Help to identify orphan foster families and coordinate matching of donors to those families.
  • Post-War Reconstruction Strategy: Plan to rebuild the Ukrainian economy, with a sharp focus on particular industry sub-sectors.
  • Support Anti-War Russians: Help get accurate information disseminated within Russian and support anti-war Russians.

If you’d like to get involved, you can volunteer here.

Support orphan foster families

One of the biggest humanitarian issues as a result of the war is the thousands of children and families who are left without adequate support.

Before the war, many orphaned children had been placed into loving foster homes through a charity started by Umbrex Co-Founder Jing Liang, Sunflower Academy.

Umbrex and its members have been working on an initiative to support these foster families, many of whom have taken in so many children (often five to 15) that they are now without adequate resources. They were typically supported by the Ukrainian government, which is now unstable. This combined with rampant inflation makes it very hard for them to leave war-torn areas for safety.

Umbrex members have generously donated more than $10,000 so far to help in these efforts. That money goes directly to the foster families, such as the Aleshko family.

Ukrainian orphans in need of help

The eight orphaned children the Aleshkos are raising.

Natalia and Oleg Aleshko from Lviv have given a home to eight children who have been orphaned. They also have three children of their own.

“We were living in the basement for weeks,” Natalia says. “We had to leave because our street was heavily shelled. We barely managed to stay alive. We fled and we did not take anything with us. The kids don’t even have underwear. We were given accommodation, but now we need assistance for clothes and food.”

This is just one of the many families who have reached out to us for help, and whom Umbrex members have so generously donated to support, raising more than $10,000 for these children.

Ukrainian orphans in need of help

The eight children the Aleshkos are helping, before the war (left) and today.

If you are interested in donating or helping the Aleshkos and other families, please reach out to Margarita Soto at

Distribution of needed supplies

Another vital need in Ukraine is for food and medical supplies, along with other necessities. Umbrex member Michael Pani, based in Germany, spearheaded an initiative to deliver truckloads of supplies to the Ukrainian border. As of April 3, Michael had shipped via truck:

  • 20,000 portions of ready meals
  • 1,000 portions of ready food for toddlers
  • Baby milk powder for 14,000 bottles
  • 4,000 diapers
  • 900 gallons of UHT milk
  • 200 sleeping bags
  • 150 pacifiers
  • 100 tourniquets
  • 50 large first aid kits
  • Toothbrushes, toothpaste, liquid soap, sanitary napkins, and toilet paper.

Umbrex member Michael Pani has delivered more than $50,000 of needed supplies to Ukraine.

“In total, I have spent $50,000 USD on two truckloads of aid supplies for Ukraine, of which I have recovered about $30,000 USD through donations by a variety of individuals,” Michael says. “Approximately 15% of donations came from the Umbrex community.”

The trucks included four pallets of supplies to 30 foster families across Ukraine who had been supported before the war by Jing’s charity. 25 pallets went to Yuzhnoukrainsk, a city hosting a very large number of internally displaced people. And two pallets of medical supplies and emergency food rations went to Kyiv, where the goods will be distributed to places close to the frontline in greatest need.

The Ukrainians confirmed receipt of the first truck of aid, confirming that these supplies were reaching the intended recipients and those most in need.

“I would love to send more stuff,” Michael says. “Particularly as I have now figured out where to best source the required goods at the lowest price and how to get it most economically to the border. But I will need help from others to fund future shipments.”

If you would like to donate to this effort, here’s how:

Direct donations can be made at the Wir für Kinder in Not website (translation: Foundation for Children in Need). This website is only in German, but Michael Pani gives his personal guarantee that 100% of all donations will go to directly benefit people in Ukraine). Look for the Online Spenden section, with a PayPal button, “Spenden,” where donations via Paypal or credit card can be made. Donations via Paypal can also be made directly to adding the reference “Ukraine 2022.”

Hire Ukrainian freelancers

Umbrex is working pro bono to connect clients to Ukrainian professionals who have been displaced from their jobs and need work. So far we’ve found work for more than 10 Ukrainians, and published a Resource Directory where you can view  a directory of freelancers and contact one of them directly, or submit a request and we’ll work on finding someone who is a fit.

We have been featuring several freelancers each week with a post on LinkedIn, along the lines of these posts on Evgeniy Poddubniy  and Maryna Timochkina.

Hire Ukrainian freelancers

If you would like to support Ukrainians with work opportunities, please consult our directory or submit a request on that page. If you or someone you know is a Ukrainian freelancer in need of work, you can sign up for work opportunity matching here.

Top Strategies For Building Influence & Persuasion

The skill of persuasion is an important one to hone. Here we share some top strategies for building influence and persuasion.

The Harvard Business Review did research that revealed the top personal — or soft — skills of successful entrepreneurs.

The number one skill was persuasion.

“The quality serial entrepreneurs displayed above others was persuasion, or the ability to convince others to change the way they think, believe or behave,” study results stated. “Persuasion for this study was defined as the ability to persuade others to join the mission.”

The key traits of a serial entrepreneur

Building influence as a consultant

In a recent Veritux Women’s Group event, the topic of discussion was how to influence or persuade others. Celine Teoh and Agnès Le led members through the best practices and top strategies for building influence as a consultant.

celine teoh and agnes le

Celine Teoh, left, and Agnès Le

Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, has studied the psychology of why people say yes to the requests of others.

“When making a decision, it would be nice to think that people consider all the available information in order to guide their thinking,” he writes at his website, Influence at Work. “But the reality is very often different. In the increasingly overloaded lives we lead, more than ever we need shortcuts or rules of thumb to guide our decision-making.”

The 7 principles of persuasion

Cialdini’s research identified seven shortcuts that guide human behavior:

  • Reciprocity: People feel obliged to give back to others the form of a behavior, gift, or service that they have received first.
  • Scarcity: People want more of those things they can have less of.
  • Authority: People follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable experts.
  • Consistency: People like to be consistent with the things they have previously said or done.
  • Liking: People prefer to say yes to those they like.
  • Social Proof: Especially when they are uncertain, people will look to the actions and behaviors of others to determine their own.
  • Unity: The shared identity that the influencer shares with the influencee.

“Understanding these shortcuts and employing them in an ethical manner can significantly increase the chances that someone will be persuaded by your request,” Cialdini says.

Influence skills for women

For women, influence and persuasion have layered considerations. They often run into bias at work or when trying to assert their influence.

In the Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab at Stanford, Joan C. Williams says that many of the hurdles women face at work can be categorized into four patterns of gender bias:

  • Prove It Again: Needing to prove yourself repeatedly.
  • The Tightrope: Walking the line between being liked but not respected or respected but not liked.
  • Maternal Wall: Feeling your competence and commitment questioned once you become a mother.
  • Tug of War: Tension among women based on different styles of navigating bias in the workplace.

By seeing these patterns, women can stop feeling like their set-backs are purely personal failings, and start using the strategies outlined by Williams.

Drawn from interviews with more than a hundred successful women, Williams presents these strategies as practical tools for women to succeed at work now.

Williams’ strategies for overcoming bias:

  • Form a Posse: Team up with people to publicly celebrate successes.
  • Gender Judo: Use a mix of “masculine” and “feminine” traits to be assertive and approachable as needed.
  • Strategic “No”: Say “Yes” to one or two pieces of office housework, then say “No” and provide alternatives for the rest.
  • Ask for Help: Bring others on board to share office housework.
  • Be Explicit: Counter assumptions about mothers by being explicit about your career goals and choices.
  • Make an Enemy into an Ally: If someone is undercutting you, call it out, find common ground and propose mutual support.

Leading with competency or warmth

In the Veritux Women’s Group event, Celine Teoh said that women often need to decide whether to lead with competency or warmth when attempting to persuade or influence others.

“In general, think about starting with warmth first to establish a connection,” she suggested.

This reinforces some commonalities that resonate, and lets the other person or people know that you understand them and are one of them, not just coming in to tell them what to do.

Leading up front with intent — for example, by stating that you are there for their success and you share the same common goals — fosters a relationship that can pave the way for your influence, and lets the others know you have something of value to offer. This can set an important foundation for success from the beginning.

Persuasion must also be viewed through a gender lens. Sometimes leading with competence is the better choice for women.

With men, competence is often assumed. For women, sometimes leading with kindness or warmth is seen as weakness.

In certain situations where you feel your competency might be questioned, the better choice might be to lead with competency to establish your authority, expertise, and value — then follow up with warmth to foster a connection.

Get out of your own way

One of the biggest barriers to building and using power is our reluctance to build and use influence, says Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University.

“The first rule of power is to get out of your own way. The most powerful people I know describe themselves as fearless, shameless, bold, and brave. They have gotten out of their own way by losing the scripts that hold them back, and you can, too.”


  1. Harvard Business Review Research: The Skills That Make an Entrepreneur
  2. Robert Cialdini: Influence at Work
  3. Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab at Stanford: What Works for Women at Work
  4. Learning Corner with Jeffrey Pfeffer: Get Out of Your Own Way on Your Path to Power

How To End a Project Right and Win Recommendations


David A. Fields

Winning projects is what independent consultants concentrate on most, but sometimes how you wrap up your work with a client is just as important as how you start the conversation, especially if you hope to win client recommendations.

Best practices and tried and tested tips were revealed in Episode 287 of the Umbrex Unleashed podcast, featuring David A Fields, consultant and author of The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients.

Hosted by Will Bachman, the show finds its jumping off point thanks to a question from listener Caroline Taich, who asked for advice on the best way to end a long project. Let’s dive in.

Packaging the project files for handover

Most of the time, a project doesn’t end when our work on it is done. Consultants will, therefore, want to hand over the project documents in a concise and easily transferable manner so the client can continue to access and add to the project themselves. 

  • Start as you mean to go on and be sure to keep good “project hygiene” throughout the contract. This will make handing over and presenting the material all the more easy at the end.
  • Create a folder in Dropbox, Google Drive, or something similar containing all the project files. Most importantly, this should be accompanied by a spreadsheet table of contents listing all the documents by file name, file type, and a short summary of the file content, with a link to the file.
  • If possible, present the information in a way that makes it easy for the unit you worked with to present it to another team or even as a case study at a conference. “That creates visibility for your client, and it’s even better for us as consultants if we have a client presenting the work and crediting us than if we were presenting it ourselves,” says Bachman.
  • Finally, be sure to align with your client on a clear and detailed action plan of what comes next. Prepare a one-page checklist for the lead client with key actions and milestones for your client to check in on the project’s progress and success. 

Recommendations and referrals

Assuming your client is happy with the work, it’s never too early to get testimonials, says Fields.

However, asking for a testimonial upfront can lead to forced-sounding quotes. He suggests using the following template at any point during the project:

  • “Can I get some feedback from you about how things are going so far? I’m going to write this down/record if that’s okay so I can share it with my team.”
  • “What’s gone well so far?”
  • “What would you like to have seen?” (This is not necessarily good for your testimonial but useful feedback, all the same)
  • “What was of the absolute most value?” (You always want to leave the client with something positive in their mind)
  • “Quick favor, do you mind if I take your words and use them as a testimonial?”

Once the project is over, Fields suggests asking one more question that “yields incredible testimonial content,” — a tactic Bachman jokingly refers to as, “The David A Fields Jedi mind trick.”

Click to listen to Unleashed Episode 287, with David A. Fields on Asking for Client Recommendations.

The magic question is:

“If you were talking to a colleague who was thinking about using us for a project like this but was kind of one the fence, what would you tell them and why?”

Maintaining relationships after a project

Consultants should never finish a project and think of it as over.

“My belief is that the foundation of consulting is relationships,” says Fields. “Relationships allow conversations, conversations lead to opportunities, opportunities lead to projects.” He says we should all strive to think of our clients as people rather than paychecks, and work to nurture and sustain relationships, whether they lead to more projects or not.

“If you build relationship wealth, the business will take care of itself.” 

Here are some tips for how to do this when wrapping up a project:

  • Schedule follow-up calls or meetings for three or six months down the line. Even if the project doesn’t require it, follow up on a more personal level just to see what’s new with your client. If you get this in the diary before you part ways, you don’t have to spend time arranging it later.
  • Connect on LinkedIn with everyone you worked with, either when you first come into contact with them or at the end of a project. Also make an effort to like, or better still comment, on any content they share on social media. This gives both them and you more visibility.
  • Ghostwrite an article about the project your client lead could publish
  • Prepare slides your client can use to present the work to colleagues
  • Add select clients to your holiday card list. This reminds them of you in what can be a quiet time for consultants and sends the message that the relationship is more than just professional.

Asking for introductions

If you know your client has some great contacts in their network, you’ll naturally want to be introduced. Although it can feel awkward, Fields says it’s all about your approach to generating new business from old contacts.

“It’s actually quite easy to ask for introductions as long as you have a sincere desire to meet people and be interested in them and not to sell to them,” he says.

Here are some approaches to try:

  • “I know you’ve met a lot of people in your line of work. Who have you found most intriguing?”
  • This is where having some form of personal content production, such as a podcast or a blog, pays off, as you can say you want to interview one of your client’s contacts. “If you’re offering something to them, there’s more reason for the person to make the introduction,” says Bachman.
  • Bachman also suggests telling the client that you’re looking for some help/background on their contact’s particular field. “If it’s something specific, they may be more likely to respond,” he claims.
  • Inspired by this idea, Fields encourages consultants to stand themselves in good stead by also helping others when requests are made. “Help people who need a hand, and right now that’s a lot of people,” he says.

Project completion checklist

As an additional resource, we’ve created this handy downloadable PDF Project Completion Checklist:

Project Completion Checklist

Click to download the PDF

Fostering Creativity in Your Business

Fostering Creativity in Your Business

Most people value creativity, but only one out of four feel they’re living up to their own creative potential. Fostering creativity in your business brings many benefits, professionally and personally.

So says consultant and brand strategist Susan Meier, who led a virtual workshop on creativity in brand-building for Umbrex and Veritux women’s groups in April.

Meier, who runs Susan Meier Studio where she acts as a brand consultant and conducts workshops on the topic, says that fostering your own creativity has a huge Return On Investment (ROI) — including making us happier.

“We know creativity is important — the question is, how do we get there?” she says.

Particularly when it comes to creativity in the workplace, Meier sees that many aspects of creativity are “trained out of us” in the name of productivity or professionalism. She also points out the differences between adults and children when it comes to creativity.

Children are more open, not only to their own creative potential but also to exploration without the fear of embarrassment or failure that often accompanies us adults when we experiment or explore the boundaries of our creative selves.

Three characteristics of the creative mindset

Meier identifies three characteristics of the creative mindset, often exhibited by children — and not necessarily associated with business.

  • Play: A sense of exploration, less fear of failure, which often leads to innovation and new solutions.
  • Defiance: A rejection of existing norms, which allows people to take risks, push boundaries, and see what others might not.
  • Collaboration: Getting out of your echo chamber to bring different perspectives and experiences to the problem.

Fostering Creativity in Your Business


When Meier helps her clients with branding, for example, she generally starts their journey with a blank wall and some post-it notes as a way to bring more play and exploration to the process.

Cutting, pasting, and handwriting — these types of tactile, physical brainstorming leads to a different level of creativity by accessing a different part of the brain versus screens and keyboards.

“It’s becoming more valuable because we spend so much less time off our screens,” she says. “You can generate more ideas, and ideate as much as possible without censoring yourself.”

Doing things off-screen can often make the onscreen activities more productive and engaging.


Questioning authority is a necessary part of creativity. This can be hard for adults, who’ve been taught to be polite — especially in a professional setting where reputations are at stake. (It seems to come much more naturally to teenagers…)

To encourage more defiance, Meier favors one-on-one interactions at the outset of the project. Stakeholder interviews give individuals a chance to honestly voice their opinions without fear of judgment and without the influence of groupthink that sometimes occurs in team kickoff meetings. 

The idea is to lower the stakes of saying what’s really on their mind. Often the conversations that really move the project forward happen in these safe settings where participants feel more comfortable speaking up.


Working with people you don’t normally work with, gathering the input of people who’ve had different experiences – these things will always make your work stronger, because those folks will inevitably think of things you didn’t. And that massively raises the creativity quotient.

One of the things Meier is very particular about in her work is the compilation of participants. Whether it’s gathering a panel to ask for feedback or building a working team, she encourages adding people that might not initially be considered.

Those who are not the ‘usual suspects’ bring fresh perspectives and more often than not are the ones who crack the case. 

She also recommends hopping out of your bubble from time to time by attending an event or a class that connects you to whole new groups of people and ways of thinking as a way of maintaining a high baseline of creativity. 

Fostering Creativity in Your Business

Practical hacks for fostering creativity in your practice and life

In closing, Meier shares a few simple things you can do to foster creativity in your practice and everyday life.

  • Light: Ample windows and natural light helps clear the mind and reduce fatigue.
  • Nature: Whether it’s a view of the sea or a simple desk plant, elements from the natural world bring inspiration and improve focus.
  • Order: If your work space is a mess it can create a messy mental state. Making sure there’s order can look like your own order, just try to eliminate chaos.
  • Ritual: Routines and familiar objects provide grounding and structure that allow the mind to roam freely.
  • Privacy: A room of one’s own, preferably with a lock. Having the time and space for uninterrupted thought and the ability to leave work materials undisturbed is a huge creative boon.

“Creativity is not a luxury,” Meier says. “It’s a legitimate and worthy goal.”

Helping client companies become more environmentally sustainable

Earth Day Sustainability Panel

Corporations are beginning to change their operations and strategies to become more sustainable. This can seem like a huge undertaking for a company that is already long established, but some Umbrex and Veritux consultants are focusing on helping client companies become more environmentally sustainable.

Nidhi Chadda, Founder and CEO of Enzo Advisors, says it’s often hard to know where to begin.

“When we guide companies and investors in thinking about sustainability and how it impacts their respective businesses, we always take a quantitative and qualitative holistic approach,” she says of Enzo, a female and minority led global sustainability consulting firm that helps companies build scalable and sustainable business models and strategies.  

Chadda presented a case study during an Umbrex Earth Day Sustainability Panel on how her firm developed a roadmap to sustainability and lowering emission production for a large oil and gas company. 

How Enzo helps companies lower emissions

Nidhi Chadda of Enzo

The client company had no knowledge or experience with Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG), nor did it have an ESG program. The first step was to run a diagnostic and benchmark assessments to identify materials that are ESG risk factors, and find opportunities where sustainability could be improved with processes and materials. 

Next was to identify a plan of action. Enzo developed the roadmap to identify what to focus on and develop in ESG strategy both for environmental and social frameworks. 

After the plan of action is developed, Chadda and her firm assist in setting long-term targets and goals. 

“These targets are typically aligned to the UN sustainable development goals and they cover a measurable environmental and social framework, and focus on impact and developing milestones,” she said. 

The first part of implementation is data collection and thinking about the right infrastructure to track Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for environmental and social framework. Next, Enzo assists with new product development in a thoughtful approach that includes strategy to improve KPIs. 

“Overall, when we move into business transformation, it’s the launch of these initiatives developed in the beginning,” Chadda said.

The main concern for the oil and gas company was to decarbonize its initiatives and operations.

Lastly, Enzo Advisors helped with external communication and determining how best to communicate the changes to the various stakeholders.

“This is relevant to customers and everyone involved in the value chain. Customers do want to invest in decarbonized oil and gas companies,” Chadda said. “Working with partners to find ways to reduce emissions is very critical to this company.” 

This program is a recent development at Enzo and takes about six months to complete on average. Her team works quickly, but for a larger company the process could take up to a year or more. 

As a follow-up to this program, Chadda introduced how to develop a transparent and credible net-zero pathway for businesses.

“We have an integrated climate change framework that starts with the carbon footprint,” she said.

The approach she takes is to find how to look at emissions within a business in three scopes, and do an emissions calculation.

  1. Make sure the numbers can be audited and the client has credibility.
  2. Target setting and developing a strategy.
  3. Reporting.

The first step was to work on climate change framework, starting with the company’s carbon footprint.

“We calculated their emissions in detail using the model we developed, and identified the areas that were most material to their overall carbon footprint,” Chadda said. 

For example, her team discovered that their electricity purchase for one facility was very high. This presented a good opportunity to incorporate renewable energies.

Next, a deeper look into the value change and the categories of the scope three emissions provided the ability to identify areas in which to cut back. Some of these included product material sourcing and adjusting contracts on renewables.

“This gave the potential to reduce 50% of emissions by making a few edits — one on renewables contract, second capital improvement opportunities in facilities, and third was exploring electric vehicles in the companies fleet.”

These changes could get the company on track to its goals by 2030.

“If we can engage with our suppliers and customers in a more meaningful way, and help them develop their own targets within the next couple of years, we also would be on our way to developing science-based targets,” Chadda explained.

The success of this program also depends on how engaged the company is with the process. 

Data collection can sometimes be a big challenge Enzo faces. Some companies do not have data infrastructure in place. If they don’t, Enzo brings in people to gather data to begin the process and identify the biggest areas of focus and relevance.

How Think Zero helps clients adopt sustainable business practices


Ushma Pandya of Think Zero

Ushma Pandya then presented how her company, Think Zero, helps clients adopt sustainable and environmentally friendly business practices and achieve their waste sustainability goals. 

Think Zero has been in business for five years and has a wide variety of clients, including Disney, Eileen Fisher, and Verizon.

Companies are now more interested in waste and sustainability. Pandya said this awareness came in a linear fashion — at first the corporate world was focused on energy, then turned its attention to water use, and now the focus is on waste. 

She shared the guiding principles her team asks clients to think about:

  • Reduce what is put in the trash in the first place and avoid single-use plastics.
  • Encourage reuse over recycling.
  • If you cannot reduce or reuse, do the best possible job in recycling materials.
  • Make decisions based on the infrastructure available today.
  • Follow materials all the way to their ‘end of life’.

This approach is in direct contradiction to the old way of doing things, which was to take things out of the earth, then toss them into a landfill once they had served their purpose.

“Since you never saw them again, it was not our problem,” Pandya said of how companies thought.

Think Zero helps companies move from that linear economy to a circular economy. She explained a circular economy as constantly trying to keep material that has taken a considerable amount of time to extract from the earth in circulation.

Why do companies care about this topic?

“It’s very much connected to climate change,” Pandya said. “We are pulling out more resources than we can use. We are using 60% more resources than the earth can generate.”

The extraction, creation, shipping, packaging, and use of resources contributes to 40-50% of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. This comes from production, consumption, and disposal of materials. 

When talking about waste within companies, Pandya explained it happens in three different ways. 

  • Business waste, ex: office space, cafeteria, shared spaces.
  • Production waste, ex: factory, warehouse, industrial kitchen.
  • Consumer product waste, what happens to the materials once it’s in the consumers hands.

Panya shared a case study with one of her clients, acting as a waste reduction advisor for an entire New York City commercial real estate portfolio. For that company, waste was about what was brought in and out of commercial buildings with numerous tenants. So to begin, Pandya and her team needed to see what was being brought in, and how the material was being disposed of.

They looked at:

  • Waste audits and data analytics. Hauler data was gathered and examined. Think Zero outlined to the client what could be done better to reuse and recycle. 
  • Tenant engagement. Tenants were involved in proper recycling, reusing, and disposing practices to aid in waste reduction diversion. This step comprises 50% of the process and includes behavior change, training, and compliance.
  • Diversion programming. This is about creating partnerships with local businesses for donations. Instead of being disposed of, items no longer used are donated to homeless shelters, women’s shelters, and other similar programs.
  • Building support. Pandya and her team give support to the client and tenants at any point to help with waste diversion. 

What does building engagement look like in reality?

For Pandya, waste diversion isn’t always about auditing and teaching clients behavior change. Being actively engaged onsite is also a huge factor in aiding in waste diversion. 

“We have waste stations with haulers that help employees or tenants sort their waste,” she said. This also serves as an education opportunity to show tenants how to better reuse, recycle, and compost.

A second study Pandya presented was for a massive single-use plastic audit at DisneyWorld. 

She said that being physically on-site is the best way she can do her job.  “I spent a lot of time figuring out what their footprint was on single-use plastic in the hotels, parks, and conference centers,” she said. 

Her recommendations led to two things: inputs into DisneyWorld’s single-use plastic goals for 2030, and identification of the initiatives that would be needed to achieve those goals. 

Importantly, Think Zero needed to find out what behavior nudges would be put into place. What could be done to make sure visitors did what they could to reduce, reuse, and recycle?

This is where being on-site helps Pandya visually see what visitors at DisneyWorld really were doing with their waste, even if there were recycling options available.

“The data gathered on paper through a computer, and how people actually behave with the material, are two different things,” she said.

JHL Solutions: The Circular Economy from theory to practice

Juli Lassow of JHL Solutions

Retailers across the country also present a huge waste problem, and retail companies need support to become more sustainable. 

Juli Lassow, a professional speaker, writer, and aspiring planet saver, launched her consulting business after working with Target Corporation and seeing the massive amount of waste after holiday seasons. 

“Seasonal holiday products were just being thrown away,” she recalled. “They did a decent job of creating sustainable products, but what was being done with the ones not purchased by consumers? How do we keep those products out of the landfills?” 

Lassow’s business, JHL Solutions, helps retailers find ways they can have a better impact on their communities and environments.

Lassow recalled a conference she attended with hundreds of companies looking to come together and brainstorm ways to grow their businesses, and have a more impactful way to go to market. She knew this was a perfect opportunity to teach sustainability practices. 

She was part of the sustainability team at the conference, and realized a lot of the people in the group were new to sustainability practices. She had to think of a way to get this group thinking about the best approach to learn relatively quickly.

Lassow decided it was best to use a simulation — a large screen presentation with participants using pen and paper to go through the scenarios. The simulation placed the group in the actual space where they are making decisions to make their businesses both more circular and more  profitable.

“This simulation allows you, as a facilitator, to meet the group where they are,” she said.

The simulation started with introducing the circulatory economy, and showing a linear versus circular economy. Then, a series of interactive rounds took the users through each part of the circular track, allowing them to make decisions based on their findings in the scenario — such as how to make a more sustainable product, how products and materials could be made to last longer, and how they can be reused or recycled. 

After the interactive rounds, groups discussed, asked questions, and debriefed, which Lassow said is an extremely important part of the process. Ultimately, the exercise allowed participants to begin to see what these practices could look like in their organization, and how they could bring them to life.

The group was also provided with resources to partners and vendors who provide sustainable solutions to businesses. 

Though a circular economy is a very new concept to most retailers, Lassow said these group simulations are a very successful and easy way to get people to begin understanding and implementing changes in retail waste.

“The simulation is a great way for adults to learn. Your brain makes more connections when you are actually in the space making decisions,” she said. “Being able to build out learning platforms to meet your partners where they are is the most important step.”

How to Plan Great Thought Leadership Events

If you are looking for a new way to build your brand and reputation, consider hosting thought leadership executive events. Umbrex member Amanda Setili of Setili & Associates shared her process and tips how to plan thought leadership events with the Umbrex community in a virtual webinar.

Setili began setting up such events in 2011 for four reasons:

  • To save time. She was spending a lot of time calling clients, having meetings or lunch with them — a process that was very time consuming.
  • To enhance her brand. Events are a good way to market your brand and establish yourself as an expert in your field.
  • To develop content. By delving into what people were thinking and extracting thought leadership ideas, this gave her a rich content library.
  • To build a network of clients. She wanted to meet clients and form relationships with them before they were looking for new positions.

“Clients are not very good at getting their ideas out unless you help them do that,” Setili said.

After she began hosting such events, she became better known in the Atlanta area for what she does. “People began talking about me and referring to me,” she said. “So many people have said, ‘I really look forward to your events and appreciate you running them.'”

Setili holds her thought leadership events two times per year, and has found they reap great rewards for her business.

Executive event timeline

Setili began by sharing the timeline she uses when organizing thought leadership events.

Eight weeks out:

  • Decide on the topic and format.
  • Choose a date.
  • Invite speakers and panelists.
  • Book the venue and layout, as well as menu if applicable.
  • Create your invitation list.
  • Enlist a coworker or friend to help greet people, take notes and manage venue issues (in-person events) or chat and tech issues (virtual events).

Seven weeks out:

  • Get headshots from speakers and panelists, along with a quote about the event.
  • Ask speakers and panelists who they would like to invite.

Six weeks out:

  • Create and send invitations (whether by email, phone, regular mail, social invite, etc.). Consider using multiple methods for inviting so you reach potential attendees with the method they most prefer and respond to.

Five weeks out:

  • Follow up with individual emails or phone calls. Even if they can’t attend, it’s a valuable touchpoint with them.
  • Ask your best contacts and attendees who else should be invited.

Four weeks out:

  • Set up 30-minute phone calls with each speaker or panelist to prepare.
  • Send out a reminder email and/or place phone calls.

Three weeks out:

  • Optional — set up individual meetings for a post-event debriefing with important prospects or clients who can’t attend. Setili has found this to be quite effective.

Two weeks out:

  • Create a run-of-show document, introductions, talking points, questions, and closing. Decide how to handle things such as hand-raising and audience questions.
  • Coach the speakers and panelists on what will be most valuable to attendees. This can also help inform a highlights email to send post event.
  • Create a seating chart, handouts, name tags, tent cards, and signage for in-person events.
  • Send emails re-confirming attendance — mention other companies that will be there.
  • Call attendees to reconfirm (often an assistant should do this).
  • Email individuals to suggest people you’d like them to meet at the event.
  • Optional — send attendees items to pre-read, pre-work, or questions to consider.

Week of event:

  • Hold the event.
  • Ask for topics and speakers for your next event (can do via online forms and surveys if virtual).
  • Send out highlights and key take-aways to attendees and invitees.
  • Send thank-you notes and perhaps gifts to speakers and panelists.
  • Announce and start planning your next event.

Setili shared an example of a detailed invitation she sent for one of her thought leadership events.

Thought Leadership Event Invitation

Criteria for choosing speakers and panelists

Setili finds that asking for introductions to good potential speakers is a successful tactic.

Ask someone you know, “Who would be a great speaker for the next event?” If they mention someone you aren’t already connected with, ask for an introduction. Even if the person doesn’t end up being a good fit for the event, you are now connected with them and they might be a match for future events or valuable in other ways.

Setili’s criteria for speakers or panelists at her executive leadership events are:

  • They work for a company people recognize and view as an industry leader.
  • They are a C-suite executive — Senior Vice-President, CEO, etc.
  • They need to be an interesting person with informative topics and engaging presentation skills.

Event costs and whether to charge

Setili does not charge for attendance to her events, and considers the expenses of hosting the events a business investment that reaps strong returns.

She makes a point of putting on a quality event, with good food and great speakers.

“It only costs me less than two thousand dollars for the whole thing and I have 30 to 35 people there usually. So I consider it to be a really good investment. I have not charged and I don’t know if I ever will. It’s my gift to my clients, and they appreciate it.”

Final thoughts

In conclusion, keep the value attendees will get from the events front of mind. Think about not just your own personal objectives, but what is in it for the attendees? What will they get out of the event rather than consuming the information another way? For example, access to experts, panelists they can pose questions to, breakout sessions or interactive workshops.

Additional resources

The Five Types of Content Every Consultant Needs

Having a solid content strategy brings a number of benefits to independent consultants. Here are the five types of content every consultant needs to utilize.

Jake Jorgovan: The 5 Types of Content Every Consultant Needs

Jake Jorgovan

Jake Jorgovan of Content Allies shared these five types of content for consultants in a Webinar for the Umbrex community.

Before diving into the five types, he outlined just why content is such an important aspect for independent consultants — and why they avoid it.

In his experience, when people think of content as part of their strategy, they look at it as primarily a tool for attracting new leads and clients. While this is certainly true, Jorgovan says content strategy is far more powerful than that.

“The biggest value content has for most consultants is that it’s going to amplify your word-of-mouth and referrals — which is where most consultants have their business built.”

The value of content for consultants

Jorgovan shared the four major value points content provides consultants:

  • It amplifies word-of-mouth and referrals.
  • It increases trust and credibility so you can close more deals.
  • It can lead to more work from existing accounts.
  • It can attract new opportunities.

“The interesting thing is when you start putting out content, it’s not always the most measurable thing,” he says. “But one of the biggest quick-win values you get is you’ll just start to see more referrals happening, more word-of-mouth opportunities.”

This is because regularly publishing content helps you stay top-of-mind with people, he explained.

“Whenever they have a need, or someone else has a need, you’re just in that kind of mind space with them, and they’re more likely to refer you.”

Jorgovan learned this first-hand when he took a break from producing content for about three months during a really busy period — and subsequently watched his revenue tank.

He calls content production the “lowest-hanging fruit.”

“Even if you’re producing just a little bit, like one piece a month or keeping a regular LinkedIn feed, it does a lot to amplify that word-of-mouth and referrals.”

When it comes to building credibility, content goes a long way towards demonstrating your expertise and establishing stronger trust with potential clients.

“As industries change, as maybe you learn new skills and see new ways that your services can benefit new clients, content can be a really interesting way to educate your clients about this,” Jorgovan says.

He calls this “land and expand content,” a concept that will be delved into below.

Content as a tool to attract new leads and generate new business is the last of Jorgovan’s four value points. While it certainly can do that, he stresses that the real value of content lies in building your reputation and repeat/referral business.

Jake Jorgovan Quote

Obstacles to creating content

Invariably, when Jorgovan hears a consultant explain why they aren’t publishing content, it’s due to one of two reasons:

  • I don’t know what to say.
  • I don’t have time.

There are many ways to easily address each of these obstacles.

The five types of content every consultant needs

Next, let’s go through each main type of content that should be part of your strategy.

Cornerstone content

This is where most people should start, Jorgovan says, laying out some guidelines:

  • Cornerstone content is one high-quality piece of content that is the definitive guide to your area of focus.
  • “The Ultimate Guide to X” is a framework for how to think about your cornerstone content.
  • You create this once, then use it over and over for years to come.

This focuses on your area of expertise, and is a long-form piece of content that will form the foundation of your content strategy.

He gave an example of one consultant who was an expert on IT contract negotiations. His company helped the consultant to write several pieces, including “How to Negotiate with Salesforce” and “How to Negotiate with Microsoft,” and others.

Each one of these cornerstone pieces then became an asset.

“Whenever he had an opportunity or was able to speak with customers, he could hand it out and say, ‘Here is everything I think about these engagements, this is how we approach it, this is everything we do.'”

Was the consultant giving everything away? Jorgovan acknowledges that some people might simply take that information and run with it themselves — but most will look at the in-depth content and think that it’s a lot of work, better left to an expert: the consultant.

“That’s the goal of cornerstone content — to create this one definitive, evergreen piece that is something you can use for years to come,” he says.

Case studies

This type of content is generally easy to create with a simple framework:

  • What was the client’s situation?
  • What intervention did you provide?
  • What was the end result?

Case studies are great for social proof and visibility, Jorgovan says.

They can also be immediately used to showcase past successes to new potential clients. Even if they aren’t perfectly polished, case studies are powerful in building trust and credibility.

“Those are probably one of the easiest, lowest-hanging fruits you can use to start improving your business,” Jorgovan says.

Robert Cialdini quote

Land and expand content

The goal of this content is to educate people, and gain more work from existing contacts.

Jorgovan encourages consultants to think about what content pieces could position them in a new light, to open up new doors within existing accounts.

An example of this continues from the IT contract negotiations consultant mentioned above. He noticed that many of his clients were involved in mergers and acquisitions — a field he wanted to get in on, but he was not viewed as an expert on that the way he was for IT vendor negotiations.

“His customers didn’t look at him in that light, so he created this very long, in-depth article on his entire thinking process on how to handle IT sourcing and procurement during a merger or acquisition.”

This provided a strong angle to establish the consultant’s expertise in his field for companies going through M&A.

The point is to educate people about areas of your expertise that they might not be as familiar with.

Networking content

Jorgovan has found that many people think all the value of content comes from the audience — those who read, listen to, watch, or otherwise consume it. However, there is also much value in those you pull into your content creation process.

“What’s really interesting is that a lot of content you find is very collaborative,” he says.

This very video presentation he did for Umbrex is a perfect example of collaborative, networking content. Involving the very people you want to reach — prospective clients and partners — in your content is a very effective strategy.

How can you  create content that will enable you to network with prospects and partners? Think about:

  • Interview-based podcasts where you can invite people you want to work with as guests.
  • Webinar series that collaborate with others.
  • Articles in which you interview people you want to reach.

People will often be much more open to an interview over a cold conversation. Content can help you reach out to and network with your ideal client prospects.

LinkedIn Content

Jake Jorgovan illustrates the way in which he repurposes content with LinkedIn posts.

Social content

For independent consultants, social content is primarily focused on LinkedIn. The way that social media plays into your content strategy is to amplify the content you create, to get it in front of the right people you want to reach.

“Creating content on LinkedIn is a really great way to stay top-of-mind and drive traffic,” Jorgovan says. “If you just put stuff on your website, if you don’t have any way to let people know it exists, it’s not as ideal. A really easy way to do this is to take anything you create and repurpose it into a handful of social posts.”

If you interview someone, for example, in a podcast or video or for an article, you can easily take some of the best quotes and turn those into 10 or 20 social posts. Hiring a social media marketer to do this is usually very cost-effective.

Distributing your content through an email list is also very effective. Use opt-in emails only, of course — and if you don’t have a method for collecting emails on your website, set one up now.

Any content you produce — articles, blog posts, podcasts, webinars, videos, etc. — can easily go into an email newsletter and be repurposed to reach a wider audience. Check out the Umbrex Resource, How to Create a Newsletter, for much more detail on how to do this.

“The interesting thing about all this social content is that it has a very short shelf life,” Jorgovan says. Regardless, this is putting yourself in front of the places where your target audience is — and being there consistently keeps you top-of-mind for them.

Another important part of succeeding with social content is to re-post things others have shared. It’s called “social” for a reason, and engaging with and promoting others helps build your network and relationships.

Jorgovan says this is a valuable and powerful approach, and something he does a lot of.

“I have this realm of strategic partners and top people that are really influential to my business, and I consistently go through and re-share their content. That is a really powerful way to keep yourself top-of-mind with those people who are really influential or thought leaders — people you want to have business alliances with.”

This also helps solve one of the two main challenges voiced by people: not knowing what content to create. Your content doesn’t have to all be original — thoughtfully curated content is valuable as well.

Content Solutions

“If you have the ability to create content yourself, I think it’s one of the best things you can do,” Jorgovan says. “[Writing] is an amazing skill that levels people up.”

Some of the top, most well-paid consultants have a wealth of original content they’ve written, which laid the foundation for their platform and expertise. Many of them have collated their content into books they’ve authored.

“It’s a skill and a habit you can build up over time. If you can do this, I guarantee it will be one of the best things you can do for your business,” he says.

Whether you create your own content or not, Jorgovan offers three solutions to consider:

  • Do it yourself. Write for 10 minutes every morning and build a habit.
  • Use contractors. Hire directly, or use a service such as Upwork or
  • Hire agencies. Jorgovan’s firm, Content Allies, is an example of a turnkey content agency that can be retained to write content and help you with content strategy.

Watch the video replay

Want to delve into Jorgovan’s content strategy even more? Watch the video replay of his virtual presentation:

Pricing during volatile & inflationary times

Pricing during volatile and inflationary times

Pricing is always an important topic for companies, but in these days of high inflation and disrupted supply chains — as well as the uncertainty brought about by the pandemic — it’s become critical. Yet many companies are struggling, not having had to flex their pricing increase muscles for a few years. 

“Pricing is a product-centric idea,” says Ian Tidswell, an independent consultant focusing on B2B pricing and the co-founder of Ideal Price.

Pricing is usually set depending on how much a product costs to make, profit margin goals, and what the competition is doing. 

“But you can leave a lot of money on the table if you price too high, or too low,” he cautions.

Tidswell spoke to Umbrex members in a virtual event, sharing what they can do to please their clients while also keeping their prices and services sustainable. Tidswell has been working with companies for the last twenty years on how to create innovative offers and prices that customers will accept. 

In the interactive session, Tidswell discussed when and how to increase prices, how to build in flexibility to adjust prices when necessary, and how behavioral psychology can help increase price acceptance.

He presented two sides to dealing with inflation and uncertainty:

  • Establishing price agility in inflammatory and uncertain times.
  • How to talk about prices with customers.

Tidswell recommends taking an approach that starts with what the customer values, then figures out what your solution does for the price, and lastly making sure that cost is measurable.

With this approach, he says there is a “much better chance of capturing a bigger share of the value you’ve created, and using that to define more optimized prices.”

Successful pricing: balancing the customer and supplier value

Tidswell says to be successful with pricing, it’s about achieving a balance between the offer of products and services with the price. The customer values the offer, and the supplier values the price.

Customer values and supplier values do not differ much. The customers want to buy based on the value they receive, while suppliers are capturing the value they have created through the price. 

Both are considering risk exposure, such as how much risk they take compared to the cost and availability of the product. 

They are also considering the “time to value” — how long it will take to get value from the product, either from the customer view of the product creating a solution, or the supplier view of generating revenue within a reasonable time frame.

“The balance beam is wobbling because of changes, and we need to get better at balancing them,” Tidswell said.

Breaking down the pricing elements

Tidswell defined the price agenda as that which sets pricing, objectives, and priorities in line with the strategy. He encouraged asking yourself questions such as:

  • What are you trying to achieve?
  • How is the pricing aligned with your overall strategy and objectives?

Next, he broke down the pricing agenda into three parts:

  • Portfolio pricing: Set pricing for offers for end and direct customers. What are the list prices and net price?
  • Commercial terms: Define and manage customer and channel incentives to drive desired behavior. What discounts or rivets are received for selling through distributors? How can you align with the incentives?
  • Pricing execution: Define, execute, monitor, and manage guidelines and exceptions across the pricing processes. How will you execute and monitor guidelines that drive people? How do you manage the exceptions?

Tidswell added that using data-driven pricing insights leads to better decision-making. 

Portfolio pricing and commercial terms can be used to help these four things: 

  • Grow top-line revenue.
  • Improve or defend profitability.
  • Strengthen channel relationships.
  • Manage and minimize risks.

Start by reassessing your commercial priorities given the evolving crisis situation. In a crisis, you might want to focus on minimizing risk more than before. 

“Sometimes a more defensive approach makes sense, and sometimes a more aggressive one does,” Tidswell said. 

It is also important to decide how much supply to give to committed orders versus spot or thought orders. Are you willing to commit to longer term orders for a lower price, or take on orders with a higher variable but which have a higher price on average?

“Think through how to balance between long term and thought order clients,” he said.

During inflationary times, costs need to be managed as they go up, but those changing costs usually lead to a need to change the pricing.

“We need to be continually assessing what’s going on,” he said.

He recommends having contingency and mitigation plans. “In the pricing space, this becomes much more important than in the normal market.”

The decision tree

Tidswell introduced the concept of a “decision tree” to help think through the shortage and price increase planning. 

“What is your decision around your cost versus the competitor cost?”

You can develop a decision tree by:

  • Listing potential concerns in supplier supply alongside the competitor supply.
  • Listing issues with the supplier cost of goods sold with the competitor cost of goods sold (COGS). 
  • Consider this question: “What should you do based on which of the situations you’re in?”

By working your way through each scenario, the solution can be made for potential issues that can arise in a crisis situation.

Consider a scenario in which you are short on supply, but the competitor isn’t. You may have to raise prices, but Tidswell recommends this be balanced by strengthening the strategic relationships.

“Thinking through what you will do if certain contingencies happen is super important,” he said. “It’s developing plans based on what may happen, so you can react quickly if it does happen.”

Action commitments to make for risk mitigation and contingency planning include:

  • Emphasize value in public communications, and react quickly once competitor prices are clear.
  • Set campaign duration immediately upon allocation update.
  • Prepare contingency plans for situations.

Portfolio pricing: focus on value

“Many companies don’t even think about raising prices, and the ones that do don’t always do it very aggressively,” Tidswell said. 

With pricing, figuring out the value is the most important aspect. Determining the value of your product relative to the next best alternative is the key step. 

Then you should identify the value barriers — the areas where your offer is less attractive to customers.

Tidswell recommends prioritizing the top value sources and barriers.

”Doing this in a qualitative way is helpful in understanding where the value comes from, and this is a way to get clear on the value of your products.”

A helpful way of understanding value is to create a value map. 

Create a value map with the price being on a Y axis, and the benefit of the product being on the X axis. Map out your products along with the next best alternative. See where the products lie compared to each other. 

Tidswell gave an example using models of cars on the value map. “A BMW might have high value with a high price, but we see a Ford Focus with a low price with a high value.” 

What the customer values can change, and in a crisis, they may look for the low price with a high value.

A value map should continuously be updated, so you can see the changes that happen with products. 

“Value maps can help understand where the opportunities are, and once you have them in place, they are great for understanding where things need to change. This also drives great conversation about where we are at in value, where the challenges are, and where gaps are in the market,” Tidswell said. 

Product segmentation

The next step Tidswell recommends is to segment your product portfolio. He says by segmenting the products, this should influence price decisions.

Products can be placed into three segments:

  • Pull Products: Differentiated products with high profits. Focus on value pricing for these products, and maintain these as premium products.
  • Push Products: Less differentiated, with high profits. Closely track prices of customers’ alternate options and ensure high margins for distributors or retailers.
  • Low and very-low profit: Less room for incentives, follow the market. 

Price increases

There are two ways to influence a price increase:

  • Raising the list price.
  • Adjusting the discounts and rebates. 

“Price increase is great for showing market leadership, and lets the whole market know there needs to be an adjustment here,” Tidswell said. 

With a price increase, there needs to be a detailed explanation to customers. 

Discounting rebate adjustments is often a much easier way to increase your bottom-line price, but can be confusing internally and with customers. 

“A combination of these makes sense,” he advised. “Raise the list price, then back off with bigger discounts and rebates.” 

∫e aggressive with raising list prices, and more agile with rebates and discount adjustments.

Price execution: Listen, communicate, act

When it comes to communicating price increases, over communicate — both internally and with customers. 

“It pays to help your customers have insights into what’s going on in the market,” Tidswell said. 

This is especially necessary in a time of crisis, as it helps people feel in control and more comfortable, and helps them manage new challenges. Communication can help calm customers, reduce fears, and build trust.

Increase the frequency of price and policy changes, and make sure the price exception processes are really working so they do not create problems. 

How to talk to customers about prices

Traditional selling is based on purely economic considerations:

  • Understanding what the customers want.
  • Defining the offer.
  • Estimating the value and understanding the willingness to pay.
  • Selling the value vs. the next best alternative.

“When people make buying decisions, they act in irrational yet consistent ways that we can understand,” Tidswell said. 

A closer approach to how people are selling is to how to understand what the customer wants and what they value. Customers have new and evolving concerns and needs. It’s about balancing gain and pain with customers. 

“People fear losses much more than they value gain,” he said. “If you gain $100 it only feels half as good as if you lose $100.” 

Customers are going to be nervous about price increases, even if there is upside potential. In the current uncertain climate, there is a fear of shortages and price increases — and a gain can be simply having a product available for customers in a crisis situation.

“Sometimes customers are happy to pay more just because they can get their hands immediately on a product,” Tidswell pointed out.

He advised to focus on the list price and give discounts from that, rather than using net prices with a price increase. This is looked at as avoiding a loss by earning a discount. A discount is always looked at as a gain, even if the customers are spending the money. 

Understand how the customer decides

Customers prioritize and decide differently today. A way to understand their decision-making process is by profiling customers based on their “pricing typology.”

  • Bargain hunters: These customers want a good deal. They are more attracted to the price rather than what the product does. Offer a high list price with big discounts, and don’t waste time discussing value with these customers.
  • Risk avoiders: These are people who just don’t want to get ripped off. Price interest is high for these customers. Emphasize risk, mitigate it, and highlight security of supply.
  • Price accepters: These customers understand value and are not sensitive to price. They want the best value for the price. These are people who know they want it and why they want it, they know the value and will pay a higher price for that. Sell the value and invest in the relationship; don’t hurry to provide a discount to these customers.
  • Routine buyers: These customers know what they are getting and don’t pay much attention to the price. They have high value knowledge. Sell the value and emphasize continuity of supply. 
  • Indifferent buyers: They don’t care about price, they just want to get it done and have the product. An example would be buying gas for your car. Make it super easy for customers to do business with the product.

Tidswell encourages thinking about “Good/Better/Best” pricing, which is offering one product at three different prices and value levels. Data shows that customers like to buy the middle option. He strongly recommends this pricing tactic, and giving clients three to four options.

Customer risk tolerance

Different customers have different risk tolerance, and this will influence which offers are most attractive to them.

Tidswell gave a few factors that have been known to influence risk tolerance:

  • Financial cushion
  • Business experience
  • Perception of business outlook
  • Experience
  • Severity of failure

“It’s worth thinking about customers’ risk tolerance, and trying to tailor offers to them,” he recommended. 

Estimating the value and price acceptance

“This is about framing the decision-making process to try and get customers to accept a higher price,” Tidswell said. 

He explained what is called the “anchoring effect” — people are guided by a reference point and compare that to similar things.

From a pricing perspective, how can you get people to compare your product to something else that makes yours preferable?

It’s helpful to look at what customers will compare your price to, and how that comparison can be influenced to benefit you. 

Some comparisons customers make include:

  • Direct competition
  • Indirect competition
  • Value
  • Similar purchases
  • Numbers

“Identify and promote numbers you want your customers to compare your price with,” Tidswell said.

List pricing is beneficial because the lower-priced products will give the customer a sense they got a good deal, and the higher-priced products will give higher value to the customer.

Price can even affect customers’ perception of product performance. Tidswell gave an example of people feeling that an expensive pain killer was more effective than another pill that was exactly the same, but a cheaper price. 

Influencing the buying decision

“The reasons you give for why prices have gone up are very important,” Tidswell said. “Price adjustments should be accompanied by statements that reaffirm the value of the product.”

Avoid being perceived as price gouging during a shortage situation. “People are much more tolerant of price if logistics came up, than if it was perceived as a market shortage or using market power,” Tidswell said. 

Explain to customers the reasons for a price increase, whether that is manufacturer costs, environmental requirements, benefits for employees, or reinforcing the supply chain.

When you’re in a shortage situation, be very strategic with who you work with. Customers will remember who price gouged during a crisis. 

There are multiple tactics for presenting price increases:

  • Communicate price increase as a percentage rather than dollar amount.
  • When possible, avoid using the dollar symbol, as it can have a negative psychological value.
  • Present prices from high to low when applicable; it gives a sense of giving something up as the price is lowered.
  • Present prices as usage equivalents (price per unit, kg, lb).
  • Use smaller font sizes for discounts and to present your prices; this generates the feeling the price is low.

Preparation is key to effective communication with your customer. 

“Think about the objectives. Be clear who the audience is, craft the message, and listen to the feedback — and correct it and take action,” Tidswell said.

His last piece of advice was to always check with legal, and never talk with your competitors about pricing.

For more on this topic, listen to the Unleashed Podcast Episode 69 with Ian Tidswell on Pricing Excellence:

Ian Tidswell Unleashed 69 Pricing Excellence

About Ian Tidswell

Ian Tidswell focuses on helping companies (from startup to global leaders) improve their pricing performance through coaching, training, mentoring, and consulting. With almost 20 years focused on B2B pricing, his range of experience across all aspects of pricing across multiple industries enables him to help clients to quickly make sustainable improvements in their pricing outcomes based on proven methods. Ian holds a PhD in Physics from Harvard University, is an alumnus of McKinsey & Company, and calls Basel, Switzerland his home.

Crafting a Memorable Fishing Line

What does your consulting firm really do? Can you communicate your consulting firm’s mission — who you serve and what you do — to your clients in just one sentence? 

If not, you aren’t alone. Summarizing your business in just a few words can be an intimidating task. 

Fortunately, consulting expert David A. Fields has created a way for independent consultants to do just that. He calls it your fishing line.

Video with David A. Fields: Crafting a Memorable Fishing Line

Watch the video with David A. Fields: Crafting a Memorable Fishing Line

What is a fishing line?

According to Fields, a fishing line is a quick pitch for your business: Seven to 15 words that explain who your consulting firm works with and the problem you solve. 

It’s the consultant’s version of an elevator pitch — the quick explanation of a product that should only be as long as an elevator ride.

Unlike an elevator pitch, however, a fishing line is not a sales pitch; it’s meant to be a talking point, although it may lead to sales in the future. 

“All we’re trying to do is start a conversation,” Fields says. “When you are in conversation, you find out about opportunities and through opportunities, you win projects.” 

A fishing line is also meant to make you memorable. If you have a strong fishing line, you’ll be easy to remember and to refer to someone else who might need your services. So, for example, if you work with IT companies in South Asia, many of the people who hear your fishing line won’t be in your target market. Later on, however, if one of those contacts meets someone who works with a South Asian IT firm, they’re likely to mention you. 

“It is much easier to refer you to someone else if it’s easy to remember who you work with and what you do,” Fields says. 

Building a good fishing line

A memorable fishing line is rooted in specificity. It should be precise in at least one way: 

  • It specifies the market you serve, or 
  • It specifies the problem you solve. 

Fields shares some other guidelines for writing a strong fishing line:

  • Your fishing line can include a general target and a very specific problem: “We support manufacturers throughout the polymer development process.”
  • Your fishing line can include a precise target client and a generic problem: “We work with local weekly newspaper groups to boost profitability.” 
  • Your fishing line can include a precise target market and a specific problem: “We solve backend operations for property and casualty insurance agencies.” 

 The very best fishing lines, says Fields, are precise when it comes to both the target industry and the problem you solve. 

“If you can solve a very precise problem for a very narrow target industry, you can build one heck of a consulting firm,” he said.

Fishing lines also work well to serve a clearly defined industry instead of solving a more broad, generic problem. Clients are most interested in hiring consultants with expertise specific to their industry, so it’s important to focus tightly on the market you serve. 

How narrow of a focus should you have? According to Fields, it’s best if there are a few hundred clients in your target group. Companies are looking for an expert, so if you’re an expert in their specific field, they are more likely to hire you.

Remember: your fishing line doesn’t have to highlight the primary problem you solve — it just has to be memorable enough to start a conversation. 

Common fishing line mistakes

It’s not always easy to distill your business into one sentence, and it might take a few tries before you get it right. 

Fields outlines a few common mistakes consultants can sometimes make when writing their fishing lines: 

  • Too generic: “We work with executives to grow their businesses.” Remember what we said about specificity? If your fishing line targets a general market and solves a generic problem, no one will remember what you do. If they do remember you, it will be difficult to refer you to anyone because they don’t know who you serve.
  • Too long: “We work with senior executives at financial services firms to create strategic clarity on their most important problems.” Your fishing line should not be longer than 15 words. It’s meant to be snappy and memorable. If it’s too long, people will tune out.
  • Includes conjunctions and commas: We work with energy, mining, chemicals, and oil and gas on strategy, innovations, and operational excellence.”  Every comma will decrease the power of your fishing line. You want to present one memorable thing you do, not a list.
  • Tries to explain everything you do: We work with consumer tech and media companies who need help prioritizing growth through digital channels and we work with consumer companies who need help prioritizing a broad portfolio of growth initiatives.” This one’s very understandable; consultants often worry about paring themselves down to one problem, or one target. They may think that by listing everything, they’ll appeal to more potential clients. Unfortunately, this just overloads the person who is hearing the fishing line.

Writing your own fishing line

At this point, you might be wondering what a successful fishing line looks like, or how precise your need to be when writing them. Below are a few Fields-approved examples to inspire your own. 

  • “We work with CIOs who have purchased BMC Remedy for their company and need help optimizing it.”
  • “We work with small insurance agencies who need to streamline their policy review burden.”
  • “We help CTOs move their company’s data to the cloud rather than renew a data center lease.”

All of these work because they refer to both a narrow target client and either a specific product or a specific and memorable event, such as moving to the cloud. 

As you start writing your own fishing line, Fields recommends that you don’t limit yourself to one. See if you can come up with a couple of fishing line versions; you may be surprised by which one is more successful. You should also figure out how you’ll respond if someone hears your fishing line and wants to know more. 

As Fields says, it’s all about starting a conversation.

Examples of Umbrex member consultant fishing lines

  • “I work with decision-makers to generate free cash flow by harnessing talent, realigning supply chains, and go-to-market strategies.” Dr. Sandip Lalli
  • “I serve Product Leaders of mid-market companies who want to discover what their customers want and assess innovation opportunities using the jobs-to-be-done approach.”  Eric Eskey, Dark Horse Works
  • “Leaders at middle market PE-owned healthcare and technology firms turn to me to help design and execute their growth priorities.”  Brett Pentz, Magnetic North Strategies
  • “I work with CEOs at professional services firms and social sector organizations on Human Capital.”  Ilene Leff
  • “I help corporations with go-to-market, strategic growth, transformations, and project management.”  Raul Azevedo
  • “I help financial services companies grow and transform, anchored in a customer perspective.” Katie Liebel, Managing Principal, CustomStrat Advisory
  • “I manage pharmaceutical quality remediations.”  George Palmer
  • “I partner with business leaders to design and implement organizational change.” Ava Butler
  • “I help CEOs and business leaders seeking to improve their Brand Alignment.”  Nicholas Zeisler, Zeisler Consulting

Additional resources:

Storytelling: The Power of Human Connection for Influence and Change

As independent consultants, we want to connect with people and influence them in a positive way for the changes we want them to make.

The question is, how best to do that?

Edwina PikeOne powerful answer is to use storytelling.

Edwina Pike, the creator of “Irrational Change,” has some insightful methods to share on the power of storytelling — and how to use it to help change people’s beliefs and behaviors in a positive way.

At a recent virtual event for the Umbrex women’s group, Pike shared her insights. The meet-up began with a five-minute connection building exercise. Pike divided attendees into groups of two, and gave them five minutes to find as many connections as they possibly could.

“It’s a great icebreaker and relationship builder for many uses,” she said.

At the end of the five minutes, everyone had identified multiple areas of connection. And, as Pike pointed out, most of those were discovered by telling each other stories.

The know-do gap

We often know in our head certain changes that we want or need to make — but the doing of those changes comes from the heart.

Even though we know we should do something — perhaps that is lose 10 pounds, or make some outbound calls — there is often a gap between actually feeling emotionally connected or motivated enough to do it. 

That’s where storytelling comes in — both to ourselves, and others.


Why storytelling?

“Storytelling makes it more likely for people to make the choices you want them to make,” Pike says.

She shared a few points that demonstrate the power of our storytelling as a species:

  • Stories are human and familiar.
  • Stories explain how things work.
  • Stories have an ability to spark emotions and create emotions.
  • Stories are 22 times more memorable than facts.
  • Stories are entertaining.

Our brains actually have a hard time telling the difference between a story that isn’t real, and something that is real or actually happened.

“Stories fit into our brain nicely,” Pike says. “They get stored easily in our brains and they are extremely memorable.”

Consider how many stories from your childhood you still remember. Stories are entertaining and divert our attention — something that is universal to humans across the globe and through time.

She encouraged participants to think back to the connections exercise done at the beginning, and the stories that were shared.

“Storytelling is a natural part of how we connect with other humans, and we do it all the time.”

Even if you think you are not a storyteller, we are all natural storytellers.

The power of short stories

Stories don’t have to be big and dramatic. In the business world, that doesn’t really play as well anyway.

In business, we look at the world of stories in a slightly different way. We look at examples that bring something to life, or a metaphor to illustrate a story.

You need to run with the horse before you can change its direction, Pike says. Just trying to pull somebody in a different direction is going to be very hard. Stories are a way to change that direction as you go.

She shared the three types of control that people have:

  • Direct control (for example, you switch on a light).
  • Indirect control (you see someone else turn on the light, but you’re not surprised it came on because you were prepared).
  • Out of control (you are plunged into the dark with no warning; something happens that surprises you and you weren’t prepared for.)

Humans don’t like to be out of control, Pike says. By finding things that resonate easily, we’re more likely to recognize a construct and act on it.

Short stories create a language that becomes a shortcut for the other person.


When adopting change in an organization, there are four levels — know the level you need to realize your value.

  • None at all.
  • Bed and board: The bare minimum, transactional.
  • Guest: polite welcome, temporary, unsure.
  • Family: fully embraced and adopted, emotionally and logically.

What we’re truly doing by telling short stories is reaching the emotions, so that when you present an idea you want someone to adopt, they are already emotionally connected to it.

“These little stories make a language that you can use when you’re trying to shift a perspective,” Pike says

Practice exercise 

Pike shared a practice exercise you can do to build a short story.

Think of something you do, in your consultancy or business.

Then think about what metaphor you can use to explain it. It often helps to think about how you would explain it with a story to a five-year-old.

“You’re connecting to the emotional part of the brain,” she says. “The more you can see parallels others can understand, the easier it is to connect to that emotional brain.”

So why don’t people tell more stories?

The simple reason is fear. Fear of failure, of not being heard, of getting it wrong, of not being entertaining enough. 

This fear holds us back.


“The trick is to remember that you tell stories all the time,” Pike says. “You tell stories to your friends, your partner, your family. You have stories you know are entertaining and you tell them often.”

The more you practice storytelling, the less fearful it becomes. Especially in a business context, the more you practice telling these very short stories the easier it becomes.

Pike shared several tips for storytelling:

  • Be authentic.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Keep it short.
  • Keep it real.

Opening lines

The hardest step to telling a story is the first one — coming up with a great opening line. Pike shared a few ideas for opening lines:

  • Imagine a world where…
  • My biggest learning came from…
  • What if…
  • I can’t stand it when…
  • You know what drives me crazy?
  • Do you ever feel like you’re…
  • You know what keeps me awake at night?
  • I never expected to…but all that changed when…
  • Have you ever felt/thought/wondered what would happen if…
  • One morning something happened which changed my career/life forever.
  • Have you ever been afraid or worried that…
  • Did you ever want something so much you could taste it?

Her go-to opening line that she uses a lot is, “Imagine a world where…”

“We can bring complicated concepts into an organization simply through storytelling. The great thing about an opening line is that we are trained from being small children that when we hear an opening line, we expect a story. You naturally quiet down and look at the storyteller.”

Opening lines are a powerful way of getting attention, and reduces one of our main fears — that no one will listen to us.

Bring the idea to life

Pike shared a trick to bringing your stories and ideas to life. She calls it “A day in the life of…”

  • Start with something familiar — connect with something your listeners can recognize.
  • Set the scene and give context.
  • Describe the new thing — use your senses which creates emotional connections.
  • Make it tangible.

“It’s about how you bring the idea to life and help the listener stand in the future,” she says.


Stand in the future is a framework that she uses to bring the idea into practice:

  • A day in the life of…
  • What will they see, do, hear, or touch differently?
  • What is not changing?
  • Rate the scale of change.
  • Bonus step: Include social proof that others do this.

When using data, it’s helpful to mix it with storytelling to give examples or make that data come to life. Anywhere you want someone to have an emotional connection to something, use stories.

“What we like to do is challenge you to do something different, and give you the confidence to continue to do so,” Pike says.

How to deliver cover emails that work

How can you make your cover email stand out for project opportunities? Will Bachman shared his top tips on how to create and deliver a professional cover email in a recent virtual event for Umbrex members.

“The goal of the cover email is to get you to the Context Discussion, to get you to stand out so that the intermediary, the staffing firm, or the client want to speak with you,” Bachman said. 

It doesn’t need to say everything about your experience — just enough to capture their attention and have you stand out.

Send a cover email, not a cover letter attachment

It’s common to see cover letters and resumes attached to project opportunity emails. Instead, add the cover letter to the body to the email instead of attaching it as a document. 

“People are typically not going to open that attachment, and they will not open your resume either unless your email really resonates,” Bachman said.

Know how your email appears in someone else’s inbox

Send an email to three or four people you know and ask them, “How does my email appear in your inbox?” You can even have them send a screenshot so you know exactly how it looks. 

Make sure it’s from your full name in the inbox, and not just your email address. Otherwise it can come across as less professional or even spammy. You can change this in your email settings. 

“Don’t use a shared email address, because then it’s confusing as to who the email is actually from,” Bachman added.

Reference exactly which project you are interested in

Sometimes a person will see a project of interest and might send an email that says, “I’m interested in the project you posted.”

However, the company may have more than one project. The decision maker doesn’t need to figure out which project you are inquiring about, and they might just move on.

Indicate where you heard about the project

Whether an email was forwarded to you, someone referred you to the project, or you found it on an alumni job board — mentioning how you learned of the project tells the recipient where you’re coming from and immediately establishes credibility. 

Mention affinity

If you don’t already have an existing relationship with the person, establish some affinity. Look them up and see what you have in common — friends, colleagues, or school, for example. Don’t make a big deal about it but mention it briefly to help establish more credibility.

Share relevant experience

Bachman says this is the most important aspect of the cover email. 

Examples can be your experience in the industry, or similar functional experience in another industry. This establishes that you have expertise in the industry, function, and work required.

Some platforms for responding to opportunities allow 750 words, but Bachman says that is usually way too many. For actual proposals it might make sense to be lengthier, but for a response of interest two or three bullet points demonstrating your relevant experience is better. 

Each bullet could be around 50 words that answer these questions: 

  • What was the situation?
  • What did you do?
  • What was the impact?

Indicate your availability

If the project will be longer than a week or two, be sure to communicate the terms of when you can start, and if you have any key dates that you will not be available. Indicate how many days a week you are available, or your hours of availability, whichever might be relevant for the project. Providing this information up front gives clear communication to the recipient and doesn’t waste anyone’s time.

Indicate your location and your ability to travel

Pay attention to the time zone of the company or client posting the project. What is your ability to work in their relevant time zone? If you are not in the same time zone, exclusively say that you are able to work in their time zone. Also communicate if you could travel as needed or would need to work fully remote. 

Provide your contact information

Bachman emphasized how important it is to always provide this information. Though you are sending from your email and therefore it seems easy to contact you, it’s important that you make it as easy as possible to be contactable by as many methods as possible.

This can be done by adding your phone number, your scheduling link for meetings if you have one, and times you are available to talk.

Mention relevant thought leadership

Be sure to include relevant thought leadership examples that can boost your credibility and experience. Examples of this can be articles, podcasts, books, blogs, or videos. Make sure to provide links instead of simply stating the titles. Make it easy for the recipient to find the content.

Provide references

This is not always necessary, but can be helpful to add. 

“If they are impressive people this can definitely add credibility. It’s optional but a nice touch,” Bachman said. 

If one of your references is well known or gives you credibility that relates well to the project, add them as a reference.

Attach a resume

Even if you have sent your resume before, people are busy and you don’t want to make them track it down. They might just go on to the next candidate who made it easy for them.

 “Rather than saying I’ve already sent my resume, send it again, and be sure to send your most updated version,” Bachman said.

Attach a project list

Bachman highly recommends putting together a project list. “It’s a good investment of time.” 

A project list can include all of the projects you’ve ever done, whether as an independent consultant, with a consulting firm, or as an employee with relevant tasks. Make sure this list is detailed. 

If there are clients or details that shouldn’t be shared, you can create a sanitized version for sharing. “You can make one for yourself, and then another version to send out that might keep confidentiality from previous clients, or take out irrelevant experience for that project,” Bachman said.

Attach a sample of sanitized work

Only around 20% of people make this available, and by providing an actual sample of your work you already stand out.

“It’s better to show rather than tell,” Bachman said. This can really help showcase your work and back up everything you’ve put into your cover email.

Provide your fees

How to set consulting feesIf requested, provide your fees. For more on this topic see our Resource: How to Set Consulting Fees.

 “Sometimes people will reply by saying, ‘my fees are negotiable,’ or ‘I will discuss after I hear more about the project’ — but you might not get that chance to discuss it again,” Bachman pointed out. 

Another way to address this is by saying, “Recently my rate has been X.” This implies that you might be flexible to adjust it while still giving the recipient an idea of your rate, and doesn’t waste anyone’s time. 

Create an email signature

If you don’t already have one, create one and apply it to all emails, not just cover emails. Add your phone number, website, LinkedIn URL, and email address. This puts all of your information in one place that is also easy to copy and paste if needed. 

“If you want to be contacted, be contactable,” Bachman said.

Be pleasantly persistent after you send the cover email

Always follow up after sending your cover email. 

“There is a spectrum between just waiting for a response and harassing the recipient,” Bachman said. Be somewhere in the happy medium — don’t follow up just once and don’t message every two hours. 

If you haven’t heard back, it’s reasonable to follow up the next day or two, unless you are given information on when you should have an expected update. Then wait until that day comes to follow up if you have not heard back. 

“There are possibilities that emails get missed so being pleasantly persistent can pay off.”

What not to ask

  • Don’t ask: “Is this project still available?” 
  • Don’t ask: “What’s the rate?” 

“Don’t expect the person on the other side to do the work — just express your interest,” Bachman said. They most likely wouldn’t even respond to this question. Most posts will have a deadline date or will say if they are no longer available. 

When it comes to rates, there might not be just one rate for one project, and so this might be hard to answer. 

Additional helpful tips

A cover email shouldn’t take hours to put together, and shouldn’t be too long because it will be overwhelming to the recipient. Preparing your project list before putting together a cover email or looking for projects can also help you save time.

How to Create Work-Life Balance

It’s something most of us struggle with: how to achieve a healthy balance between your work and personal lives.

Award winning consultant coach Melisa Liberman shared her four-part formula to create a work-life balance with Umbrex members. Here we delve into her process, looking at:

  • Fundamentals of Balance: What balance means.
  • Formula of Balance: 4 Steps to achieve and maintain your business-life balance.
  • Your Personal Balance Playbook: For prioritizing, scheduling, and dealing with the seemingly endless changes and curveballs that life throws us.

What is balance?

Balance implies equal parts — but the way we live our lives is rarely equal. We typically want balance in our lives to be equal parts of our professional, family, and personal life. However, a lot of people live with work and family prioritized, and their own personal life gets put on the back burner. 

It might be helpful to ask yourself these questions:

  • What does being balanced mean for you?
  • What do you think being balanced means or looks like?
  • What do you feel when you’re balanced?

Balance is not a “thing” that we have or don’t have, Liberman says. Being balanced is a thought or a feeling. Balance is a state.

Give yourself permission to think:

I’ve got a good balance going right now.

So you feel:

Calm, in control, present.

So you show up:

Clear, unapologetic, intentional, guiltless.

Balance doesn’t come from the amount of hours you work or don’t work every week, or the complexity of the work you do, or the supportiveness of your family and friends. 

Liberman encourages you to think about why you want balance. How will you know if you have it? What will you feel? What will be different?

The formula for work-life balance

Liberman has identified four steps to achieve and maintain a work-life balance:

  • Define
  • Plan
  • Follow-through
  • Evaluate

1. Define your balance

What is “balanced”? How is it measured and over what period of time is it measured?

Why do you want this? What if you don’t achieve it?

What is currently standing in your way from thinking you’re balanced, and feeling balanced?

Deciding you’re balanced is available to you, if you choose to feel balanced and think of yourself as someone who has great balance. Without anything changing, what would happen?

2. Plan

Create your ideal week. 

  • What is your ideal week?
  • What is your minimum viable schedule?

Then, capture your guiding principles. An example could be working four days a week and always finishing by 4 p.m. 

Think of how you will handle exceptions:

  • What are your exception protocols?
  • What are the most common “derailers?”
  • What will I do when __ occurs?

Then, schedule your week

Think of your schedule like it’s math. Everything needs to earn a spot and don’t put things down by default. Plan your free time first. 

By doing this, you will start treating time as an investment, and you will establish the baseline for further evaluation and refinement, especially mental refinement. 

Some common challenges and fixes:

  • Running out of time, underestimating: Add buffer time to the schedule. Choose to adhere to the time box. Lower your standards. Delegate. 
  • Feeling it’s too rigid: Consider the opposite is, or could be, true. Scheduling creates freedom. 
  • Thinking too much is out of your control: Ask, what is in my control? How can I take more control of this situation? How can I build in this pattern?
  • Thinking this is a waste of time: Put results in your calendar, not the task. How are you wasting more time because you don’t have a plan?

3. Follow-through with your plan

  • Expect to feel bad…do it anyway
  • Expect to negotiate with yourself…do it anyway
  • Expect to think “later is better”…do it anyway
  • Expect solid arguments to change the plan…do it anyway

This is you building your business owner’s muscle. 

If you are still feeling imbalance, continue refining the plan and execution. In the meantime, you have a mental gap to address. 

  • Investigate: How are you feeling? What are you thinking?
  • Regain clarity: What would you need to think to create balanced feelings?
  • Adjust (if needed)
    • Your definition
    • Your plan
  • Manage your mind
    • Acknowledge what is working
    • Choose what you think and believe it on purpose 

4. Evaluate and Iterate

  • Collect wins
  • Schedule time for weekly shut-down and evaluation:
    • What’s working?
    • What’s not working?
    • What do you want to adjust?
  • Tactical AND mental

Your Personal Balance Playbook

Liberman says you can create balance in your life without needing to move to quit your job, become your own boss, or move to Hawaii like she did. 

She invites you to download her plan to create your own personal playbook for balance. This will allow you to: 

  • Learn what creates balance, and what doesn’t, for you
  • Get crystal clear on your version of balance
  • Develop your own playbook for prioritizing, scheduling, and dealing with the seemingly endless changes and curveballs that are thrown at you

Learn more about Melisa Libermans’s 3-step process to creating balance and customize your own playbook by instantly downloading it here.

About Melisa: 

Melisa Liberman helps independent consultants scale themselves and their businesses so that they make more money, increase their impact, and do it while working on their own terms. She invites you to check out two podcasts for more resources on this topic: