Podcast

Episode: 259 |
David A. Fields:
Show you Care:
Episode
259

HOW TO THRIVE AS AN
INDEPENDENT PROFESSIONAL

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David A. Fields

Show you Care

Show Notes

Our guest today is David A. Fields, author of The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients.

In this episode, David shares his advice on the actions consultants should take during the coronavirus epidemic.

He reminds us of his number one rule: to practice right-side-up thinking, that is, consulting is about the client, it’s not about us.

David covers:

  • How to reach out to clients during the pandemic
  • How to establish new partnerships during the pandemic
  • How to manage pricing during the pandemic

David has been a popular guest on the show and I encourage you to check out our past discussions, including

Episode 1: Winning clients

Episode 170: Outbound calls

Episode 172: Implementing a CRM system

Episode 190: What makes for a successful consulting partnership

Episode 221: How to convert leads into confirmed projects

I also recommend you sign up to receive his weekly blog post straight to your inbox.

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman 00:01
Welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional Unleashed is produced by Umbrex, which connects you with the world’s top independent management consultants. I’m your host, Will Bachman. I am so excited to be here today with David A. Fields who’s been a guest on the show out what 567 times, and including episode number one. David is the author of the irresistible consultants guide to winning clients. I love this book, I’ve given out a couple 100 copies of it. And today, David, I wanted to ask you about you advise consultants bowtique consulting firms on how to grow their practice and how to manage their practice. What advice Are you giving consultants on how what to do during during the pandemic?

00:54
Hi, well, and thanks for having me back. I just love having a chance to chat with you and do these discussions. This is a tricky time, right. And in different consultants are facing kind of very different experiences right now anything from their entire business has disappeared to it’s just been postponed to it’s become overwhelming, yet, you know, more business is flowing in for some consultants, but their rules of engagement have changed. So it is you know, as with everyone, you know, we’re facing a lot of change right now. I’ll give you a handful of thoughts and we’ll and we’ll see where they lead us. Does that sound fair?

Will Bachman 01:34
Sounds good.

01:37
Okay, number one, you know, I’m going to say this, because I will always say this, the very first most important rule of consulting hasn’t changed. And that’s to stay right side up. And remember, consulting is not about you. It’s about them. And them as the clients. It’s easy under times of stress and times of crisis, to become more internally focused and start thinking, what do I need to do? what’s important for me here? What what, you know, what should I do that to be able to make money, right, and all of that. And that’s understandable, it’s extremely normal. And yet, we still can’t forget the number one rule, stay right side up, it’s about them not about you. And the more you keep your gaze locked onto your clients needs, the easier it will be to survive this period, the easier it will be to adapt to what’s needed in this period, the easier easier will be to pivot if you need to pivot, or to change your firm if you need to change your firm, because you’re being driven by market needs. And that’s always the most important underlying factor for any consulting practice. Right my entire practice, but both the one I have now and the boutique I built before, was built on understanding responding to the market. So that’s where I would start for, the next thing I would suggest is in general right now is just keep an eye on how you manage your cash flow. And that doesn’t mean necessarily cutting all your expenses, what it means is ensuring that you have a path to keep cash coming in. As a general rule, I will admit I’m not a huge fan of borrowing. I’m probably conservative and maybe overly conservative in that. But now is the time to borrow. If you need to, to keep your your the lights on keep if you have staff, keep your staff there, keep yourself investing in your business, because the cash is going to come back, the business is going to going to come back in so this is more a matter of timing. And while I think there is some business that’s lost, I have clients who have who themselves have clients, for instance, in the travel business to travel business has just been decimated. You know, some of those clients may be gone for good. Overall, we are not looking at I think, you know, business, most business being lost. There’s more business being deferred. And since that’s just a timing issue, I think now is is actually time to make sure you have a line of credit if you didn’t have one before. And if necessary, you know, borrow a little bit and down late so you don’t shut down.

Will Bachman 04:26
Yeah, definitely take take advantage of the paycheck protection program for those in the US or outside the US the other programs that are available Canada, Europe. That’s right, you know, and we’ve done other episodes on the paycheck protection program. So check out Episode 255 with Ryan Vaughn and some of the other episodes move move quickly on those before the money runs out.

04:49
Yes, absolutely right and don’t fit in and I’ve had some of my clients say, Well, you know, I say feel badly about it, maybe some people need it more. That’s not how these programs work. And I’m sure you’ve covered that. Probably an even greater depth than your other, your other podcasts. So yes, take advantage of all the resources that are out there so that you keep your business moving. Yep. I got a lot of questions. I even got a question yesterday about fees, like, should we lower our fees? You know, our clients, now they don’t have money, they’re thinking about pulling down the pulling back on the project, should we lower our fees? And the answer to that is quite resounding no. Do not lower your fees. Now. I I honestly don’t believe there’s a project that can be saved by lowering your fees. And that’s not how clients are really thinking clients are either thinking we need to postpone or we need to cancel, right? We need to not spend money now. They’re not thinking Well, I’d spent maybe I’d spend it if it was a little less. Because that’s just that’s not the decision point. for them. The decision point for them is should I do this or not? Not? Should I do it for less? Yeah. Also, I think it just dilutes, it doesn’t show that your value, no matter the situation. That said, I would be extremely generous on terms. You know, and again, when you need to be we signed two new clients this week, and one client, just, you know, typical terms he paid, you know, they big dollars up front, just all paid, done, which was nice. But one of the other clients said, Look, could you spread this out a little bit? You know, the as with many of the engagements with me, man, it’s a boutique firm, and we’re going to work over the course of the year. And they instead of paying almost all upfront, which is typical, they say, Can we spread this out? And my answer is, of course. Because what you can do as a consultant, perhaps you can’t be in there in the front lines, figuring out, you know, working with infectious diseases and saving people. But what you can do is extend trust, what you can do is, is extend some goodwill in the belief that people will pay you. And I will even in some cases, a six month program, give people a year to pay a six month program, which under normal circumstances would be ludicrous. But not under these circumstances is really an extension of, of help to people who are concerned about their cash flow. So don’t lower your fees, but do be super flexible. On on terms. That’s what I’d suggest. Does that make sense? Well, it does. And

Will Bachman 07:33
I’d say I agree with you on that one about 95%, I’d say that there may be some situations where, let’s say that a client that’s under some severe stress, perhaps has internally done, maybe all the executives, maybe even the client you’re serving has taken a pay cut, you know, I’ve taken a salary cut. If that’s the situation, then I think it could be kind of a sign that you’re willing to sacrifice together with your client to agree to some kind of courtesy discount for a limited period of time. So, you know, I recognize your dressing, but you know, if like you’re serving a client, and they’ve taken a 20% pay cut, then you know, sharing in that shows that you’re kind of in it together. And if you agreed that it lasts for four months or something, and then you’ll be back up to your normal rate. So I think this is a little bit of a odd situation that we haven’t seen before. So I just, you know, offer that.

08:35
Yeah, I think that’s a really interesting case, though. What, in some cases, what I have seen is that if people are taking a pay cut, it’s with the understanding that it’s not only will it go back up, but they will they will get to recover. What has been cut once the you know, their their underlying businesses recover, right, not that that is a straight out loss. Right. And so that’s important to know. So it’s not really a pay cut, it’s it’s deferral. And, and I agree with you, as someone who’s taken a straight out, you know, pay cut, as a show solidarity, you might want to to do some of that, though, again, I wouldn’t necessarily, you know, jump right in there, especially most of you listening are running small firms. And you’re in a very different position as a small firm than an employee of a large company, if that’s your, if that’s your client. And an even an executive in a large company is in a different place. And it’s a different level of stability than you do and I think it’s okay for you to maintain your fees. Yeah. That said, You know, I think your your point is really well taken well,

Will Bachman 09:48
case by case. Tell us about what’s the right way to we’ve done an episode before on how to make outbound calls. This is kind of an unusual time. How would you suggest have, you know beyond dealing with your current clients? What would you suggest is the right way, there’s not going to come across in the road of reaching out to clients that you’ve served in the past one just to check on them, you maybe don’t want to be, you know, overly commercial about it. But what’s the right way to just check on people to check in, see if they have needs, but not appear kind of overly commercial at this time?

10:24
Right, we don’t want to be tone deaf. I ironically, this situation is forcing consultants to recognize when they’re not being right side up. When they’re not focusing on the relationship, because they’re recognizing, wow, I could be really tone deaf here. Well, yeah. And guess what you’re actually a lot of the time, you’re calling to sell, calling to build. So that’s kind of the irony here is all the same rules that I would suggest and recommend still apply. Because the rules I recommend, and the way I believe consulting works best and most easily sold is not by selling it, is simply building a relationship. When you create a relationship with someone that creates the chance to have conversations, and when you have conversations, opportunities arise, and when there are opportunities, then you have projects that you can win. But it all starts with just focusing on the relationship, just flat out, don’t worry about selling. And if you do reach out with the idea that you are nurturing a relationship, even if someone you don’t know terribly well, it’s all those, those possibilities of being tone deaf, sort of melt away, because that’s not the world you’re in, that’s not the space you’re in. And so what I’ve seen is, by and large, the consultants I work with the practices I work with their outreach efforts have been extremely well received over the past 234 weeks. The you know, checking in, will be you know, you and I we haven’t chatted in quite some time, and I wanted to just, you know, still check in and make sure you’re okay, you’re you’re safe, your family safe, see how you’re doing how you’re still, you know, things are going with with all this craziness. Right? That kind of outreach? There’s nothing commercial in there. Yeah. So you don’t win consulting by saying, hey, we’ll do you need me just doesn’t work that way.

Will Bachman 12:27
So let’s say that folks have done their outreach, and they’ve been right side up, and they’ve, you know, made the outbound calls. And, you know, maybe they’re on a project that got delayed or put on hold. What are some tips that you’re providing firms on how to use this time productively, if they’re, if they’re client work has been put on hold?

12:49
Sure, I it’s probably whatever everybody already sort of recognizes and is thinking, I mean, this is just been a, it’s a beautiful time to work on all of those big projects that you had delayed, you know, if you’ve been wanting to write the book, and couldn’t find a write up, write a book, couldn’t find the time to write a book. But now your projects are delayed, guess what, it’s time to sit down and write, it’s time to do those podcasts. So all of those kinds of internal projects you can invest in, what I would actually invest in what I would put top of the list, though, is creating relationships with partners. So you’ve called all of your prospects, my guess is you have not identified or called all of the potential partners, who you could support or who could support your business. So this is anybody and everybody who talks to the same type of people that you target with your consulting practice. Those could be providers of data of systems, technology, its services, I mean, you name it. Those are all people that you could work with, to enhance their business. And to enhance your own business. I think we tend to under invest in partners and partnerships. And right now is a is a great time. If you’ve already hit your entire network core, you know, everybody’s safe. Everybody’s healthy, or you’ve had those conversations you’re like now what, right now invest in your your sort of cadre or cohort or group of partners and potential partnerships.

Will Bachman 14:28
Give me Give me an example like you listed several different categories. Can you give an example of maybe one of your clients have one of your firm’s that you coach on a partnership that they initiated and that actually led to some led to some client work?

14:46
Can I probably but now you put me on the spot, I have to think through the whole lane of partnerships. Yeah. So one firm that focuses on the in the pharma space We thought we’ve I will tell you we’ve done a lot in this strategy. And it is it is allowed us to move their business from when they started with me a few years ago, they were, they were $7 million. They were just around a million dollars. Next year 2021, I think will hit 10 million. Wow. So it’s it’s been quite a success story. The in a lot of that has been by nurturing these partnerships. One we found last year was a data provider. And what’s what’s quite interesting is data providers as an example. And so we tend to look for these sorts of folks, data providers have a different model, right? They’re just selling a subscription, authentic, quite expensive subscription. Think of it like you like Nielsen or something like that. Millions of dollars to get their data. And what they want is for their clients to use their data. A data provider needs the client to actually see value in the data. Well as a consultant, if they’re their data that you work with, then who’s providing those data? Or what are the systems that provide those data, maybe it’s Salesforce, for instance, or again, maybe it’s some other data provider in this case is a data provider. Once we talked to the data provider and said, we can make their offering more sticky. It became obvious to the data provider to bring the my client like the consulting firm I work with along every single time they could write because then they’re like, okay, here’s our data, by the way, you should work with this consulting firm, this consulting firm will really help you use the data well. And we know if you use the data, well, you’re going to buy more of it and keep it for longer. Sure. That’s an example of a partnership. That makes sense.

Will Bachman 16:41
It does. So partnerships, yeah, actually was not on my radar screen. I was expecting things around, you know, writing the book, starting a podcast blog, update your website, marketing, material, project list case studies, but developing those that maybe you normally ignore other intermediaries that are serving the same, you know, subset of clients that you are of getting to know them.

17:08
Yeah, relationships, my friend, just more and more and more relationships, what other relationships could help you now and in the future? What other relationships could could you build that will allow you to create value for others? You know, that’s the heart of it. And that’s coming from an introvert By the way, right? Someone who doesn’t naturally love relationships. But what I’ve learned is in consulting, relationships, I mean, that’s, that’s a source of, of your ability to create value, and to gain value. Yeah. And so the more you focus on that, the better off you’re going to be. And now’s a great time to focus on

Will Bachman 17:44
relationships, relationships, relationships. Good place to wrap this one up. So David A. Fields. I love David, your blog, and I encourage all my listeners to check out David A. fields.com, visit the blog, tab there and register for the weekly newsletter. It’s the first thing I read every Wednesday morning. David, thank you so much for taking some time out and coming on the show again.

18:11
Thank you, well, you provide such a huge value, and I’m just honored to be a small part of it.

Will Bachman 18:16
Thank you very much and

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