Podcast

Episode: 327 |
Deb Zahn :
The Craft of Consulting:
Episode
327

HOW TO THRIVE AS AN
INDEPENDENT PROFESSIONAL

Deb Zahn

The Craft of Consulting

Show Notes

Deb Zahn is an experienced healthcare management consultant who coaches professionals interested in transitioning into consulting.

On her website she has a wealth of resources to help get started with your own consulting practice:

https://www.craftofconsulting.com/start-here

Also, check out Deb’s podcast: Craft of Consulting

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

Will Bachman 00:00
Hello and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. I’m your host Will Bachman. And I’m here today with Deb Zhan, who is the founder of the craft of consulting. Deb is a coach who helps folks get started as independent consultants and helping established consultants build their practice. Deb, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for having me. So, Deb, this facet, your you have a background as a consultant. Tell us a little bit about how you came to be a coach to consultants.

Deb Zahn 00:38
You bet. So I started consulting just over a decade ago, and actually, my first job as a consulting consultant was at a firm, so it was a, at that point, a very small firm, I was I think, their sixth or seventh person, their New York City Office. And no one, no one in the New York metropolitan area had heard of the firm. They didn’t do the type of work I did. And there were lots of other firms that did the type of work I did. And so I had to learn how to build essentially a practice in pretty difficult circumstances. And, you know, floundered a bit at the beginning simply because I didn’t know the business side of consulting, I just knew that I knew how to help people do things. And so I did that for about nine years, and then I switch to become an independent consultant still have a great relationship with a firm. And I’ve been doing that for just over a year. And how I became essentially a coach is is almost a necessity of other folks at my firm. So what would happen is they would hire really smart, seasoned professionals, and they would suddenly become a consultant. And they knew they had expertise that was valuable, but they again didn’t know the business side of consulting. So they didn’t know how to describe their value, how to get business, how to get a contract, how to negotiate tricky client situations. And what would happen is invariably, somebody would say, Oh, you should ask Deb, that question, she’ll help you figure that out. So I ended up coaching simply because I didn’t like to see, you know, good people suffer. And when I decided to become an independent consultant, I thought, I could help a lot more people and take that to scale, if I had a business like the craft of consulting to do that.

Will Bachman 02:37
And what I found interesting in our, in our conversation, in a prior conversation, you have several different modes of delivery, right, so you have your one on one coaching, you also have some courses that you’ve created, tell us about vendors, the range of ways you deliver your coaching.

Deb Zahn 02:56
Sure, and, you know, some of that sprang from the consulting work that I do. And so what I know about my clients is, is they need different things at different times. And they’re all very different in how they want to get help. And so I didn’t want to necessarily just have one way of delivering that. So there’s a number of things. So for folks that are like to be self paced, one to learn on their own can be fairly self directed, I have an eight module online course, that’s all about how to get consulting clients. And so that’s something an individual could take. And it’s something that a firm can use with its consultants who are responsible for going out and getting business to help them figure out the ins and outs of how to do it. And to have tools that make it easier. So for example, if you need to figure out the you know, that networking email that everybody sends out, and there’s really good versions of it, there’s really bad versions of it. And I’m sure we’ve all gotten both. And so I have a template of the entire sequence just to make it easier. So you learn how to do it, you learn what’s important. And then to make it easier, I have a template so that you have something that you can easily put together. So that course that’s some that’s for somebody who really wants to do it on their own time and at their own pace, or do it as a group within a firm.

Will Bachman 04:22
And then if let’s mention just right now, before we forget that, if someone’s interested in learning more about that, where can they go find it.

Deb Zahn 04:30
So you can find any information on anything I offer at craft of consulting.com and just click in the menu, get help. And on the Get Help page, you’ll see everything I offer and there’ll be you just have to click a button and you can learn more about it.

Will Bachman 04:45
You’ve got a whole series of courses there. Could you just quickly walk us through the different ones I was really impressed. Looking at your website, the range of courses you put together.

Deb Zahn 04:55
So there’s the main course which is the you know, get more consulting calm. Faster. And that’s the eight module one. And then I also did some webinars that were live training webinars on how to become a consultant how to get consulting clients, which is sort of an abbreviated version of the longer course, and a big one, because everybody kept asking me about it, which is how to price your consulting services. And so what I did is I did those live webinars, I got, you know, 20, plus questions on each of them. And I recorded it. So essentially, those are replays of the live training that I did, because I there was a lot of people who told me, I can’t attend at that time, but I want to, I want to participate in it. So you can also get those on the website. And then the other thing I do is there’s some folks who need a little more handholding direct support, but they don’t have, they don’t necessarily need really intense one on one coaching. So what I have done for them is created a weekend retreat. So it starts on a Friday evening, it goes through the weekend, of course, now with since we’re in the COVID world, everything is virtual. And the intent of that is to get them ready very quickly, developing their plan on how they’re going to get clients. So this is where they’re going to develop, you know, with great specificity what their market is, if they have a niche, they’re gonna have a niche, they’re going to think through their value proposition, how they talk about what they do everything through how they engage potential prospects, and ultimately negotiate with them to close the deal. So that’s a retreat, that’s very small number of people, so I never have more than eight people on it. So everybody gets a lot of a lot of personal attention. And then for those that need a little bit more intensity, then I do have a limited number of slots that I do coaching and coaching is one on one, it tends to be very flexible I base with the coaching plan is on the unique circumstances of that person, we do a fit call, because we have to make sure that that you know we make sense to work together. And that can be and I’ll use an example of something I’ve been working on someone recently, someone who very quickly because of you know, the economy had to very quickly become a consultant, and had to very quickly get income in the door. So we figured out exactly, you know what her value was, what her offerings are, how she’s going to talk about it, we talked about, you know, which prospects, how to segment her potential prospects, what type of outreach she’s going to do to different ones, all the way through, preparing her for when she has that first client meeting, prospective client meeting, through how to structure a proposal that is more likely not just going to end in a yes, but more likely and in them purchasing more value from you. And then how to overcome, you know, objections to things like price and things like that. So it’s very targeted to where, wherever the person is, there’s somebody else that is in a very different spot, she’s got more time to think through what she wants to do, but is a little overwhelmed by all of the possible things that she could possibly do. So that’s really about making decisions and narrowing the field so that when you go out into your market, it’s not going to be confusing, it’s going to be really tailored, focused, and you know what you’re doing?

Will Bachman 08:41
Great. You know, just a, somewhat of a side question, but I’m a lot I’ve had a number of people ask me about, you know, how to create courses. Well, how did you technically create your course? Did you use teachable or some other kind of plugin? Like how did you did court? Yeah,

Deb Zahn 09:00
yeah, I did teachable. And, you know, fortunate that in my consulting career, I had done a lot of training and of course, live training. And an online course is very different. But, you know, I relied on, you know, things that I know about adult learning theory. And so I did a mix of some of it is video, which if you if you’ve never done video before, you know can be tricky, but it can also be really engaging, and it can feel really intimate to the person watching it. So it’s a mix of video, recorded webinars with slides and then structured it so it’s essentially after each module, so each module which is which most of them are less than 15 minutes, because, you know, people have people have limited time to really do this. So most of them are less than 15 minutes. There’s one that’s a little bit longer and after each one, there’s a set of tools that you use to apply what you just learned. So if, if part of what you just learned is how to develop a value proposition or be able to describe in a compelling coherent way, what you can do for a client, there’s a workbook that you use after that, where you are actually going to go through your experience and your skills, etc, until you’re able to frame it from a client’s perspective, and you get a workbook for doing that. So what I really tried to do is, again, steal from what I knew worked when I when I work as a consultant and apply it to the course. But I would say that the number one thing that was important was each step of the way to think of it from the perspective of the person who’s taking it, what concerns them the most, what’s going to grab people’s attention, what is sort of a coherent journey that you’re taking them through. So from one module to the next, it’s not confusing why they’re now doing something else. So I took, you know, I took I did what consultants do, I took a flip chart. And I took posted notes, because I’m really hands on, you could do this on a computer. And I basically mapped out what the journey would be of the person who would be taking the course. And then I went out to people and talked with folks who were in different stages of their ability to get clients got feedback, made changes. And I did that throughout the process. So by the end of it, I made sure that it was actually going to be relevant to who I want to purchase it.

Will Bachman 11:39
That’s great. And did you record these? Is it sort of PowerPoint pages with you kind of talking over it? Or is it you know, are the videos of you, you know, standing up talking to the camera, for the most part,

Deb Zahn 11:54
there are videos of me talking to the camera. And I’m only laughing because I did it in the in the summer and there was high humidity. So you know, I was I was definitely paying attention to what my hair looks like. But I was videos of me, I did buy a you know, a not a, you know, professional video recorder. But I did you know, purchase a Canon camera that would take high definition. It would I actually even do 4k. So I wanted to have it also feel very professional It was then. And then the webinars were recorded using the software Camtasia, which I really liked. That’s how I also the course was edited. I did it with a microphone, so there would be good sound. And so those were recorded me talking over those. So they would have a mix. Sometimes they would see my face, sometimes they would see webinar slides and tried to sort of tried to keep it interesting by going back and forth between the two. So there’s one module over there. There’s both and there’s some module where there’s one or the other. That’s great.

Will Bachman 13:02
So so you work with some folks who are maybe coming out of an executive career and transitioning into consulting for the first time.

Deb Zahn 13:14
Yeah, so usually, it’s folks who are, who have been in VP positions or above. Occasionally, there are some folks who, you know, may or may be one step down from VP, but usually it’s VP to a CEO.

Will Bachman 13:30
And what are some of the most common questions you get? Or maybe, yeah, what are some of the most common questions you get from folks at that stage?

Deb Zahn 13:43
Well, it’s interesting. So I would say most of them fall into the category of how do I talk about what I do. So there was one person I coached was at the firm who you know, it run this huge, multi million dollar organization. And she said, I feel like I’m walking around just saying to people, will I do stuff, but she couldn’t articulate it. And she couldn’t articulate it from the perspective of what’s valuable to the client, what is there a demand for in the market. So it’s often what happens is, you know, professionals, you enter into this, they know that they have valuable expertise. Hopefully, sometimes your confidence takes a hit at the beginning, in which case we talk about that. But it’s really that piece of how you go from a job where you had a job title, and you knew what you were supposed to do to suddenly describing your value from the perspective of what somebody is willing to pay for. It usually falls into that category. And then often it is how you present it in a way that somebody is actually going and going to understand it and going to want to purchase it and then how you navigate Those, those tricky things like, if you’re, you know, if it’s if you’re trying to this was a question I got recently that, you know, somebody was was reaching out to folks within their network who that person knew that they had a demand for what he could offer, and just had a really difficult time pivoting the conversation towards the transactional part of it, which is, hey, hire me. And so how do you navigate even things along those lines? I get quite a bit of that.

Will Bachman 15:33
Yeah. What is your tip on that? navigate navigating from that? Oh, just sort of chit chatting, and then something comes up that you think you can do? And you want to transition it to more of a Oh, I could help you with that. what’s what’s your suggested approach?

Deb Zahn 15:50
Well, the first thing is before so there’s a few things first thing is before you get into the room with them, you have to prepare to do it. So and I had this problem, actually, my first client was someone I had known for years, had worked with in various capacities, but not, you know, not anything like consultant client. And we kept going out this back when we could be around each other. We kept going out for coffee and tea, and the only thing I would ever get is waterlogged. having so much tea and coffee. But what I realized I was doing wrong was I was you know, we’ve talked about our kids, we can better dog, we’re talking about things at her organization. But I had to do my homework to see, okay, what are the things that they are talking about in their organization? What’s the language that they’re using? Because I want to be able to mirror that to show that I get it? What are the things that I know are happening in the environment that that either present an opportunity or a threat to them? What are the things I think I could do to help them so I had all of this homework that I had to do before I got into the room again. And then I was able to to help direct the conversations. We talked about the dogs, we talked about the kids. And then I said so here’s something that’s happening in the industry that I see. And then I had questions prepared, that were were specifically to get at what they what they need, what they had a demand for. So it wasn’t, which I tell everybody, please never say this. What keeps you up at night and vague sort of generic questions. It was, you know, this is a, you know, profound shift that is happening in the market, what have you folks done so far to prepare for that. And now we’re in a conversation where she’s revealing gaps that they have concerns that she has, you know, the things that are actually that they need, potentially some help with. And I had all of those questions prepared and ready, and I had practiced them. So the first time I opened my mouth and said them wasn’t when I was in front of her. And then I was able to pivot and say, you know, I actually had an idea about that. And I presented an option they could explore, and then I just said, and I’d love to help you with that. And that’s how I got my first client. What I told the other person is she just felt awkward, or he felt really awkward having having to suddenly pivot with folks that he was friends with. And so what I told him was, then be awkward, like, I’ve done this, make a joke about it. And I would actually in meeting say, Okay, now I gotta now I gotta be a consultant. And then you can you can easily pivot those if it’s folks that you don’t know, you go to the heart of what matters to them, what they just told you matters to them, and things that you might be able to do to help them and then don’t, don’t hesitate saying go all the way there and say, I’d love to help you with this. Here’s how I think I could help you.

Will Bachman 19:01
Yeah, like, you know, I’ll jump in here and offer that. You know, one thing that I heard from David A. Fields on this, he calls this the turn, when your positioning from a social conversation, to you know, something comes up where they have a need, and you want to offer your help. So his his suggestion on this is, I think it’s eight words, it’s would you be open to a separate conversation on how we could help you with this, you know, XYZ. And it’s said that I’ve used that successfully several times now since I learned it from David.

Deb Zahn 19:44
Yeah. What it’s a great way to do it because the asking permission part, yeah, psychologically feels really safe to people. So it’s, it’s a great way and again, you know, I’m in the healthcare space. We’ve actually used it in some of our work. It’s A great way to safely pivot without them feeling like oh my gosh, the used car salesman just showed up.

Will Bachman 20:06
Right? Right. Um, what are some things that let’s say someone is an executive interested in becoming a consultant. But maybe they’re not doing it tomorrow. So they have some runway, they’re thinking, Okay, I can take early retirement in two years, or I want to, you know, I’m going to move across the country in a year. And I can’t say with this job, so they have some time frame in mind. What are some things that someone should do to prepare to transition to consulting? If they have some runway? They have a year or two? Yeah, what are some things that you would recommend?

Deb Zahn 20:45
Yeah, that’s and that’s, that’s the optimal, like, That’s the dream, right? So I would say a few things. So one is if, if when they transition to becoming a consultant, they, they need income. So if they’re retired, and they’re doing fine, and they just want to do it, because they want to stay in the game, that’s great. But if you need income, then build a financial cushion, because depending on, you know how things start off for you, depending on what the market is, like, you know, depending on how you are what pricing model you pick, there’s lots of reasons that there might be a delay in terms of getting income in your pocket. So I always tell people, if you if you have the luxury of doing this, have a financial cushion, if you can do three month cushion, that’s great, six to 12 months is even better. But that’s something I would definitely tell someone to do. The other thing is I would tell them to think very carefully about not just what they want their work life to be like, but what they want their life overall to be like, because if, if ultimately, you know, they’re, they also have things in their life that matter to them, they’re, they’re still, you know, they’re caring for an elderly parent, or, you know, their health suffered as an executive. And now they want to turn over a new leaf, knowing that ahead of time is going to help you make decisions on how you build your business such that it feeds your overall life, and not just you know, the piece that you do for work. So I always think that’s very important. And then the other thing is to really delve deeply into what your value is. And this is where developing a really clear and compelling value proposition is important. And if you’ve got time to do it, it’s even better, because then you can go, you can go test it with some folks. But this, this is the piece that I think a lot of folks struggle with, because it’s it’s your value proposition, but it’s not actually about you, and what you know, where your work history, it’s about the results that you can help clients achieve, that they’re willing to pay for. And so being able to articulate the value that you know, that you can provide in a specific market or a niche within that market, and then nailing down how to articulate it. So that it’s, it’s clear, it’s compelling, it’s not generic, it’s not I can be all things to all people, but that when someone hears it, or they, they experienced that language in your market, it’s gonna resonate with them, it’s gonna resonate with the folks that you most want as clients. And it’s just going to be easier for you to get clients once you enter the market. Because this is the part where I’ve seen a lot of consultants have to go back and backtrack, because they didn’t do that. And then they got in front of prospective clients, and there was they weren’t saying anything that was really clear or compelling.

Will Bachman 23:41
Yeah, those are some really good things that you can get going. You know, I’d add a couple. One would be around relationships, both existing relationships and new relationships. So one thing that I encourage folks to think about doing is, it’s, it’s so awkward to like, call up someone from six years ago, when you just insulted them. And now it’s kind of clear even if you don’t say it explicitly, that you’re fishing for a project. Whereas if you are still in a job and have a year, then make a list of your core network and call you know, one person every day, just deserve re you know, reignite, reignite those those relationships, or, and or reach out to peers at other companies that are not competitive, to just build relationships with peers, like if you’re head of data analytics, reach out to the head of data analytics at 100 other firms. And then if once you go independent, then you can now you’ve gotten to know those people.

Deb Zahn 24:41
Yeah. Love it. I love that. Yeah, because the last thing you want to do is, is have people only hear from you when you want something. We’ve all been on the receiving end of that. It’s not pleasant. So yeah, but you know, you build your network and you care and nurture for your network before you need anything.

Will Bachman 25:00
Yeah, I think folks can also, in some cases may want to invest in their skills. So if if it’s a senior executive, and they haven’t done Excel or PowerPoint for 10 years, because they have a staff, it might be time to refresh those skills a little bit. And, and then the other thing is, you could work on getting some of the infrastructure in place, you could, you know, get your name, registered the domain, build a website, even if it’s not public, you can have your website up and, you know, designed, you can, you know, get just like your QuickBooks set up an LLC. That’s right, and all that infrastructure, so that when you are ready to go, you’re not kind of going through all that administrative piece.

Deb Zahn 25:42
That’s right, which is going to take time away from building your business and doing the good work that you want to do. And I’ve seen folks scramble, because they didn’t have those things in place. And now, they have to send a proposal and they don’t actually have a template, they don’t actually know what their terms and conditions are. So doing any of that ahead of time is a great thing to do.

Will Bachman 26:03
Yeah. Now, an interesting part of your business that I’d like to hear about more is you not only coach, independent consultants, but you also work with bowtique consulting firms, advising them on how to do better business development. Could you talk a little about that a little bit?

Deb Zahn 26:22
Sure. So um, basically, what that’s about is if you have and it’s it’s typically for firms, where they hire people whose job it is to go get business and actually do the work. So it’s, it’s not, it’s not necessarily the model of, you know, there’s a you know, Principal boss or a partner selling and then you know, graduate students or others come in to do the work, it’s typically geared towards the type of consulting that I’m used to, which is I was hired because I know how to do good things, and clients love working with me, and, and, and I have to go, I have to go get the business. So what the best way to do it is, is usually my online course, because there’s things that they can just do, it’s a nice sort of bulk way to get it for a firm. But the piece that I have found that is absolutely essential, is adding some additional coaching to that. And the coaching can be for a particular problem that an individual consultants having so maybe, you know, they’ve tried a bunch of things, and their confidence just has taken a dive. And so you can learn all of these strategies and techniques. But if if your confidence is lower your mindsets, not in the right place, and it’s at odds with what the outcomes you’re trying to achieve. Helping helping folks get past that type of paralysis or helping folks decide among multiple decisions sort of the joke in my healthcare consulting practices that I care decision making disorders. Actually, often why I will be brought in is you know, you get a get somebody who’s having a hard time making decisions or groups that are grumpy and can’t make decisions together, and I help them make decisions. So often, it’s something like that, or it’s something really surgical, I have this particular high value engagement that we are going to go in and try and get, how should we prepare, in which case I can help I can help prepare with that. But But really, for I think firms ultimately want to establish the way that they do business development so that you can also build support around it. So for example, firm I was working with, has a guy created a checklist. And that checklist is for the folks who are, you know, overseeing the consultants who are going out and getting business so that they knew, here’s what they’re learning how to do, here’s the actions that they’re supposed to be taking. And they can get support for that throughout the process so that it becomes a normal way of working within the firm itself. And then if, on the coaching side, if I need to sort of swoop in and help solve a problem, or just get somebody unstuck, I can do that.

Will Bachman 29:19
So when you’re working with a boutique firm, is there a good diagnostic that you do when you when you first start some kind of, you know, formal checklists that you go through to sort of see where they’re at? What Yeah, what are some of the things on that?

Deb Zahn 29:36
So absolutely, because every firm might share some of the same problems, but they might have their particular version or flavor of it or simply because of the way they’ve been doing things. They might have a problem that is truly unique to them. So typically, what I like to do is I like to talk to the leadership I have, you know, to sort Have a semi structured interview that I go through. Because what I don’t do is I don’t suggest send a survey because I know that I’m not going to get really helpful information back. So it’s a conversation, I will ask questions. I have probing questions. I’m listening for what gets said and what doesn’t get said. So, for example, I will I will ask about what? Because typically Why come in is to help them get consulting clients. So I will ask them, not just what their problems are, but what data they’re they’re collecting what they’ve seen in the data that suggests it, sometimes what I find out is they’re not tracking it. They just, it just they feel like they don’t have a problem, because they don’t have enough people busy, but they really haven’t been paying attention to. Is it? Everybody? Is it just a few people? Is it your new hires are taking longer? To learn how to get clients? Do you have some people who are in the feast or famine cycle, that’s the type of information I’m trying to solicit to get at what really is the problem that needs to be solved. And then that helps me say that helps me say is, is the course the solution. So it’s no different than when your consultant is the course the solution for what your actual problem is? Or maybe you need something else. So maybe it is you’ve got four people who are struggling, but you, you know, you don’t, you don’t want to let them go, you want to give them a chance to make it. And maybe the solution is that they need some more intense coaching. The solution could just be you hired a bunch of smart people, and they don’t know how to do this, because no one ever taught them. And that’s all they need to learn. So it’s those types of things that I’m querying for, if I’m able, I also do like to talk to some of the folks who would actually be consuming some of the assistance, because I might get a, I might get some more insight from talking to them. So I’d want to know, where are you, you know, where are you getting stuck? So there’s a group. It was a particular office that was having a problem. And I went in and basically laid out, here’s your typical business development process, we’re going to go step by step. And we’re going to talk about where you’re getting stuck. And it was it was an interesting dynamic, because they said, Oh, we can skip the first part, we’re fine with that. And I said, bad. Let’s just let’s go through that. And what it turned out to be is no, that’s exactly where they were having a problem, but they thought they were fine. So that helped me very specifically hone in on to get this office on track. Here’s what they need.

Will Bachman 32:42
Excellent. So Deb, thank you so much for joining us was really awesome hearing about your practice and how you’re helping folks, you know, get started as consultants as well as with boutiques, listeners, you can go to craft of consulting comm if you want to check out some of those courses that Deb mentioned. And is there any other contact info you want to share? Deb, your Twitter handle or any anything else?

Deb Zahn 33:09
Well, you can actually find that if you go to the website, if you if you want to follow me on LinkedIn is where I actually post a lot of things. I have a lot of videos where I give tips. And you can find that at either craft of consulting or Deborah’s on. But the other thing is, I also do, because just like you I love to podcast, so I do have a podcast called the craft of consulting. And that’s also where I have similar to you I have guests come on who talk about their consulting business. I have clients come on, which is some of the best episodes and they talk about what they like and don’t like and why they wouldn’t wouldn’t hire people. And occasionally I have nerdy people come on that talk about things like, you know, change management, or how does LinkedIn actually work so that you know that when you’re trying to do marketing on LinkedIn, you’re doing it right.

Will Bachman 34:02
Excellent. So so check that out craft of consulting podcast. Deb, thanks for coming on the show. I appreciate it. This was wonderful. Thank you.

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