In September of 2015, I started working with Michael Zipursky and his team at Consulting Success to better define my ideal customer, implement new marketing approaches, and come up with better service productization strategies. In this episode, Michael and I recap our 4 years of working together, talk about his background and what drives him to continue to expand his business, and how consultants are growing using technologies and specialization.
To get the free 47-page Consulting Blueprint Michael mentioned on the show, click here: https://www.consultingsuccess.com/blueprint
Also, be sure to check out Michael’s 2019 Consulting Fees Study for information about how consultants are optimizing their business models.
Sam Schutte: In today’s show we have Michael Zipursky. Mike is the CEO of Consulting Success. I met Michael through working with him as my business coach myself, and we’re going to talk about marketing and growing a consulting services business. Michael, welcome to the show.
Michael Zipursky: Hey, Sam, great to be with you. Thanks for having me.
Sam Schutte: Sure, no problem. Maybe a good place to start out is tell us a little bit about your back story, and how you started your company? Where you’re located? That sort of information.
Michael Zipursky: All right, so it just depends on how far you want to go back, but I was born in Toronto, and when I was quite young my parents picked us up, and moved us over to Israel. I spent about four and a half years growing up there, and I came back to Canada, next to Vancouver, where I didn’t speak English. I had to have a tutor, and go through that whole thing. I grew up really feeling like an outsider, but the benefit of that is that I learned to work hard at that time. Felt like I want to prove myself, and I channeled all that energy into sports, and so, I became very competitive in sports, but the other benefit that I got from that experience early on is, I was fascinated, and still am today by different cultures, and people, and languages, and I’ve always had the travel bug of now living in different countries, growing up and for me it was a real gift that I got, even though it was maybe challenging as I kind of look back on it.
Michael Zipursky: The business really started when Sam and I, my cousin Sam, who you know as well, so actually just out of high school we started our first business together, which at that time was a web design development company. We didn’t really know what we were doing, but Sam was on the design side of things, and I was more on the client management, and business side, and so we grew that little company, and had a great time, and that kind of led us into our next business, which was more of a full-fledged, true consulting company where we were doing marketing and visual communication design, and branding for organizations. We started out as just working with a whole bunch of local kind of small, retail shops and investment companies, turned into me actually going over to Japan, partway through my university, beginning and opening up a branch office there soon as I finished university.
Michael Zipursky: That gave us the opportunity to start consulting and working with very large organizations like Panasonic, Dow Jones, Japan, Financial Times, Japan, Amron, Sumitomo, a whole bunch of other, billion plus dollar organizations really helping them with their English, language focused and kind of English market focused products and materials, and that was a great experience where I really learned about what consulting was. More than reading any book, or taking kind of any course of that time for me what really helped me to identify what it means to be a consultant, both the challenges that you face, and the benefits, and come with it was doing it, was kind of being in the trenches. I spent about five, six years in Japan. When I came back to North America, Sam and I started talking about what else could we be doing? We both loved this idea of traveling, and being able to work and live anywhere kind of at any time, and so, we decided we should start a business, but this time we really wanted to do it online, and so, that was how consulting success got started.
Michael Zipursky: We didn’t have a business per se to begin with. This is about 10 years ago now, but what we started to do is just to put out content, so I was writing a lot of articles, sharing my stories from the trenches, the good, the bad, the ugly, all the challenges that I was facing, the things that I had learned, really with the hopes of just adding value to other consultants, and that community, so hopefully, they wouldn’t have to make the same mistakes that we are making, and they would just be able to see greater success in a shorter period of time. That took off. We saw the community kind of rallying around it, we saw a lot more engagement, traffic to the website increased, people said, “Hey, these articles are really good. The content’s great, do you have a course? Do you have something we could go deeper into?” We developed a course for consultants on how to become a successful consulting business. Then people said, “Okay, the course is great, but can we work directly with you?”
Michael Zipursky: We didn’t have anything that time, so we started doing some coaching, and provide coaching for consultants, and that led them to our more formal coaching program, and how we work with clients, which is how you and I started working together, Sam, and we’ve now had the opportunity of working with, well over 300 consultants in all different industries all around the world, helping them to grow their businesses. It’s been a real honor and pleasure and a lot of fun.
Sam Schutte: How many countries do you think you’ve worked with people right now? I know in some of your meetings I’ve been to there have been folks from Thailand and the Netherlands and all sorts of stuff showing up.
Michael Zipursky: It’s a great question, I know that we used to count, or there was a time where we counted the number of countries that people had bought our trainings, and courses, and it was like, I don’t know, 70 countries. There’s just something wild. We haven’t tallied that up on the coaching side, but it’s literally all around the world. We have clients throughout North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Western Europe, Eastern Europe. It’s amazing, like the Middle East, the part that, again, that we really love is this is kind of going back to our whole kind of interest when both Sam and I were younger, is just this idea of like different cultures, and languages, and people. We get a high off of the whole international vibe, because what’s nice is you get different perspectives, and you get to learn a lot about what’s working, and I think that’s actually a great benefit that all of us can look for.
Michael Zipursky: If you’re just doing the same thing that everyone else is doing in your industry, then there’s not much differentiation between you and others, but if you can start to borrow, and adopt, and apply things that are working in different industries, or different countries to your own business, or to how you work with clients, that you find what is relevant, that you can adapt, and then, implement, that’s where you start seeing pretty breakthrough, or pretty significant results, because you’re doing things that others aren’t doing in your own industry, or in your own kind of little ecosystem in the world, and so, we’ve tried to continue to take the best practices that we learned working with clients, every day, day in, day out, and then, share that with our clients, so we’re able to always just continue to update what’s working right now, what isn’t working so well, and then, just share, and kind of teach, and coach people through those, those best practices.
Sam Schutte: Exactly. I can maybe provide some background just in how I’ve worked with you, I think we first started working together maybe five years ago, perhaps? And, first started working with you, and I think throughout your program, that’s definitely something that you, there’s a fair amount of the value you get out of the program is that you’re going out, and looking at tools, and doing weekly training sessions like, hey, there’s a new tool for LinkedIn out there that maybe nobody’s heard of, or there’s a new trend in the industry and being that sort of vanguard of research in a little bit of ways is a part of the program really, and that’s one way to look at it. Can you talk a little bit about the different levels of your programs and services that you’ve, because there’s kind of a different range of ways that people can work with you?
Michael Zipursky: Sure, so kind of on the ground floor we have well over 1000 articles, and resources on consultingsuccess.com that are freely available to people, and we have a podcast called the Consulting Success Podcast that now has over 100 episodes, and gets over 21, 000 downloads per month, and growing month over month. We have videos on YouTube, so plenty of free resources and information for people who want the price of admission to be free. We then have books, we have two bestselling books, one is called Consulting Success. The other one is called the Elite Consulting Mind. Those are available on Amazon.
Michael Zipursky: A level up from that in terms of investment, and impact is Momentum, which is an early stage implementation program for consultants, so for those of you who are transitioning from the corporate world into consulting, or those that are new to consulting that haven’t kind of yet reach that first six figures, and annual income, and really want a proven framework to follow like, just removing all the stuff that you don’t necessarily need to do, and we’ve really spent time engineering Momentum so that it gives people exactly what they need, and if they just follow the kind of the guidance that we provide, and what we call a fast track guide, so we send out like a specific email each day for 30 day telling them, “Here’s the 80-20… The 20% of the things that you need to do, that’s going to give you 80% of the results.” And so, we’ve seen just really fantastic results from people in that program [inaudible 00:09:08] that we’ve launched quite recently.
Michael Zipursky: A level up from that is our coaching program, and that’s for consultants who are more committed, who really want personalized coaching, and are serious about getting results, and we support those clients through one on one calls, through group calls with other consultants in the community through a private forum portal where they can ask questions 24/7, they can get feedback on their proposals, on their marketing materials, on their messaging, on who their ideal clients are. We have a group of pure success coaches, other consultants who have come through the program, and have built their own successful consulting businesses as a way to give back. They’re still involved, and so, they’re able to be a sounding board for clients as they work through that process as well as proven materials, and trainings, and guidance for every aspect of a consulting business.
Michael Zipursky: Whether it’s someone of the wants to generate more leads consistently, we have trainings on that, and scripts, and templates of exactly what to say, and how to say it, and how to adopt it. We have that for proposals, for fees, for working with clients. We kind of try and cover all the ground there, and we’re able to customize, and personalize that specifically for each client, because we know that each person’s going to have potential, a little bit of a different goal, and situation, so we have kind of a proven framework, but we want to be able to customize that. It’s really meaningful for each person, and within that program we have three different levels of coaching, and how we engage with clients. Those that are getting started, those that then after the initial period of the program want ongoing support and coaching, because we don’t want to just, kind of say to people, “Hey, here’s this program, and then, after it’s done you have to figure things out by yourself.”
Michael Zipursky: For those who choose, and most of our clients do, they want ongoing support, because they’ve gotten some great foundation in place, but now it’s time to optimize and improve on that, and so, we work with clients in some cases for four to five years after they come into the program, but really for as long as they’d like to continue growing, and getting that support, and ongoing coaching. We have a kind of our highest level where we also run two live events each year, and we do that in different places around the world. We’ve done it in Mexico City, in Lisbon, Portugal, in Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver. We bring people together from different places, and we spend a couple of days together, really going deep into conversations, and it’s a real mastermind, people sharing the best practices of what’s working for them. These are kind of our highest-level people who are really seeing great success in their business. They’re not seeing themselves just as consultants, but rather as consulting business owners, they’re more entrepreneurial, and that’s a lot of fun, and getting together with those people.
Sam Schutte: Absolutely. I had the great pleasure of going to one of those in Portugal, and several in Vancouver, and I think it’s so rare, and hard to find a group of folks that are the caliber that I was able to meet through that group, through that mastermind program to just spend two days solid bouncing ideas off of the wall with them was incredible, and very valuable to anybody who kind of gets to that point that they need that kind of feedback, you know?
Michael Zipursky: I think for so many of us, Sam, it’s building a business, or being a consultant can be a pretty lonely place at times, and so, finding a group of people, or a person, or whatever that kind of mentorship, or coaching looks like, so that you can recognize that you’re not alone, and that you can get feedback on your own questions is so important, because oftentimes without that, that’s where people end up breaking down, or they pause, or they kind of fell back, because if don’t have answers to your questions, or maybe you’re feeling a little bit down, or hard on yourself, or you’re in a bit of a slump.
Michael Zipursky: If you stay there too long, then it’s hard to get back the momentum that you’ve already generated, but if you have a support group that can help you to get through that slump faster, get back on your feet, or they already know, they’ve been there, and done that, and can recommend a specific action for you, that’s going to be really beneficial. That’s something that we try and provide for all of our clients, but we ourselves even in our own business, surround ourselves with mentors, and coaches, and masterminds so that we can also benefit from that.
Sam Schutte: What are some of the key pressures you think when you look at the industry out there, and where consultants fit, what are some of those reasons that people are reaching out to coaches, and teachers, and trainers for help with?
Michael Zipursky: I think a really common one is they’re doing well, like they’ve gotten to a good place, and when they have oftentimes that’s just been on the back of like referrals, and their network, but if they want to grow beyond where they are many people, our clients, I’ll speak just to that, because it’s the world that I know is, you already have expertise, and so you’re not looking for help with your subject matter and expertise, but rather it’s well, how do I get more clients into my business? How do I build a pipeline that is not only sustainable, but it continues to grow? And, how do I create more leverage in my business? Those are some of the key areas that people I find are looking for help with. If their business is already established, it’s really around creating more leverage, but the biggest is probably just having more qualified leads coming into their pipeline, and for those that are a little bit earlier stage, it’s often around, “I have all these experiences, and expertise, how do I actually like package that, and position, and place value on it, and price it in a way that the marketplace will be receptive to.”
Michael Zipursky: And, that means, who really is my ideal client, and what should my messaging be to get the attention and interest of those ideal clients? Depending on what stage they’re out of, if they’re a little bit earlier on it’s getting those initial foundational building blocks in place, and if some’s at a little bit later stage, and maybe they’re already doing half a million, or a million, or whatever it might be, but they want to grow beyond, and don’t have to rely just on their network and referrals, then it’s really critical to get a good pipeline in place, because that will serve them not only in the short term, but more importantly in the long term.
Sam Schutte: Exactly. Makes sense to me. What are some of the biggest successes you’ve had? If you look at your top one or two clients that have had the most success after working with you? What are some of those stories?
Michael Zipursky: Well, I don’t know Sam, you’ve had some great successes over the time landing some pretty large projects with clients, but yeah. We look at successes in different, there’s different kind of categories or ways, so I can think of one client who already had a great business doing seven figures, had some very well-known clients of their own, but their challenge was that they didn’t have enough consistency in their leads, and we started working together with them, and really looked at how we could kind of engineer and develop to make the most of all these kind of assets that they already had in terms of their website, and their newsletter, and calls to action. By implementing that, they went from very few qualified leads to all of a sudden having consistent conversations with qualified buyers, and so, I think they saw about 300% more qualified leads coming into their pipeline, and so, that’s been just a huge area of growth for them.
Michael Zipursky: With another client, we saw they were quite profitable, but their challenge was they were spending a lot of time trying to deliver on projects, and so, we worked with them to really kind of peel back the way that they worked, and kind of the structure of their offerings to create a lot more leverage in them, and so, now they’ve been able to save significantly more time, essentially providing the same thing, and so that now means that their margins have improved significantly, and they’re seeing a lot more profit trickle down to the bottom line. There’s also people who are newer to consulting. I think of one client who recently came into our program, she’s a true expert. She’s worked in some very well-known organizations in the non-profit and philanthropy sector, and within about eight weeks of coming into the program she already had over $60, 000 in booked client business, and she’s just getting started.
Michael Zipursky: For us, the wins that clients have, whether they’re newer to the consulting business, or there someone’s been in it for some time, for us what gives us the motivation, and the excitement it’s helping clients to just realize those wins, and what we’ve really been able to benefit from is like most things, when we recommend to our clients, we do ourselves, which is always looking at how we can improve things, and so, our programs, and the scripts, and templates, and roadmaps that we offer and provide our clients with, they just continue to get better and better, because we’re able to see more and more of what’s working right now, where the greatest success is coming, and we’ve been able to, over the last couple of years or so, just see the level of consistent results increase quite significantly, because we’ve been able to re-engineer what we’re doing, and what we’re providing to clients.
Sam Schutte: That’s something I always enjoyed working with you. I think yourself and your cousin, Sam, really do celebrate those wins with clients. I remember when we were in Vancouver for one meeting, I think during the meeting I went onto the hallway, and I came back, and I said, “I just closed a quarter million dollar project.” And, you’re like, ” What? Really?” And, just being able to celebrate all together. I think you guys get a real kick out of that.
Michael Zipursky: We love it. Yeah, even when you just said that, I remember that specifically, because we were at the Granville Island Hotel. I remember the sun was shining, we were just about to go for a break, or [inaudible 00:18:57] near the end of the day. I think it was actually lunch, and we’re sitting outside, like I can see it very clearly, and everyone is getting lunch, and you went, and got that call, and you came back, and sat either beside me or near me, and you said, “Yeah, Michael I just… ” I don’t know who the client is, but you mentioned the client just closed a deal, and I said, “Yeah.” I still feel the excitement right now, even though that was a couple of years ago.
Michael Zipursky: We run a family business, Sam is my cousin. We treat and feel like all of our clients are part of the family. We really want not only to care, and to support them the same way that you would love a family member, but also to celebrate the successes together, because it’s all about how the client implements, but it’s teamwork, and so, we’re all part of the team.
Sam Schutte: I think, you mentioned earlier about why consultants reach out to you, and why they need marketing coaching, and other help and, I definitely saw, and I did a little tally recently, I wrote down and said, “Where have my leads come from in the last 10 years?” If you look at 10 years ago it was a 90% word of mouth referral, that sort of stuff, and that’s really kind of flipped in these last three or four years that it’s organic traffic, and if I look at our biggest projects, it’s people that didn’t know me that found me on Google, which is pretty powerful, but it takes a lot of time to get there. I think sometimes that if you just read a book on it, that’s not enough. You’ve got to do a lot more than that and you have to be patient.
Michael Zipursky: Well, I think, that’s what people don’t often see, is that what you do today, you likely won’t see the full and true benefit of it for three to six months from now, and what’s powerful about that is if you truly recognize that, then the decision that you make today to take action or not take action is what you’re going to then be able to enjoy or not enjoy in three to six months from now, so every day that goes by that you’re not implementing, or taking that action, or seeking out help, or whatever it might be means that you’re delaying the ultimate result that you want, and even though you might not benefit from the… Or, not achieve the outcome that you want tomorrow, or next week, or even next month, the sooner you start planting those seeds, the sooner that you’re going to actually reach the destination that you want as long as you start, and you consistently work that path.
Michael Zipursky: You water your seeds, you make sure they get good sunlight, all that kind of stuff, then you’re going to have a really bountiful crop and harvest, and you just continue doing that, and that’s what leads to sustainable, consistent growth.
Sam Schutte: I was talking to someone yesterday, I said, “You have to start building assets.” If you look at your business, you mentioned you have 1000 blog articles, you have 100 podcasts. Those are assets that no one can take away from you. It doesn’t matter if you lost every single customer you have today, they all disappeared, because the economy turned, whatever, Great Depression happened, whatever, you still have 1000 blog posts. Just waiting around, and not starting on that, you’re not making any progress if you don’t take steps towards that, right?
Michael Zipursky: Yeah, and the benefits, especially if you talk about content, so you’ve seen this yourself first hand, and I remember the time when you started to lean a little bit more into content development, you don’t see the benefits of that for some time, but it’s the sooner that you start, the sooner that you will see the benefits of it, and when we talk about marketing it really depends on where you’re at, and the marketing maturity kind of model, or scale, or cycle. If you only focus on content right now, you have to be prepared that it might take several months, or maybe a year, or a year and a half for you to really start seeing benefits from that content, depending on even if you do it properly or not, and so, if you need to start, like you’re in a position where you want to generate more leads now, then you have to take a direct approach where you’re getting in front of your ideal clients more directly, and still doing some content.
Michael Zipursky: But, you got to lean a little bit more, have a heavier percentage in the direct as you’re doing content, and then, as your pipeline starts to fill up, you reach that tipping point where people start coming to you more, your content starts paying dividends, you have enough people in the pipeline, and then, you don’t have to worry about getting that next opportunity, because you already have a lot of opportunities in the pipeline, which allows you to shift from just doing the direct outreach to doing more of a longer term authority building content play. That’s fine, because you don’t need the results of that right away, you have enough in the pipeline. It’s that shift that people need to go through, and I know some people believe that, oh, they can just do content right now, that’s all I need to do, but they don’t recognize that it’s going to take time for them to see the results of it, so you got to balance depending on where you are in that kind of marketing maturity model of how much direct outreach you should be focusing on percentage wise verse content.
Sam Schutte: Exactly, because going out to a networking event, or something, and meeting an ideal client, that can be quick, but the amount of effort you have to put into that it never changes. If you have to go to a two hour meeting, twice a month for three months to get a client out of say some networking group, that doesn’t scale a year later, it’s still the same two hours you always have to do, right?
Michael Zipursky: Correct.
Sam Schutte: Whereas, building assets, building content stuff is what can sort of become a machine, and I think that’s a lot of the technical, weekly meetings that you’re doing, and presentations you’re walking through, that’s what people are working on, is kind of building a machine [inaudible 00:24:38] tools for LinkedIn, and so forth. Can you talk a little bit maybe about, what are some of those tools that are really working for people, and platforms, and such that people are using that you’re seeing a big impact from?
Michael Zipursky: These days, just because there’s been more, and more automation, and technology, which allows people to essentially send messages of scale, what it means is that most of your buyers are likely getting inundated with a lot of messages that are probably quite similar, and if your message is the same as someone else’s message, then they’re not going to give it the time of day, but if you’ve taken some time to customize it, you’ve taken some time to look into, you’ve done some research into their annual report, or an article they wrote, or something else then, and you kind of you use that in your messaging. Now they know that you’ve actually taken some time, and you’re not just blasting the same message out to a whole bunch of people, and so that can be quite beneficial, because it signals kind of a point of differentiation for that buyer that you have taken the time, and you know something about them, and so now they’re going to be a lot more interested in who you are, what your message is, and how you might be able to help them.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, exactly. Personalization seems like it’s always key in any platform you’re using. People just kind of see through the generic messages nowadays.
Michael Zipursky: I think the biggest, coming back to your question, Sam, it was around kind of technology and tools, I think the most important type of technology, or tool that all consultants, or service providers should be using is making sure that you’re really making good use of a CRM, or some kind of online tool that allows you to track your interactions with your ideal clients, because the vast majority of your sales, almost all of your sales they’re going to come from all of the touches beyond the initial outreach, yet so many people judge success or failure of their marketing efforts based on one or two interactions, and when they don’t see that it works, they kind of get all concerned, and oftentimes, they’re so distraught that they abandon the continuation of that outreach.
Michael Zipursky: They don’t do follow-up, they just think, “Well, I guess what I’m doing doesn’t work.”And then, they try, and jump to some other technology, or some other platform, or some other, whatever is trendy that week, but if you consistently follow-up with your ideal client, if you continue to add value, and check in, and stay top of mind, the chances are that, that person as long as they are an ideal client, and they have problems that you can help to solve, when they are ready, they’re going to be thinking of you, and then, they’ll raise their hand, and say, “Okay, let’s have a conversation now.” If you do enough of that with enough people over time you start to build a really thriving pipeline. Of course, your messaging has to be on point, of course, you have to be focused on the right ideal client, of course, you have to have other elements in terms of your website, or LinkedIn profile dialed in, but that’s the opportunity for so many people.
Michael Zipursky: What I often see is people who struggle. They’re not consistently following up with their ideal clients, they don’t have a good system in place to do that, and so, that is where a lot of people should look at is, how many interactions and kind of touch points am I having with an ideal client? Is my messaging really going to resonate with them? If you kind of work through those, you’ll often start seeing significantly greater response, and also, a thriving pipeline.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, it’s so true. Every time I open my CRM, I’m like, “Oh, God, I totally forgot about this one.” It’s like if I didn’t have that CRM it would have just completely disappeared right in. It’s hard, even with a CRM, it can be a challenge to keep on top of things, and remember everything, but the more you can automate it definitely is key. I wanted to just touch on, not to sort of spill all your secret teachings to the universe, but I wanted to touch on three kind of main things I thought were real impactful that I learned from working with you, and just ask you about those, and have you talk about some, and I know these are things that probably a lot of folks work on with you.
Sam Schutte: Number one, maybe is the tendency of consultants to work for an hourly rate versus value based pricing. Why do you think that’s something that people should be changing, or looking into?
Michael Zipursky: Oh, hourly rates cap your earning potential, unless you’re using a team consulting firm model, which is totally fine. We have clients that are generating 1, 000, 000, 2, 000, 000, even $5 million plus per year off of the firm model, but for a lot of consultants, they don’t want to have a big massive team with a lot of consultants, and so, in that case, hourly pricing really depresses your ability to grow your income and your revenue, because you only have so many hours in a day, and even if you have team members, they also only have so many hours in a day, so if you want to scale that becomes an issue, but the other real, I think kind of intrinsic, or core problem with hourly fees is that the buyer, your client, and you have opposite goals in mind. The client wants you to work less, because they pay you less, few hours worked, and you the consultant want to try and spend more hours in the project so that you can bill more hours, so you can make more money.
Michael Zipursky: Well, that’s a problem that. You’re an exact kind of opposition where you and your client should be on the same page. You should be rooting for each other, and so, when you flip it to a focus more on value, and more on return on investment, then you get to be on the same page, and your client, in fact, not only is happier if you’re able to provide a solution to them sooner, it’s actually more beneficial to them. If you can deliver a result in two weeks instead of six weeks, well, they get to start benefiting from that result at the two week mark, instead of waiting an extra four weeks beyond that. With an hourly model you would make less money if you deliver that result to them sooner, yet it’s of benefit to them, so with the value and ROI focused approach, if there’s greater value in you providing that sooner, then you can get compensated at a higher level, because it’s value.
Michael Zipursky: I think that’s what a lot of consultants don’t see, is they’re so concerned about how their clients might view them if they’re charging on a value basis, but clients don’t care about how many hours it takes you to do something as long as it’s within their timeline. What clients care most about is whether or not they’re getting value, and so, if you can convey, and communicate value, then they’re happy to pay in that way.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, and kind of along those same lines it’s very difficult for someone to see how one hour could be valued at too high of a rate. If you want to charge $1, 000 an hour, it’s really hard to convince someone that an hour of your time is worth that, like to sort of make that value equation work in their heads, but if a project is worth a million dollars to somebody, that’s what it’s worth, right?
Michael Zipursky: Yeah, I interviewed Subir Chowdhury, who’s pretty well known in the process improvement space, and I love that interview because Subir’s confidence just oozes out, and the stories that he shares on that podcast of how he went in and just literally landed a multi million dollar consulting engagements are pretty eye opening. I’m not going to suggest, or even imagine for a moment that everyone’s going to be able to go in with the same level of kind of, call it audacity, or mindset, or confidence that Subir has, but I think there’s lessons, and it shows the potential that all of us do have, which is that the biggest thing that’s holding you back from earning more or charging more isn’t your product, or service, it’s not your circumstances, it’s not what you know, or don’t know necessarily.
Michael Zipursky: It’s your mindset. It’s just recognizing that as long as the value is there, and you’re communicating that value to the client, then you can charge more, and you just need to believe that you can, and then you just need to do it.
Sam Schutte: Absolutely, so then another one is about the value of specialization. I was talking to someone yesterday at a meeting, and they said, “Oh, we don’t really target any particular type of customer, or industry, and that makes us broad, and we can work with anybody, and all this.” I think you hear that a lot from folks thinking that’s a good thing. Why is that a bad thing, you think?
Michael Zipursky: Well, it’s a terrible thing, especially at the early stages of any business, or anyone that wants to market. Just think about it. If you’re saying that you can work with anyone, or you serve five different marketplaces, and you have, call it a $10, 000, a $100, 000, a million dollar budget, whatever your budget is to market to those people, and you have 24 hours in a day, where do you allocate that? How do you split up your time? How do you split up your budget? That means that if you have five markets, and you have, let’s just call it $10, 000, that you can only invest $2, 000 into each of those markets, which means that if your competitor is only focused on one of those markets, and they have the same $10, 000 budget, they’re investing $10, 000 into that same market, or who’s going to stand out more? Who’s going to make a greater impact, everything else kind of being the same?
Michael Zipursky: And so, that is a losing proposition. That’s a hard place to grow from, but the other problem with that is, it creates complexity. If you have different markets you serve, that means you have to have different offerings for those markets, different messaging for those markets, and so, you’re creating a lot more complexity. I think the biggest, or maybe the best way for people to realize this and see it firsthand is think about if that’s your situation where you offer like different things to different people, or you have one thing to offer to tons of different people. When someone says, “What do you do?” How do you respond? If you have too many different offerings, and there’s too much complexity, it’s probably really challenging for you to respond in a very succinct, and clear, and compelling way, whereas if you know who your ideal client is, and you know exactly what their problems are, and what results you help them to achieve, and the kind of results you’ve helped others to achieve, you can develop a message that can really resonate specifically with that ideal client.
Michael Zipursky: People believe that more is better, that addition is better, but most businesses, and if you really look at in… The businesses that I’ve studied and observed over the years, the most successful ones, they always grow by subtraction. They remove a lot of stuff. Even take whether it’s like the iPod or whatever when it came out, their goal wasn’t to have tons of features and buttons. The reason why they were so successful is because they removed everything that wasn’t completely necessary, and made it look good. If you think about BlackRock in terms of investments, they were kind of one of the first pioneers of ETF funds. Well, they really focused on a very specific type of investment. They didn’t try and offer 20, or 50, or a hundred different things when they started. They’ve now added many different funds, and just product offerings, but at the beginning if they tried to focus on everything, then there wouldn’t have been any focus at all.
Michael Zipursky: And so, it’s much better to be a big fish in a small pond than it is to be a small fish in a vast ocean. We’ve seen that just consistently that when you get very clear on who your ideal client is, and how you’re serving them, it allows you to not only identify them, and then reach out to them much more efficiently and economically, but because of that your messaging can really be targeted to them, and so, that means you see a higher level of response, because your message resonates specifically with them as opposed to having a very general message that doesn’t resonate with anyone.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, people kind of want to work with consultants who really understand them, that are almost like in their family, almost like. I’ve done lot of work in the elevator field, and I remember one time we were bidding on a project against a whole bunch of other vendors, and we got chosen, and they said they wanted to work with us because we were elevator people. I was like, “We’re elevator people?” It’s like we didn’t even know that, but it makes sense that, and I think you see that in your own business even. You could have started a business that is a business growth consulting, and marketing consulting, but you niched down into working with consultants specifically, which has kind of been key for you, I think.
Michael Zipursky: Yeah, we have had plenty of opportunities to say, yeah, we work with coaches, and consultants, and accountants, and oh, we do all service professionals, and all that kind of stuff, but we just stayed very focused on consultants, because that allows us to be able to continue to develop products, and experiences, courses, books, so forth specifically for consultants, but the other thing too Sam is, it’s just out of, call it, I wouldn’t say necessarily laziness, but I like things simple. I’m not a huge fan of complexity. I like my life to be simple. I want to be able to do great work with great clients, and then, spend an abundance of time with my family. I want to travel with them, I want to create experiences that are meaningful. I don’t want to have the complexity of a business that’s trying to be all things to all people with tons of different products and tons of different offerings, because that’s confusion, that’s like the infrastructure, and resources, and kind of mind share that is required to keep that on life support, or to even try, and get it to grow is not something that I desire.
Michael Zipursky: Some people might like that, but for me, I prefer to keep things very focused, and we found it for ourselves, and in our business, and with our clients over a decade plus now of just working specifically with consultants, and for us almost two decades now of building our own consulting businesses that it’s just held out as being true. It just works better to get very focused.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, it kind of allows you to be the master of your own destiny, right?
Michael Zipursky: Yeah, I think the other way that I look at it too is like, to achieve mastery, you can’t do that by trying to be all things to all people, and the illustration that I offer sometimes is like think about if you were a Samurai in Japan, and you are going to battle, and you needed to have your [Japanese 00:40:42] your sword, would you go to a Japanese sword smith, that all I do all day long is makes swords like they’re putting into the fire, and there’s fashioning it, and you’re knocking it down, but all they do all day long is just focus on making the sharpest and best swords possible, or would you go to the, just like the corner blacksmith that makes shoe horses, and kettles, and yeah they do swords too, and [inaudible 00:41:10] gates, like who is going to be the specialist? Who’s the expert? Who do you think is going to command a premium? Who’s gong to have the better product, or the better offering?
Michael Zipursky: While most of us are probably not going out and looking for swords, it’s the same thing in business. When someone’s looking for a solution, you’ll either appear as a generalist, that’s all things to all people, and they’re not likely going to take much kind of notice to you, or you can be seen as, well, this person is a true master, because look at what they’re doing. They’re just doing the same thing in some ways over and over, and also, because of that you then are able to develop testimonials, case studies, results that resonate more and more with your ideal clients, because your results and testimonials aren’t from tons and tons of different places, and if you have a case study that doesn’t resonate at all with your ideal client it’s of not much user benefit to you, but if you have a whole bunch of testimonials, and a whole bunch of case studies, and they’re all connected in one form or another to your ideal clients, well, that’s now powerful for them, because they can see themselves in those results, and they [inaudible 00:42:14] themselves, “Wow, look at all of these results that this company, or person, or brand has been a part of.” That’s powerful.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, well, and I think a lot of consultants when they start out especially they kind of want to be generalist, because it’s almost maybe a little bit of an ego thing like, “I’m really good at all these things, so I should do all these things, because I can do such a great job doing your social media, your marketing, your business plans, I do everything. I can do whatever I want.” I heard a great quote recently that said, “When you start to become bored at something that’s when you know you’ve achieved mastery.” But, it’s so second hand nature to you know it inside and out, and it’s almost boring, but that’s good, because that’s when you can really start to innovate, and create new products for something.
Sam Schutte: I’ve seen that to be true with a lot of people that, what they try to do is very simple even. I know someone who just sells used Apple products online. That’s it. Very simple. Anyone can understand that business, but he did like $18 million last year doing that, and if he was trying to sell technology products online, that’s much harder to master, right?
Michael Zipursky: Yeah. In my observations I think that the most common reason why people hesitate from specializing, or picking a specialization, kind of true area of focus to build on is actually fear. It’s the concern of, “Well, if I do that, aren’t I going to lose out on all those other opportunities, because I can help all these other people, and I can do all these other things.” And so, it’s the fear. The moment that you start to see, “Oh, okay, like, yeah, actually, most of my business is coming from this one area, or I’m getting better results in this one area, or I just had a client accept the proposal in this area.” That gives people the confidence to just continue doing more of that, but at the early stages, that’s a challenge for people, because they feel, “Well, if I give up on 80% of what I’m offering, or could be doing, then doesn’t that mean that my income is going to go down 80%.” But, it’s no.
Michael Zipursky: If you really look at what you’re doing, if you’ve been providing services for a while, you’ll likely find that 70%, or 80%, or the majority of your income actually comes from a certain type of client. It’s like the 80/20 principle at work, and so, if you’re able to apply that then, it makes life a lot simpler, because you don’t need to focus on a whole bunch of different type of people offering a bunch of different types of offerings. You can get very focused on those who are able to get the best results, and you’re able to get the best results for, and those are also the most profitable, and enjoyable for you to work with.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, absolutely. I think another thing that a lot of folks in the group, I think have implemented, and got a lot of value from is kind of the idea of doing an upfront discovery engagement, some kind of discovery offer to what they’re doing as opposed to coming in, and saying, if you think about maybe the old school way, or whatever you want to call it, “Here’s my hourly rate, just hire me, and we’ll just start working.” As opposed to saying, “Look, hey, here’s a fixed, a couple thousand dollar discovery offer. We’re going to get to know each other, we’re going to start to work together.” We now do that for our projects. I think when I started working with you, we had never even thought about that, and you’re walking in saying, “Hey, here’s a proposal for $300, 000.” People are like, “I don’t know you, so I’m going to say no.” Why do you think that’s valuable, and is that something you think that’s effective for a lot of consultants to do?”
Michael Zipursky: I don’t think it is, I know it is. We’ve seen this just play out time and time again. The best way to, or the way that I would encourage people to look at this is just put yourself in the position of a buyer. Here option one is, you can choose to invest 50, 000, or 500, 000, or five million, whatever the project value is with someone that you don’t really know who you believe can help you, but you’re not truly sure, because you haven’t worked with them before, or option two is, you can start working with that same person, and have them do something much smaller, that just kind of gets the ball moving, but allows you to actually see whether, or not they can truly fulfill, and deliver what they say they can, and you enjoy working with them, and that might just cost you five, or 10, or $15, 000. Which has less risk associated with it?
Michael Zipursky: Clearly, it’s the discovery offer. It’s that second option, and so, what I encourage all of our clients to look at I know Sam, you and I had this conversation as well, like the number one job of a consultant when it comes to sales is really, it’s like about getting your foot in the door. That first sale is the hardest sale to make, and so, why make it harder than you need to? Why try and sell $300, 000 right away, when if you are going to land that client you’ll be able to sell them $300, 000 anyways? Why not just get your foot in the door first with a $5, 000 offer, or whatever that discovery piece is, and then, when you’re there get in, and truly understand what’s going on in that organization? How can you add them value, or add value for them? And then, build on that. The other challenge with going straight into a full fledged engagement is that most buyers are going to need, and require a lot more approval, and a lot more time to move through that sales cycle, and ultimately get a decision, because it’s a lot more risk.
Michael Zipursky: There’s monetary risk, it costs more. There’s time risk. It’s like [inaudible 00:47:58] bigger project. There’s resource risk. Well, we need a lot more of our people to be involved with this, because it’s a bigger thing, and there’s also just the risk of, okay, if we’re going to invest this much money, we really need to make sure that this specific initiative, or this area, or this department of the business is the right one to do this, and so, all of those things cause the buyer to delay, and to really take time before they push the Go button, whereas if you can make them an offer that’s typically below $15, 000, and it gets your foot in the door, and they can just say yes to it, because they don’t have to get approval, they can just write the check, and you start providing value, and building that relationship, well, now you’re already in, and so, now when you’ve delivered value, and you’ve shown, “Hey, here’s kind of what we’ve done, here’s the next steps.”
Michael Zipursky: They’re going to feel much more comfortable in saying yes to that next project, even though it’s likely to be significantly higher than the first one because all the risks that they saw before have now disappeared. They know that you can deliver, they like you, they got value already from what you’re doing, and so, now it’s just a matter of, “Okay, let’s move this through, and I’m going to feel a lot more confident, and I’m going to champion this through the organization, and getting approval, because I like you, and because I want to do this initiative with you, because it’s going to make me look good, or it’s what we need for the organization.” And so, that typically helps people not only to win more business, but to significantly speed up the sales cycle.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, and it’s been so absolutely true for me, I mean, all of our biggest projects. We never walk in and say, “Hey, let’s quote out a seven figure project that needs board level approval to a bunch of people we’ve never met?” That’s just a very bad idea. You have a chance of winning that, but not near as much as if you’ve done little projects here, and there over the last five years for them for example, and so, that definitely was something that has been a big sea change for me for sure.
Sam Schutte: What do you think about the career of being a consultant? Is now a good time to start off as a consultant? I run to a lot of people that are thinking about it, but they’re having trouble taking that jump. What would you say to encourage those folks to jump into it, and to get into that field?
Michael Zipursky: The consulting industry is growing, it’ll continue to grow. A lot of the data out there looks at the larger, more established consulting firms, the McKinsey’s, and the Accenture’s, and Deloitte’s and so forth, but the market for solo independent small consulting firms is going to continue to grow, and that’s because more and more people who have created, and achieved significant expertise that they’ve developed right over the years of being in the corporate world they’re leaving their jobs, whether it’s that they’re getting older, or they’re just sick and tired of having a boss, or they want more freedom and flexibility, they want to spend more time with loved ones, whatever it is, the shift now is to move from the corporate world into consulting, and technology, and the cost, like the lower cost of actually getting into business, and having a business. It’s now easier to be in business for yourself than ever has been before, which also means that there is more competition.
Michael Zipursky: We did a study on consultants and marketing, and what we found is that even though there’s more consultants, and the consulting industry is growing, there’s still a lot of people whose revenues are pretty small. There’s not generating a lot of success, and revenue in their businesses, and what we’ve identified is that those who are more successful are those who have applied the right system, and the right process, and they’re doing it consistently, but I guess, really what I’m getting at here, Sam, is the industry is growing, but there’s also more people getting into it, which means that if you’re going to jump into consulting, then do it the right way, and make sure that you’re ready to build a business. I don’t mean when I say build a business, I’m not referring to that you have to go out, and think about hiring a whole bunch of employees, and creating this big infrastructure, but the big misunderstanding I think that a lot of people have about consulting is there’s a difference between being a consultant and a contractor versus being a consulting business owner.
Michael Zipursky: If you’re a consultant, you might have just one client. If you’re a contractor, you might just be on a long term one year project, or 18 month project for one client. You don’t have a business, my friend. If that’s the case, you have a job. Yes, you might be a consultant and a contractor, call yourself that, nothing wrong with that, but what you need to recognize is the moment that that project ends, whether it’s premature, or just a natural ending, you now have to restart all of your work to try, and get the next client, and we see that a lot with the consultants that reach out to us and come into the Clarity Coaching program. They’ve been doing that for a while, and it can be it can be fulfilling, and it can generate some nice income, but it’s not sustainable, and so, this is I think, guess the realization that I hope that I can share, and kind of impart with people is, if you want to really build a business that not only can give you great freedom, but also, great income, and great impact with those you want to serve, then you got to build a business.
Michael Zipursky: You need to be prepared to put in the work to grow a business, and to do sales, and to do marketing, and yes, there’s ways to do that, and that’s what we try and provide in terms of the guidance for people, and best practices around that, but being an entrepreneur isn’t easy all the time. It’s not fun all the time. It comes with anxieties, and stresses, and challenges, but the rewards are worthwhile. The rewards are so great that I could just never imagine not being an entrepreneur. That’s what I’ve been doing now for 20 years, and there’s no way that I would change that, but consulting isn’t for everyone. Not anyone can just be a consultant if they’re not committed to putting in the work, and if they aren’t willing to develop the mindset to be successful as a consultant, and operate as a business owner, but if you’re willing to put in the work, and you’re open to learning new approaches, and best practices, then you can really achieve tremendous success.
Michael Zipursky: We’ve seen that with so many clients who make the transition from corporate, and think like, “Yeah, it’d be so nice to be able to travel the world with my spouse, and work with different clients, and even work from a home office, and not have to travel so much.” At the beginning, that seems so far kind of fetched for them. Like it’s just such a future thing, but as they start working the process it’s like, wow, they’re able to achieve those things in a much shorter period of time than they thought possible, but again, they have to be willing to put in the work.
Sam Schutte: Well said, and absolutely true. Michael, for folks out there listening that are inspired to learn more, and talk to you, what’s the best way for them to get a hold of you, and contact you?
Michael Zipursky: Yeah, definitely. I’m on LinkedIn, is a great place to reach out, so if you just type in Michael Zipursky on LinkedIn, feel free to connect with me. Just please, if you send a connection request, put a little note in there, let me know that you saw, or you heard about this on Sam’s podcast here. I get a lot of incoming requests, and many of them have absolutely no message, and so, I don’t know who those people are. I will definitely accept your request if you make a note here of that podcast, and it’d be great to just hear what resonated with you on that podcast. I think Sam’s doing a great job with this, so I’d love to hear that, and I’ll certainly share with Sam as well.
Michael Zipursky: We do also have a free consulting blueprint. It’s a 47 page blueprint that takes you through some of the key kind of fundamentals on how to market effectively as a consultant, how to have a conversation with a buyer in an efficient and effective way so that you can deal with objections and other issues that might come up as well as how to start actually thinking about growing your consulting business in an efficient and effective way, and you can get that free blueprint by going to consultingsuccess.com/blueprint.
Sam Schutte: Awesome. Well, Michael, thank you so much for coming on the show. I feel so lucky to have you as part of my advisory family, and you’re so passionate about your business, and I think folks can really tell you love what you do, and you love helping others, and have a real sort of giving mindset about that. I really appreciate you coming on talking to me.
Michael Zipursky: Hey, Sam, it’s been a real pleasure, and I’ve always enjoyed our conversations, and I’m a big fan of you, and the work that you do, and I know both my cousin Sam, and business partner, and myself, we just love you, man, so a real pleasure to be on here today.
Sam Schutte: Thank you.