“Switching on the Growth Engine in Your Small Consulting Practice” Presented by Brian Gladstein

Marketing Tips for Consultants Webinar Series – Session 1

By Brian Gladstein

Presenter’s Note:
Fifteen months ago, my marketing consulting practice was at a crossroads. No matter what we did – we couldn’t seem to scale the way we wanted to without client projects suffering – we were stuck. In this webcast, we will discuss how we systematically took apart our business and rebuilt it from the ground up into an engine for growth. Today, we are at the center of one of the most exciting transformations happening in the B2B Marketing and PR space, and business is booming.

About Brian Gladstein:
Brian Gladstein is the CEO of Explorics, a unique marketing firm that helps B2B companies engage enthusiastic customers through customer loyalty and advocacy programs. He is a serial entrepreneur, co-chairs Boston’s Lean Start-up Challenge, and also serves as a go-to-market coach for growth-stage companies. Brian holds a BS degree from MIT and an MBA from Stanford.

View other webinars in the series:

Session 1 – Switching on the Growth Engine in Your Small Consulting Practice

Session 2 – B2M, Growth and Visibility for Niche Consultants

Session 3 – How to Expand your Business Network

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Transcription:

Stuart Lewtan: Hi. I’m Stuart Lewtan, founder and CEO of Zintro. I would like to thank the over 700 people who signed up for this webinar for participating in this event. This is the first installment of a webinar series covering the highly relevant topic, Marketing Tips for Consultants.

It is with great pleasure I introduce Brian Gladstein, CEO and founder of Explorics, a unique marketing firm that helps B2B companies engage enthusiastic customers through a loyalty and advocacy programs.

Brian is a serial entrepreneur, co‑chairs Boston’s Lean Startup Challenge, and also serves as a go‑to market coach for growth‑stage companies. Brian is an MIT graduate with an MBA from Stanford. Without further ado, Brian Gladstein.

Brian Gladstein:  We share a lot of stories. We try and figure out what we can all do to make this better, to make our businesses better, and hopefully some of the things that we’ll talk about today will be helpful to you.

Here’s a little bit about who I am. I am an entrepreneur. I’m far more of a product guy than I am a consulting guy, so it’s funny that I ended up running a consulting company. Most of all, I just wanted to run a business. That was really what drove me.

As we go through today, I’d like to encourage everybody to ask questions. We’re going to do our best here to monitor the question and answer section. We can take questions as we go, so please don’t hesitate to do that.

Hopefully this story will be helpful. I’m not a consulting business specialist, but I think we’ve got an interesting story that can help other consultants, so eager to share that.

A short history. I founded Explorics in August of 2010. That’s when we first opened our doors. Actually, at that time, I knew I wanted to start a business. I didn’t know what it was going to be. I didn’t know how long it was going to last.

After a couple of gigs, couple of clients and a little bit of work, I really made the decision to stick with it, and things were going great. We were really growing. I’ll talk a little bit about that. But in December 2012, we flat out hit a wall. Things just stopped, and I’ll show you what happened there.

This is really the story, not of that first phase, but of that second phase. The second phase where we realized, “We’re in trouble. We need to do something to fix this. How are we going to fix it, and how are we going to prevent this from happening again?”

I knew what I wanted out of the company from the day that we really started. I knew I wanted something that was scalable, that would grow. I wasn’t looking for a lifestyle business. I wanted something that could really continue, and have some opportunity for it, and I wanted a good place to work that was going to make clients happy.

We’re there now, which is exciting. But when I first started, one of the first things that I did was I went around some of my mentors.

I asked, “In starting this business, what do I need to know so I don’t just flat out fail?” I got very serious about it. I got a lot of good advice. It boiled down to what many of you probably know as “the consultant’s dilemma.” If you don’t know this term, you may very well understand it.

Here’s the dilemma. The first thing is you can’t sell and deliver at the same time. I experienced this from the first day that I started working for anybody in a consulting capacity. When you’re selling, you’re busy, you’re excited, you’re meeting people, you’re following every conversation.

You don’t have time to sit down and focus and do the work that you’re being asked to do. When you’re delivering, your job is to get that project so done with such high quality in as quickest time as possible, meet and exceed your client’s expectations, and it doesn’t leave a lot of time for selling well.

You can’t sell and deliver at the same time, so that’s a dilemma in and of itself. Compounding that dilemma was the second piece of advice that I got, which is you have to sell when you’re busiest. I’m not sure that the screen is refreshing, so hopefully that’ll come through here. We’re not seeing it on the screen.

Let’s keep going. You have to sell when you’re busiest. What does that mean? That means even when you’re delivering, you have to be selling. When you’re selling, in the sales phase, you can be busy having a bunch of meetings, but when you’re in that delivery phase, you have to be out there selling. Why?

When you’re busy working on client projects producing results, that enthusiasm seeps through. People see it. People understand the value that you’re creating. You can talk with relevance about what’s happening and the problems that you’re solving, so you have to sell when you’re busiest.

This completely violates that first principle, which is you can’t sell and deliver at the same time. The third piece of advice that I got, which compounds all of this is that your successful projects and your happy clients, those are going to be your most important assets. You’re weighing here a near physical impossibility.

You can’t sell and deliver at the same time, but you kind of always have to be selling, and you kind of always have to be delivering at the highest quality. This is the dilemma. This is what I face. I determined that the best way to do that was to sell more than I could possibly deliver, get that business upfront, and then hire some subcontractors to help me do the work, so there was always work being done.

This was Explorics version one. We launched our website when we opened for business in August 2010 with our first two clients. We got another four or five pretty soon after that. By January, we had opened some office space. By April, I had gotten enough business and was busy enough that I could get my first subcontractor on board and start to farm out some of the work, which honestly was amazing.

Because now, I could go have a sales meeting for half the day and come back and work was still getting done. It was just an incredibly empowering experience to be able to see the results of selling and delivering at the same time. That trend continued. By October, I had my first full‑time employee. By March in 2012, I had my second full‑time employee.

By July, I felt, “OK, I’ve got everything in place. I’m ready to scale.” From July through January of 2013, the results really spoke for themselves. Revenue kept increasing. Projects kept increasing. We’re finding more business. Everything looked better when you look at the top line.

Then something happened. February, March were disasters. The projects that were lasting throughout the end of 2012 kind of dried up, and new projects weren’t there in the pipeline. They certainly weren’t the same quality as the previous ones we had done. The clients I had been working with weren’t renewing. There were a lot of things going on that just led to a complete crash in the business.

It wasn’t easy to recover from this, emotionally. It was really hard. We had a lot to go through as a team to get through this. But we did. So we set back and decided, “OK, we have to get to work.” I think we have a question, so before we go into this…

Stuart Lewtan:  Brian, one user has asked, “Is there a risk in selling more than you can deliver? Clients may not consider you serious about the job being done.

Brian:  Absolutely there’s a risk in selling more than you can deliver. I thought it was important to take that risk. But it means having a plan for how you’re going to get that delivery done. So you sell more than you can deliver yourself. Then you figure out, “OK, for the gaps that I’m not able to deliver, who’s in my network? Who else can I reach out to? What kind of subcontractors can I bring on to be able to close that gap?

So it is a risk. I’m not going to lie about that. I think business is all about risk. I remember sitting there, saying, “All right. I have this project on the table. I know I’m too busy to do it. The risk here is, am I going to be able to manage another person to complete the work that we’ve committed to doing,” and I’ve excited to take that risk.

You don’t want to sell way too much more than you can manage. You don’t want to sell anything more than you can manage. but you want to start selling more than you can do.

So we got to this period where we said, “Hey, it’s time to figure out, what is our root cost problem here? Why did we crash so hard? What was the problem?”

We looked everywhere. We looked at our customers. We looked at our financial model. We looked at the people. We looked at the quality of the work, the structure of the project ‑‑ we looked at everything. Actually, I’m curious. Since this is a webcast about setting up a growth engine for your own business, we’ve put a poll question together. I think now would be a good time to put that up.

So we’re going to put this up. Take a moment and answer this. “What is the number‑one thing that you think is standing in the way of your growth?”

We’ve got a few options here. I actually originally had maybe 10 different options. And those 10 options that I had…this webcasting software doesn’t let us do more than 5. But those 10 options that I had were actually the things that we found. We found problems all throughout our business that were preventing us from growing.

Why don’t you take a moment? I could talk through these answers while folks are submitting them.

The first problem, this was one that we experienced. It was just very hard to find and sell new projects. For us, we were going after a type of project that wasn’t easily available. It took really plugging in to our network, understanding what problems people were having, who were having those problems at specific times.

The second problem that we experienced, the second one thing, was that I was involved in everything. Because I was the bottleneck, when things got really, really busy, I had no time to sell. That was a real problem, and it’s a problem when you’re trying to build an engine.

The third thing, we had too many small projects. One of the most valuable assets that you have as a consulting company, as I mentioned, is you’re at your client base and successful projects. You want to get them repeating with you.

We were doing too many short‑term small projects that didn’t give us enough firmly. The fourth thing here, getting good talent to subcontract to, that’s always a problem or maybe you’re just not sure. So I think we’ve got 72 percent of you guys have voted. Why don’t we close that poll and put the results up on the screen and see how everybody did?

Is there a way to get those results up? Why don’t we read them, OK? 57 percent of people say, “It’s too hard to find and sell new projects.” That’s the overwhelming majority. 16 percent have said, “Involved in everything, leaving no time for everything else. No time for selling.”

13 percent said, “The biggest problem is too much short‑term work.” Another six percent…oh, here’s the results. Great. Another six percent, “We can’t find good talent to subcontract to.” That keeps you bottled up and unable to get out of what you were doing. Then, another eight percent said, “It’s something else,” or, “I’m just not sure.”

Really interesting. I sympathize a lot with this first response, too, because this is a big thing that I experienced. But if you are a talented professional, if your business was built on your own talents, people really buy you. You have to do a good job with those projects, and it’s up to you to do that good job with those projects.

If you also take on the responsibility for selling new projects, then you’re stuck in that consultant’s dilemma. One of the things that you could do is consider, how can other people sell me for me? That’s something that we’ll talk a little bit about today.

Right. Great. Let’s close that and go back to our slides right now. Let’s get on a little bit to what we did. We decided it was time to get to work. We did this analysis. We’ve listed everything. We had a white board up. We talked with the folks that we had worked with in the past, our own employees. We brainstormed. We started grouping everything.

Me, I’m a funnel guy. As a marketing person, I understand, no matter what you do, there’s a funnel. What was our funnel for getting business and delivering business? It looked like this. It’s really simple. We’ve got to find projects. We’ve got to sell them. We have to staff them with the right people, and launch them, get them going. Then, we’ve got to do the work and make sure that it’s really good.

We put this simple funnel up, and we started mapping. OK, what were our problems? We had problems at every step of the way. We were doing projects, anything that we could get, opportunistically. Maybe that’s something you have to do, but it’s very hard to build an engine when you’re just taking any business that you can get. It’s very hard to build repeatability.

That has implications in the projects you’re selling. You don’t have a good track record of selling the same project over and over again, which means every sale is a little bit different. It has a big impact when you’re launching and stacking projects, because these projects were so customized, I had all the knowledge.

Being able to effectively staff up my teams to execute the work is getting harder and harder as I got busier and busier. Which meant I just said, “OK, let me find a couple hours and not sleep at night, and I’ll do that work because it’ll be harder for me to transition it to somebody else.”

As a result, actually doing the work became really hard. I either had to do it all myself, or I had to outsource to very expensive people. That led to a drop in quality. When you compounded all these things together, it completely explained the drop in revenue. But it was not an easy thing to fix because there were problems all throughout it.

I knew what I wanted. I knew that I wanted a repeat client business with recurring revenue. I wanted people who are happy and I wanted to do work that mattered and have projects that were set up for success. Looking at the types of things we were doing, we were taking on projects that were too hard for people that had unrealistic expectations.

The key here was, can we move to a set of projects where we’re set up for success from the beginning with people who understand and appreciate the work that we’re doing. How do we build an engine around that? That’s when we decided, let’s start treating this business like an engine. Engines have certain qualities. This, to me, really radically changed the way that I thought about the business.

Because, if you remember, I was at the center of everything, and a business engine runs when you can define jobs that other people can do, take advantage of your staff to the maximum extent and become predictable, become repeatable.

Know that, if I had a death in the family, which actually happened, that the business wouldn’t stop. It could keep going and support the people who relied on me and support the clients who relied on me. Something that was scalable. If I get too much business, how am I going to handle that growth? If it slows down on the opposite direction, how am I going to gracefully handle that reduction in course?

I wanted something that was repeatable. Most importantly, an engine that specialized. Engines do one job really, really well. We wanted to build something like that. Very important. Let’s start treating the business like an engine.

We knew the structure of the engine. It was these five stages that I put up before. We knew where the problems were. We actually set out to systematically go through each stage of the engine. Our goal here was to simplify each stage of the engine to the point where we could capture it in a playbook.

We actually said that. We said, “What’s the playbook for doing this? What’s the playbook for doing that?” We set up a wiki on an internal site so that we could start writing these playbooks down. The idea was, every time we did something and we did it well and we did it in the model that we want to do it in the future, we wrote it down and we worked it into our playbook.

A playbook is a description of a job, small, large, many components, whatever it is. A description of a job that you can hand to somebody else, and with a manageable amount of training, you can get them to do for you.

This doesn’t mean that you have to give a job to everybody. I still did many of these jobs. But the point was if I got really busy, I could take that playbook and I could find the right person and I could say, “I need this thing done. Here it is. Here’s how you do it. Work with us so you can get any little tips or tricks, but go ahead and do it.”

That was our goal. It was to go through each stage of this process, and determine what’s the playbook and what’s the engine. Our engine, at the beginning of 2013, looked like this. We didn’t know what the rest of it was going to be, but we knew the first place to start was, how do we find the right type of projects for us?

This is probably the hardest thing that we did, and the biggest key to our success was getting this part right. If you guys are out there saying, “Hey, it’s too hard to find the right projects,” this is maybe a different way of thinking about finding projects.

Prior to 2013, I divided up my customers into four groups. These were my four segments. We’re a marketing company. We particularly focused. I’ve got a background in entrepreneurship, so we focused on helping companies launch new products and the marketing and go‑to‑market strategies surrounded with that.

I was working with companies that were very early stage, companies that had some momentum. I had some growth stage companies, and I had a couple very large companies that I was working with. This was all built on my personal network. I knew these people.

By the time the end of 2012 rolled around, I had exhausted that network. I had run out of people who knew me and trusted me enough, and I was looking to grow beyond that. The first thing that I had to do was focus and decide. Who’s the company I want to target? Who is the role that I want to target that can really support the type of business that I want to build?

The key to getting this right was to recognize that the fuel…This is an engine. Engines take fuel. The fuel for that engine is cash. The most interesting part of this was matching my cashflow requirements, my ideal business model, with the types of spending patterns by these different people at these different organizations.

Because if I could tap into a budget that fit my desired spending model, or my desired business model, then I knew I could start to build a reliable engine. I could start to build predictability and reliability to the business.

I needed a sustainable source of cash revenue projects. I found that in looking at it, my previous clients, who were great, and we did some great work for those people. They work very hard, but they were unpredictable because of their spending pattern. Too many pre‑revenue startups that just weren’t sizable, weren’t scalable, and weren’t sustainable.

Even larger companies’ types of projects were short term, one‑time projects, so they didn’t have those same qualities. We decided to choose, so we chose growth stage companies from 10 million to 100 million in revenue, and we did this for a few reasons.

We actually looked at all the projects. We said to ourselves, “Which ones did we do the best job at? Which ones were our clients the happiest with?” These were the ones that are happiest with us. They were happiest because they were marketing executives at companies with real objectives, and we were doing work that they just needed done, and we were doing it well.

What was attractive about this from my business model perspective was these folks had meaningful objectives. They had MBOs. They knew what they needed to do to achieve their plan for the year.

When you’re working with an early stage startup, which is what we experienced, everything was attractive. They needed everything done, but it’s very hard to focus on something. That’s just a fact of entrepreneurship. I’ve lived there myself for most of my career.

These people had regular sizable budgets. They really knew what success looked like, and they had a habit of working with third party, so they knew how to work with us. All that made this a very attractive segment, but what the heck was I going to do for them? What do you do when you’re faced with that question? You go and you ask them.

I went around to 10 to 15 folks. Most of them I knew, but some that I didn’t know. It’s amazing how far you can get with somebody. You connect on LinkedIn. You say, “Listen, I would just like to pick your brain for 10 minutes.” People respond. People are generally nice. If you approach it, “I’m not trying to sell you anything,” you can get some really good responses.

I asked them one simple question. I sent this in email. I sent it on the phone, one question. What are the top four to five challenges that you face over the next year?

I was focusing on this segment, and the consistency of the responses I got was actually a bit surprising to me. People said consistently the top three challenges that they had were growing their own team.

When you’re going from 10 million in revenue to 100 in revenue, you’re taking your team from three people up to seven people. That was a big challenge. How do you actually grow that team? You’re finding specialized people to slot in those 10 slots. How do you fill the gaps with non‑specialized people in the mean time?

Expanding internationally, that was a big focus of folks. Then the third one was scaling their demand generation programs so that they could break out from selling one product to one type of customer, which happens at 10 million in revenue, to selling many products to many types of customers. That’s what $100 million business looks like.

We heard this consistently, and this was great. Because what did it tell us? It told us, “Here’s your pain points. If we can help you solve these pain points, then you’ll listen to us.” That was the most important valuable piece of information I needed.

This is all through practice. We went out and we talked, and we pitched. We held inquiries, and we asked people. By the end of that quarter, we knew with a high degree of confidence, if we can get projects with these types of people, the money to fund those projects will support the business model we want.

We knew who they were. We knew who the customers were. We developed a list, and we were able to list their top pain points. It actually became kind of easy, given that little limited bit of research we did, to know what their top pain points were. Not what they were hiring people for, but what their challenges, what their objectives were.

I was now reliably able to go talk to somebody who fit that role and say, “Are you having trouble with X?” They would say, “Yeah, that is something I’d want to have a conversation about.”

Obviously you don’t get 100 percent of the conversations you want, but I got enough to know that there was a source of cash to fuel this engine, and that’s how things looked at the beginning of Q‑2.

I just want to remind folks, we do have the Q and A panel. If you want to take more questions along the way, please feel free to jump in. We’ll just keep on going, but I’d just like to remind folks that.

We started Q‑2. We knew who we wanted to go after. We knew what problems they were trying to solve. The question to us was, “What the heck do they need that we can sell to them?”

We had a job to do now. We did it in this quarter, which was to map their challenges with our strengths. Their challenges were, I chose two of them because the international was just something I knew I wouldn’t be able to help much with. I knew that I could help them growing their team, and I knew that I could help them with this idea of scaling demand generation and getting multiple segments.

On one end of this maze is their challenges. On the other end was, “What were our strengths? What did we do really well in‑house that we could build a capacity around and optimize it even more?”

We had always been very good at understanding B2B customer demands. That’s our core strength, and we could talk to B2B customers. We were charming people. We could understand what problems they were faced with. They opened up to us. We were actually able to create these small ad hoc communities of people around some kind of a problem.

In the security space, what are you struggling with? What kind of security are CIOs at major institutions struggling with? We were able to drive people to have these open conversations with us. That was a really good skill. How it would meet those customer challenges, we weren’t quite sure, but we knew that we had to somehow package up those strengths to address those challenges.

We started playing with our packaging. I went through dozens of different iterations of slides and documents and Web pages. I had all sorts of different packaging ideas. What are our services? How do we categorize them? This whole quarter was just marked with, “We do this. We do that. We do it this way. We do it that way.”

It was a little silly, but it wasn’t silly to any individual. It was silly to us inside, because every meeting was trying something different, but that was the goal. We wanted to try. We wanted to see what stuck, and we really started to narrow down the path through that maze that I showed earlier.

We started to identify that, “Hey, people are really interested in using our ability to connect with customers to help them drive demand generation further, and get deeper into these individual segments. There’s something there.”

As we started playing with these packages, we said, “Look, at the end of the day, money talks. If somebody’s going to buy something from us, what are they actually going to buy? What can we sell?”

We started seeing by the end of the second quarter that we were selling two types of projects on a regular basis. Not that you guys care that much. Maybe you do, but they were called social prospecting and advocate communities.

These were related, because these were about working within communities to identify new buyers, and using the voices of those advocates and those customers and those fans to drive prospecting and to drive engagement, and to drive social media and a whole bunch of other things.

This is what our target customer saw as an interesting, novel, unique solution to the problem they had, which we’d identified earlier, of getting their demand generation scaled in a way to address this growth needs that they had.

The money spoke. We had projects coming in. Then the question was, “How the heck are we going to do it?”

What was also really important beyond knowing what projects people wanted was we knew why they wanted those projects. We knew that people were telling us. They were sending us reports. They were giving us this data. They were telling us that, “Look, our buyers are waiting to talk to us. They’re not talking to us. They’re way through the buying cycle before they even pick up the phone.

“They’re educating themselves, and they’re educating themselves by talking to other communities, so we’re not even in control of their education. Sure, they’re looking at some of our content, but they take their advice from friends and from peers, and from other people that have done this before. All that means that our ability to communicate with our target buyers directly through our content is dependent on our ability to get members in the community acting as a channel to them.”

People started asking us, and I heard this phrase often, and it became a phrase that really drove the second half of the year, “Our customers love us. Why aren’t they doing more for us?” Guess what? Do your customers love you? Do you want them to do more than they are for you? We can help.

That led into Q‑3. We started Q‑3 knowing not just who our customer was, what their pain points were, but we had a sense for, “What’s our ideal project, and what’s the price that people are willing to pay?”

We’ve been able to get that price up, which is even better, but it now became a question of the operational side of the house. Do we have the right people to execute these? Can we launch them efficiently? Can we do the work well? Can we keep the quality high?

My biggest problem ‑‑ people who know me may say this has been my biggest problem throughout my entire life ‑‑ was me wanting to do too much. I walked into the office one day. I sat my team down and I said to them, “Your job from here on out is to make sure that I’m not doing this work. I want you to come up with ideas about how to get me extricated from doing these projects. If you see me jumping into a project, I want you to say, ‘Brian, stop doing that.'”

This was both an operational issue, but we also found pretty quickly it was a trust issue. Because, yes, I wanted to do this work because I love doing the work. But our clients also thought they were buying from me.

They said more often than not, more than I ever wanted to hear, “Great, we’re so glad to have you doing this, but just to make sure, you’re leading this, right? You’re the one who’s going to be doing most of this work, right? We really need your mind, Brian. We really need you on it.”

This became a challenge not just from an operational perspective, but also from an expectation setting perspective. That meant, in Q‑3, our job was to both transfer trust from me to the team as part of the sales process, and get the team operating independently.

We started doing that right from the initial statement of work. We started outlining exactly who was going to do the work, and why their skills were better for doing that work than mine. We started getting our team members involved with pre‑sales. Those relationships would be established before the project was executed, and the trust would just flow naturally to them.

We started constructing our internal and our external kick‑offs to transfer that knowledge out of my hand into my team’s hands and to make sure that the client was working with my team members from day one, and they were the ones who are asking question, and they were the ones who are involved, and they were the ones talking about their prior experiences.

I think the last thing that was important was we set up the client reporting process. “Hey, here’s how the project is going.” We set that up so that my team members were conducting that. I got to check in every week, every month, every quarter, whatever it was, but I would check in at the higher level to say, “Is my team serving you well?” The people say, “Yes.” If they’d say, “We need more of X or Y,” then we could adjust. This was really effective in getting me out of the center of everything.

If you’re a graphic designer, if you’re a PR specialist, if you’re a Google AdWords expert, and all sorts of other non‑marketing practices, because I know you guys are on the phone, too, this can be hard to do. I think it is really important to make your team look good, make your team look big, transfer that trust. That’s going to open you up to selling more and selling higher. It’s actually going to build a better team.

A few things that helped us out doing this really at the beginning, pre‑defining what’s successful looked like. We would sit down as part of our internal kick‑off and visualize the end. What does a successful client look like here? What’s going to meet their expectations? What’s going to exceed their expectations?

We wrote it down. It became part of that project playbook. Everybody on the team knew what they needed to do in order to be successful. This helped them start to internalize those success factors and drive upon the project themselves.

We also would write down the job descriptions for each project as part of that internal kick‑off. What is Zac going to do? What is Kate going to do? What is Gen going to do? What is Jodie going to do? What is Maria going to do? We would write down what each person was doing and what their expectations were for each other. This also helped them identify opportunities to take me out of the picture, better interfaces between how they communicate.

I already mentioned that client reporting structure, but what was really important was at the beginning having that in advance. As part of that kick off with the client, we could tell them, “Here’s how we’re going to report to you. Here’s who’s going to do the reporting. Here’s what they’re going to say.” We could always adjust this if we need to, but this is how we’re going to communicate how we’re doing. That was really effective for us.

We also have in the office a public activity board and schedule. We actually started all sitting around the same table. It was something we could all look at, so everybody knew what was going on. Communication within team members was of critical importance. Knowing what was coming up and to support that, we also ran daily scrums.

I can’t tell you it happened absolutely every day, but just sitting for 15 minutes in walking through what’s everybody working on today? Where are the red flags? Does anybody need help? Are there any clients in trouble? Hugely important.

That was how we got through Q3. By the end of that, we had a really good process in place. Our transitions were working well. The team was self‑sufficient, with good people. Then in Q4, we were really able to focus on doing work, getting quality up, and making sure that we were just productive and doing everything we could to delight clients. That continues all the time.

We set up a bunch of internal processes. We all sit at the same table. We’ve got these empty offices. People go there when they each have a phone call, but we are all sitting around a crowded table. There’s five or sometimes six of us around that table. Maybe a little too crowded, but the communication that comes out of that was really important.

We’re sharing ideas. We’re working together. We actually take ideas of how to improve our process, and we have this board up along one of our walls where we break down every typical project into phases and here’s ideas that we can use to improve every phase.

When a client comes along and we’re struggling in one area, when we really want to do something special, we’ve got all these ideas captured. We started an institution of having little luncheon work. Different people within the company will, every month, get up and talk about something they’ve read, instruct us, help to share knowledge.

This is really created a team environment that is taking ownership of the success of the projects and really understands what it’s going to take to be successful. It was really important to get the right people and the right rules. As part of an engine, you do this. You create a job description. You understand who they are. Then you can really fill that job description and get those right people into the right roles, whether they’re full‑time, part‑time, whether you’re borrowing time from somebody, whether they’re an outside consultant, a subcontractor.

Knowing what the roles are in the engine lets you decide what’s the best way for me to fill that, but you have an expectation about what job that needs to be done is. We will really be able to crank up our thought leadership in Q4, which helped us communicate with clients the value and success we’ve been having.

One of the thing that I did, which was important for us, was to have a focus on showcase‑ready work. I wanted every project to have something at the end that we could show somebody else. It’s very difficult when you’re doing a project that wraps up and all you have is a number on the spreadsheet.

The more that I could get some visual, some things to help illustrate, “Here’s the projects that we did,” even if that meant taking those numbers and just making a really nice graphic report. It’s much better to look at a nice visual infographic‑looking report than it is to look at an Excel spreadsheet.

That was something that I could bring to new clients and talk about result with. A focus on that, on doing great work, but then also showcasing that work really improves our ability to communicate value with clients an to execute that.

That brings us to today. At this point, we’ve got a great engine. I feel so confident in my team. We know how to find projects, we know how to select them, we know how to staff them, and we know how to do the work. My job is moved from being 80 percent to 90 percent executing the work to literally 80 to 90 percent in sales and marketing for my company.

At the time, a year and a half ago, 15 months ago when people were telling me, “We’re buying you, Brian, and we’re buying your mind.” Now they’re telling me, “What can your team do for me, and how is your team going to help?” This is phenomenal. Let’s make it on webcast like this one and talk about this really interesting niche that we’ve found and that we’ve gotten really good at.

Let’s meet, spend time on thought leadership, but lets meet, spend time networking and exploring alternative ways growing the business. There’s a whole sales engine now that we’ve sketched out and we’re focusing on what’s our sales engine, how do we build and manage that sales engine, so it’s very exciting.

We also have found that we have a compelling story that people care about in our target market, and we know how to deliver up. Just because I have to talk about it, the compelling stories, advocate marketing. Advocate marketing, most people don’t know what it is. Though, you’re familiar with it, because you do it every time you have a referral, every time re‑tweets what you said on social media, every time you involve a customer for feedback.

Advocate marketing is about making those customer interactions a programmatic part of your go‑to market engine. You’d actually come to rely on those people, which means you come to invest in those people and develop those people and develop those relationships. It’s so important for some of the reasons I talked about earlier. We have a really compelling storage interested in this, and that’s great.

I would love to put up our client side. We were working with some really great startups in 2010, 2011, 2012. We were working with some interesting larger companies as well. MineBridge is a half a billion dollar company. Bit9 is doing fantastic now. They’re probably on the road to IPOs, remembered on numerous post‑scenario websites.

A lot of really interesting, really fun, really hardworking startup companies, but now we’re working with IBM. We’re working with Verizon. We’re working with Arbor. We’re working with Demand. We’re working with Cyber. We’re working with companies that equally great for different reasons, but for me they support the revenue model that we need to survive as a company, because they invest in contractors, they invest in consultants, they invest in long‑term projects. Because they understand how those projects are going to be in their own results, and they’ve been able to deliver something to them.

Another data point that I’ve looked at to know we’re successful was just looking at the pipeline. Obviously, I don’t have too much detail here, because it is my pipeline after all. But if I looked back to the beginning of 2013 and what my pipeline looks like, I had a lot of projects. There were a few early stage. There’s one early stage discussion that I consider a high value. For me, a high value is either a really large ticket or it’s a six‑month project or six‑month engagement that we’re in.

I had one early stage target for that. Everything else in my pipeline were these short‑term projects or small value projects. It was not attractive. It was not good. I wasn’t choosing the right customers to go after. Today, my pipeline is incredibly strong with a lot of high value projects. That’s because I focus on them. We’ve come up with this engine that’s producing them.

Then one more result that was really important to me, one of the problems that we had identified was I was in the middle of everything. When things got busy, I had to hire very expensive contractors to do very specialized work. Our typical margin on a project was very low. It was not what it’s supposed to be for a healthy company.

These days, I’ve got internal staff who’s optimized for doing this specific job. We rely on contractors, outside contractors who have much lower degree, and our margins have improved immensely. That’s been a really positive thing.

When you’re talking about an engine for growth, that margin supports me being able to go out and sell and drive the business. It supports the idea that as we grow, the business itself actually grows.

It’s 11:45 right now. We certainly have time for Q&A. Think about your questions. What can I answer for you? I got a couple of key takeaways.

Facilitator:  Brian, I have a question. Could you share some of your secrets to filling the top of the funnel with early‑stage slates?

Brian:  For us, what’s worked best, there’s been networking of course, in your own personal network. I think many consulting companies start because somebody’s got a good network. This is going to sound like, “Hey, I’m just selling myself again,” or whatever.

One of the things that’s been so successful for us is advocacy. That reveals itself in a couple of ways. One way is just by having the people who like us, whether they’re clients who people who just like the idea, really working with them to find new leads.

Another way is going after your targets and recognizing that, “I can provide value for a target client of mine, a target customer of mine.” I can provide value even before we’re in a project, and I can do that by helping them in their professional career.”

If I have a target who is a chief marketing officer that’s trying to get in the news and get some thought leadership out there and if there’s something I can do to promote that, that gives me a way of talking to that person, getting a meeting, introducing our services, building a good relationship.

Maybe that’ll turn into a project or not. I tend not to sell to hard, but I’ve opened a ton of doors just by going to the people that identifying who they are, go into them in advance and say, “What can I do for you that is going to help something in your career, that’s going to help your career?”

The types of things that work are promoting people. People want to self‑brand these days, introducing them to other people. Introductions are always really important. Going to different networking events then sharing those results with other people and saying you’ll be interested in this or that or that or an educational purpose.

If there’s an event that somebody would like, go suggest, “Hey, why don’t you attend this event?” or, “Hey, go organize an event and invite your clients to it. Work with another partner to do that.” Anything that’s going to meet the professional needs of the people that you’re targeting, not necessarily your core value prop, but just it’s going to get them in the door and it’s going to open the conversation. Those are some of the things.

Facilitator:  As Brian jumps into his takeaways here, if anyone has any additional questions, please feel free to type them right into the chat box.

Brian:  First key takeaway is focus. This is the hardest thing for an entrepreneur to do, for a company owner to do. It’s the hardest thing for a salesperson to do. It’s the hardest thing for anybody running a business but it’s the one thing that if you as an entrepreneur, “What’s the most important thing to do?” It’s focus. Everybody knows it’s what they’re supposed to do.

We took some hits. We had to focus on the customers we wanted. We turned away business that was going to either detract from that or impede in our ability to do that. We have to turn business down, but you have to do that because if you don’t and you don’t really focus on the business you want, it’s going to support that revenue model you want. You end up spending your time there.

I think you get stuck in. As somebody said to me, preparing for this. You get stuck in second gear. You got to turn stuff away to open up your time to focus on the types of business that you actually want.

Second thing is working on the business and not in the business. This took a year for me to get to a point where I truly feel like I’m doing that. I guess you could say that all that thought in guiding this process over the past year was working on business. There’s working on that part of it but now I’m working on growing the business. At the end of the day, that’s what we want to do, right?

You have to figure out a path for yourself that’s going to get you to carve out enough time to work on the business. That might be spending one day a week out of the office or walking yourself in your office for a day in the week, turning off your email for a day. Do something drastic, but you’ve got to be working on the business. You got to be working through that engine of how you’re finding leads, how you’re selling projects, how you’re pricing projects. You want to be working on that business engine.

When you got that engine in a place like we do now where you’re comfortable with it, now working on the business means you’re feeding the engine and you’re looking for ways to more efficiently feed that engine with higher volumes and higher value projects.

My aunt, by the way, runs a marketing consulting agency in Connecticut. She told me that the very first day. The day before I took my first gig, I said, “This is what I should be doing.” She said, “Just focus on the business, not in the business.” It took me a while to get in a position to listen to her. But man, was she right. Mesa Integrated, that’s her firm. She’s great.

We talked about this. You have to choose clients the clients you want, but don’t choose them because that’s the project you want to do or because this is a great brand name or whatever. Choose the projects, most importantly, because of how they fit into the income stream that you want. If a company that’s got a great project isn’t able to give you that repeat business you want or you’re not able to drive high transactional volume, walk away or at least recognize, “I’m doing this, because I need to now but it’s not my long‑term suspicion,” and go back to focusing on the clients and the projects that are going to fit with your desired income stream.

I think that’s something that’s really hard to do, and it’s not obvious. When you look at clients based on, “Oh, we can do great work for them,” but looking at them based on the financial and the economic funnel, I think that’s just a really key important takeaway.

Another thing we talked about, super important, build the mechanisms as part of your process that’s going to transfer that trust to your staff. You want your clients to look to them. I went so far as to say, every time I introduce Kate, I said, “Hey, Kate’s the one who’s actually going to make this thing great for you, so she’s the one you need to talk to. I guide the team and we do a lot of great stuff, but Kate is the one who’s going to make you really, really happy.” That matters. Build these mechanisms with your clients and build these mechanisms with your team.

Then the hardest part, you want to design every single project you do to run without you. I don’t mean this in a soft or an abstract sense. When you start a project, write down everything that needs to be done and put a name against a function where if you’re too busy, if some other project comes up, how are you going to get that done?

If you need to hire somebody temporarily to do that, does your business model, does the project economic support hiring that person or do they not? Because if they don’t, you have a problem. You should be designing that project with the expectation that it’s all going to be outsourced. The economics of that project shod support your ability counselors.

Finally, train your staff to solve problems without you. Work with them. Cultivate them. When somebody asks you a question and you know the answer, say, “You tell me the answer. Ask Maria the answer. Ask Zac the answer.” Say something else. Help them, train them not to come to you for every problem that they have.

It is a training process, so they will make mistakes and you’ve got to be comfortable with that. If you can do this, you’re going to create a self‑sufficient team, and they’re going to surprise you with what they can produce. I guarantee that.

Hopefully, we have a couple more questions. Please ask any questions before we go. I just wanted to offer, I’m sure we’ve got a lot of marketers, a lot of PR people on this call. We decided to put a little offer together. I said this quote earlier. If you have a client who says, “Our customers love us,” how can we get them to do more for us?

We have a small project called an advocate assessment. This is a roadmap that will help you measure and increase advocacy for your client. We actually go in, we look at social media, we look at blogs, we talk to a few of them, we understand from them their propensity to become and advocate, how they advocate, how they expect other people to advocate. We also compare it with competitors.

If your competitors help their customers out there writing reviews and posting on blogs and willing to take a phone call and you don’t, it means there’s probably something you can do to get to that point.

This is a simple project. It starts at about $3,000. If you bring us a client and we do a project together, we’re just going to give you $1,000 as a thank you. If you are interested in this, you can either go ahead into the chat window and type something in there so that we can see it there or you can go to our website, explorics.com/aa and you’ll come to this page where you can fill out the form, and we’ll get in touch with you and see if it’s something we can help with.

That’s all I got.

Facilitator:  Fantastic. Thank you very much, Brian, for that informative presentation. That was really, really great. I have to say, my first company started as a services business and I certainly understand each of the components of the engine that you described. I think every one of those was exactly on point.

I’d also like to thank all of our attendees for spending their time with us today. I hope you found this to be as informative as I did. First of all, I want to say that, please contact Brian directly even if you just have an idea that you’d like to discuss or if you’d like to participate in the offer that he just extended.

Finally, I’d also like to invite everyone here to share any thoughts about interesting topics that you’d like us to cover on future webinars. The general concept here is that we want to take some of the top tier experts on the Zintro platform. We want to give them an opportunity to both market their services within the community but also to pay forward and just to share good ideas, because that’s what being in a community is all about.

Please take advantage of that. Let us know what you want to hear, and make sure you reach out to Brian, because he’s a really, really sharp guy who could help your business grow.

Brian:  We’ve got a lot of value out of Zintro over the years. It’s a great community. I’m really happy to be a part of it.