FT 112: Going from Surviving to Thriving as a Consultant with Alan Weiss
A few years into building websites for people, in the very beginnings of my little agency, I picked up a book with a pretty bold title: Million Dollar Consulting by Alan Weiss. Picking up that book was one of the biggest game changers of my entire consulting career.
Alan Weiss wrote about how to create value for clients, how the amount of time that you spent on a project should have nothing to do with the fee that you charge, how the very idea of trying to sell your time for money was unfair to the client and to you. I wish I could say that this was an overnight change for me, but it took time for those lessons to sink in and to make the mindset shifts needed to realize that it really is all about finding ways to create value.
Now, I’m very pleased to welcome Alan Weiss, best selling author, and million dollar consultant, on to Freelance Transformation. Here, Alan shares his personal journey through consulting and coaching, how to market yourself as a consultant, what makes a consultant, the psychological challenges of being a consultant and selling, and common mistakes made by beginner and not-so-beginner consultants.
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Alan shares with us:
Getting to where he is today:
After college and after working at various firms, Alan found himself butting heads with his boss who got fed up and fired him. But, this act simply fired Alan up.
“I will never allow a moron to fire me again.”
He started out on his own and started writing and speaking. Each year, doubling his earnings, or more, and growing. It took work.
“I started from scratch.”
Alan focused on his strengths. He wrote and spoke, wrote and spoke, and he let everyone know what he was doing. First, it was for free, but then he started getting speaking assignments. His first was for $750, when he had the realization that people would pay for him to market! (Now, his speaking fee is $35,000.)
Old acquaintances started coming to him for advice and hired him to market for them. One of his big client's was Merck, a pharmaceutical company. Other people would read his books and get in touch with him.
Although Alan has written 48 original books, the books themselves were never the point. Alan doesn't care how many books he sells or if they are best sellers.
“The important thing about a book is that it gets you in front of people.”
His first three books on innovation, behaviour, and strategy got him in front of the right people and were the basis of his own consulting as well as what business schools and businesses reference to this day.
His fourth book was going to be called “Confessions of a Consultant,” but was rejected 15 times. He got feedback that the book people really wanted was a book about how he made a million dollars as a solo practitioner. Six months later, it was written, renamed “Million Dollar Consulting,” and went to the presses. This was 1992. For the next four years, Alan got calls asking for free consulting advice.
Year 5, he decided to start charging $3,500 for mentoring and didn't expect anyone to take him up on it, but thought that at least there would be a barrier in place so he could spend less time mentoring and more time on consulting for corporations. Turned out, there was a lot of demand for him to mentor so through to the early 2000s he slowly converted his business from corporate consulting to mentoring consultants.
“The secret to a career, to a great career, which I help people with, is to find something you are great at and love doing and then you make money from it.”
Alan really enjoys mentoring people and helping them achieve their goals. Alan recognizes that it is a much more personal decision for someone to spend money on their personal development rather than on their kid's education, next vacation, orthodonture, etc, compared to a corporation spending money and weighing where the money would benefit the company the most. The individual makes this life-changing decision and receives personal payback from choosing to invest in personal development.
“When you are starting out, what you have to do is let people know you are there.”
This is marketing. You have to get the customers before you can apply your skills to help them.
So, first, state your value proposition. How is the customer better off when you are done? It's not about your approach, methodology, or technology. A value proposition is the tip of the arrow. It should be short and concise. For example, a narrow value proposition: “We help sales organizations decrease closing time and decrease cost of acquisition.” Or a broader value proposition that was developed through confidence and taste: “I improve individual and corporate performance.”
“Take a look at your tools and skills and what you can do, and you ask yourself why they are important.”
This exercise helps you move away from introducing yourself by the skills you have, such as programming or being an expert in Photoshop, to introducing yourself by the value to provide. A good mentor or peer group will help you figure this out.
When you are meeting people and they ask you what you do, you respond with this short phrase. The natural response is for the other person to ask you how you do the thing you do. Now you are in a discussion. You are having a conversation with an equal, you are not selling anything.
Next, determine who is your ideal buyer. A buyer is someone who has budget to give you for your value.
“Don't waste time on non-ideal buyers.”
Next, ask what do these potential customers read? What do they attend? Where do they hang out? That's where you are going to publish, speak, and network, etc. Building a referral network is key.
“The research over the past 10 years here has been consistent and overwhelming in that people buy from peer reference.”
Networking is very effective. But meet them at places that aren't trade shows. Go to the charity events that they or their spouses are sponsoring or on the board of. You want to meet on a peer-to-peer basis, where you are there supporting the same cause and participating in the same activity.
“Unless you want to litter, don't hand out business cards.”
Networking isn't an event. It is a process. Enter into a conversation, establish a relationship, then set a meeting to talk about what you do and how you can help them. At the charity event is not the time or place.
“In networking, you have to give to get. Find out what the other person can really use.”
You can even hold your own event and give away your value for 2 hours or so. This creates a buzz. Similarly, write articles for the local business association. This makes your band. This makes your name visible. What would make you listen to someone like you?
What makes a consultant:
The difference between someone who delivers the work and a consultant is that a consult also has to market his or her skills. It's all about the marketing. To be successful in marketing, you have to have the right attitude.
“The attitude you have to have is: I am not trying to sell anything, I'm here to help people.”
But promoting yourself is not arrogance.
“What's arrogant is to sit home by the phone, thinking you are so good that people will automatically call you. That's arrogance. But humility is: I can help people, I need to let them know that.”
“Lawyer's are paid to be conservative.”
You want to stay out of the other person's legal department because it will slow down the process and may stop the sale all together. So Alan's advice is to not include legalese in your proposal.
You also don't need legal protection in the form of business contracts.
“If you have a trusting relationship, no one is going to try to cheat you.”
It's not about taking money and selling, it's about providing value to the customer. A trusting relationship generally precludes a legal problem.
Also, your material is trademarked or copyrighted. The proposal that you send the client is a legal document so you don't need anything extra.
The proposal should lay out the scope, the accountabilities of both the client and the contractor, the objectives of the project, and measures of success. If scope creep occurs, as in the project starts to change from what was agreed upon, stop. If the client asks for you, you say that you can do it, but there will be an extra fee because that was not part of the contract.
Then, there is scope seep, which happens when the consultant offers to do more than they agreed to because they feel like they are an imposter and that they are being paid too much. Scope seep is just as bad as scope creep and will break you down.
Scope seep is based on the imposter syndrome, or the imposter phenomenon as coined by Dr. Clance. Basically, scope seep is the suffering of low self-esteem.
“When you're rich, they think you really know.”
- 'If I were a Rich Man' from Fiddler on the Roof
To get out of the imposter syndrome, learn about positive psychology, talk to yourself in a positive way, read Learned Optimism, and read Alan's book Million Dollar Maverick, and his latest book, Lifestorming.
The problem is when we don't make a sale, we say, “I'm a lousy marketer,” but when we do make a sale, we say, “I was lucky today.” What you should do is generalize the positive and compartmentalize the negative. So when you get a sale, you should say, “I'm a great marketer,” and if you don't get a particular sale, you should say, “I didn't make a sale today to that person at this particular time.”
“It's not about how good you are at your career, it's about how good you are about life. It's not about just mastering marketing skills, it's about building your self-esteem.”
The goal is to have a great holistic life. You can fake a good business life, but can still have a difficult life outside of work. But, if you have a good personal life, a good business life will follow. “You don't have a work life and a personal life, you just have one terrific life.”
“You can always make another dollar, but you can't make another minute.”
Real wealth is discretionary time, where you chose where you want to go when you want to go. That's why the objective in life is to reduce labor. You want to be a brain, a consultant, not an extra set of hands, which is really a sub-contractor getting hired by someone for a project.
Alan has removed himself from the need to work for money. Now, he does it for fun. He travels around the world and people come to see him. People come to his home to retreat. Alan finds the greatest fulfillment in helping people.
Getting past survive:
First you are trying to survive, then you are alive, then you arrive, and then you thrive. Alan is in the thriving phase.
At the first level, pay attention to the fundamentals, especially discipline which is a function of organization and speed. To help you, consider getting a successful coach or mentor, someone who has done what you want to do, because most people starting out can benefit the most out of coaching. It's a lot harder to go it alone because you will make the same mistakes instead of learning to avoid them from someone who already made the mistakes and figured out how to get around it.
“Did you learn to ride a bike from reading a book? It doesn't work that way.”
To find a good mentor, first, never accept free advice. If you pay for it, you will get more valuable advice. Second, do the research and ask for references from people they have coached. Anyone can say they are a coach, but they should have evidence that they have a successful business and have coached other people if they are a great coach. Third, go to known authorities that can guide you to what you need, such as Alan's communities. You want a coach that can teach you the business.
Common mistakes of new consultants:
- They don't invest in themselves. They try to do everything as cheaply as possible, but then they don't get the results they want.
- They are afraid to ask for referrals. When you are starting out, you need to call everyone you know so you get leads and get referrals.
- Focus on the wrong things. You should be meeting with 2 buyers every week. Everything else, writing a post for a blog that no one reads, talking to human resource people who aren't in charge of hiring, backing up the computer three times, etc., doesn't matter. Talking to 2 buyers a week would mean talking to about 100 buyers a year. About half of them will talk further, that's 50. Half of them will consider a proposal, that's 25. And half of them will accept the proposal, so that's about 12. And your average sale is $25,000, you will get $300,000. If you average sale is $100,000, you're looking at $1,200,000.
- Misconception: The hirer the fee you charge, the greater the sticker shock. In reality, the higher the fee, the higher the quality expected.
- Take it or leave it pricing. If you say you charge $2500, take it or leave it, the customer will have to decide whether or not to do business with you. If, instead, you give three options, $2500, $3500, or $4000, now the customer is deciding how they should do business with you, not whether they should to business with you.
- Fear. $100,000 ain't what it used to be. Don't be afraid to talk about $100,000, without giggling.
- Working with really small Mom and Pop shops that sell $100,000/year. Don't do business with them because they can only pay you a few bucks no matter how much you do for them. Work with bigger businesses and demonstrate that the money they spend with you will be a good return on investment and will pay for their kid's college fund, will pay for orthodonture, and will provide for two vacations this year. Attach yourself to their emotional needs.
“Logic makes people think. Emotion makes them act.”
Understand how you can improve the buyer's life and then you will get them to make the decision to buy from you.
Alan's latest book:
Lifestorming: Creating Meaning and Achievement in Your Career and Life
Marshall Goldsmith and Alan cowrote the book because they believe there are certain things that people need to understand and apply in their life's journey that will make them better at what they do and happier in their lives.
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