If you have ever considered how to get started in this career path, this webinar from Susan Schaefer and Don Tebbe will help you ease your way into a successful career supporting the nonprofit sector.
Steven: All right, well, good afternoon everyone if you are out on the East Coast and good morning I should say if you’re out on the West Coast. Thanks so much for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “The Top 5 Questions Aspiring Nonprofit Consultants Ask.” And my name is Steven Shattuck, and I’m the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always.
Just a couple of housekeeping items before we get going. I just want to let you all know that we are recording this session and we’ll be sending out the recording as well as the slides later on this afternoon. So you’re going to get some really good tip so don’t worry about mixing anything and if you have to leave early, perhaps you got a meeting or something else pulled your way, don’t worry, I’ll get that recording in your hand today for sure.
Most importantly, you may have already heard me say this before we started but we love for these sessions to be interactive. We’re going to save some time for Q&A at the end, so do not be shy. Please send us your questions here in the chat box just throughout the hour, don’t sit on those hands. We got two experts here on the topic who are going to be standing by to answer your questions at the end, and you can also ask questions on Twitter. I’ll keep an eye on the Twitter feed if you’d rather use that social media perhaps.
And one last bit of housekeeping, if you have any trouble hearing us through your computer speakers, we find that the audio by phone is usually a lot better. So if you have a phone nearby and you don’t mind dialing in and that will be comfortable for you, try that before you totally give up on us. There’s a phone number you can dial into that was sent in ReadyTalk email that went out about an hour or so ago today. So try that if you have any issues with your computer.
If this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to say an extra special welcome to you folks. If this your first one, you may not know about us or what we do here but we do do webinars every single Thursday so we’d love to have you back next week or whatever Thursday works out best for you. And if you never heard of Bloomerang, the company, we are a provider of donor management software, so if that interests you or maybe you kind of want to learn more about what we have going on, there is a quick video demo that you can watch on our website. You don’t even have to talk to a sales person if you don’t want to. So check that out.
Don’t do that right now, because you got a really cool session coming up here. We have got a long-time friend of Bloomerang. We’ve got a new friend of Bloomerang teaming up here. We’ve got Susan Schaefer and Don Tebbe joining us from a beautiful and sunny they say Washington DC.
So Susan, Don, how’s it going? Are you both still with me hopefully?
Susan: I am. You, Don?
Don: I am, ready to go.
Steve: All right, cool. Man, I’m excited about this one. We had this on the schedule, I feel like for a while now and I got a peek at the slides earlier this week. I’m excited. This is going to be a good session. And I just want to give you a little bit of context about the two presenters here. If you don’t know Susan and Don, definitely check them out. Susan has been doing her own fundraising consultancy since back in 2001. She has a consultancy called Resource Partners, check it out. She also co-edited “The Nonprofit Consulting Playbook” which is the topic of this session, so she definitely knows what she’s talking about. We’ve got the chance to chat earlier before the session. She let me know that she does a lot of coaching for aspiring consultants too which is really cool. And she has been a partner of Don’s for a few years here. They’ve actually both facilitated workshops on this topic before. You’ll definitely feel like they’ve done this before after listening to this session.
Don, a little bit about Don, he has been consulting since back in 1993. He’s worked in the government sector, business sector, and the nonprofit sector, and has definitely been helping sort of navigate aspiring consultants through the waters of their career. And these two have been working together since 2015. You might have heard a webinar from Susan a couple of years ago, she’s been in the Bloomerang webinar series before. She’s actually my first guest on our video podcast so it’s awesome to have Susan back. It’s been cool to get to know Don over the last few weeks because we’ve been planning this.
So I’ve already taken up way so much time blabbering on. I’m going to pass it off to these two to tell you all about becoming a nonprofit consultant, so Susan, Don, take it away, my friend.
Don: All right, Steven, thanks so much and thanks for all of you for joining us today. We have a real simple agenda. We’re going to address five questions that new consultants, aspiring consultants ask when they’re first getting started. And as Steven said, we’ve got a chunk of time at the end to really get into your questions, so I encourage you to put them in the chat so we can get some really good key questions queued up here.
So let’s get rolling here. So first of all, consulting is a personality and very personality-driven and personal business and really no matter what you hear about best practices and trends, your business is going to be a unique reflection of who you are, your goals, your strengths, and quite frankly your weaknesses. And so we really want to make that point right upfront because consulting really is I think unique even among service businesses that really we bring our whole selves to this.
So we hope that we’re going to take away some foundation pieces for the business that you’re planning to build or help you decide whether or not consulting is going to be right for you and on that point, we encourage you to stick into the full webinar because we’ve got a link to a startup checklist that comes right out of our launching your consulting practice, of course, our power planner piece for that course and sure that you’re going to want to get that downloaded if you’re really serious about looking at consulting. So we’re going to briefly introduce ourselves, so I’m going to turn the mike over to Susan.
Susan: Great. Well, thanks. As Steven said so well, Don and I have worked together for several years and we have over the years been peers and supervisors, mentors, and even workshop leaders for hundreds of new consultants now. So we’ve had a chance to be in lots of rooms with people and the new . . . the questions that you’ll hear today come directly from that experience. And it is pretty amazing after a while how similar all of our concerns are, and I’ll tell you every time I hear them it takes me back to my first years in consulting because these are some of the exact questions I had as well. So we’ll go through those questions, we will give you some answers I hope, and then have time for some questions again at the end.
So let’s just give you a very brief run down since Steven did such a great job introducing us, I’ll just say, again, quickly that when I started consulting 17 years ago I had lots of questions and you’ll see some of that reflected today. I was and still remain a solo consultant but I do partner pretty regularly with other consultants and subcontractors.
Even though Don and I spend a lot of time training new consultants now, we each both maintain our own consulting practices and I saw a couple of you in the chat box saying that you’re in freelance grant writing and that’s pretty much where I was 17 years ago. I’ve since transitioned slightly to helping organizations build their base of national foundation funders, and now I help clients not only secure funding but build organizations that are really capable of running well those kinds of mega grants.
So when I began consulting the resources were really slim especially for people in our sector. So one of my passions has been helping other consultants get off the ground let’s say a lot more smoothly than I did. It went fine for me, but boy, with resources like, frankly, some of the ones we’ll talk about today, things would have gone much more quickly. So with that, Don, I’ll let you introduce yourself.
Don: Great. Like Susan I started out too as a solo practitioner and I started as a former association executive so I had a pretty good network and so I ended up doing a lot of different things including five different assignments as an interim nonprofit CEO. But it wasn’t really until I niched down on executive transition to leadership succession, I started to feel like I had a real business.
And in early the 2000s I cofounded a firm that my business partner and I built into the seven-figure national practice. I sold my interest in that company to return to the freedom of being a solo practitioner. I missed all of the freedom of just, you know, calling my own shots, you know, even though I was a co-owner of the company, I started feeling a lot more like an employee than an entrepreneur and so right now I’m sort of in the encore career stage of my life.
As Steven said, Susan and I created our partnership in 2015 because we really wanted to help others find a sense of freedom and the contribution and quite frankly, the financial rewards that a consulting business can make possible.
So we’d would like to learn a little bit about you. If you’re on this webinar, you’re probably in one of three places, you know, exploring consulting as a business, maybe you’re actively planning to launch a consulting practice, or maybe you’ve got a consulting practice or consulting business already underway. Help us get a sense of where you are. Could you type into the chat–exploring, planning, or underway? Exploring if you’re just starting to think about it, planning if you’re actively planning, or underway if you’ve already launched your consulting business.
Wow, lots of exploring, some planning, some underway, great. Great. It’s been underway for three years, exploring, and exploring, underway, great. Great, great, great. That helps a great deal because it helps us, you know, kind of figure out where we want to emphasize things.
And sorry, I forgot to advance the slide there. We’ll keep going here. I do that on occasion. I get talking here and forget to do the clicks. So if you’re planning to be a solo business person or if you’re planning to work with a small group, you’ll be building a firm that’s really going to be based on your strengths and your personal preferences and your values and your motivations. So we really think it’s important to get all the questions out there that you can and with that, let’s get started with the top five questions.
And a quick reminder, if your burning question doesn’t get on this list or it doesn’t appear on our list, you’ll get a chance to ask that during the session but we have a feeling that at least a couple of your questions will show up in the next several minutes. And so now, question number one, and a drum roll please. Susan, take it away.
Susan: Thanks. All right, so here we go with the first of the top five in no particular order it’s worth saying. So the first question is, should I position myself as a generalist or a specialist? Something that we get asked quite often. So does this look familiar? Those of you who have begun consulting you might feel this way sometimes because this is a classic consulting dilemma. As a new consultant you may have days when you feel like the woman in the slide when you feel like you would do just about anything it takes to secure your next client. So it makes sense that you’re constantly toying with the idea of where your specialty or lack of specialty should lie. On those days that you feel that way, you know, you might also feel like you want to market yourself accordingly that being instinctively rather than planning it all out.
So when that happens, you know, you’re not really controlling your own marketing. It means that your business is controlling you rather than the other way around. So we want to give you a bit of a framework as to how to think about the way in which you position your business. You’ve got two doors here, right, the generalist and the specialist door, and what we recommend at least at the beginning that tends to work is to market yourself as a specialist and then practice selectively as a generalist.
What does this mean? Let’s first go narrow. So here’s the narrow cave for you. When you position yourself as a specialist in the market, the biggest advantage is that people are more apt to remember you and remember what is it you do. When they’re in need of someone with your services, chances are they’re going to know a very small number of people with your skill set. You’ll be very memorable.
So as an example, if I’m in a room full of nonprofit fundraisers, am I going to introduce myself as a nonprofit fundraiser? Probably not because otherwise how will anyone remember exactly what it is I do? I’m more memorable if I can highlight my work securing grants from national foundations, you know, the ones whose names we all know. Or I might talk about an outcome of that work that I help nonprofits scale their programs and serve more people, for instance.
By talking about and working in the space, the majority of my clients over the years have requested engagement where we do exactly what I just described. We still were working to selective large grants from mega foundations. Now, does that mean that I’ve never secured work on other types of engagement? Absolutely not, and I’d argue that there can be a downside to working solely in a very narrow specialty area at least for most of us and at least at the beginning.
So let’s now go wide with this view. Why might you want to examine your strength in a wider lens? First, assuming you’re doing your job well, the clients who’ve hired you as a specialist learn to trust you. Once they trust you, believe me they will ask you to do nearly anything. Those of you whose been consulting for a while can probably attest to that. I’m not saying that you could take on jobs that you’re not qualified to do but if you see a client need and consider yourself or an associate of yours an expert of that, at solving that problem, you may well go from advising your clients on say foundation solicitations to say advising on programs or coaching new development staff or facilitating fundraising strategy meetings. Those are all real examples of so-called generalist jobs that I’ve secured for the past six months and all of them were seated in my area of specialty. So hopefully that is making sense to you.
This idea of the author Pat Flynn calls skill stacking, and the benefit of having that kind of generalist backup gives you some advantages. You can do a little less marketing which is always a wonderful thing and that’s because current and former clients can hire you to do tangential work.
Number two, you become better at your specialty because you’re constantly studying as a generalist as well and that pushes you to know your field more broadly and better. And finally, your work stays interesting and that’s always a great thing as well.
So one word of warning to new consultants each new area that you pursue as a generalist will force you to create new tools and methods, so don’t take on too many generalist areas at once but, you know, a couple of at a time is usually a good way to go. And in short, it does pay to embrace your expertise so let’s . . . we don’t want to get away from that point.
If you want to get known by those in your field, you might informally come to be known as the “foundations lady,” in my case, or Don maybe the “executive transitions guy.” If that’s the case, then celebrate it. It’s great to be known for something and just don’t expect that to define 100% of your work. It’s a way to standout, to get known and to prove your mettle in the niche that you know best.
So with that, I’m going to turn it over to Don for our top five question number two.
Don: So our second question we get a lot is, where do I start with marketing? So first of all, let’s clear up some confusion about what marketing is. Marketing isn’t selling. We’re going to talk about selling in a moment here but marketing is everything that you do leading up to the sales process. Everything that you do to get prospects to your door. Sales is what you do after they’re there. And marketing isn’t just promotion. Marketing is some of the most important work that you’ll do to define who you serve, what you offer, and in particular what problems you solve.
So where do you begin with marketing? Well, really, in our course what we teach is start with, you know, looking at yourself and asking what expertise do I have, what is it that I can do better than anyone else and how does that translate into the services that I’m going to offer. And those are all really good questions, that’s a good place to start but ultimately, the real question is revolves around who you serve and the needs that you fill.
You know, marketing guru, Seth Godin says that think less about your marketing than you do about your market . . . let me repeat that. Think less about your marketing than you do about your market. Your services aren’t going to be for everyone. You’re going to appeal to a very specific set of somebody which is your ideal client.
So one way to kind of look at this and kind of really break it down into real brass tacks. In our [core business 00:18:32] we spend a lot of time helping new consultants define their ideal clients. And as you look at out a possible ideal clients, what you might want to consider is, first of all, what is it that they’re trying to accomplish. See that slice that says, “Emotions”? Everybody brings their whole self to their job and there’s a lot of, you know, mythology out there about, yeah, people make rational decisions. What science says is people make a decision with their emotions and then they rationalize it.
So we really want to pays close attention to, what is it that they’re trying to accomplish and what pain or gain do they want? What pain do they want relieved? What gain do they want to create for themselves? And then ask yourself, you know, what is that you can do to create that gain or provide some relief to that pain.
My work was executive transitions, and I trained a lot of our consultants over the years in our firm. And I told them like, you know, when that board member calls you and says if their executive director just resigned, you’re not in the executive transition business, you’re not in the succession planning business, you’re in the pain management business. They’re in pain, they want relief of that pain and that’s what’s driving their decision-making right now.
So help them, first of all, acknowledge that and help them focus on what we can do to relieve that pain. So your value proposition is a pain relieved or a gain created and a happily ever after that you’re creating to your clients, that’s difference that they’re experiencing in having worked with you. So one of the things we encourage you to do is to really envision one ideal client and here we’d like to do a quick exercise. Consider one of your ideal clients. Go ahead and think about one person whose organization you would love to work with and if you don’t know someone currently at that organization, imagine a representative from that organization. Have you got one in mind? Great.
Now, let’s consider what are they trying to accomplish that your services can help them with? What’s the pain that they’re experiencing or the gain that they really want and how can you help relieve that pain or create that gain? And finally, what difference would that make for them organizationally, professionally, and yes, emotionally? That’s really the questions that you want to think of when you’re thinking about your ideal client. Get those four questions down, pain, gain, what they’re trying to accomplish and how you can make a difference for them professionally, organizationally, and emotionally, and that’s what really wins the day when it comes to really connecting and that’s really what marketing is all about.
So the next step in the process after you’ve got your, you know, you got your services defined is to create and test your offer. There are a lot of consultants out there that kind of go out to the marketplace because they’ve done some strategic planning and, you know, hang a shingle out that they’re doing strategic planning. But, you know, after you’ve identified your customer and the pains and gains, then you really want to think realistically that you know there are probably multiple offers that you could put in front of them.
For example, let’s say your ideal clients is a nonprofit. It doesn’t have an up-to-date strategic plan, which by the way market research says that’s 55% of them. And your offer is really is to key into that, how your plan, how your work would be different and the offer that you can put in front, around that. It’s simply not a planning exercise.
[Remember 00:22:25] they’re going to resonate two different sets of pains and gains. There are going to be different sets of emotions driving their buying decisions. So our suggestion is to start off with one offer and test it with two or three people in your network and pay close attention what resonates with them. Whether you’re not, you’re touching on the right gain and the right pain points and by the time you’re going to be marketing to larger audiences, you’ll have dialed this in, you’ll be singing to chorus of perspective fans. So to understand their pain points and their needs in a way that naturally brings you together. Susan, back to you.
Susan: Okay. Well, I love the visual of this one. That was great advice, Don, for marketing. And marketing, in case you’re a little unclear about the difference, marketing in its simplest terms I think is a one-to-many activity. When you are talking to a room full of people or otherwise writing for a mass market and selling tends to be one on one and this is where people sometimes start to put their heads down and be a little shy about that.
So question three is, what if I’m not crazy about selling? We want to do a quick little poll to see exactly how crazy or not you maybe about selling. So again, in the chat, let us know on the scale of one to five with one being cool as a cucumber and five being scared senseless, how nervous are you about the selling that’s involved in consulting?
Let’s see, there are a couple of cool as a cucumber, a few fives mixed in as well, so as before we’ve got people a little bit all over the map. Great. Well, it’s good to know where people stand. It seems like we’re averaging probably around three as a group. So it’s whether you’re nervous or not and hopefully you’ll learn a little bit. We’re going to make this one a little bit brief but scare . . . you know, there are a couple of people who are scared senseless about this activity and it’s understandable. It seems uncomfortable, but I hope the information we give you here helps get you over that hump.
The good news is if you’re comfortable about bragging, about your achievements and becoming a know-it-all, you’ll be a consulting super star. Does that make you feel better? Probably not. And I’m kidding anyway, that was a joke.
In our experience, this is the stereotype right here of the consultant as a salesperson–loud, maybe aggressive–and that does work for some. But as with all things consulting, you really have to do what feels most authentic to you and if it makes some of you feel better, you’re hearing from two introverts today, so, and we both had long histories with our businesses at this point so it really can work for anybody.
So let’s forget about the stereotypes and it’s just really important that you keep authenticity in mind when you’re selling because you will tend to attract clients whose character traits are somewhat aligned with yours and that tends to make the relationship go better from the beginning since chemistry is such a huge part of consulting and frankly, a part that’s not talked about very often.
So confident selling tends to have these three components. Radiating authenticity as we just discussed, asking good questions which does take practice but really any of us can learn to do, and most important, listening. And it’s that third piece that I think a lot of people tend to overlook when they’re selling. They think they need to go out and talk about all the things that they’ve done whether in-house or as a consultant and really it’s the very opposite that’s true. I think in a way Don was just mentioning, the potential clients really want to first be heard. They want you to understand their pain points and only then can you start being effective as a consultant.
So let’s just say that . . . oh, we’re on to number four but I’ll say that we’re to admitted introverts. So I’ll just reiterate this. If you are yourself and your true self, you will end up attracting clients that are really well-suited for you and that you can maintain long term. So a little anticlimactic admittedly, but here we are at number four, Don, and this is the juicy one, so glad we’ve got some extra time for this one.
Don: Good deal. Well, we’re going to dig deep in this one but before we do, just loving some of the comments in here. Paul says, “Successful fundraisers know how to sell.” And let’s see, Jody says, “I enjoy selling. It’s so great.” But seeing a lot of fives in there as well. But rest assured, in fact, Susan and I did a webinar not too long ago on consulting for introverts. And that’s one of the things that we found is that you know here’s a whole lot of myths about introverts and selling but actually some of the most effective business people on this planet including the four richest Americans are introverts. So rise up you introverts.
So let’s get into what should I charge? It’s a question we get a lot and we actually think that there’s really is a big question and we hear of it a lot, so we’re going to spend a lot of time, a fair amount of time on this one. And we all want a magic number, but we think really a more empowering question really is, how can I set fees that work? And that’s what we teach in our course, it’s how to dig into that. We’re going to run through some of the highlights here.
So there are many factors involved in answering this question of how can I set fees that work. That really boils down to, first of all, really simple equation. You got a client with a need, a service that satisfies that need and being provided at a price that both the client and the consultant can live with. In other words, a fee that works. That’s the definition of a fee that works. So then the question is, well, how do you set fees at work? And our larger point in answering this question is to help you define your fees based on what you want to get out of your business rather than letting the market or client’s expectations dictate your fees by default.
Now, this is, I call this the $100,000 aha because this is a piece of advice I wished I had gotten, you know, at the beginning of my consulting career instead of several years into it. What we teach is our first step, the first step in setting fees that work is to pay yourself first. What do we mean by that? First of all, by figuring out how much you need to make your business work for you, to make it sustainable over the long term. This is a step that many if not most consultants skip. They dip their toe in the water, in the consulting water, kind of hope for the best and they’re really not strategic about determining the income that they need. So we’re going to walk you through some steps here that really can make a big difference in terms of your income and making sure that your business is sustainable.
In our workshops we walk participants through an Excel file that capture all the income, the goals, and what you want to make, your health insurance, retirement, everything, all of your projected business expenses and then we add a profit margin to that and all that tallied–your income, your expenses, and your business margin, your profit margin–establishes what we call the baseline. So labor there, that’s really what you want to get out personally, what you want to draw out of your business. You’re going to have some business overhead, you know, it’s usually pretty modest for, you know, consulting firms but there’s still really is some overhead . And for a lot of us, you know, folks in the nonprofit world, you know, we have a hard time, you know, putting that profit margin in there. But if you want to build for the future, you got to establish that profit margin.
So once you’ve established this, this is your baseline revenue number that you need to sustain your business. Then you need to turn that overall revenue number into some useful measures. Now, we don’t have time to get into, you know, kind of different billing methods. We’re just going to talk about two of them. So if you plan to bill mostly by the hour, then you want to divide that baseline number, that’s labor plus overhead plus profit, that baseline number by the number, a reasonable number of billable hours that you expect to bill in a year.
Now, you’re not . . . and starting out you’re not going to be able to bill all those numbers. That’s a different problem. That’s a marketing problem but what we want to do is we want to establish a baseline number hourly rate and, you know, if you [do 00:31:38] that, you know, all those three items there, divided by a reasonable number of billable hours in a year, you got your target hourly rate.
Now, a lot of us, you know, bill by . . . use a project fee approach where we charge a flat rate per projects and then your measure might be the total number of projects that you think that you could do in a year at an average fee level and that will . . . whatever it takes to get you to your, you know, that number that baseline number.
Well, why would you want to do that? Well, first of all, pay yourself first, otherwise, you’re not going to have a sustainable business. Second of all, it’s going to boost to your confidence off the charts. You’re not being blown by the winds of client expectations. You know, you’re steaming ahead knowing what your business really needs to make for you and what you need to draw out of it for it to work for you over the long term.
Now, the second thing to consider and this is your client’s perspective, you really want to understand your client’s . . . what’s going on in your client’s mind about the project. And now, you may be wondering why we’re starting with the client rather than the market, because back to that little Venn diagram that we started off with, to make a fee that works, that’s the decision that’s made by people. Markets don’t make decisions, people do. And so, you know, at this point, you know, you’d be home free. If you’re happy with what you’re charging, the client’s happy with it, you know, you’re home free. You could really stop there.
But markets can provide important information and let’s talk a little bit about that in a moment here but let’s dig in a little deeper on what your client’s perspective is. So the first question you want to ask yourself is, what do they have at stake here in this? What’s their level of concern surrounding their need or the problem or the issue or the desire that they’re asking you to address with your services? Back to those pains and gains and emotional drivers that we talk about earlier. So what do they have at stake? The higher the stakes, the more flexible they’re going to be on the fee.
Second question is what value did they place from the solutions that you offer? Is this really a slam dunk, you know, dovetails perfectly with their need? Again, they’re probably going to be a little bit more receptive to your fee negotiates then in that point.
Third, what do they . . . do they have any ideas about what they should pay for this kind of service? Now, that might be a notion about a going rate in their market or it could be a budget number that they’re working up against. You know, it’s like what’s going on in their minds about what they’re thinking about, what they should pay?
And the final or the fourth question is how do they perceive you? Is there a prestige or a credibility factor that’s working for you or against you? Are you up against the, you know, old hand? Are you the old hand in your market for this particular service?
So then back to the baseline, what happens then is you establish your client’s perspective and have a little bit of a sense of what’s their, you know, what’s the wiggle room here in your client’s perspective. If, you know, what’s going on in their mind that’s shaping their ideas about what’s an acceptable fee level? Now, if your baseline is below their expectations, remember your baseline is your floor not your ceiling. That extra profit margin up there in the green zone, that’s going to help you build your financial cushion just that much faster.
Now, if it’s below your baseline, you’ve got a challenge on your hand. You got a challenge to elevate your value in the eyes of, you know, so that fee level at least meets the baseline if not more. Back to those, what do they have at stake? What do they value? How do they perceive you? And what are the . . . do they have notions about what they should pay, and how can you then creatively, if they’re working up against the budget, you know, hard budget figure, how can you help them creatively meet that? Okay?
The next step in the process is really to look at what differentiates you which probably involves some [persuasive 00:35:57] and [inaudible 00:35:57] about what’s differentiates you from your competition. What makes your fee level worth so much more than the going rate for example.
Of course, to be able to make those points you’re going to need to do some market research which brings us to our third step in this, you know, in setting fees that work is to understand research and understand your market to thoroughly understand your market. You know, what’s the going rate for your type of services in your market? What’s the level of competition for those services and really the important point is what’s your competitive advantage? Again, a lot of us nonprofit folk don’t like to think about us having, you know, competition, but we do. The reality is that we do so you really need to be clear about what’s your competitive advantage.
So if this sounds like market research, you’re right. But market research really isn’t that hard to do. You know, the first few steps in market research are really ask your consulting colleagues. You’d be surprised how many people would be ready to talk shop with you and talk about how they bill and what they charge. And second, carefully review the websites of consultants who are your most likely competitors.
And third step in the process if I was starting out today would be talk to the key trade associations or professional societies in your ideal customer’s field. Oftentimes we’ve talked to our, you know, the folks in our fields and we can kind of get an echo chamber. You want to get out there. Once you find your ideal customer is really get out there in their world and talk to the people that they’re interacting with and the people that are knowledgeable about your ideal client’s situations.
And then obviously, the fourth thing really is to get out there and talk to, you know, perspective clients directly. Go to their trade association meetings, go to their conferences, you know, the receptions and luncheon tables at those meetings are a great place to do some market research.
So once you’ve done that, once you’ve established that we’ve added something else, another column to your, this baseline that we’re working against and to turn that into some talking points and differentiators that you can use in your fee negotiations like try to identify who your most likely competitors are and what they’re charging. Come up with four or five bullet points about what’s your competitive advantage. What are those differentiators? What makes you really different and special here in this process?
And then give some thought about how you might package your services to increase their value, which brings us to the final step in the process which is really decide what kind of brand do you want to create. So really, this is one factor that affects really all the steps that we just discussed in this four-step process and that’s the brand or the business that you’d like to create.
Now, this might be influenced by your income needs or the market that you live in or your experience in the industry or the field that you’re coming from or the things that you’re hearing from, you know, potential clients. But it’s really is coming down to are you upscale and exclusive or are you mass market? Are you Bentley or Buick, or Tesla or Toyota?
Now, obviously, the market that you choose is going to have its own sensibility about price and how the sense of value that they place on things and how you sell to them. But reality is you’re probably going to find yourself cycling through this. This is not a, you know, once and you’re done. This is a rinse and repeat process because as your business grows and you start gaining more intelligence, you’re going to start, you know, tweaking this and really dialing in on your market but really it starts with, first of all, identifying that ideal customer and then building your understanding around that.
So just a quick recap here, pay yourself first. Sorry, the slide is not moving here. There we go, okay. Pay yourself first, establish your baseline number and the measures that you can use to get to that number. Second, understand your client’s perspective. Again, if you can, you know, negotiate a fee that works for both of you, you’re home-free but you might be leaving money on the table. So the third step is really to research the market, and fourth, decide what kind of brand you want to create. Again, you’re probably going to find yourself cycling through these points as you’ve learned more about your market, gain more experience and gain more confidence as a consultant. And speaking of confidence back to Susan.
Susan: Thanks, Don. That’s a lot, I know, that Don just covered, so feel free to ask some follow-up questions if you like in the chat for our Q&A which is coming up momentarily. Again, we have some tools that take you into this on a much deeper level in our workshop but it’s a lot to think about and there’s more than just numbers as you can see that affects the price that you set. So thanks, Don. Those are some terrific insights.
And, you know, if you come away from discussions like that feeling, “Oh, my gosh, is this actually a career that I can tackle?” You’re not alone because after years of training new consultants around the country, one topic that comes up repeatedly and is not addressed directly in most tutorials in this field is this one about confidence. Almost without fail when Don and I do a workshop whether it’s online or in person, toward the end of the workshop when the trust among the group is really high, we tend to get someone who raises their hand and realizes this is my last chance to ask a burning question and what should I do if my confidence is not high and then there are lots of nods of agreements in the room. So you’re not alone if you feel this way.
And the question really I think is whether confidence is a prerequisite for this career choice. Every consultant’s confidence does waiver over time. We all feel great when things are humming along, and it’s fair to say that most of us question ourselves in the inevitable time when business is slow or we are unsure how to handle a situation that really might be unrealistic for you to feel confident, if you’re one of those who said earlier that you’ve not begun this consulting journey yet. And that’s completely understandable because you’re just getting started.
But, you know, I’ll say even for myself that after consulting for about two years, I was forced to nearly shutdown my business because I was recovering from surgery and I really did not have the confidence to think that my business would just spring back to life several months later. It was really heart-wrenching.
So I did have hope that I would get back to things but not necessarily confident, I’ll be honest about that. Yet, if the same thing happened today, of course, I would have much greater certainty that I could get things popping again. So it’s just to say that the more you learn and the longer you’re at this, the more confident you will feel. And you certainly should not expect to feel highly confident as a novice.
So we’ll just say quickly, we hope you feel a little relieved to hear that and there are people who are well into their consulting practices for those of you who, you know, there are several of you who said that you were far into your practices at this point who may not feel 100% confident. And I’ll just say quickly a friend and associate of mine who’s been consulting for 10 years recently went through a bout where her business really slowed significantly recently. And I saw her confidence plummet. She wondered if she should go in-house and then she really did the hard work of pounding the pavement doing a lot of marketing and one-on-one meetings with people and sure enough things did bounce back and she’s right back where she was.
But it’s all to say that this can really happen at any point and it really is a part of this career path as it is many career paths but maybe a little more prominent because many of us are soloists and don’t always have colleagues to share with.
So it’s important to know that as we started out thing today that you should just be your authentic self and when you build a business out of that authentic self you will find the ideal clients that will tend to keep you feeling good and feeling like they’re looking for consultants none other than you. So sure, over time you’ll want to polish things like your own presentation skills or conversation skills but, you know, really clients are attracted to people who do have chemistry with them. So it’s important to be your authentic self and that does tend to bring confidence.
Going back to my favorite slide in the presentation and in saying that if you take away one thing today, it will be that you really don’t need to fit this image. If you do, there’s nothing wrong with that but that it’s your authentic self that really is going to find a place in the market for your new business.
So keep in mind that deliberate practice is really what breeds confidence and we really hope that you’ll take that away today and it breeds confidence, it also breeds a lot of knowledge about where you should set your fees and how you should market and all of the things we talked about. So learning consistently is certainly a piece of this field. You’ve got to prepare well, remain a student of your specialty area, get better at some of those more tangential and generalist areas, and importantly, just learn to be a good consultant which means also being a good business person. A lot of us don’t think about it is that light as we begin. So we’re going to give you some more resources momentarily but let’s just recap where we’ve been today real quickly.
First to say that specialists are memorable, so think about your strengths and where you can specialize. Also think about your market not your marketing and that’s seeing, envisioning your ideal client. Third our little selling equation–that authenticity plus listening plus good questions–is really a terrific formula no matter if you’re a fundraiser and used to this kind of conversation or if you’re someone who’s been behind the scenes and is not so used to that whole selling equation. Setting fees that work is a work in progress and it is a process and there are lots of pieces to it. The good news is you can tweak as you go over the months and years. And finally, confidence blossoms with deep preparations.
So along those lines before we get to questions, a couple of resources, one that was promised to you, you’ll see here this is the home page from our website. So we want to tell you we set up a special page that is just for folks on this webinar. Our business that we use to conduct these webinars is goingsologoingbig.com, so if you go to goingsologoingbig.com/bloomerang, you’ll find the resources that we’re going to talk about quickly including the start-up checklist that we mentioned earlier.
We do also have our signature launch course which has received 4.8 out of 5 stars. We’re happy to say by the folks who have taken it over the years. It’s a four-week online course that covers the A to Z of starting a successful consulting business. And you’ll see the checklist that you get today has some pieces from some of those lessons so you’ll get a taste of what that looks like. But in short, Don and I walked you through what you need to know to turn your consulting, your current knowhow into what we like to call, consulting wow, and we’ll help you get off to a solid start.
So for those of you who have been at it for a while, it’s the same website address. You can also find information about our new offerings coming later this year for those who are already experienced consultants. These are going to be shorter online classes that are specific to people who have been at it for a while. So that said, let’s dive into your questions and I know there have been a lot of them. So I’ll turn it back over to you, Steven, to let us know where to go from here.
Steven: Yeah, awesome. Well, first, we owe you, both of you, Susan and Don, some thanks. That was an awesome presentation, great insights, and I’m sure everyone listening along would agree. Really good, a really good stuff here. I kind of feel like I want to become a consultant after listening to you two, but I probably won’t, don’t worry, but you inspire me regardless.
So, yeah, we have a lot of questions here. I’m just going to dive into ones that I thought were pretty interesting. Here’s one from Jessica that I thought was pretty interesting. Do you ever feel like you need to go back to working at a nonprofit kind of boots on the ground as a staff member just to kind of stay relevant? Susan, maybe, have you ever experienced maybe like, you know, you’ve been out of the game for a while, been consulting for a long time. Is there any thoughts to maybe going back into this sector just to kind of, you now, get used to how things are. Do you think that’s not something you had to struggle with?
Susan: It is a great question that Jessica asked and I’ll say that there are lots of consultants I know, well, I shouldn’t say lots. There are a decent number I know who intentionally go back and forth every several years between consulting and in-house because they want to keep themselves fresh or they miss the camaraderie of being in-house, both of which I think are great reasons to do it.
I’ll be honest, for me, I have not had the same urge in part because I think my business model is one of working with a handful of foundations at a time, I’m sorry, handful of nonprofits at a time and working with them deeply so I feel like I’m still learning a lot about the in-house experience even though I’m not in-house. If your business model is one that is a little more, has a bit of an aerial view if you do coaching or something where you’ve got lots more clients, that might be reasons to go in-house. There are lots of reasons to do it. So I haven’t personally but lots of people do and it is a terrific alternative.
Don: If I could chime in.
Steven: Yes. Go for it, Don.
Don: So I think, my own experiences I’ve learned a ton more I would say as a consultant every year, every day than I have as an executive director because you have, really, you have the whole world in front of you. And so my particular approach is, you know, every year I set up a certain number of growing edges that I really want to explore even at this seasoned age of 68, you know, my growing edges are storytelling and, you know, doing a better at marketing and selling and so forth. So, you know, I think you have a lot more flexibility to learn as a consultant and at least as I ever get as an executive.
Steven: Cool, it makes sense. Here’s one from Luisa. She’s 23 looking into graduate school and curious about maybe advanced degrees or certifications. Do you think an MBA or maybe a degree in nonprofit management would serve her better maybe one more than the other? What do you two think of sort of the advanced degrees in terms of, you know, helping you through this process and gaining credibility and gaining that knowledge?
Susan: I’ll be happy to take that since I got a master in nonprofit in management and the following year the program turned into an MBA.
Steven: There you go.
Susan: So you know in that regard they’re starting to look very similar to each other at some schools. Honestly, and I think Don got at this in his last answer. I think that when you’re a consultant and if you aspire to be a consultant, learning as much as you can is just the way to go in general. So, you know, I’d say, we say you might look specifically at the content nonprofit management degree might give you the nonprofit finance angle more than an MBA. You know the bent might be more toward the nonprofit sector. So if you’re sure that you want to consult in this sector, that might be a good way to go. But I think the degrees in general get at the same time information just with a different bent. So if nonprofit is it for you, go for it but I’d say the more degrees, certificates, books, webinars you’ve got at any age and stage, the better.
Don: Hey, Steven, I noticed earlier that there was a question about whether or not there’s going to be a replay and yes, there is.
Steven: Yeah, definitely. We will get you all the recordings and the slides, yes. Awesome. Here’s a pretty interesting one from Roger, and Don when I saw this question I thought of you immediately because of your background. Roger comes from the tech world, transitioned into nonprofit development and then tech consulting. Any advice for people who don’t come from the nonprofit world but maybe want to get into it, maybe if they come from the business world or maybe academia? Any advice there for making that transition versus, you know, coming out of a nonprofit?
Don: Yeah. In fact, let me tie it to the question that was raised earlier about how do you make that kind of leap from one skill set to another. I think I can answer both of those questions. So first of all, you know, Roger coming from the tech world you know of the phrase, the adjacent possible, right? And my corollary around that is the adjacent doable or the adjacent sellable in some cases. And so I think, you know, when you’re doing consulting work, you know, you really have to start somewhere with some set of accomplishments or some set of skills that you’re putting out in front of clients.
But then, you know, back to that growing edge idea that I’ve raised earlier, really taking a look at, “Well, what’s the next horizon that I would like to tackle?” So from my particularly case, you know, I’d started off primarily in planning, you know, as a consultant. I’ve been an executive director, I started off with planning. I got lots of requests around that and but then I found, really figured out a way to dial in on a much higher level of pain and higher level of gain by focusing on executive transitions that’s the high pain point, you know, for nonprofits.
So first of all, I’d start with where you are, you know, take a look at what you do, you know, if you got some tech skills, you know, start there and, you know, start to work around that and you could begin to branch out. And then, Susan, do you want to chime in on that as well?
Susan: No, I think you’ve got it covered. Great advice.
Don: Okay. Well, yes, so the earlier question had to do with, you know, what if starting . . . what if you’re coming from like grants to a consulting and can you . . . how can you branch out into boards or a strategic planning? Susan, I know you made that segue from and that you’ve actually written the book on, you know, board service for the genius and that really kind of offshoot of your fundraising work, right?
Susan: Yeah, you know, I think that initial idea about being a specialist, being a generalist, you know, and even down the list of things that you are currently studying, they’re all great models of how to keep learning and building skills. You know, we mentioned at the end of the webinar that you want to build skills that help you be a good business person, help you present yourself well, and, you know, and the tangents that these things can take you on are sometimes seemingly unrelated to your area of specialty but the beauty of having your business these days is that you can bring them back in in whatever ways you’d like. I mean when I worked on this book about board service it was really a passion of mind and then I spent a few years of my business really doing more work around board development than I had done before and it was just a wonderful divergent to take.
We talked earlier about going in-house but as a consultant you can bear your career in so many ways. I’ve taught at universities, written books on kind of little tours related to those books and therefore travelled more, taking clients in town, out of town and so your career is really what you decide to make it so this whole idea of skill building, it can be a real journey and it can be fun actually to let it take you to new places.
Steven: I love it. Well, there are a lot of good questions in here. I don’t think we’re going to have time to get to all of them but there’s one here that might be a good one to end on from Alex wondering how do you know when you’re ready to start consulting. It looks like they’ve been working in-house, just kind of been, maybe waiting for those signals or signs from above, whatever it is to know when to take that leap. When did you two know that it was time to branch out and do this?
Susan: Don, do you want to take that first?
Don: Well, you know, I think I came to the conclusion that at a certain point that I was unemployable, that I really didn’t . . . you know, to be honest with you, I probably shouldn’t say this, you know, in a recorded format, but I was really done working for boards or working for a board. But what do I do now? I work for boards constantly. So I think I’m really done being an employee and, you know, it really kind of hit home to me.
I took Gretchen Rubin’s assessment and found out that I’m a rebel through and through, you know, don’t tell me how to do it. I’ll do it myself. And so I think that was part of it. I think, you know, I think some of those tools can kind of give you insights. But you know what, ultimately, I think you put your bet down on yourself and, you know, you make that leap but make that leap informed.
And part of the one of the ways that you can help inform yourself, if you go to our website goingsologoingbig.com and put in the slash quiz . . . I think there’s actually a link on the menu. It’ll take you to a free quiz that you can take that Susan and I put together to take a look at the ten things that you need to have to be a successful consultant. Five you got to bring with you and five you can build along the way. So I’d just encourage you to take a look at that and, again, it’s free and get some little quiz.
Steven: Awesome, I love it. Check it out. Well, we’re out of time but . . . man, this is awesome. This is a lot of fun. So Susan, Don, thanks for taking time out of your day to share your experiences and your knowledge with us and I hope everyone was listening along got as much out of it as I did. So thanks, you two. This is awesome.
Don: Well, thanks and . . .
Susan: Thanks so much and those of you with additional questions feel free to go to our website and plug them in there. We’d be happy to chat with you to answer the questions that didn’t get answered yet.
Don: Absolutely, absolutely, more than happy.
Steven: Don mentioned it a couple of times and I’m really happy he did, succession planning is our next topic, really, really important. When Don said that it’s like one of the most important thing, he is right and you’re going to hear all about it from Andy Robinson next Thursday, so 2:00 p.m. Eastern, same time same place. If you don’t have any plans, come back and see it. And if maybe you’re not interested in that topic, I don’t know why you wouldn’t be, it’s a very important, you should check it out, but if you’re not it’s okay, there’s still a lot of other topics that we’re going to cover in our webinar series out into the future.
So visit that page. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see you again some other Thursday session that we’re going to be having. So we’ll call it a day there. Look for an email from me with the recording and the slides, I’ll get that to you this afternoon and hopefully we’ll see you again next week. So have a good rest of your Thursday, have a safe weekend, stay warm out there, and we’ll talk to you again soon. Bye now.