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How to Leverage Your Expertise with Intellectual Property with Erin Austin

June 21, 2021
Episode 16
The Recognized Authority Podcast Cover

The podcast that helps experts & consultants on the journey to becoming a recognized authority in your field, so you can increase your impact, command premium fees, work less hours, and never have to suffer a bad-fit client again!.

It’s not always obvious what intellectual property assets you have, or their value to you as a business. It could be a signature methodology, an audit process, or something as simple as document templates.

In this episode, Erin Austin and Alastair McDermott discuss how intellectual property can play a vital role in your business. 

They also discussed what it takes to go from being General Counsel in a mega corporation to running a solo practice.

Show Notes

Guest Bio

In 25+ years of practicing law, my service has included roles as general counsel, head of business affairs, and COO at large and small companies, including Warner Bros., Lionsgate, MGM, Teaching Strategies, and M3 USA Corp., a subsidiary of Sony. My experience as a lawyer and as an executive–at the intersection of business and the law–informs the elevated legal and strategic business advice I provide to my clients. I am passionate about using my expertise to create an economy that works for everyone. In my spare time, I clear brush on my farmette, search for the perfect gluten-free baguette (all leads are appreciated!) and play drums in a rock band.


clients, people, methodology, intellectual property, agreements, business, subcontractor, read, protecting, expertise, system, trademark, adult learners, work, legal, services, copyright, understand, website, professional services

Alastair McDermott, Erin Austin

Erin Austin 00:00

You need to make sure you understand all the things that are uniquely you. And then once we do that, then we figure out, what are the things that my clients seem to need again and again, that relate to my most valuable assets.

Alastair McDermott 00:25

Hello, and welcome to Marketing for Consultants. This is the podcast that helps independent consultants and subject matter experts to get more clients without having to beg for referrals or make soul-destroying cold calls. I’m your host, Alastair McDermott. Today I’m speaking with Erin Austin. Erin is a hugely experienced lawyer with more than 25 years of practice, as General Counsel, Head of Business Affairs, and COO of companies from Warner Brothers to Lionsgate to MGM teaching strategy, M3 USA, which is subsidiary of Sony. So huge experience in background in the corporate world. And also really interestingly, she plays drums in a rock band. So I’m fascinated to talk to Erin today. I know that she helps professional services firms to become scalable and saleable. So Erin, please, if you don’t mind, let’s talk about that. First talking about b2b professional service firms, which are the audience of this show. Can we just talk a bit about how they can become scalable and saleable businesses? What that means to you?

Erin Austin 01:22

Yeah, well, I want to just start with my company name, which is Think Beyond IP, which is to give us a broader look at how we think about IP, the role that it plays in our businesses, as professional services providers, that’s what I am as well, and and how that plays into becoming scalable and saleable. And so a lot of times we think of intellectual property in a very narrow way we think copyrights or trademarks, or patents, or you have to have software. And we don’t think about all the ways that intellectual property rights flow in and out of our services business. So and this will be a little bit US centric, I’m going to just warn you about that a little bit.

Alastair McDermott 02:05

Sure. Yeah, that’s okay.

Erin Austin 02:06

Yeah, that in the US and, and in the UK, as well. We have the copyrights, and trademarks, trade secrets, and patents are the forms of intellectual property. And what intellectual property does is it gives you a monopoly on your ideas. So once they have been put in the appropriate form of expression, whether it’s in writing or through registration, or through other types of production, then you get the exclusive use of that idea. And so if we look at, how do we scale? And how do we come attractive for sale? What people are looking at is, what do you have, that nobody else has? And and how do we use that in a way that we can leverage. And so I’m going to start with the scalable, and so we want to grow, but when we’re professional services providers, maybe we think, well, more bodies, means more growth. And yes, we can do more work, and therefore we can get more revenue. But we’re still doing it in the most labor intensive and expensive way, which is either our expertise more of our hours, or hiring someone else who has similar expertise, and more of their hours, which is obviously going to grow, but not scale. Because scaling means that you are growing in a way that leverages your expertise. So you’re decoupling it from your time,

Alastair McDermott 03:38


Erin Austin 03:38

And even your effort. And so in order to do that, then we need to deliver it in another way other than just selling our time. So IP plays in is in that way, develop either a system, a methodology, or it could be a course, a book, a membership community, these are all ways that we can develop something, those all qualify as IP, all ways that we can deliver our expertise in a way that does not require us to trade our time for money. So that’s how we can scale growing with leverage.

Alastair McDermott 04:19

Right, right limit, okay. So basically, systems and methodologies sound to me, like ways of stating a process or a toolset that you have to approach a problem. A book can be describing those obviously, a course that is helping people to work through those, and then a community. That’s an interesting one, I hadn’t thought about community in terms of intellectual property. So what’s the first step if somebody is interested in leveraging their expertise? You know, they’re they’re a subject matter expert, they have true expertise in their area. So they’re probably easily able to write a book if they have the time, assuming they have the time to do it, or you know, to create a course they already have that knowledge. But what’s the point process of taking that knowledge that’s kind of unconscious in the back of their head this this expertise, and then turning that into a system or methodology?

Erin Austin 05:08

Well, I think there’s a couple of steps. One is to understand like what you already have. And some of us don’t even realize that we sign these agreements with our clients, we sign these agreements with subcontractors, if you use them without even understanding what rights am I giving away to my, my clients? What rights am I getting from my subcontractors, and making sure that we’re protecting them? And so I think that’s step one, kind of doing an audit of what right flow in and out of my company, and which ones are the most valuable? You know, I’ve talked to professional services providers know, consultants are like, Well, I have my website, my websites, my valuable IP, and like, it’s not like, absolutely, like, literally nobody cares about that. Unless you’ve done it, of course. No one’s like, that’s not why clients hire you. Because, you know, they, because of literally because of, of the value that they find on your website, you know, right, it is things like that they don’t think of the things that are in their head, as their most valuable, valuable stuff. So we want to, they might not think of their you know, thought leadership, like maybe they are the president of their association that applies to you know, if you’re a consultant, and you’re president of your local, you know, consulting group, or you are a designer, and you have presented, you know, special materials for others in your in your industry. So, you need to make sure you understand all the things that are uniquely you. And then once we do that, then we figure out what are the things that my clients seem to need again, and again, that relate to my most valuable assets. And so from that we can think about, you know, what do I have, that is unique to me, or at least is harder for other people to get than what I’ve already gotten, and is common to all of my clients, at least my best clients are the ones that I want to work with the most. And what can I do to create a solution for them, that doesn’t have to be all the way but this gets them partway to where they want to be. So whether it is it could be something that gets them all the way, such as a signature methodology that gets them from A to B, it could be some sort of audit process that gets them to A but not to F, it could be a course that may get them partway or all the way there. And so it will depend on the nature of the services that you provide your clients are and what your unique advantages are. But it starts with an audit, looking at your clients, looking at the problems that they all have in common. And what you can do, that gets them somewhere along their journey to get to where they want to be.

Alastair McDermott 08:04

Okay, so. So you start by auditing what you’re doing for your clients, the problem that you’re solving and thinking about what you do to solve that problem, what that problem is, and what the steps are that you take. And as a result of this audit, you know, you’ve got a, you’ve got a list of the things that you do. And you say, Okay, I’m thinking about turning this now into a system, I have a business called Website Doctor. Let’s say I have a system that I use to build a website from scratch talking to a client to finished website. And I want to make a system or methodology out of that, what would I do next?

Erin Austin 08:41

Well, you need to put all that down somewhere. So if you don’t have an already systematized it in some way, the first thing that you want to do is systematize it. So I mean, there are some software that does that. But you wouldn’t need to use a software and make sure you go through like, what’s the first thing that happens with every client? What’s the conversation that I have? What materials do I want them to provide to me? How do I brainstorm? What templates do I already have that I’ve been starting with over and over again? What do I know about my favorite clients are? Well, you mean, your clients are very specific consultants. But if say you’re a web designer who worked with a variety of industries, what are the things that I see again? And again, when I’m working with you know, accountants, and then kind of see where you know, that Venn Diagram where they all intersect, what is the sweet spot and then put those in, you know, put the process together so that then you can train someone if you want to do or you can just make your own services more efficient. Let’s say you just want to be a solo. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a solo. But the way we leverage your time as a solo is through that system. So you’re not thinking you know, from scratch every single time.

Alastair McDermott 09:55


Erin Austin 09:55

And I will say that I have 100% then then guilty of this, now I do complex commercial transactions. So there is some difference among a lot of them. But also there’s a lot of similarities. And it’s all up here. And so every time I am looking at agreement, I’m literally like plucking it out. But I really could have, you know, a system that says, okay, every time I’m looking at something like this, I need to make sure it has all these things in it. And I need to make sure it doesn’t have any of these things in it. And if it has this, then I know I need to do that. I could absolutely 100 even a complex agreement. I could have a system that could get me through that instead of me kind of plucking it out of my head every time. And that would.

Alastair McDermott 10:45

Right. Okay. Yeah, yeah. And this sounds quite a lot like what Michael Gerber talks about in the E-myth about, you know, having SOP documents, standard operating procedure documents, and checklists and things. And, and actually, this is something that I do, and I have one full time employee, and I’ve got a lot of contractors who I work with, on a regular basis. And we do have SOP documents, which are a checklist of the steps that we go through. And I use these myself as well as sharing them with with people I work with. Because otherwise, there’s just so many details that you start to forget or you know, you’re kind of re-learning what you’re doing. So, so let’s say these SOP documents, and the ones that I have are in Google Docs, mostly. And there are a tax checklist, sometimes with some screenshots in there. Is that the type of thing that you’re talking about? Is that the type of thing that could then be used to base this this methodology around?

Erin Austin 11:44

Yes, well, I mean, having the system is the methodology, it gets elevated to intellectual property, again, under US law, when we make it a trade secret. And that means that we’re doing things to protect it from disclosure, when we have our employees, they’re signing agreements to not use it. Otherwise, when we have subcontractors, they’re assigning agreements not to disclose it. Otherwise, we’re protecting it in a way we don’t leave it sitting on our desk, when we go home at night, it’s you know, someplace that is protected. And to the extent you have to share it with clients, you know, you shouldn’t have to share your methodology with them. But there might be some times like if it’s data or something, that you do share it, that you are also getting confidentiality agreements from them, and promises not to reuse limitations on how they can use it.

Alastair McDermott 12:35


Erin Austin 12:36

Destroying it when they’re done. And that’s how you get trade, secret protection and trade secrets are protected as intellectual property.

Alastair McDermott 12:45


Erin Austin 12:45

And a lot of times people, you know, they get their NDA and they get the confidentiality, but they don’t kind of understand at the end of that is not just a contractual agreement. But intellectual property law protection. And that’s why are MBAs are so important. And that is how it elevates it from just your methodology to intellectual property. Right. But then the next step behind that would be if you were to brand it in some way. So you had the you know, Dr. Website, you know, exclusive methodology that, that then becomes part of your branding, and in part of your, your sales process as well. So it’s not just how you do it, but also how you sell it.

Alastair McDermott 13:32

Yeah. Now, if on the one hand, we’re talking about protection, and destroying copies and calling it a trade secret, obviously, we can’t actually put this in a book or a course then, right?

Erin Austin 13:41

That’s correct. That’s correct. trade secrets do not go and book.

Alastair McDermott 13:45

Right. Sorry, I just had to clarify that. Yeah. So so so where’s the crossover line there? Or what? When do you use one? And when do you use the other? When do you say I’m gonna put my methodology in a book and sell that instead?

Erin Austin 13:58

Yeah, well, I, I would say, depends on the on the how easily it can be replicated. So there may be a methodology that you don’t want to put in a book, but maybe you want to put it into a training or certification program. So if you want to train others, the training the trainer type of system, so you can, you know, you have your system of doing Websites for Consultants, and that you can put together a system and then you can, and that would be copyrighted, and then you would use that as training materials for other designers who want to learn your method. So…

Alastair McDermott 14:37

Right. Okay, and that is not a trade secret, then that’d be that’d be a system that you have basic copyrighted.

Erin Austin 14:44

Correct, correct.

Alastair McDermott 14:45

Yeah. Okay. And the one I’m thinking of there is an author called Michael Port, he wrote Book Yourself Solid, and he has all of these coaches who he has trained in the Book Yourself Solid system, and then they are Book Yourself Solid certified coaches. And so That’s that’s what he’s doing there. Right.

Erin Austin 15:01

Correct. Yes. Some do that value builders as doing that, you know, John Warrillow. There are a number. Yes, it’s it is that that getting that certification is become a way for people that help sell their services and provides a framework for them helps them with some level of differentiation. Obviously, you’re not getting exclusive use of that certification because other people have it as well. But but it does have value in that way. For sure.

Alastair McDermott 15:09

Super. Okay. Okay, so there’s a lot here. And I just want to mention, I do have my own war story or my own cautionary tale from back when I started in 2007, which is 14 years ago, and now and I made the mistake in 2007, of hiring a subcontractor without a contract. And basically, we just we just went with it. That was a first year in business. And I was very naive. The mistake that I made was that we worked on a project and at the end of the project, the client asked me to assign copyright to them. And, and so in order to do that I needed the subcontractor to sign copyright to me so that I could assign it to them. And the subcontractor refused without getting paid more. And so I wasn’t able to give copyright to the client for the work that we had done. I was able to get them licensed to use, but no copyright ownership. And that was because I hadn’t done that. And it was very embarrassing. It damaged my relationship with the clients.

Erin Austin 16:06


Alastair McDermott 16:26

Because I wasn’t able to do that. And so the next thing I did was, I went on, I found a solicitor as we call them here. And we put together a pretty a pretty comprehensive subcontractor agreement, which I still use to this day.

Erin Austin 16:49


Alastair McDermott 16:49

So yeah, no, I mean, I know that people are listening to this and thinking, Oh, geez, you know, like, do I really need all these contracts and stuff. And I try and keep the the legal language to a minimum. But I still think that it is important to have to have those in place. So yeah, I’ve been there done that, but bought the T shirt.

Erin Austin 17:09

Yeah, exactly. And it doesn’t need the legal language does not do need to be super complicated. There are some magic words, you know, like work for hire and assignment and licensed that are, but they’re not treatises. And and so once we have those words in there, it does exactly what you need to do.

Alastair McDermott 17:28


Erin Austin 17:29

It sounds like in your example, that your client agreement came a little later than it should have to maybe.

Alastair McDermott 17:37

Yeah, it probably did. And all I can do is say, I’m now older and wiser. Yeah, now I’ve had the had the corners knocked off in in 14 years. But yeah, know, I was bright eyed and bushy tailed, and very naive.

Erin Austin 17:56

So I’m just in case we got a little lost because I that, you know, we talked about scalability, and we never quite went to the saleability. I don’t know if we’re right.

Alastair McDermott 18:05

Oh, yeah. Yeah, sure, please. Let’s talk about that a bit.

Erin Austin 18:08

All right. So so when we get to the end of the line, I mean, so many people, if you ask them, What do you think, professional services writers? What do you think you have that is unique to you that nobody has this is your competitive advantage. And they will tell you their expertise, which may be the case, although I’m guessing other people kind of know, something that they know, too. And but at the end of the day, if you want to sell your business, Guess how transferable your expertise is

Alastair McDermott 18:38

Not a whole lot.

Erin Austin 18:41

Unless you want to go into business, but even then they’re like,

Alastair McDermott 18:43


Erin Austin 18:43

So there’s not I mean, you’re there’s not going to be any interest there. So that is why it’s so important to have these assets that are separate from yourself that can be transferred. I mean, at the end of the day, when someone wants to buy your business, they’re buying the future, right? They’re not buying the path. And the future has to be something that doesn’t involve you doing it. It has to be a system, intellectual property, something that is transferable and that they can generate revenue with after you’re gone. So that is that is why when people like services businesses are unsaleable. Like some people just say that flatly, but they’re not. So long as you have figured out a system that it can work without you. And that really is the key can your business work without.

Alastair McDermott 19:28

Right? And I think that’s a good place to try to get your business to even if you have no intention of selling because it, it forces you to put good systems in place. And it’s what helps you step away from the business with the whole thing collapsing around you like passcards so if you want to go on vacation for a bit, yeah.

Erin Austin 19:46

Yeah. I honestly I will say that I was just having this conversation with someone about the last time I had a no contact vacation and the answer is never.

Alastair McDermott 19:59


Erin Austin 20:01

And I’m like, Okay, this is this is on the schedule for.

Alastair McDermott 20:05

I can’t remember the last time for me it was 2009. So we want to figure out what do we have that that no one else has that that’s unique to us? And that’s hard to figure out. Have you? Have you got a way of helping people with that? Because like, I know that, you know, when I think of my business, and I try and figure out, you know, what does genuinely nobody else have? It’s a really hard question to answer. Right, you know?

Erin Austin 20:31

Well, the question the answer to the question is that intellectual property, whether it’s whether it’s all the way in the form of a true, like, branded solution that you get a trademark on form, it’s one that just protect as a trade secret, or one that you make public, like a training, like a training course. So these are all ways you create a monopoly like, that’s the way you create a legal monopoly is through intellectual property. And that’s how you have something that nobody else can get. Because it’s yours. And yours alone. You own it. Completely.

Alastair McDermott 21:06

Right? Right.

Erin Austin 21:07


Alastair McDermott 21:08

Okay. And there’s something you mentioned there a couple of times, I just want to talk about you talk about branding, and branding, the methodology or branding the system or process? Can you can you tell us a bit more about that?

Erin Austin 21:21

Yeah. So let’s say you have a methodology for developing websites, and you call it you know, the, I’m not an expert. When I hear I should have had one ready, the, you know, supersonic website design system, and and that, you find that you look in the US copyright trademark office, and you see, Does anyone else have a web design service called the supersonic service, and it’s available, and then you get a trademark in it, and then you get the little our thing next to the name of it, and therefore nobody else can use that, that. So supersonic web design is just yours, nobody else can use that no one can infringe on that they can’t do something similar, like Special Sonic or, you know, Really Sonic. And so you are you have exclusive rights to use that brand in connection with your services.

Alastair McDermott 22:26

Right. Okay.

Erin Austin 22:27

Great. Mark does for you.

Alastair McDermott 22:29

Okay, and so we have that branded? I mean, is that all it is? Or is there is there more to it than that? is is is it just about coming up with a brand, you know, a brand name to associate with that particular methodology, and then trademarking it.

Erin Austin 22:43

Well, that question, well, it doesn’t, it doesn’t address the issue of is it valuable to your clients? And is it a good process or? Yeah, you know, does it work, and how you actually sell it if you’re successful in marketing it. So it is the mechanics of it, but it is not the effectiveness, like you don’t suddenly get a homerun, because you can trademark something, you still have you still have to run all the bases before you get there.

Alastair McDermott 23:18

Sure. So I just want to switch gears or maybe it’s a continuation, you have what you call the GIVE, the give framework? Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Erin Austin 23:30

Yes, thank you for that. So I am kind of the prototypical professional services provider who provided undifferentiated legal services, who needed all the things that we’re talking about today. And so yeah, so the give framework is my proprietary methodology, where I take professional services writers through the steps we’ve talked about, now the G is stands for the “good” that we want to do with our businesses. And to me, that was important, because most of us, especially if we kind of work for ourselves, there’s some like greater purpose that we have about why we’re doing this, if we really just wanted to make some income, there’s easier ways to do it. Right?

Alastair McDermott 24:11


Erin Austin 24:11

Just get it knob and do it. But there’s something we want to build, you know, either Well, for our families, or we want to have, you know, something, leave a legacy of some kind or have a greater impact than you can have as an employee. And so I like to keep that in mind. Because what we do is hard it is, it is hard. And so keep in mind, like what the prize is at the end of the work that we’re doing.

Alastair McDermott 24:33

Yeah, some kind of mission.

Erin Austin 24:34

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. The I is the “inventory,” which we talked about. Let’s take an audit of all the things that are our competitive assets, which are those things that are either unique to us, or that we have that are difficult for other people to get. So those might be things like in the US, a top top secret security clearance, or if you have some other type of designation, that’s hard to get but not exclusive to you. Or the things that kind of everyone might have like a lot of gray. And and, and then those are our competitive assets. And then our liabilities are things like unsigned subcontractor agreements. So we look at, okay, where do our assets line up against our liabilities, and kind of the difference it to me is, those are our competitive advantages. So that’s the inventory section of looking at where we stack up. Then the V is to “value protection.” Like if we want to scale, if we want to sell, we need to make sure we’re protecting those things that are competitive assets. And so for me, that’s I provide the legal foundation to make sure that you’re protecting the value that you’re building. And that includes agreements that includes helping putting those SOPs in place. And if you do have something that should be registered, then do that as well. And then the E is in “evolution” and evolution from justice services provider who’s doing the time for money thing. It’s someone who’s providing a solution, and that is developing that IP that we use taking everything we’ve learned, and understanding our client, understanding the problems that they have, what can we develop that will help them that’s intellectual property and therefore unique to us, that can help us help our client but also allow us to scale in a leveraged way. And then at the end of the day, when we’re ready to go out and make, you know, leave our legacy, hopefully, to be able to find a buyer for it. So yeah.

Alastair McDermott 26:43

Okay, cool.

Erin Austin 26:45


Alastair McDermott 26:45

Okay. So you’re in this in the software world, you reading your own dog food, you’re using your own methodologies using that way. Yeah.

Erin Austin 26:53

Exactly right.

Alastair McDermott 26:55

Okay, cool. Not a particularly nice image. That’s what they got. So, okay, so what are the mistakes that consultants and b2b service providers, what are the mistakes they typically make in this whole process?

Erin Austin 27:10

Yeah, I mean, we’ve talked about a few of them, but it’s absolutely not having contracts in place, we don’t have products, you know, an inventory, we have what’s in our brains. And in order to protect them, we need to make sure that we’re not giving away any of those rights that we need to keep for other clients. So one of the things that I see a lot are not understanding the restrictions regarding competition and our agreements, like we will see, you know, especially if you’re in the marketing, business, market research, where you’re working on, you know, products that haven’t even been put out yet, your clients will be have very sensitive information that they’re sharing with you. It’s not just about confidentiality, but they don’t even want you doing work with other people that maybe they’re their competitors. But we know that if we want to have a niche, we have to work with competitors, we cannot be prevented from creating, nurturing, working with those competitors. And it is so frequent, that I see restrictions on that and agreements. And if you’re not reading to the back, I’ve seen it and hidden all over the place. If you’re not reading those, you can get yourself in some trouble. And and that same could apply with respect to employees, depending on how small your your market is. You could you know, prevent yourself from you know, if you I like to say this, if you gave what this client is asking from you to every single one of your clients. Who could you ever work for again? Who could you ever hot here? What could you do? Like how quickly are you basically out of business, when you keep like restricting the ways that you can grow? And so kind of ask yourself, when you’re looking at these types of restrictions, what would happen if I gave it to everyone and you really need to kind of make a decision about whether this opportunity is so big that you’re willing to forego all the other opportunities it cuts you off from. The other is not having a differentiator. You know, we want to be all things to all people, people get very nervous about, you know, cutting off any possible clients, but especially if you are small, I’m gonna assume that our audience is small, the smaller you are, the more important your differentiator has to be. And so, you know, kind of the levels of you know, how to differentiate better than it but as a lawyer intellectual property, is the ultimate differentiator. You know, I say like, you know, the bronze level. And some people might argue about this, the bronze level might be your specialization.

Alastair McDermott 29:46


Erin Austin 29:47

No, your silver level is your niche, your skald level is your positioning, and the platinum is your IP. And that’s like you got that stores and I

Alastair McDermott 30:00

Love it. Okay, yeah.

Erin Austin 30:01

I like it for that for that as well. And then the other thing is know, when you have a workforce that could be mobile, or you’re using contractors, just making sure you are having those confidentiality agreements in place, and just making sure that you’re controlling who’s, who can use what, when. That’s yours.

Alastair McDermott 30:25

Yeah. Yeah. And if you’re in Europe have GDPR covered as well.

Erin Austin 30:29

Yes, exactly, exactly.

Alastair McDermott 30:33

So, okay. There’s another thing that you’ve done that I think a lot of our listeners be interested in, which is, you’ve gone from General Counsel and COO of these kind of mega mega corporations, to running your own business. And can you just tell us a little bit about what took you to make that decision and how you found that journey, because it’s a journey a lot of people either have made or are just about to make, and it can be quite scary.

Erin Austin 31:01

It can be and honestly, it was a buyout that pushed me out the door. Finally, you know, it was one of those things where it’s hard to let go of, you know, the security of and certain status of being in house. And and then this was 2003, when Lionsgate was buying the production company that I worked for then, and, and, you know, I had an opportunity to stay, and I’m like, or I can take the buyout and make this make the break. And, and so I did. So for me, being able to kind of get that kind of thing. A little shot on the Mac, was really helpful. But having done it, I mean, I could never I’m not gone in and out over the years, I had a friend who had a start up and I went in, and you know, what’s his GC and COO. And then I had a client who was a whale client, which is if we talk about failures, that would be my main failure is having in a whale client that I went in house, you know, part-time with for a while as well. So I’ve been in and out over the years, but I’ve always had my own practice as well alongside of it. And, and, you know, I have gotten clients the way that so many of us do, we first go out, it’s with the people that we work with, in house.

Alastair McDermott 32:22


Erin Austin 32:23

My first client was my old boss, Mike, one of my current clients, which is how old I am. One of my current clients is now a VP at MGM, who started as my assistant. Last girl. And now I was like, Okay, I guess that means I’ve been doing this for while. Exactly. He’s trained, right? Yeah, so it’s all about those relationships.

Alastair McDermott 32:56


Erin Austin 32:57

But you know, you as you know, you need to grow out of those relationships at some point as well.

Alastair McDermott 33:02

Right, and, and start to develop your marketing in another way, like appearing on podcasts and things like that.

Erin Austin 33:09

Right, exactly.

Alastair McDermott 33:10

Well, let me just ask you briefly touched on because it’s question I ask almost everybody on the podcast is about the failures that they’ve experienced and what they learned from. You mentioned whale clients. But so you were running your business, you had multiple clients, and then you took on a whale quite near you lost a deal? Is that your clients? Is that how it went?

Erin Austin 33:30

No, no, unfortunately. I mean, I think I’ve been super lucky. I’m just going to say that right, right off the bat, I have had women I’ve had well, clients coming out from the gate.

Alastair McDermott 33:40


Erin Austin 33:40

You know, I had big clients that were former employers, referrals from from people who I worked with before. And, and it, it’s easy, I mean, it’s really easy as a solopreneur, when you have all the work that you need to do what you need to do to go out and get more clients. Right? Like, why would I do that? That just means I have to work more. Right? And so and so I would say that, you know, my failure is just becoming really comfortable with those well, clients, three, well, clients are all just one but three, but that, you know, losing any one of them would be a third of my income. Right. And, and developing, you know, even developing the skill set that’s required to move away from those well, clients, those referral clients.

Alastair McDermott 34:27


Erin Austin 34:28

And so that is been a process for me.

Alastair McDermott 34:31

So it’s when you have those big clients. I mean, the the problem, I think that you’re talking about here is you kind of lose that marketing muscle, it kind of withers away because you don’t need to do it. And you start to get this dependency. The other thing that people talk about with well, clients is where you start to be treated like an employee, by the client because you do so much work with them. And this is typically when you only got one big client but depends on your relationship with them, but did that happen as well? Or is that?

Erin Austin 35:02

Absolutely is I I have never, you know, even before ditching hourly was a thing. I just never, it never made sense to me like, because I would people would come to me with like, Can you just look at this thing and I can look at it would take me an hour, but like, why would I do all of all this intake and getting to know that person or to build them for an hour, you know, so I kind of got away from that type of work early on. And so I build a you have a retainer based business, mostly, I’d have one client that I do project based work with. But on the retainer ones, it’s very easy to be treated like an employee, especially, you know, after long periods of time, and I think some people might even recommend that you put like a cap on amount of time that you you do an arrangement like that. But, but no, it’s all about that scope of work. And having really clear not just what’s involved, what’s not involved, like, you kind of know the stuff that’s gonna come, you know, like, mine won’t be like, Oh, can you you know, like outside? Like, I don’t, I don’t supervise outside counsel for them.

Alastair McDermott 36:06


Erin Austin 36:06

And but they’ll ask me questions about that, or, you know, like, well, if it wasn’t for one, you know, like, you know, no, I don’t know, because of our limited scope agreement. I actually don’t know. So you just have to, you got to really have those firm boundaries, and you can’t be afraid. I mean,

Alastair McDermott 36:24

Yeah, we don’t let the scope creep. Yeah.

Erin Austin 36:26

Yeah. I mean, I definitely suffered from the I want to be so helpful. I don’t want to say no, but the but generally, I found that the client, like they kind of know, when they’re overstepping. And then there’s hoping you’ll say yes. And that they know, they’re like, okay, you know, I’ve never heard I’ve never had one come back and say, Oh, come on, just just do it for me, because they’re asking me to work for free. Right. Like, who does that? You know? And I’m saying this needs

Alastair McDermott 36:54

A lot, a lot of people. Particularly in the web design, industry, a lot of people will will do you know, just this one free thing. Yeah, it’s it’s a big, it’s kind of endemic in the creative industry. But so,

Erin Austin 37:10

So clear. It clear, very clear both what’s in and what’s excluded.

Alastair McDermott 37:14

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, for sure. But again, it comes back to contracts and agreements and scope and things. So I’m always interested in asking people, do you have a favorite business book?

Erin Austin 37:25

Oh, well, I just finished. David C. Baker’s the “Business of Expertise.”

Alastair McDermott 37:33


Erin Austin 37:33

Which I thought was fantastic. Yeah, I’m a huge fan of that one. I’m trying to think of the one that I read recently that I, I know it’s over there. And I can’t see around my my light ring. But yeah, but “The Business of Expertise” is currently my…

Alastair McDermott 37:57

Yeah, that’s, hopefully I’ll have David on the on the show sometime soon. Yeah, that’s one of my favorites. I love everything that he publishes. And in fact, coming up to the pandemic, back in March of last year, he was running some really fascinating webinars, kind of preparing people for you know, what was to come really kind of prescient stuff. And yeah, anything he puts out, I follow it. What about fiction? Did you have, do you read fiction books?

Erin Austin 38:29

I do. I you know, I was one of those people who swore they never give up their paper books. I have a very large library of first editions and, and but you know, I eventually just gave in. And so for my fiction reading, it’s almost exclusively, you know, either ebooks or audiobooks. And I tend to read mysteries. I like mysteries.

Alastair McDermott 38:55

Any particular favorite author or book.

Erin Austin 38:58

Well, you know, I have probably read everything by Michael Conaway, I would say, yeah, which you know, has some legal stuff, some police procedural?

Alastair McDermott 39:10

Do you break down in tears when he read how awful the legal stuff is in these things? Or is it the curse of the expert, when he read is like,

Erin Austin 39:19

Well, you know, because I’m not a litigator.

Alastair McDermott 39:22


Erin Austin 39:22

Some of it is a little bit new to me, frankly, you know, but I’m sure if I was right, I’d be more.

Alastair McDermott 39:28

Yeah. So tell me about the drumming. So what’s the name of the rock band?

Erin Austin 39:39

It is Mostly Harmless.

Alastair McDermott 39:43

That is very, that is very geeky Douglas. Adams reference. Okay.

Erin Austin 39:51

And, and it came about I am an adult learner and the other band members are mostly adult learners as well. But it happens because my son, I’ve got a 14 year old. So this was two or three years ago, and he and his pals wanted to do a band. And I really, really did not want him to play the drums. I wanted him to play the bass guitar because nobody wants to play the bass guitar. And, and but he really wanted to play drums. So we get a drum kit. So we got a drum kit in the house. And then some of the moms were like, well, we should do a Mom Day. And then we would just play the drum, the instrument that our kids played, of course, he doesn’t get new. So that meant I became the drummer. So all the moms like Yeah, yeah, we’re gonna do it. And so the lesson that was contiguous to my son’s came open with his drum Inspector, so I jumped on it so that, you know, I like to go over there once a week, and I’d have to go. And so I’m doing my thing. And I’m like, Come on girls, you know, and like, Oh, I can Oh, my arthritis. Oh, so none of the other moms did it. I’m the only one who does it. And the owner of the Rock School says, I got a band for you. I’m like, fine, I’ll just learn like, whatever. You know, it’s fun. You guys, I got to be on film like, No, he’s like, yes, I’m like, no. And he convinces me to do a band with other adult learners. So we are kind of harmless. Other adults, you know, they’re like my kid, they, they learned as a child, like learning a language. There’s like, those pathways are in there. Even if you didn’t do it for 30 years, and you pick it up again, you can do it when you’re adult learning. So they’re all good. I mean, like, the other adult bands are like, good. And then there’s us or the adult learners. We have fun, we go to the bar. And he actually he rents out a bar and we do little sets. And so it’s Now granted, we haven’t played in a year, obviously, but for over a year now. But yeah, but when we you know, we’ll get back to it. And you want to you don’t want to be the first band if you want to be at the end of this set after everyone’s you know, giving.

Alastair McDermott 42:02

So, okay, let me ask you, who is an ideal client for you.

Erin Austin 42:07

The ideal client for me is a is consultant, but more specifically, I work with market a lot of market research companies, mostly because I really understand the type of intellectual property that’s best for them, you know, the syndicated research and things like that. And so those that are currently feel like they’re undifferentiated and and they know that they need to develop some intellectual property, but they don’t quite understand how to go about it, or they don’t know how to fund it. And, and so, yeah, that would be.

Alastair McDermott 42:45

Awesome. And so if they or anybody else listening to this wants to find you online, where can they find you?

Erin Austin 42:51

I’m always on LinkedIn. So I love to connect with people there. I have been on there long enough that I am the first Erin Austin. So it’s just E-R-I-N A-U-S-T-I-N. And and then my website is

Alastair McDermott 43:08

Great, great domain. Love it. Erin, thank you so much for being with us today. Really appreciate it. Yeah. Thanks for sticking with me through tech difficulties. A remote world. Thank you.

Erin Austin 43:23

Alright, thank you.

Alastair McDermott 43:28

Thanks for listening. If you like this, you might also be interested in my free seven day email course on Marketing for Consultants, that can be found at