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How to Run a Successful Consulting Business with Michael Zipursky

September 13, 2021
Episode 30
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!.

Being an independent consultant can sometimes be a tough gig – but there are things you can do to make life easier for yourself!

In this episode Michael Zipursky and Alastair McDermott discuss how to run a successful consulting business, including details on how to niche, how to increase capacity, and why you should raise your prices immediately. They discuss how selling consulting services is different, and why conversations are so important.

Michael also shares why you should act like a musician when it comes to content marketing, and how you can develop your content marketing plan.

Show Notes

Guest Bio

Michael Zipursky is the co-founder and CEO of Consulting Success where they have helped over 600 entrepreneurial consultants build profitable, scalable and strategic consulting businesses.


people, consultants, clients, business, ideal client, content, alastair, consulting, conversation, identify, important, processes, called, create, surveys, challenges, build, podcast, talk, bit

Alastair McDermott, Michael Zipursky


Michael Zipursky  00:00

And it’s a three point kind of model that helps you to increase your capacity. And so let’s just start off with what is the goal typically of increasing capacity. Number one, to make more money. Number two, to have a much bigger impact, right serving more clients, helping them in a way that can trickle down to not only their employees and families and community, but but all that good stuff.  So to increase capacity, there’s three steps that you can take. The first is simply increasing your fees, right, you increase your fees, right away, that allows you to work with fewer clients, but still make the same amount of money if not more than you were before. So just by doing that, you’ve increased your capacity. So let’s just take a simple example. Maybe you had 15 clients, and now all of a sudden, you increase your fees, fewer people say yes, but that’s okay. Because every single client you take on is worth significantly more to you. Maybe you went from 15 clients, and now you only have eight clients.  Well, now you’re making like the same amount as you were before, if not more, and you now only have eight clients doing the same amount of work that you’re doing for 15. So you actually have increased your capacity that now allows you to go okay, I can sit back and just work at these eight clients making the kind of money that I want to be making, and do hobbies or spend time with my family. Or I can actually take on another 2, 3, 4 or five and build back up to 15 clients if I want and make significantly more more money. Welcome to The Recognized Authority, a podcast that helps specialized consultants and domain experts on your journey to become known as an authority in your field. So you can increase your reach, have more impact and work with great clients. Here’s your host, Alastair McDermott.


Alastair McDermott  01:26

Today, my guest is Michael Zipursky. From Consulting Success, he’s the co founder and CEO, and he has helped over 600 entrepreneurial consultants build profitable, scalable and strategic consulting businesses.  Michael, thank you so much for being with me today, I’m gonna dive in by just asking you about the journey, because you’ve talked to people at every stage of this journey. So I wanted to get to some of the mistakes that people make. So let’s start with when people are starting out on their consulting journey. What are the mistakes that people make when they’re leaving that corporate job, and they’re just starting out as a consultant?


Michael Zipursky  01:56

Well, first, thanks for having me, Alastair, great to be with you. There’s many challenges that people encounter, you know, when I say they call them mistakes, because I view things as learning experiences, rather than just hard mistakes. That allows us to just continue, you know, finding ways to improve.  But, you know, one very common one is, is burning bridges with past employers, you know, we found, I know, you know, that we put out a study we had, I think about 2000 or so consultants, maybe more was that took part in the survey and 50% said that their first client was a former employer. So that does not mean that it was the employer that they left and then became a consultant, it was just a previous employer may have been the last one or may have been others was their first consulting client.  So I think it’s really important that you take a long term view with every interaction and every relationship that you have. That’d be number one. Number two, is when you then make that transition into consulting, one of the most common challenges, and it’s a real challenge is really narrowing in and specializing to identify who is going to be your true ideal client, and how do you want to be known? And what do you want to be known for? And I think it’s a big challenge for many people, because most people who get into consulting have quite a bit of experience. They’ve worked maybe in different organizations that have a lot of skills.  And so it’s a challenge to take all those different skills and experiences in areas of expertise, and narrow in and decide, you know, what do you really want to build a business around human nature tells us that in order to grow, we need to add, we need to expand. But in fact, if you look at the most successful businesses, they’ve usually grown and seen real traction at the early stages of their business, by subtracting by narrowing, by specializing.  And so while it is a challenge for most consultants at the early stage, it’s really essential that you narrow in that you decide who is your true ideal client, and we can talk about how to go about doing that if you’d like. But once you’ve identified who that ideal client is, now you can start to move through the the process of actually building your business around that if you don’t have clarity, on who your ideal client is. Anything else that you try in your business, oftentimes, you’ll you’ll feel a lot of resistance and frustration with.


Alastair McDermott  03:55

Yeah, I mean, you’re speaking my language here. Anybody listening to this is regular listening knows how much I love to talk about specialization. So yeah, I do want to dig into that, I want to dig into how you when you’re a true generalist, and you’re and like the people we’re talking to, they’re really smart consultants, they’re, they’re very smart people, they’ve worked on a lot of different projects. And they are genuinely experts in many different areas sometimes. And that’s what makes it so hard. Because what you’re saying is you’re saying you got to specialize, you got to pick one. So how do you go about that? How do you find that the true ideal client?


Michael Zipursky  04:26

Yeah, so we developed something called the the niche scoring method for everyone in the US, a niche scoring method. And really, it’s a series of criteria that you want to score. And so for example, you might say to yourself, okay, I have experience in the aerospace sector, I have experience in pharmaceutical, I have experience in whatever and so you decide kind of what those segments of the market or that you want to be known for that you’re you’re considering.  And then you go through and you assign a score between one to five and each of these criteria. So for example, some of these criteria include your years of experience. Another one is your results. Meaning, have you actually documented? Or can you communicate? or identify specific results you’ve helped to achieve in that industry? Another one would be access, do you have access through your network through connections, where you can very quickly kind of penetrate that marketplace and start to create conversations or or get referrals and introductions.  And then another really important one is kind of your, your passion or how much interest do you have in that marketplace, right? Very often, people will consider what what, you know, where will I be most successful, but just being successful if, if you try and strive towards one, because you think it might be lucrative and could somebody you know, maybe the marketplace talking about it, but deep down inside, you don’t really enjoy that market, you’re gonna have a very hard time developing your intellectual property and your authority and you know, your content and materials around that.  And that’s a big part of being a successful consultant is actually developing, being prolific with content creation with even if it’s not articles, sharing your ideas, sharing your perspectives, and your opinions. And so it is important that you choose an area that you’re very interested in.  So those are just a few of the criteria. There are several others that exercise you go through and you answer these questions, you give a score to each of these different criteria. And then you look at how do you score across maybe three or four different segments you’ve identified. And that can often help you to see, okay, yeah, there is a clear winner, or I am a bit higher in this area, I should at least begin down the path of pushing that for so yes, I can go and, you know, try and generate business in these other areas.  But all things being equal, I only have so much time, I only have so much resources. And so let’s start at least where it looks like I’m going to have the greatest chance for early success. And that’s where you build towards you see how that goes. Depending on what you learn through those conversations. And through the outreach and steps that you take, then you decide whether you need to, you know, well, you’ll validate, but you’ll decide whether you need to make adjustments to other markets or you know, other things within the business and your approach.


Alastair McDermott  06:57

Absolutely. Yeah. And Philip Morgan calls that a beachhead, a strategic beachhead, you know, and I think Jonathan Stark talks about it, as, you know, think of it as a campaign. So it’s not, you know, the rest of your life, just think of this as as a, as a campaign where you’re going to be picking picking an area and focusing on that for a while.  What I found is that when people do specialize, and they go all in, they may think of it as a beachhead at first, and they may think, okay, later, I’m going to expand, but actually, as they go further and further deeper in, they find that there’s a lot more to it than they originally thought. And then it’s a lot more interesting than they originally thought. And so they actually go go deeper in but it’s it’s that initial resistance that you have to fight through. Because you were when you’re specializing you’re turning away this other opportunity, or at least that’s what it feels like. But it’s so it’s so important to get to get past that. Do you talk to people about that, that resistance that that initial fear of specialization?


Michael Zipursky  07:52

All the time, I mean, with our our coaching clients and our clarity program, we do a lot of work with them, because this, this really does come up, Alastair, very often. And one of the kind of examples or illustrations that I like to point out to clients, as we kind of talk about this is the concept of how many clients do you actually want to have in your business? How many do you need to have?  And so let’s say you set a revenue goal of half a million, or a million or 2 million, or whatever it might be that the number doesn’t really matter. But when you identify that, and we’ve actually done a lot of kind of serving around this, you find that most consultants are only really, they only need between eight to maybe 20 clients per year to have the type of business that would give them the financial freedom that they desire.  And so when you start thinking about all these different potential marketplaces, and you look at that, number one, you only need maybe eight to 20 clients per year to have a great business. And beyond that, most people don’t want that initially, because they can’t handle that anyways, you know, most people probably can’t even handle 20 clients right off the bat. Therefore, why try and confuse things? Why complicate things by trying to expand to a much broader marketplace? When number one, you don’t even need those additional clients, right?  And so that the question to ask yourself is, let’s say you’ve identified one market, one kind of industry, and let’s just say it’s pharmaceutical to keep things simple. How many ideal clients can you identify in that marketplace, and if you know how to do those types of searches, you’ll very quickly find is probably several hundred people. And so if you just need six of them, or eight of them, or we’re 20 of them in one year, it becomes very clear that actually adding a lot more in terms of numbers of ideal clients, like in the thousands doesn’t make any sense. It’ll just confuse you. It’ll slow you down and waters down your messaging, it makes it more challenging to think about your marketing, your your content won’t resonate. There’s so many challenges that come up when you’re not focused on an ideal client.


Alastair McDermott  09:31

Yeah, absolutely. And just on that content not resonating, that was what initially brought me to specialization was when I tried to start a podcast about five or six years ago. And I realized as I was planning that, that I had no ideal client who I was talking to, and that was what initially kind of signaled to me that I had a specialization problem or a lack of specialization problem.  So look, I’m going to move on from that because some people listening this will be thinking that I’m a broken record. So I want to move on to something else that we’re talking about there, which is kind of capacity and the number of clients you’re dealing with. So I do know that it’s an issue for people when they’re taking on clients that that they can feel like they don’t have capacity that they can’t handle the number of price that they have. But I know this is something that you talk to your to your clients about. Can you can you talk a little bit about that?


Michael Zipursky  10:13

Yeah, we often use a capacity expander model. And it’s a three point kind of model that helps you to increase your capacity. And so let’s just start off with what is the goal typically of increasing capacity. Number one, to make more money. Number two, to have a much bigger impact, right, serving more clients, helping them in a way that can trickle down to not only their employees, and families and community, but but all that good stuff.  So to increase capacity, there’s three steps that you can take. The first is simply increasing your fees, right, you increase your fees right away, that allows you to work with fewer clients, but still make the same amount of money if not more than you were before. So just by doing that, you’ve increased your capacity. So let’s just take a simple example. Maybe you had 15 clients, and now all of a sudden, you increase your fees, fewer people say yes, but that’s okay because every single client you take on is worth significantly more to you. Maybe you went from 15 clients, and now you only have eight clients. Well, now you’re making like the same amount as you were before, if not more, and you now only have eight clients doing the same amount of work that you’re doing for 15.  So you actually have increased your capacity, and now allows you to go okay, I can sit back and just work at these eight clients making the kind of money that I want to be making, and do hobbies, or spend time with my family. Or I can actually take on another 2, 3, 4 or five and build back up to 15 clients if I want and make significantly more, more money. The other benefit of doing that is now without additional profit is coming into your business, you can take that move to step two, which is actually start building team and a lot of solo, you know, independent consultants have a lot of resistance and hesitation around this idea of building a team.  And it’s understandable when you come from the corporate world or working as a manager or director or executive, you’ve likely got into consulting cause you’re tired of managing people and dealing with all the politics and headaches that come with that. But most consultants will reach a point in their business where they recognize that they can’t make a bigger impact than where they are right now. They can’t earn more than where they are right now doing everything by themselves. And so team does not mean full time employees team can be contractors, freelancers, part time, people, it could be full time people.  But the idea of having a team is if you want to increase your capacity, now I bring people on, they can start to taking on a lot of these lower value tasks that you’re spending your time on right now off of your plate, they can also start helping you with delivery, taking that off your plate, which allows you as the business owner to start actually acting like a business owner spending more time on strategy more time on business development, more time on intellect, intellectual property creation, and doing the things that are actually higher value that will help you to grow the business. And so you’re able to fund that by increasing your fees and taking some additional profit to hire team members or people you can delegate work to. So that’s the second part.  The other key of this is that when you have these people now you can actually move to the third part. And the third part of this model is systems and processes. If you look at the most successful companies, they have good systems and processes in place, they’re not trying to reinvent the wheel and customize things every single time. They’ve identified certain things they do over and over again, they’ve documented them, they’ve create systems around them, that allows them to be significantly more efficient, more effective and more profitable.  When you have team members, where you can then start to do is to get those team members to start documenting your systems and processes. That’s really powerful, because it allows them to then use those same kind of systems that they’ve developed themselves. And of course, you’ve had input on and you know, you played a big role in kind of guiding what that turns out to be. But they can now use those systems and processes to implement for years to do that work for you. They can keep improving them and making them better and better. And as maybe some of those people leave and go off and do other things, it makes it much easier for you to train new people. And you’ve actually been building an asset in your business, which if you ever want to sell your business in the future, and we have some clients who definitely do want to do that. And so we help them to think about how to create more enterprise value.  Having systems and processes in place, having team in place and really removing the reliance on the business from just you to the business actually be able to operate without as much of your day to day involvement that not only increases capacity, it increases you know, revenue, income and impact and of course, just makes the business overall much more valuable.


Alastair McDermott  14:06

Yeah, absolutely. So on that on, on systems and processes. One of my favorite books on that is is the “E-myth”, or the “E-myth Revisited” by Michael Gerber. And I actually hate how that book is written. I don’t like the kind of the way he goes through. It’s kind of like a parable. But yeah, that’s the number one book I would recommend to anybody.  But what I do for assistance and process and I’ve been working with with part-time subcontractors for many years, but this year for the first time I took on my first full time employee, so hello Aiko, she is processing the transcription for this and she’s also going to be putting together the the cover art, the quote images, the images, the social media links, all the stuff that goes together with, with putting a podcast out and we also have an editor and so we’re going to be sending the podcast to the editor to Carry and so there’s there’s a whole process there behind this that frees up my time for this.  The other thing is, this is really weird to me. But I hate bookkeeping and Aiko actually likes bookkeeping. And so there are people out there who like the things that you don’t like to do. That was kind of, that was kind of surprising to me that anybody could actually like a task like that. But it’s great when you can find somebody who likes doing something that you don’t like doing and you can hand it off to them and trust them to take care of that. And then finally, just consistent in the process.


Michael Zipursky  15:20

Yeah, no, sorry, jumping, I interrupt, I was just gonna add one more point to that before we may jump on another topic, which is not only you know, are there people out there that will enjoy doing the things that you don’t enjoy doing, right. So a low value task for you might be a high value task for somebody else. But the other thing that most consultants don’t see right away, and again, it’s understandable, because that’s not their the path that they’ve taken, it’s a new territory for them is that the longer you try and do a lot of these low value tasks yourself, you’re actually losing money, right?  The example that I often kind of share with people is imagine that your hourly value, and again, I would not encourage any consultant use hourly fees, but let’s just say that you’ve identified that your value per hour is $250. And you can go and you can find somebody who can do the low value tasks for you. Or, again, maybe just even intermediate, they’re still important tasks, but you don’t want to do them yourself and activities, and you pay them $50 an hour or for $50 an hour, you can find a really great people.  So right now, if you’re not doing that, you’re actually losing $200 every single hour, because you could pay somebody $50 an hour, right? And right now you’re saying that your value of 250 doing it yourself. So every hour that goes by where you’re doing a little value task, you’re actually losing $200 per hour, if you think about it that way it can start to help you to see Wow, yeah, you know, I need to shift all these little low tasks to somebody else, because now I can spend that time and go to actually do things that are great, much greater value for the business.


Alastair McDermott  16:37

Absolutely. Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And I actually have a posted or a piece of paper stuck on my, my monitor here. And it says is this greater than we use euros is greater than 200 euros an hour. And that’s what I should be working on. And if it’s less than that I shouldn’t be working on it, no matter what it is. And it’s to try and get into that mindset. Because we should be outsourcing and delegating and automating as much as possible so that we’re able to work on the really valuable stuff, which is, you know, the relationships, the content creation, things like this.  So yeah, let me move on then. Because I probably talked about specialization. And I probably talked about systems and processes quick enough on this, I will just summarize. So you talked about raising prices, build a team, and then put systems and processes in place. There was one other thing I just want to mention on systems and processes, what I find really useful to do is to record a video on a service called Loom that’s L-O-O-M. And I record a video of something being done on me doing something. And then I will send that to to my assistant Aiko. And I’ll ask her to turn that into a Google Doc, which is an SOP document with with steps. And she’ll take screenshots from that and use that that will then be kind of the checklist for features. That’s that’s how we do SOP documents. And so that’s a really simple way to get started.  There’s lots of other ways you can do it with checklists is there’s a project management system called Clickup. That’s really good for that kind of thing. But I find it just really simple. Just use Google Docs and Loom. So the next thing I wanted to ask you about is actually that content creation, because I know you’ve got a podcast as well. And you do you seem to write a lot of blog posts, or at least he did in the past, you do surveys, which is another form of content creation. So can we can we talk about kind of that that whole thing of creating content and demonstrating your knowledge? I think you said earlier, you’re prolific with content being prolific with content was important.


Michael Zipursky  18:23

Yeah, we can talk about anything that you want, Alastair.


Alastair McDermott  18:26

So okay, well, let’s talk talk about being prolific with content then, like, how do you start? What What should you be writing about as a as a consultant? You know, you’ve got so many different things you can talk about, how do you Where do you start with content? Content marketing?


Michael Zipursky  18:40

Yeah. So I mean, the first thing is just to start, right. I think Seth Godin has a really good kind of quote or story around this, where someone asks him, how do you come up? You know, Seth, how do you come up with such great ideas? He says, well, because I have a lot of bad ideas, right.  And then the biggest thing holding most people back from creating great ideas is they’re scared to have bad ideas, and so they don’t take action.  So they’ll be the first thing that I would say, but but more tactically, what I would recommend for everybody is again start with getting clear on who your ideal client is. There’s far too much general content out in the marketplace, we talk a lot about specialized content, this idea of really developing content that speaks to your ideal client, it speaks to their pain points to what’s going on in their mind, when you create specialized content, it really differentiates you, it really feels to that ideal client like you are creating that content for them, therefore, they’ll be attracted to it.  So you can’t create that kind of specialized content without really knowing who your ideal client is. So once you know who your ideal client is, then the next thing start thinking about is kind of 2.1 point but there’s two parts to it. The first in terms of deciding how to go about creating content for them. You want to think about what kind of content do they consume? So if your ideal clients are not the types of people to watch webinars, then don’t create webinars, right. But you see one identify like, what kind of what is the format of content that they would like to consume? Look at that.  The other suggestion that I would have is don’t aim for a home run. So for those of you that are baseball fans, right, you step up to the plate, trying to hit a home run the ball goes over the fence, right in the right direction. And you score you know, you get you get a bunch of points on the board. Don’t aim for that because if you look at the most successful baseball players of all time, the people that are in the Hall of Fame, they still strikeout about seven out of 10 times. Look at the most successful, you know, musicians, how many of their tracks, you know, music tracks are the ones that are played on the radio, or the ones that people remember very few.  The second thing is lean to your strengths, right? Don’t try and compensate for weaknesses. So some people hear some you know, quote, unquote, Guru online saying, Oh, you have to write articles. You have to be active on social media, you need to do a podcast or whatever it is, just because somebody else is doing it successfully doesn’t mean that you need to do it. So you want to identify one, what kind of content your ideal clients actually consume. But number two, what will you enjoy doing? If you enjoy writing? Great, right? If you enjoy doing animations, fantastic, we had one client who loves doing animations. And he started doing animations, but his specific industry. And that really caught on because it resonated with his ideal client. And it was different. And it was something that he enjoyed doing. So lean into your strengths.  And then the next thing is come up with an actual plan, I think, where a lot of people and I don’t myself, I had a lot of trouble with this at times where I would, as an example, take a real example, doing live streams on on LinkedIn and other platforms. So I said to myself, every Monday I’m going to do a live stream. I even went as far as putting into my Google Calendar, I set a recurring event every Monday 10am. It was in there do a live stream. Well, how many live streams? I do have Monday at 10am? Very few. Why? Because I’d come into the office where I am right now. And I would go Okay, yeah, there’s a lot of other things I need to do. I don’t really know what I should talk about today. Okay, I’ll do it later, right, and put it off and put off I didn’t want as far as asking my team, hey, guys remind me to do this, I got a little bit more consistent.  But, but where, for me, I really saw a difference was when I publicly kind of went to the marketplace and to our audience and to our list. I said, Hey, from next Tuesday, every Tuesday 10am, Pacific 1pm Eastern, I’ll be on LinkedIn, live YouTube, Instagram, so on so on, so on whatever platforms actually not Instagram yet, but Twitter. And and that kind of accountability was really powerful for me. So I put it out there, I held myself accountable in a way that would actually work. And now it’s been, you know, many weeks of doing that.  But the other part of it, I think it’s really important for us to think about developing that plan. If you just say to yourself, I’m going to create content, but you don’t have a plan of what that content is going to be you don’t have topics in mind, it gets very hard. It’s like sitting down the keyboard. And that’s why people have writer’s block so often because they don’t know what to write about. And so they just sit there trying to think about an idea in the moment, I think it’s much better to actually develop ideas beforehand, then you can sit down or stand or whatever it might be, and know what your plan is, and then spend your time developing that content. So that’s what I would recommend that people do.  Now, why does that happen? It’s because these are people that are prolific putting out their ideas, they’re not waiting to try and just get one thing that is amazing or the best and then put it out. They’re putting out a lot of different stuff. Some things work, some things don’t work. And sometimes something that you put out that you thought won’t work actually works fantastically well. Other times that you think would be amazing, just doesn’t work at all. And so I think the lesson that I’ve learned is by being prolific and not judging your success or failure, just by putting something out right away, it’s more about putting something out and doing it consistently. That’s how you start to actually build a real kind of tribe and a community and momentum and traction around what you’re doing. And that’s how I really see that you can make content work for you.


Alastair McDermott  23:13

Right. Okay. I love that. I love the musician, example or analogy, because that’s very true. Even, you know, the biggest bands, you know, I’m sure, like, if you look back through U2’s back catalogue, they have they have huge smash hits, but even on their the really popular albums, there’s always going to be a song or two that I’m so popular. And so that’s even even the biggest guys.  So one thing you mentioned there, I just want to dig into a little bit more is about the specifics of creating a content plan. How do you actually go about that because I think that can be difficult for people starting out because we’re looking on a blank screen a blank sheet of paper, maybe they do have that ideal client in mind, but they don’t really know where to start with the content one, can you can you talk about that a bit?


Michael Zipursky  23:50

Yeah. So I mean, where I always like to start is thinking about the pain points and problems that your ideal clients have. So make a list of all of those, then next, think about their desires. And think about the topics that are interesting for them. You can also look at changes in regulations or news that is anything that is kind of new and noteworthy.  Your ideal clients might appreciate and kind of be the source of truth and information on that topic. And so you start off with a big list a comprehensive list, don’t over think it is brainstorm all these ideas. And then from there, you start to develop each one of those out. And so you might start with one list item bullet point, and then from there have a bunch of sub points below that. And so then you can use that to for example, you know, create a video, write an article, create an illustration, use that that kind of that concept for doing a survey. But it all starts with having that list.  I think very often what holds people back from getting content out is that they don’t have a list. They just thought about some things but they haven’t really dove into them. And I think when you create that list, you break it down beyond just being one bullet point you actually think through a little bit more of like what are some sub points and then you find a way to hold hold yourself accountable. So that it actually there is a schedule in place. Those two things together typically work very well.


Alastair McDermott  24:56

Okay, cool. And I think it is it’s it’s One thing that once you get into the mode of creating content, it is something that you learn by doing, and just just get in and start doing it. Now, there’s two other things I want to talk to you about in terms of content. Let’s talk about surveys first, because because you do surveys regularly, and can you tell me why you do them, and what the benefits are for you and how you use the information you get?


Michael Zipursky  25:20

Yeah, I mean, we do surveys are the same reason that we do pretty much everything that we do a consulting success, which is because we believe that they’re going to be valuable for our community of consultants, most consultants like data, they like numbers, they, they want to see how they compare to others in the industry. And so we started doing them many years ago. And we typically do three or four kind of big surveys every year where we get thousands of consultants to take part. And then it’s the kind of data that some organizations might charge money for it to have those insights. But for us, our whole mindset, our mission is all about give first, and just give as much value as we can. Because our we just think long term, we know that people will find that information valuable, they’ll share it, they’ll talk about it, that brings more people into our world. And we believe just through our experience that some of those people will then want to reach out and have a conversation and you know, sign up for one of our programs or our workshops or become a client. So that’s kind of why we do it in terms of how we use that information.  We use it in many aspects of our content, we sometimes also use it to inform decisions that we make around for example, let’s say that we see in one of our surveys that many consultants are having a challenge with x, we might take that whatever x topic is, and then do a workshop and offer a workshop on x topic because we know that people have a need for that we might also or we definitely do will create content. But we’ll weave the results of the surveys back into that content. Or think about what I did earlier today, when we talked, you know, the transition from employment into consulting, and I shared with you a stat that 50% of consultants that have their first client was actually a former employer. So we’re able to leverage in you right and use that content or those results. And that data in a lot of different aspects of what we do.  And we find that to be pretty, pretty helpful and powerful. But even if we didn’t have that aspect of it, I think for us, it’s all about value. It’s the same reason why we’ve been you know, 200 plus episodes of the Consulting Success podcast, probably 1000 articles at this point on the site, you know, hundreds of videos on YouTube, it’s why we’ve just been doing what we’ve been doing consistently for the last 13 years of Consulting Success, because we we believe that when you deliver a lot of value, or hopefully a lot of value, you know, consistently that, that it pays off.


Alastair McDermott  27:26

Yeah, absolutely. And I think Liston Witheral. He is he has this summarize very well in his brand, which is Serve, Don’t Sell. And I think that summarizes the kind of the the philosophy really well. So yeah, no, I love that.  Okay, so, so just to summarize what we’ve been talking about so far. So we talked about at the very start, you know, first of all, don’t don’t burn bridges with former employers, because it’s quite likely that you might want to work with them at some point. And so it’s good to have those relationships, when you’re starting out, specializing and figuring out who your true ideal client is what you want to be known for. And, and, and then going into, as you start to grow, raise your prices, build a team, and build systems and processes. And that team does not have to be full time employees, they can be part time subcontractors, there’s a lot of different ways to do that. And then once get once you start getting to creating content, be prolific with your contents, and talk about your clients pain points and their desires, what they’re looking for, and be very specific about the audience you’re addressing. So is that a, is that a fair summary?


Michael Zipursky  28:32

Yeah, thanks for some great stuff there. I mean, of course, each one of those topics, we could dive a lot deeper into into, you know, do a class on each one of them. But I think you’ve done a great job summarizing.


Alastair McDermott  28:39

Yeah, that’s, that’s the problem with this podcast is, is we only have a finite time. Okay, so, so what I’d like to talk then, because I think that for, for me, like talking to you, because you’re working with consultants. And so they’re the ideal listener for for us here as well. So I would like to dig into what’s different about selling consulting services than selling other things. And a lot of the information, a lot of the marketing information you see online is just wrong for consultants. And so I think that you you have will have some insight into that. And this isn’t a question that I mentioned to Michael beforehand. So I just want to blindside you a bit, but I’m just interested to know what you think is is wrong about the information that’s out there for other industries, that that doesn’t apply for consultants or because I think there’s a lot of stuff just out there just general advice that you shouldn’t take as a consultant. Is that something that you’ve seen yourself?


Michael Zipursky  29:31

100% and just hear me think about somebody making a decision on a $10,000 or euro investment or a 50,000 or 100,000 or a million dollar decision. It’s very different than signing up for you know, some underwear online or some music subscription or Netflix or something like that. It’s when you’re selling to a savvy buyer. And most buyers of consulting or advisory services are savvy buyers, they have a very different decision making process than an impulse buy like a consumer type of item or product, and that’s I think where many people go wrong is that they’re led to believe by a lot of hype online that you can use the same marketing the same approach to sell and what’s working well for consumers or even call it lifestyle coaching or therapists or massage stuff, you know, that’s the same for selling to an organization.  And in my experience, it’s not, it’s a very different approach, there are similarities. But when you’re dealing with an organization, in many cases, they’re going to be multiple decision makers, there’s going to be budgets, there’s going to be different allocations of resources, there’s going to be just a lot more factors that go into play. And therefore, typically, you’re going to require a conversation. And so when you look at general marketing of consumer products, the idea is to try and not have a conversation with a buyer. You want to provide as much information as you can do whatever you need to do to get that person to sign up or to buy kind of on the spot.  With consulting services, in most cases, it’s different, right, you want to nurture that person for a long time, you want to provide a lot of value, you want to have them almost making up their mind before they even speak to you, or at least feeling very likely, they want to engage you, engage with you before they speak to you. But the big focus of selling consulting services, or any professional services, for that matter, is getting people to have a conversation with you, right? So consumer side, you don’t wanna have a conversation, right? It’s gonna clog your your phone lines, and your customer service people and all that kind of stuff.  But with consulting, the more conversations you have, the more visits you’re typically going to generate. And so the focus needs to be on number one, how do you get more people to reach out to have a conversation with you and then number two, how do you actually effectively have a conversation. And that’s a really important topic, because very often, kind of entry level or novice consultants think that it’s all about them, they think it’s all about their methodology. And they’re not really trained, they don’t know how to have what we call a deep and meaningful consulting, sales conversation, where you’re where you’re really focusing on on value and identifying the value of identifying the pain points. And not only, not only the ROI, but also the cost of inaction, what happens if you don’t move forward, so there’s many parts to that conversation. But that becomes incredibly important.


Alastair McDermott  32:04

So I want to dive into that a little bit because this is something that that I’ve talked to people about before and read a lot about in terms of value pricing. And value, pricing can be a very difficult thing to do. So just to summarize, for anybody who’s not familiar with it, value pricing is about pricing your project based on the value to the client, rather than based on how much it’s going to cost you to deliver it. So moving away from any kind of hourly basis or a fixed price and making it maybe like a percentage of the outcome.  And so I have done this successfully, in the past only a few few projects, I have had some before I change business models, I found the value, the value pricing conversation very difficult. I think it’s something that you need to do, you know, you need to practice a lot. So you mentioned there, and that one of the parts of that which is talking about the cost of inaction. Can you just tell me a little bit more about that? And how you would talk to a potential customer about that?


Michael Zipursky  32:59

Yeah, so let’s take an example of me most people will not think of which is a nonprofit organization, and maybe you are a fundraising consultant. So what is the cost of inaction? What happens if that nonprofits does not move forward does not engage this consultants? Well, the they’re not going to raise the funds that they want, most likely, because they probably been stuck right up at a bit of a plateau.  If they don’t get those funds, they now don’t, they’re not able to make the impact that they want to have on the community or fighting the disease or whatever it is that they’re that they’re set out to do. And so they’re, they’re missing out on the impact they want to have, it also means that the money that is out there, because there’s always plenty of money out in the universe, that money’s gonna go to other organizations, and they’re not gonna get the share of that, it might mean that they’re not going to be able to make investments into their infrastructure or their team or into the future. And so not only will they see a negative impact now, but they might see that and feel that negative impact well into the future.  So that’s just one example of really identifying the cost of inaction very often consultants will have the conversation around, like, what is the ROI for you, we’ll fight again, fundraising example, if we do the stuff, you’re gonna be able to bring in an extra million dollars, right. And so my fee is X which is just a small portion of that that million dollar increase, right. So that’s kind of thing with the return on investment. But cost of inaction is another way to really help people to see you know, what they what they stand to lose if they don’t move forward right now.


Alastair McDermott  34:17

Yeah, absolutely. And that conversation, how would you approach that with it with a client? Because what I found is that there there can be resistance to talk about the negative sides. They don’t want, they’re quite happy to talk about the ROI. But they don’t really want to talk about, you know, the cost of inaction, the cost of the downside.


Michael Zipursky  34:34

Yeah, I mean, if you’re feeling or if you’re seeing resistance, in a situation like that, it most likely means that you haven’t done a good enough job of really building trust in that relationship. You know, it’s important to just think about for a moment, if the person on the other side of the screen or other side of the table is not willing to be forthcoming and open and share the information, whether that is things that could be negative, their financial data, whatever it might be, how likely are they to be a great client.  And of course, in some situations, you may need to sign a nondisclosure agreement or things to keep confidentiality, right? That can happen in some cases. But if you if the person on the other side is not willing to be open with you, how likely, right, are they going to actually be a great client? And we found that people who bring too much resistance to the table who are trying to dive too deep into all the obscure like little minutiae, they usually are not the best kind of clients. And so if you, if you do your marketing correctly, if you have the right kind of conversation, if you ask the right kind of questions that people should open up and be very excited to have that conversation with you, because that’s the powerful thing about having an effective and deep and meaningful sales conversation is that it’s collaborative.  And it’s actually beneficial for the client. It’s not self-serving, as long as for you, the consultant by asking great questions, you’re going to help that that buyer to see things consider things, identify things that they haven’t before. And so they’ll walk away, even if they don’t engage with you right away. They’re gonna walk away. If you’ve done this correctly, going, like, wow, not only is that person only not only is Alastair really demonstrate his expertise, like I know, he’s a real expert in that area. But he asked me some things that nobody asked me before. I didn’t I never thought about that before. Right? And so that becomes a really valuable experience for them. And that’s also what tends to get people thinking, yeah, you know, he’s in a league of his own, I definitely want to work with him as opposed to others.


Alastair McDermott  36:14

Yeah, absolutely. I like your point there. Some, sometimes it’s an indicator that they’re not an ideal client. And sometimes it’s an indicator that you haven’t built enough trust. And I’ve talked before, you know, I see trust, almost like currency. It’s, it’s so important. It’s like the currency in b2b. And building that trust and creating that trust is so important. And that’s why referrals are so dominant. And that’s why building your authority and becoming known in your field is really important as well, because you can create that trust in another way outside of referrals.  Okay, let’s shift gears a little bit. I like to ask people about any kind of failures that they’ve experienced in business, because I think it’s important to kind of highlight that, you know, failure is okay, it’s normal. And in fact, failure can be a positive thing. Do you have any failures in in your business that you can tell us about that, that, that you experienced? And tell us about how you overcame that and what you learned from it?


Michael Zipursky  37:02

That sounds like a rhetorical question, Alastair, because I don’t know, one entrepreneur who has not had multiple failures, and continues to have failures, or experiences doesn’t matter whether you’re running $100,000 company, million dollar company, billion dollar company, you’re still gonna have challenges, you’re still gonna have quote, unquote, failures.  You know, personally, I’ve had many of those, and I continue to have them. But that’s a sign of a true entrepreneur. And the reason being is that if you’re not encountering resistance, if you’re not encountering challenges along the way, you’re not trying, you’re not venturing into that zone of the unknown. You know, breakthroughs happen when you do things differently. Breakthroughs happen when you push yourself beyond where you’re comfortable.  And when you do that, sometimes things don’t work out the way that you thought. But that’s all part of it. You that’s really how you get stronger. I mean, the most successful people are not necessarily and not, you know, usually the smartest people like in the room, quote, unquote, they may not be the people that have the most, you know, acronyms at the end of their name. They’re people that have gone out taken action, learned, what works and what doesn’t work, made adjustments and continue taking action.  So for me, I mean, there’s multiple occasions that, for example, I took I opened a branch office for one of our consulting companies in Japan, I was in my 20s, I was sitting across the boardroom table on multiple occasions with, you know, multi billion dollar organizations like Panasonic, Omron, Dow Jones, Financial Times, Sumitomo, a whole bunch of others were the majority, the people on the other side of the table were in their 50s 60s and 70s. I was the one, you know, white guy, the one foreigner, it was very challenging. I made many, quote unquote, mistakes. And sometimes it made me question like, Am I cut out for this? Can you know, can I be successful? Should I do something different?  But you know, I persisted, and I got back up, and I just kept going. And what’s interesting about these experiences that in the moment, when you’re having that, quote, unquote, kind of failure, it feels very acute, like, it can be very painful. And your focus is on all the negative stuff. But when you keep moving forward, you’ll look back often days later, weeks later, months later, but usually sooner than you think, or imagine, and it’s not that big of a deal anymore. Or you look back and say all these challenges that seems so hard that time were just small, like they were insignificant in the scheme of things. There’s much greater challenges in the world related to health and poverty and other things that I think when we kind of compare our cities, many of our situations to those things, most of us are in a much better place.  So I welcome those, in fact, I think that’s what makes every entrepreneur and business owner and consultant stronger is that when you become comfortable with those quote unquote, kind of failures or mistakes, then you become a stronger individual stronger entrepreneur and you become more successful because everything that might knock you off your path before you know not only are you expecting that, like you welcome it and it just comes and you brush it off. You take the learning experience from it, you put that into your kind of war chest or into your, you know, your suitcase of experiences. And now you’re better off than you were before.


Alastair McDermott  39:48

Absolutely. Couldn’t have put it better. Thank you. Okay, so I I’ve got a couple of wrap up questions because I we’re coming close to time. I like to ask by business books. Do you have any business books that you that you love that you’d recommend for you Pull checkout or any other kind of resource?


Michael Zipursky  40:02



Alastair McDermott  40:02



Michael Zipursky  40:03

You can see behind me for though because we have video on, but yeah, I mean I, I am a pretty voracious reader, there’s a lot of great books, just a couple that people may not have heard of or may not have explored that I think are great. So one is from Dan Sullivan called “The 25 Year Framework”. The other is “The Infinite Game” by Simon Sinek, both really set you up for understanding the the importance of long term mindset. So often as entrepreneurs, we we judge our success and failure on you know, what happens this week or this month. But when you start saying that you actually have a lot more time to be successful, it gives you it unlocks your potential to see the bigger picture to make better decisions and to enjoy the journey a lot more. So those are two books I would highly recommend.


Alastair McDermott  40:42

Excellent. I haven’t had those before. And so I’ll definitely check them out. I’m reading  one by Dan Sullivan at the moment called “Who Not How”, and that’s about team building. I’d recommend that one. And then in terms of in terms of relaxation, and fiction, do you read fiction books? Or do you watch TV? Or what do you do?


Michael Zipursky  40:58

So I mean, I’ve always loved movies from a young age. So I will still be caught watching movie, you know, every once in a while and when the kids are sleeping, but from a fiction perspective, I’ll give you a quick little fact. Fun fact here, I did not read up for all the parents that are listening right now that are worried about your kids might not be readers or writers or whatever. I’ve written four books, my English teacher in college thought that actually this was in high school thought that that I would never become anything, because I couldn’t I couldn’t write very much. English was actually my second language. When I didn’t read a full book until I was probably 16 years old.  The first book that I read, it was either “Godfather” or “Shogun”. And the moment I read both of those, I was like, wow, I love this reading thing. And so I think for anyone that has kids, it’s all about finding sign that your kids will enjoy, don’t put into a box and try and label them as you know what they need to be based on what society thinks. In terms of fiction. I don’t read as much fiction as I used to. But I mean, those two books are great. Another book that I really enjoyed was “Siddhartha”, also some Paulo Coelho books, like “The Alchemist” and others that are very well known. Those are great, but yeah, I’ve enjoyed those some of the Robert Ludlum books over the years.


Alastair McDermott  42:05

Yeah, they’re, they’re their foot as well. Excellent. Michael, where can people find you if they’re interested in following up and they want to learn a bit more about your I think you have a blueprint available for download and you have some other resources? Can you tell us where where people can go to find those?


Michael Zipursky  42:19

Yeah, 100%. So home base for everything, the podcasts, the videos, free resources, all that is at And then I’ll share the blueprint, you mentioned, we’ve compiled our most popular articles and content into one blueprint. It’s a 47 page guide. You can get that for free by going to, and you’ll get instant access to it.


Alastair McDermott  42:42

Cool and Aiko will be taking those from the transcript and putting those in the show notes. So thank you, Aiko. So, Michael, thank you so much for being here with us today. I really appreciate it.


Michael Zipursky  42:50

Yeah, I really enjoyed our conversation. Thank you.


Alastair McDermott  42:52

Thank you. Thanks for listening to The Recognized Authority with Alastair McDermott. Subscribe today, and don’t miss an episode. Find out more at