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Sell Expertise, Not Your Hands with Kevin C. Whelan

May 16, 2022
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!.

We often start out working on execution, implementing projects for clients after they’ve decided on strategy. Our former guest David C. Baker talks about this as “working with your hands”. But we can have more impact, be more profitable, and enjoy our work more if we can shift back a step to the strategy phase, selling our expertise rather than the output of our “hands”.

In this episode, Kevin C. Whelan and Alastair McDermott discuss why and how to make the shift out of selling implementation, a different approach to working with subcontractors & clients, and why Kevin sees being a fiduciary as crucial to his business.

They also discuss the pros and cons of using affiliate links, how to establish credibility in a niche, and how to think about choosing a different business model.

Show Notes

Learn more about Kevin here:

Books mentioned:

Guest Bio

Kevin is an advisor, educator, mentor helping marketing professionals build and run a profitable advisory business.


clients, people, marketing, specialization, business, building, agency, advisor, niche, podcast, affiliate, specialized, fixed fee, selling, affiliate links, work, create, industry, talk, trust

Alastair McDermott, Voiceover, Kevin C. Whelan

Kevin C. Whelan 00:00
And then you just cut through the noise and building an email list is easier, getting on to podcasts is easier. All these other things become a lot easier.

Voiceover 00:06
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 00:22
Before we get into today’s episode, I just want to let you know about a mastermind group that we’re running called authority labs. It’s for independent consultants and experts who are looking for coaching, accountability and peer support on your journey to authority. So if you’re a consultant or expert, and you’re working to position yourself, build your authority, grow your income, and you’d like to have an accountability and support group around you, then this might be the right group for you. So the cohort is starting in the next month, there’s going to be a group call every two weeks, and the numbers will be limited to a maximum of six for this cohort. So you get a lot of my time and attention. If you’d like to know more about this, visit the link in the show notes, or go to the recognized Thanks for listening and on with the show. So today, my guest is Kevin C. Whelan, and Kevin is somebody I’ve been following on Twitter for quite a while. I think we’re gonna have a great conversation today, because we actually started to record this a couple of days ago. And it feels like serendipity when actually the recording didn’t work out for some reasons. And so as as we got chatting, after that, we kind of changed the topic a little bit. So I’ll just give you a bit of a bit of background. Kevin is an advisor. He’s an educator, he’s a mentor, he helps marketing professionals to build and run a profitable advisory business. And so what we’re going to talk about is selling your expertise, not your hands. So Kevin, welcome to the show.

Kevin C. Whelan 01:45
Thanks, Alastair. Good to have good to be back again a second time, this one is gonna be fun.

Alastair McDermott 01:49
Cool. Well, okay, can you can you tell me just kind of your context on selling expertise rather than your hands? And just tell us what you mean by that?

Kevin C. Whelan 01:59
Yeah. Okay. Well, I’ll tell you what it is. And then we can maybe talk about why people might, when, when and why people might do it. But to me selling your expertise is, it’s um, I guess maybe I’ll just talk about why when it sort of happens. Typically, you’re good at executing your marketing, or maybe another form of technical consultant, freelancer, agency owner. And at some point, you might get too busy. And when you get too busy doing the execution work, you either scale a team, you raise your prices, or you think of other ways to create leverage in your business. So that you can you can grow without, without necessarily creating more overhead for yourself. And I chose that path to kind of go instead of building a big agency, I started an agency with people from around the world doing subcontracting work. And I realized that in order to get that going, I either had to commit to the agency model, or maybe pivot all together. And so what I looked at was, like, I was busy doing this execution work, but I wasn’t making a ton of profit, I was maybe working out 30%, which means I had to do several hundred thousand dollars to make to make a living, you know, decent living. And there’s a lot of work. So I decided, well, I’m best at the strategy component. What if I, what if I, like it’s a combination of a number of different influences. But what if I sort of took my my payment first, and I read a book called Profit First, which had nothing exactly to do with this, but the mentality was you take what’s yours first, and what’s leftover becomes expenses. And I said, Well, what if I just sold it? You know, this level, one of my clients had talked about hiring a fractional CMO in the past, and they paid a lot of money with them. And I realized, well, what if I kind of became like a part time marketing manager. And, and ultimately, what I did was I took a fixed fee to manage their marketing for them. And I actually gave them all of my marketing suppliers, I said, these are now your team, I won’t markup their time. And it’s going to net out to be a very similar cost of what you’d pay me as an agency to do this all for you. The only difference is now you have this entire team of marketing, freelancers and consultants who are specialized in their areas, you pay them directly at cost, and they come from around the world and locally, and I’ll manage them for you. And then eventually, when you’re ready to hire marketing manager all phased out, and you’ll have this team and you can swap out any of those professionals anytime you want. And that’s that’s kind of the part of the value proposition is everyone is interchangeable. Everyone is a specialist. And you have an assembled team of specialists rather than a full done service done for you service. So that’s, that’s my story in a nutshell. But that’s how I imagined a lot of people go, they get either tired or busy doing execution work. And then they look for those other ways of capitalizing on their expertise without doing more work and working more hours.

Alastair McDermott 04:24
Yeah, and this resonates with me a lot. Because from from day one, in my business, I really didn’t want to go down the agency route, which is the typical route for people who are where I was, which is I was doing SEO, and back back then we call it internet marketing. I guess it’s it’s just marketing now, but I was doing that kind of, you know, web consultancy, web design, and the marketing pieces that go along with that. And so I really didn’t never wanted to go down the route of you know, building a building a large team having a full time team. I was quite happy to work with a, a lot of different freelancers. And I think I’ve worked this point with freelancers in about 50 countries, but I really didn’t want to go down that route of, you know, having a large headcount. But that was the typical route forward. And so I’ve been trying to make what you’re talking about, I’ve been trying to make that work for me. And so that’s why I’m really interested in talking to you about this. So okay, well, well, one thing, one thing, that one framing that we we had on this earlier was agency versus advisory work, and you were talking about advisory, advisory being so either the advice, direct specific advice or education, can you talk a little bit about that?

Kevin C. Whelan 05:38
Yeah. So typically, when you go to an advisory business, you are selling your brains, your your ideas, and not now your hands. And in an advisor relationship, you’re kind of selling a little bit of both, you’re selling your hands and your, your expertise. So in the advisory business, you’re one part educator, and one and so you’re, you’re packaging up your knowledge to create more training, more examples of your work more leverage. And that actually makes your consulting work a lot more straight, streamlined. And then you can eventually sell that as a standalone product outside of your actual one to one services or you group services. Now with agency work, you’re doing execution work, but you’re also giving advice. And this is where I’m gonna try to toe the line with you a little bit in terms of how that creates a little bit of a tug between you and your clients, your incentives, and that alignment factor, which I think is what we talked about last time, offline. And when you’re selling full service, marketing, consult marketing services, so you’re selling let’s say you do web design, ads, SEO, and you’re kind of like you can do it all. Basically, your job is to pitch the work to the client, the client has to assess whether that work and that price for that work is worth investing in, then they also have to assess whether the work you’re delivering is, is to a standard that they that they’re hoping for. So now the client is left to defend left to fend for themselves, ultimately, and make their own decisions. Because they know that you’re incentivized to, to paint the best picture of your execution work that looks that it performs the best and whatever else and also to charge as much as you can, because that’s, I mean, we all have to do that. So this is where I’m trying to toe the line. But what what happens is it puts the client in a position where they have to assess all these things, and they’re just not often they’re not qualified digital marketing. And as you said, marketing experts. So it’s a very tricky thing to do. And I equate it to say if I were to renovate my home every single like ongoing renovations of my home, let’s say I was to remodel for a year. And I had to pick everything from the tiles to the paint to the cot and hire the contractors, I would have no idea whether bathroom should cost $5,000, or kitchen or 10,000, or kitchen to cost 20 or 40 or, and now I’d be faced with all these decisions, that I’m not sure about hiring all these people that have to vet and then ensuring that the work is actually being done and not actually being sure at all. So in a situation like that, where people are investing 510 20 plus $1,000 pounds euros per month, they they’re now responsible for stewarding that money and that’s not a great position to be in. So an advisor sits between the execution of folks and and the client and says basically, I’m going to sit on the side of the client. And I’m going to advocate for you and I’m going to, I’m not going to I’m going to take a fixed fee. So I’m not taking your percent of anybody’s work. I’m not taking affiliate commissions, referrals, nothing but I’m going to help you assemble this team of specialists that you can interchange and replace, and they’re all great at their job. And if someone’s not performing my job is to hold them accountable and to measure them in a neutral unbiased perspective for a fixed fee. So there’s no fluctuation in cost depending on how much work is getting done. And that feels really good for a client. And if you imagine having to make very expensive purchase decisions always and your business depends on it. And you don’t have all this knowledge in house, having someone in your corner, who is who is like a fiduciary advisor, which we’ll talk about in a more in a more financial situation, there, you’re and that means just being aligned with their financial best interest and not yours. That’s the kind of experience that we create. So it really creates a great experience for you, as the service provider to be on the team of your client and working collaboratively with your suppliers that you introduce or at least vet or work with if they already have them. And it’s a better experience for the client as well, because they have someone they can trust in their corner who’s not incentivized to spend more than they need to but is only incentivized to get the results. So it’s a very, it’s a very tight line to tell. But it’s a it’s an interesting experience.

Alastair McDermott 09:17
Yeah, absolutely. And so when I heard you talking about this, I was really interested because this is something that I’ve been thinking about and talking with my with my business partner in the case of my last business, and I’m with my mentors and people have thought about for a long time, which is this concept of being a fiduciary. I know there’s a there’s a strictly legal definition of being a fiduciary where you know, you’re legally bound to, you’re legally bound to act on behalf of another person. But it’s also the non legal definition or non legal concept is that you are putting your client’s interests ahead of your own. And so there’s, you know, you’re acting in good faith at all times. And you legally and ethically, and so I, I’m just talking purely from, from my perspective, I just take the kind of the concept from a non legal standpoint, and just thinking ethically, like, you know, it’s the way we should be acting all the time anyway, as as advisors, is we should always be putting our clients first, even if that means costing us money. So but I think it’s interesting, you know, I think it’s interesting important to, to call that out and say, Hey, this is the way, you know, maybe it doesn’t go in your marketing, but it should be it should be bound up in how you work all of the time. So and I think that that’s, you know, when you’re talking about your fixed pricing, and you know, no, no referral fees, or affiliate fees, things like that. I think that’s what you’re talking about there.

Kevin C. Whelan 10:42
Yeah. And I think, look, you know, if you were a service provider, a marketing professional, though, it sounds like you didn’t do all the things, I think the broader you go, the more, the more, you’re gonna face that conflict of natural incentives, but also that everyone works in the best interest of their clients. And like everyone, I believe everyone is acting in good faith, doing the best work, they can and is ethical, so that I don’t think there’s anything unethical or anything of the full agency model, it just creates that, that that that tug, you know, in a, in a financial situation, which is where I heard of the idea of a fiduciary, first, there’s two kinds of financial planners, one that basically they’ll sell their products, if you go to the bank and ask them which mutual funds to invest in, they’re gonna, they’re gonna offer you all the different products that the bank offers, they’re not really going to recommend anything that a competitor bank or, or any other kind of mutual fund portfolio stocks, they’re gonna offer you a suite of their products, and they’re gonna take a commission, a management fee on that thing. So now you have to ask yourself, Am I actually being given the right mutual fund or financial advice? Or am I just being given what they believe is an appropriate fit, and that’s the definition is just has to be a suitable fit for their for their clients based on their risk tolerance profile. And to give you an example of that, in real life, I actually had a, I went to my bank once I asked them for a balanced mutual fund when I was just getting started. And they put me into one of their accounts, or balanced kind of investments. And several years later, I said, I want to be I want to do direct investing, I want to manage my own money now. And they said, Okay, well, actually, while we’re doing this way, that’s a mutual fund. Now that you’re in a direct investment account, you can actually buy that same mutual fund and save 1% on your management fees instead of two point something it was now one point something. So for years, I went by not getting a lick of advice from them, buying a product that they recommended that I thought was actually the best thing for me, but didn’t really even perform. And then as soon as I’d literally put it into a separate account, where they were continuing to no longer give me advice, I got to save a point on the total amount invested. And that’s the difference between a fiduciary fiduciary advisor and a financial sense, will put you in any stocks, like a nutritionist will tell you to buy any food from any grocery store fiduciary advisor in a financial sense, well, we’ll put you into any stock program, investment of any kind, because and they don’t take any commissions. They don’t take a management fee. They they’re fixed fee advisors. So that kind of inspired me to some level, and then we’ll talk about maybe you were mentioning about Jai RAM and, and some of his influences. But that’s kind of where I said for a fixed fee. This is my deal. And it’s a very subtle thing. But once you experience it, it kind of changes things.

Alastair McDermott 13:10
Yeah. And I just want to call back to one of the first steps was actually episode 11 of the podcast, with my friend, Patti Delaney. He is a financial advisor. And he does, he does fee based advice. And he grew his his business, which is an advisory business to six figures in two years, mostly through his podcast, I believe I, that’s about 50 episodes ago, so I probably need to go listen to that again, too. But if you check, check that out. I’ll link to that episode in the show notes. But he’s very much about fee based advice. And having no sponsorship affiliations, or other links that anything that inhibits his freedom of speech is how he described it, or his recommendations. So yeah, so I’m totally on board with you. I did first hear of this from Jay Abraham and his him talking about, you know, it’s our responsibility to help our clients make decisions and to to give them give them that that advice that’s in their best interest. Now, I think the flip side of that is, and this is something I have done a less good job of, sometimes it’s our job to tell our clients, hey, you know, you really do need to make this decision and and to push them towards making the difficult but positive decisions, including spending money. And that’s that’s the that’s one side that I haven’t been as good at. I’ve certainly I’d like to think that I’ve always, you know, put put their financial best interests first, but I haven’t done as good a job, I think in pushing people to to do something that’s in their best interest when it’s difficult. And maybe I need to be a bit better about that.

Kevin C. Whelan 14:48
Well, I think it depends on the context you’re in as well, right? Because if you’re selling let’s say a website and the client has a $5,000/pound/euro website, or they want their that or budget and you’re like well you know I think I think for 10 grand, we could do a lot better for your for you and your business. But if you’re also selling that website, then they have to go is he just upselling? me like, I don’t really know. And then and then in because you want to do, right by right by your clients, you don’t have you don’t want to, I mean, you do push back, you’ll make recommendations as a professional. But now they don’t like it creates this grain, this little grain of sand of do I is this, you know, how do I trust this person. And that’s what we mentioned, offline was optimizing for trust. And that’s the biggest thing. And it’s easy to do when you’re not incentivized financially by where they spend their money. And I don’t know if you want to talk about the element of trust at all. But that’s how I try to focus my business.

Alastair McDermott 15:37
Yeah, well, I mean, I think trust is at the foundational of all of it. And so first off, I think that even if you are working in such a way that you know, you are, that you’re making money from your advice, and that you’re you know, you’re taking, say affiliate fees, or referral fees of some kind, if you have built up, built up a significant bank of trust with that client, they’re going to trust you despite that. And so, you know, I don’t think it’s, it’s wrong to use affiliate links and things like that. But at the same time, I’ve chosen not to do that myself. Very specifically, like, for example, on the podcast, I ask people about books. And we don’t link to affiliate sales pages for Amazon, even though I haven’t an Amazon affiliate account, I don’t bother to do that. And I don’t want to do that. Because I just don’t want to a lot of people to think that, that you know, that there is a financial incentive to do that. Another another thing is where I have a free ebook on how to look and sound better on Zoom and podcasts. And that has a lot of recommendations for cameras and microphones and things like that. And none of the links in there are affiliate links, either. And the reason I did that is because I want people to who don’t know me and don’t have that trust, I want them to trust the information that’s in there as being unbiased. And, you know, just my just my straightforward opinion. And if those were affiliate links, I think it does come into it, you know, that that people would just wonder. And so my take on on all of that is that building up that trust is far more important than the pennies on the dollar that I might make off of sales. And, you know, maybe if somebody bought it bought an expensive camera, I might make $50, if I had an affiliate link in there, but even even if that happened 10 times, that’s still not worth the amount of trust that might be built up with somebody who might become a potential client. So that’s that’s kind of my perspective on that. What do you think?

Kevin C. Whelan 17:37
Yeah, it’s interesting that you and I landed on the same place with that, because I’ve had several opportunities to do affiliates, either in published content, or in the course of my client work. And so when we mentioned that offline, it was really fascinating that you also had a similar mindset, even with clients that I recommend tools like Active Campaign for some of my small business clients as a CRM and email marketing automation tool. And they they came to me and said, hey, it looks like you referring us quite a few clients, we can, by the way, pay you in perpetuity for every client you bring to us. So forever, you’ll get a small commission. And I said, that’s cool. If I come across someone that I can recommend this tool that isn’t in an in a client engagement with me, and I recommend it to them, I’ll give them the link of use. And maybe I haven’t done this yet, but I might be might be open to giving them an affiliate link if they wish to use it, because it cost them nothing. But I’ve yet to do that as well. So I’m leaving money on the table with affiliate commissions, I bring on I hire on behalf of my clients subcontractors totaling hundreds of 1000s of dollars per year. And I don’t take a single commission from any of them. Because I also then they also know that I’m I’ve my my eyes on their work, and they do great work, and I have no problems with them. But I hold them accountable. And I don’t have them on their pocket in a sense. So it’s kind of like if they’re not working out, I switched them for my clients and in a nice way. And so I think that’s really subtle, but important thing. So in my mind, though, I’ll rationalize and say, Look, if we’re not in, let’s say, you called me and asked for advice, and I recommended you to an agency. And they wanted to give me some money. I don’t ask for it. But if they wanted to give me some money, maybe maybe again, that doesn’t really happen. But outside of an advisory thing, maybe but but I haven’t done that. And for the same reason you haven’t. It’s because it’s all about trust at the end of the day. And I want people to know that when I give you a recommendation. It’s coming from the place of genuine recommendations and not any not tainted with even a lick of incentive otherwise. And that’s a that’s a subtle thing. And it’s a decision and I don’t know if clients appreciate until you kind of mentioned it, but but they do notice that.

Alastair McDermott 19:34
Yeah, yeah, I was thinking about that as well. You know, maybe you do need to mention that. I don’t mention that a whole lot. But now I’ve said it on the podcast. So I guess that some some some people who will hear that, but yeah, like you said something earlier like that we’re leaving money on the table. And that’s a phrase I hear a lot and I was talking to somebody else about this recently. It slipped my mind. But the thing is, we’re always leaving money on the table with every decision we make. We’re leaving other money on the table. Everything is opportunity cost every action we take. But in this case, I think the long term game is enlightened self interest, which is is not to go with affiliates and affiliate links, I think that’s, I think that’s going to be better for me in building trust and building my, my personal brand and building my authority. I think that that people, particularly if you talk about it, and I did talk about that, when I when I, when I promote that ebook, I do mention, hey, you know, there’s no affiliate links or anything in here. It’s just your own bias recommendations. And I think people appreciate that, you know, when I put that out on, on social, I get people saying, hey, it’s cool. There’s no affiliate links in that.

Kevin C. Whelan 20:41
So people have said that to you and acknowledged, that is interesting, and it is a subtle, I’ve been nervous about positioning and really getting public and against affiliates, because I’m actually not against people using affiliate links, or anything like that. I know, it can work as a model, and I’m not above it. And I don’t think it’s unethical. But when you’re an advisor, and you’re paid for your fiduciary advice, you know, in other words, is a champ being a champion for your clients being an advocate for their best interests? When you look at it that way, and it permeates everything you do? It’s a subtle thing. So I’ve always been rocked in case, maybe five years down the line, I have an affiliate link or something of some way or joint venture. And I think joint ventures are different, because usually you add something to that, like let’s say we collaborated on a book and you were selling it, and I told people to go buy it? Well, probably I would add something to it, and it’d be both of our products. But yeah, I’ve always been reluctant to say that that’s a hard and fast rule. I’ll never do affiliates in case I changed my mind. But I haven’t changed. And it’s been a long time. And I think it’s kind of true to the values of an advisor. Again, not nothing ethically wrong with it, if you if people are out there doing that.

Alastair McDermott 21:41
I’m with you on that. And like I know a lot of people who are affiliates, and I know a lot of people who make full time incomes from from affiliate marketing. But I think I think you’re right, I think there is something when you’re doing that alongside this advisory, where you’re getting where you’re getting paid for your advice. I think that’s that’s a different scenario.

Kevin C. Whelan 21:59
Let me add to that, can I add to that real quick, like I had, I worked with a naturopath before. And so he and he was, you know, looking at my Holistic Health, if you will, and some of it was a bit woowoo. Really, frankly, and some of it was you know, good right about diet and lifestyle. But but then he gave me supplements that he recommended I buy from his store, online or whatever, you had an online portal where I can go and buy supplements. And then I became then I’m like, Well, do I need these supplements? Because that’s genuinely what I really need? Or is he recommending these things that I then take for? I don’t know how long and when is enough? And because he makes a few bucks on that, like, I wish I wish he didn’t sell me I wish he said here are the supplements here the brand, here’s where you go get them, I don’t make money on them. And I wish you charge me 50 bucks more for that interaction. Because now I’m a little bit skeptical, I still have some of the supplements in my fridge. And it’s like, I like you know, it’s like it’s you know, it’s supplements, you don’t know if they’re even working half the time, because it’s sort of health, right? So I just wish that he that he separated the supplements and his and is earning from it from his advice, because then I would be far more all in on on buying it. And that’s the that’s the subtle difference. And I know that I can trust him. But at the same time, I also know that he doesn’t charge enough for his his nutritional services. And that’s probably where he makes more of his money. Yeah, so then that begs the question, and that’s the little nuance here between fiduciary and non fiduciary advice.

Alastair McDermott 23:20
Yeah. And I’ve seen where people say, hey, look, this, what I recommend I use it myself, here’s an affiliate link. And if you don’t use an affiliate link, that’s fine. You can also buy through this other link, and they give the non affiliate link as well. And even that, or if it’s if that guy had said to you look, this is what I recommend, you can get them over here on my website, you can also get them on these other websites. But this is what you need.

Kevin C. Whelan 23:44
I mean, he kind of he kind of did that though. He kinda was like, you know, but this is a really good brand. And I don’t know what else brands that you know, on this, and you can really only get this brand through me. So it was kind of like, yeah, you can go get these things, but mine is like the best source of it.

Alastair McDermott 23:57
Yeah, yeah, that sounds that just sounds a little bit sleazy. To me. There’s something there’s something it’s yeah, it’s like

Kevin C. Whelan 24:03
a subtle wrinkle. That’s the subtlety of it all, you know.

Alastair McDermott 24:07
Now, the other thing is my mindset about affiliate links has very much been influenced by having worked in the world of web design, and website hosting the World of website hosting. And if you’re looking up website hosting for your own website, all of the links that you will see online, to the top 10 website hosts, they’re all affiliate links, and there’s not the top 10 websites. In fact, it’s probably the top 10 affiliate providers in terms of the the top 10 highest affiliate payouts is what you will see,

Kevin C. Whelan 24:37
like Bluehost Yeah, yeah, I don’t know if you’ve tried not to call anyone out, but they’re just a high affiliate paying and you’ll notice them being very popular. I’m not saying whether they’re good or bad. The other

Alastair McDermott 24:44
thing then, is where you look, you say, Well, you know, I recommend Well, you could try Bluehost or host monster or, you know, there’s a whole bunch of other other brands. And actually, they’re all owned by the same company who go around buying up hosting companies. And then don’t change the branding. So you don’t know that, you know, you get annoyed with your customer service. And if you change brands, you’re actually changing to the same company, with your website on the same servers and customer support is the same people. And that’s just their business model, you know. So there’s, there’s a lot of that kind of stuff going out there. And that, I think that poisons me a little bit against the concept of affiliate fees, because our affiliate links, because I’ve seen that, where it’s kind of there’s a lot of misinformation or misleading information about website hosting in particular.

Kevin C. Whelan 25:32
And I think people are smart. Alistair, I think, I think people are kind of keenly aware that if you have an affiliate thing, then they’re back to fending for themselves. Whereas you say, like, I don’t this is I don’t own this company. I don’t have any relationship. This isn’t a referral link. And this is just my favorite host, there’s less of that need to fend for yourself. And that’s what we need more of, especially in marketing, where there’s no, there’s no license to become a marketing professional, and many and many other consulting industries. So that’s, that’s kind of the the, I don’t know the level, I think, yeah. Like, there’s a lot of bad work out there. And having people fend for themselves is tough. It’s not fair. And that’s why I think we need more advisors and advocates.

Alastair McDermott 26:12
Yeah, yeah. 100%. Okay, well, I want to shift away from the fiduciary stuff. And we’re still talking about optimizing for trust. But I want to talk more specifically about how people make that transition from implementation from hands work into more advisory and even education work. Can you give us an overview of your thoughts on that?

Kevin C. Whelan 26:32
Yeah, first of all, the word you said is transition, I think is the right word. But there’s some nuances to that as well. So I don’t think I don’t think just adding let’s say you run an agency, and adding a an advisory service to that. I’ve seen people do that. And I’ve seen people tried to do that. But to me, if you’re then selling execution, you’re still running into the same problems, you’re just adding an extra line item for your clients, and then you’re not really neutral, because you’re recommending your agency to do the work. Now, there’s ways to compensate for that maybe you give a price break you do you do you reduce your margins, you know, take 30% off of the execution. So you’re not actually making much profit on that. But but then the client doesn’t have the benefit of direct introductions, all those things. But I think what if you’re going to make the transition, you want to have a separate either a separate business or a separate model that says, and for me, what I did was I actually created a separate website under my own name, which is my domain today. And I kept my agency separate on keeping W and I, so I did, I did the agency work. But any new client I took on and even one client, I transitioned over to my other thing. And I gave, I gave the client that I transitioned all of my freelancers that I worked with in the past that I normally operated as an agency. So I think if you’re going to do Shift to advisor, you need a distinct, ideally, a separate website, or a separate value proposition says, Hey, hire me as your advisor, you know, fractional CMO is another term, but there’s some nuances to that too. And I’ll give you all my freelance, I’ll give you my rolodex, that you’ll have access to that I’ll leave the thing, but I’m only taking money here. And I think, honestly, that’s the best way to do it. But if you’re gonna do that, it’s really it’s slow to build up your advisory business. So you do that in a transition, like you keep your regular day to day work going. We only market this, though you more exclusively market this advisory work. And I think that’s part of the transition. And the sooner you niche with that advisory work, the sooner you get traction, by selling your expertise, because everyone’s good at marketing. Few people are good at marketing for your specific industry. And that’s where things really perk up. And, and that’s where the rubber meets the road.

Alastair McDermott 28:25
Yeah, and I’m a big fan of specialization, as anybody listen to the podcast regularly will know. And niching down, I think it’s the the key that unlocks everything else in terms of building your authority and inbound marketing, education, marketing, authority, marketing, whatever you call it. So yeah, I think that niching down is crucial. So I know that you have like a framework that you talk about. And you have you have a diagram, which I’ll add in the show notes. Can you talk through that and just talk about how you see those things interacting?

Kevin C. Whelan 28:59
Yeah, well, so and I’ll tell it maybe in the form of how it worked with me and that’s sort of how I came to this. But at a high level, it’s one great positioning usually a niche to is establishing credibility in that niche or tighter positioning three is establishing a method creating a methodology a repeatable system that you use to get business results for as a business, creating a business model around your methodology and basically selling stuff in a way that clients will benefit. And then the last one is how do you then market and grow your business so that’s kind of at a high level just to give people a preview. And with me when I went from generalist agency to advisor to specialist advisor, I started I went from b2b Digital Marketing web design to to being a co working to being a general marketing advisor then to being a co working marketing advisor in the co working industry, flexible office industry. And that’s when I went from struggling to build an email list struggling to create specific content struggling to, to get on to like podcasts and to speak at conferences to suddenly all of that happening because I was able to break into a niche and become ultimately sort of a category of one marketing advisor for this industry that didn’t really exist. And so that’s a by picking a niche, it then created introductions, which helped me establish credibility, and then the rest of it to follow. So I don’t know, if you want to stop on Nisha,

Alastair McDermott 30:16
how did you create your credibility and establish credibility within that niche, then?

Kevin C. Whelan 30:20
Yeah, that’s, that’s a great question. That’s literally my credibility, which is an odd thing to have. It’s not your typical framework. And that credibility number two is like you think it’s part of marketing. And I just keep it as a discrete thing. So when I decided to specialize in the coaching industry, I asked my I looked at my best clients, they’re in b2b, b2b service businesses. And then I looked at my specific best client, and they were in the co working industry. And they were the ones that I transitioned over to an advisory relationship, because I knew they had hired a fractional cmo in the past to help them get started. And then so I asked, my client said, Hey, I’m thinking about specializing in your industry, it looks like it’s fast growing, you’ve a very profitable, robust business. And I’ve, we’ve just helped you expand and grow to multiple locations, I think I can help more people like you, what would you think and he was like, You know what, that’s a great idea. I would love it if you worked with more people like me, because then you’d learn from all the other people and you’d be able to apply it to our business. So I was kind of astounded because in the back of my mind, I thought, well, he’s gonna think I’m now going to steal his IP and go sell it to other people, or there’s going to be competition issues. And, and I’ve worked with several people in Toronto, and even multiple at the same time, where I’m from, and I’ve never had a conflict issue. And we can talk about that another time. But how I broke into the credibility aspect was, so he gave me a sense of credibility, because he introduced me to some people. So he kind of passed along his authority, he was already a recognized member, he was a former president of a Industry Association. He introduced me to the current president, who was also so very influential in the space of that industry, as well. And so we just got talking, she gave me some advice. But that relationship led to eventually speaking at their conferences, and eventually going on her podcast. And that sort of created a ripple effect of additional kind of associations that that demonstrated my credibility to give me a platform to show that I wasn’t just someone opportunistically trying to specialize in their industry. And that’s, that’s the beginning. And I think that’s really critical is getting those first couple introductions, getting into the association, if you can, and then being associated as an expert with established trustworthy sources. That’s, that’s the tipping point for me there.

Alastair McDermott 32:20
Okay. There’s, there’s some stuff I just have to call out there, because I love it. So first of all, it’s a vertical specialization, because it’s a specific industry. And I think that there’s, I think that choosing choosing that gives you a superpower. Because when you pick a specific industry, you are able to find their newsletters, you’re able to find their trade shows, you’re able to find the conferences they go to, you can find their industry organizations like you did. You had an introduction with the former president to the current president of the organization. It’s that it’s just such a, such an accelerator. And I think that’s what, for me why vertical specialization is so crucial. And I talked about these different types of specializations on podcast called the specialization podcast, by the way, which you can just find if you just put specialization into your podcast search. But I talked to a guy called Wolfram Maurice, in episode six of this podcast, actually, so it was a long time ago. But he had the same kind of situation where he, his firm had only six people. And they beat a competitor that had over 200,000 employees for contract, because they were specialized. And because their first client was the industry organization, and the industry kind of trade organization. And so I think that, you know, that’s really super important.

Kevin C. Whelan 33:40
And I actually did some pro bono consulting eventually for them for that Association as well. So that allowed me even more I was an official, like an official or unofficial adviser to the association, which sort of helped and, yeah, it’s

Alastair McDermott 33:53
an if you are not specialized, if you’re not vertically specialized, you just can’t do that, because you’re serving clients in all industries. Whereas once you specialize like that, you become their best friend, because there’s so few people actually specialize in, in a single vertical, you know,

Kevin C. Whelan 34:07
yeah, and you get to contextualize everything to that industry. So all these general marketing practices and advice, you get to really bring it home and say, here’s how it applies to yours and using their own language. And you become the only person I would write almost daily for a long time. And my open rates are close to 50%. And they’ve continued and panned out, you know, I had no problem getting clients. And just to give you context, as well, there’s 20,000 co working spaces worldwide. So this isn’t like a massive industry. But I’m the only marketing advisor in that sort of intersection of it’s kind of like a vertical and a horizontal specialization because I’m not a done for you agency. I’m a strategist and trainer and educator in that vertical so then I become basically a bullseye like he gives you that dual level of specialization. And then you just cut through the noise and building an email list is easier. Getting on to podcasts is easier. All these other things become a lot easier finding clients, I don’t even know who to refer people to if they don’t want to work. Could me, it would have to be a generalist agency, if not me.

Alastair McDermott 35:03
Yeah. And just to get a little bit nerdy on the specialization stuff. So from my perspective, horizontal specialization is when you pick a particular problem area. vertical specialization is when you pick a particular industry to work in. But actually, I think that very rarely do people pick an industry, but not also have a horizontal specialization. So when I say vertical specialization, I really mean that as a shortcut for saying, having a vertical and a horizontal, because in reality, that’s, that’s what people do. So in my experience, there’s very few vertical specialists who who don’t also have like a problem area that they focus on. But the other thing is, particularly for people who are, you know, coming from the world of management, consulting and things like that, when you go in, and you’re a vertical, and you have vertical specialization, once you build that trust, the clients will start to come to you and ask for your help and other problems, even outside of your even outside the remit of what you market yourself, or position yourself as so because you’ve built up so much trust with them.

Kevin C. Whelan 36:03
Yeah, I mean, I try to very much stick to my lane. And this is maybe another nuance to this as well, like, I get pulled into sales all the time. And I say, I can just tell you, generally some sales as an entrepreneur myself, but I’m not a sales consultant. And I’m not an operations consultant. But also this is a thing as well as when you pick a problem area that is somewhat specific. And you don’t try to be like a general, I’ll help Koreans basically do everything or whatever your vertical is, you get to play well with other consultants. So you know, this industry association and influenced, influential person, she consults with people on the operation side. So we play really well together, because I don’t even dip a toe in that water. And she doesn’t really she dabbles in marketing, but I’m, I’m a specialist, so she brings me on puts me into front of our community. And you know, so I think part of getting into specialization is being part of an ecosystem and knowing what role you want to fill such that you’re harmonious with the others, and not too competitive, because that can that can quickly squash people will not like when you’re coming in to take their breakfast. So if you find your unique angle, and you can expand from there, then you’re going to be welcomed a lot more in by the community. And I think that’s, that’s essential.

Alastair McDermott 37:05
Yeah, I’ve got a couple of things to add to that. I mean, I want to call back to Louis grania, on Episode 10, of this podcast, and, and I’ve got a lot of callbacks to other episodes, but it’s just it’s hitting on so many points from from previous things. Louis said, you know, when, when people are afraid of making a specialization decision to niche down, they think often of what they’re losing by specializing. And what he was saying is, look, you got to look at what you’re losing by not specializing. And one of those things is relationships with other experts and other providers. Because when you are a generalist, everybody’s your competitor, but when you’re a specialist, then you can partner with so many other experts, and you know, your job gets easier, you get recommended more by your peers, because you’re not directly competing with them. So I think that’s really crucial as well.

Kevin C. Whelan 37:51
Yeah, yeah, that’s fascinating. I’m gonna go back and look, he’s a great, great guy. And I’m gonna go back and listen to that episode, because it’s, it’s so true. It works out that

Alastair McDermott 37:58
way. It’s also the episode with the most swear words, I think, why I think there’s more swearing in that episode than every other episode put together.

Kevin C. Whelan 38:09
Well, I’m on my best behavior today. But one other point I’ll mention as well is that it’s easier in a niche to like, I wouldn’t have been able to I built a membership program, and a community and an email list. And all these lead and info products, of course, all these product, like all those things are really hard to do if you’re if you’re general. So to your point about leaving stuff on the table, by not specializing, nobody wants yet another general marketing course, yet another something they want something specific, ideally, just for them in that specific situation. And then they’ll pick you people only pick general options when they don’t have a better, more specialized, more specific option. It’s like wearing a pair of gloves, you’ll wear a pair of gloves, if they don’t fit unless you find one that’s a better fit. And then you’ll spend more and enjoy them more. So you actually leave a lot of business model stuff on the table by not specializing as well, as well as the other benefits.

Alastair McDermott 38:51
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And then the other thing, just to draw attention to what you mentioned earlier, I think that when you’re building your authority, that speaking and writing, and that comes from talking to Jonathan Stark with this on a previous episode, of course, but speaking and writing are really crucial, and you did public speaking, and you did podcast interviews, both of those were crucial in building your credibility

Kevin C. Whelan 39:18
and webinars. So I was for example, the all the software companies, the co working management software, they’ve all brought me on to do training for their communities. I’m part of associate like other conferences and done panel discussions and see you Yeah, I mean, it all it all like adds up in you cannot get that level of access. If you’re a generalist. Like I never spoke at a conference. I never appeared on a podcast. I don’t think I couldn’t I struggled to build an email list that was anything meaningful and even know what to write about. To your point about writing and speaking, even knowing what to write about is hard when you’re writing to a amorphous crowd that doesn’t even exist, because you have to be so watered down in general. That doesn’t work.

Alastair McDermott 39:57
That was what first brought me down the road of of specialization was when I tried to write blog posts. And I tried to plan a podcast. And I started planning this podcast about seven years ago. And it failed miserably because I didn’t have any kind of niche. And I didn’t realize that at the time, it took me a while to kind of figure that out and start to put it together. But I was having problems writing blog posts as well, because I was trying to make it so generic. And it was,

Kevin C. Whelan 40:23
that’s why it’s the top of the pyramid for me, right? The niche. Yeah. And then credibility. And then the other stuff, right? Because people go, Well, why are unable to build an email list? And they’re looking at the marketing tactics to grow their list, when it’s a positioning problem, or a credibility problem? You know, so that’s the, that’s where people miss, that’s the strategy part. And it’s, you’re blind to it until you’ve done it. It’s, it’s remarkable.

Alastair McDermott 40:44
Yeah, so I think we’re not gonna have, we’re not gonna have time to talk through all of the rest of it in detail. But I just want to ask you to talk a little bit about methodology. What What do you mean by that? And how does, how does that fit in?

Kevin C. Whelan 40:56
Yeah, so through the course of working with clients over and over again, I’ve I’ve organized, I use a Trello board. But the tool doesn’t matter that what what I do is basically, I’ve created phases with my engagements that I typically go through. And I think of it like a menu of options. It’s not always follow this than this than this. And the whole point of methodology is, okay, you’ve seen enough patterns, you’ve got enough good ideas, how do you put that into an organized system, and I organize it by, you know, onboarding, strategy, analytics, website, content, and then so on, and so forth, ads, and onward and upward. And then I just basically, whenever I have a good idea, or when something works with a client, I store that that into my sort of core methodology. And right now there’s about 120 Plus items. And I actually share that as a resource for my community members. But what it is, is basically your way of operating and it’s not like follow this and this and this, but it’s it is a form of a checklist to make sure no stone gets unturned. And it forces you and your clients get the benefit of this forces you to remember all the different things you could possibly do. And it gets hardened over time, I think of it like artificial intelligence, it gets smarter and smarter and more refined. And I actually share that Trello board with every new client I work with. And they can see a whole menu of over 120 things we want to accomplish in the course of our engagement. And then whether we get to all them or not, but at least they can see the future and jump in and we can jump ahead and they can actually go and watch my trainings. Because I’ve done training on a bunch of them to learn how I do email marketing for the co working industry or whatever. And then when we’re ready to get to it together in our consulting engagements, they’re already educated, they’ve maybe even gotten started on it, without me. So that’s sort of like that, in a nutshell, is organizing your way of operating into a structure that makes sense that you can repeat over and over again, and then keep refining with every new engagement, so it keeps getting better and better.

Alastair McDermott 42:39
I love it. I’m not gonna dig into it more for time reasons. But yeah, that’s fantastic. Let me ask you, then, just briefly on business model. I think one of the great things about being independent and owning your own your own consulting business, or whatever business it is, is that you get to choose and change your business model. Can you talk a little bit about that how you see the business model fitting in?

Kevin C. Whelan 43:03
Yeah, so the business model comes as a byproduct of your methodology. So the methodology is your way of delivering the result, you can do it one on one through coaching, consulting, and even mentorship, you can do it. But once you have it sort of defined, you can then start to piece off pieces of it, do trainings on it and sell those independently of your actual one to one engagement. And that can come in the form of memberships, community subscriptions, like a private podcast, or private newsletter, info products, knowledge, products, those kinds of things. So that’s when your one to one work creates your methodology, your methodology can be parsed out and created, created into products, memberships, subscription products, that kind of thing. And that’s up to that’s how the advisor grows, even training. It’s the becoming an advisor and an educator model. And that’s where you get your scale from at the end of the day.

Alastair McDermott 43:48
And the other place of scale comes from is your actual marketing, which is the last piece of the puzzle. Can you talk about how you think about marketing? And what the marketing engine is for you? Yeah,

Kevin C. Whelan 44:00
well, I think about marketing in terms of how do I get break it down into how do I get a first contact? So how do I get exposure to new people? Number one, number two is how do I get them into? How do I get them into a consideration engine where they’re exposed to more of my content over and over again, that might be social media, that might be other things? And then number three, is conversion. So like, what are what are the offers that I have that will help get them kind of into my ecosystem? buying something at some point? And then how do I retain them? That’s usually through the case of say, community and that sort of thing. So that’s how I break it down as do I need more people in my ecosystem? Great. Well, what do I do number one is look for the golden goose, not for the golden egg. So look for people who have an audience and get in front of their audience if you can. And the way you do that is by having your own audience that you can then promote your appearances whether it’s a webinar, a podcast, a guest post, so you then promote your appearance. You provide your knowledge and which is your asset to their audience and then you then give them your platform by educated by by sharing and promoting it. So then the host of that community assuming they you know, you trust one another That’s the mutual benefit. But you can only get an audience and you can only build you like, that’s why the pyramid of my framework is start with a niche positioning credibility, methodology. And then finally, in the marketing phase. So the golden goose component is the first contact, that’s the best way to reach more people. And I’ve done that through webinars, conference talks, podcasts casting, that sort of thing. But they don’t want to, they don’t want to give you access to that even in the co working world, when they make me a presenter at a conference, they expect me to go and promote that. And luckily, I’ve got an email list because I have a niche. So I’ve been able to attract a good email audience. That’s part of why they pick you for your expertise, and for your exchange access to your audience. And so that’s that’s the first contact part. And the other part, you can kind of fill in the gaps yourself a

Alastair McDermott 45:43
little bit lower. Okay, we’re coming up on time. So I’m just going to ask you a couple of quickfire questions. I’m interested in talking about failures and mistakes do you have? Do you have a business a business mistake that you’ve made in the past that you can tell us but

Kevin C. Whelan 46:00
yeah, well, I used to answer this as like, no, no, no mistakes are mistakes, only lessons and but but practically speaking from a marketing and work the work I do standpoint, when I ran an agency, I would ultimately offer every service. And I would be and I wouldn’t be worried I was not positioned well. So I would take any claim that came my way, which means they were all price sensitive, which means my prices couldn’t be that high, which means my my subcontractors had to be fairly inexpensive. And I was not a specialist at ads, I was not a specialist at SEO and all these other channels. So by building a generalist agency and doing a broad spectrum of services, you’d can’t create a highly functional business, which means then you’re doing dealing with low, low paying clients doing doing at par or not great work all the time. And you’ve low margins. And so that’s where that’s the biggest mistake you can make. And either you pick a fewer set of services to do the you’re great at, or you pick a target market that you’re great at, or both. So my agency days, my early agency days, were the messiest. And one of the reasons I’m such an advocate today, that makes sure other agencies don’t sell that kind of stuff to my clients.

Alastair McDermott 47:01
Yeah, being there bought the t shirt. I’m with you. 100%. The other thing about that is you’re learning on every project. And so you’re learning on your clients on your clients dime,

Kevin C. Whelan 47:10
and they know it, they know. Yeah,

Alastair McDermott 47:14
it is it’s it’s it’s a terrible business model. I failure. And that’s why I’m such a big advocate for specialization niching down, I think it’s it’s the answer to that problem. Yeah. Do you have a favorite business book that you that you’d recommend?

Kevin C. Whelan 47:31
Well, one of the books that I recommend a lot, and I don’t know if people actually go and read it, but there’s a book called trade off. trade off by Kevin meany. And I believe there’s a second author. And that book is basically just reinforced strategy. Basically, the difference between, you know, lower priced offers and higher priced offers and the whole experience element. And it was one of the most important critical elements of why businesses succeed or fail. And I think it’s, I think it’s a great book on strategy, if you want to read that. Yeah, highly recommended to read it really fast. That blew my mind. And I look at everything through that lens now.

Alastair McDermott 48:04
Awesome, we will add that to the show notes. And what about fiction? Do you read fiction?

Kevin C. Whelan 48:09
That’s one of my two dues for this year. I don’t read enough fiction, but I am like a voracious business and marketing podcast and book reader. And so you know, I the book that I liked that is not that like that my wife rate who’s an actual book, bibliophile rates, a two out of 10 was the alchemist. And I just thought that was just a nice spiritual sort of book on finding, you know, finding listening to the signals of the world and finding your path. And yeah,

Alastair McDermott 48:34
yeah, so public Well, yeah, I agree. I, I liked it. I liked it. I can understand it’s, yeah. It’s, I think he’s, he’s a polarizing author. Yeah. Yeah. That was good. Kevin, I really appreciate your time. And we’re just coming up to the top of the hour. So thank you so much for sticking with me. Where can people find you if they are interested in learning more?

Kevin C. Whelan 49:00
I write daily for marketing consultants, and how to build a profitable education advisory business that So you can go to and sign up for that. And yeah, if you’re interested, you can join over community. You’ll find out about that on the website as well. A free group, where marketing consultants get together and talk about expanding their business through advisor work.

Alastair McDermott 49:20
Very cool. And we will link to your socials to that on the show notes as well. Kevin, I really appreciate your time. Thank you for coming in today.

Kevin C. Whelan 49:28
Alastair, I appreciate it. And it’s fun nerding out with you on this stuff. So thank you for having me.

Alastair McDermott 49:35
Thanks for listening, and a reminder about the mastermind group that we’re running called authority labs. It’s for independent consultants and experts who are looking for coaching, accountability and peer support on your journey to authority. So if you’re a consultant or expert and you’re looking to position yourself, build your authority, grow your income, and you’d like to have accountability and a support group around you for that, then this might be the right group for you. So there’s a cohort starting in the next month. There’s going to be a group call every two weeks, and the numbers are going to be limited to a maximum of six for this cohort, so you’ll get a lot of my time and attention. So if you’d like to know more about that, please visit the link in the show notes or go to the recognized Thanks for listening.

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