How To Optimize Your Consulting Business In Uncertain Times With Sean Sheppard: Podcast #299

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In the uncertain landscape of business growth, reaching new heights requires transcending the limits of your own capacity. Welcome back to the Consulting Success Podcast! In this episode, Michael is joined by the exceptional Sean Sheppard, managing partner at U +, a renowned consulting firm with a track record of creating $2 billion in new value and successfully bringing over a hundred ideas to market. Today, Sean sheds light on a crucial challenge faced by many consulting firms and businesses that matter: reaching a growth plateau where the owner’s capacity becomes a limiting factor. This episode dives deep into the strategies and insights necessary for scaling your consulting business. Sean also covers overcoming obstacles that arise when transitioning from six to seven figures. He discusses hiring, training, and expanding your operations, enabling you to optimize your consulting business even in uncertain times. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to learn from one of the industry’s leading experts. Tune in now and take your consulting business to new heights.

Joining Michael on the show is Sean Sheppard. Sean is the managing partner at U+, a renowned consulting firm known for creating $2 billion in new value and successfully bringing over 100 ideas to market. He has an impressive track record of selling startups to industry giants like IBM and Limelight Networks, as well as nurturing the growth of numerous early-stage companies. Here to share with you his incredible insight is Sean Sheppard. Enjoy.

I thought where we could start our conversation is for you to take us back in time a little bit. What were you doing before you were serving as a Managing Partner at U+?

I spent 30 years as a serial tech entrepreneur, mostly on the business sales and marketing side of those startups. I had GrowthX, which is a B2B seed-stage venture fund and the first global product-market fit accelerator for startups focused on developing products. Also, developing markets and making money as opposed to many accelerators, which are focused on developing markets and developing products and raising money. I wasn’t going to do another fund. They are long-term commitments. I was looking to get back into the operating side after being an operator and then going into an investor.

I wanted to get back in. I got dragged into corporate innovation quite by accident. I was helping my portfolio at GrowthX get traction with some large enterprises. They realized that they needed help with their internal ventures. Some of them incorporated my portfolio company and others did not but they didn’t have the right people or know how to do it.

I started helping them and then I ran across U+. It’s because they had an awesome delivery engine of people that could build, design, deploy, implement these technologies and develop them but they didn’t have the commercialization side. That was my side. We joined forces and created the U+ methodology whereby we create new revenue growth through new business creation. We start with ideation, go through testing and validation, build, launch, scale and all the standard things a startup would do.

There are several things you mentioned that I want to dig a little bit deeper into but to start, you’ve been a serial entrepreneur. You’ve built companies. You’ve been an investor. You run a fund. You’re back into working inside of a company. I’m wondering if you could share a little bit about the mindset or the deciding factors.

What were you thinking through to make the decision to go from being an entrepreneur and then to running a fund or being an investor and getting back into business? However, at this time, it’s not your company directly. You become part of a company. How do you view that and think about it? Why not start another company of your own? Why, in this case, decide to get involved with another company?

To clarify, the company was twelve years old that had a strong track record. I bought half of the company. It’s more of my private equity opportunity, which I had never done before. I love the founder and the team. I love their values. I love their approach to corporate innovation. We’re very early on in how corporate innovation is going to rapidly grow. New venture building is supposed to be a $1.7 trillion market by 2030.

Most organizations don’t do it well. I always saw corporates having a distinct advantage in the startup ecosystem if they knew what to do because they have customers. They have relationships. They have the assets and resources. They have the reach. They have the brand and expertise. They have all of those things. If they knew how to apply entrepreneurial thinking and an operating model around it, they could win hand over fist every time.

As a startup, you’re just a stranger going to a strange place with a strange operation, asking other strangers to do strange things with you. And it makes it so much harder to get from zero to one. Click To Tweet

It’s because as a startup, you’re a stranger going to a strange place with a strange operation, asking other strangers to do strange things with you. It makes it so much harder to get from 0 to 1. However, from my point of view as an entrepreneur, if I had the backing of a major brand, resources and that ecosystem at my disposal, it’s ten times faster.

It’s so much easier to open those doors, get the conversations and sell into them.

It’s 10 times cheaper and 10 times more effective all because you have access to that.

I have a question for you on that. As you speak about that exact issue, the startups don’t have a brand name or recognition in most cases, unless, they’ve maybe built or sold other companies and so forth or have the backing of some big well-known investor or a firm. However, I’m interested in the two sides of this business development challenge.

One is you’ve worked with a lot of startups. You’ve run your startups, invested in and so forth. You’re involved in that space. From a business development perspective, what have you seen works the best for a relatively new company that doesn’t have that big brand name behind them to get meetings and appointments to get in the door into these larger organizations that they want to sell into? What is the playbook or what works best in that area?

It’s relationships first. If you have relationships with people that can get you to the right people, that’s great. If you don’t, you have to have some very compelling content that identifies problems that are very real for the people that you’re trying to reach. I call it solving the Sunday afternoon problem.

Tell me more about that.

That’s the person that starts thinking about work on Sunday afternoon and the biggest problems they’re going to face come Monday. What are those recurring issues they’re always thinking about? What is the wedge use case for solving that Sunday afternoon problem? How do you deliver a message compelling enough and unique enough to the right place in time to get that person’s attention? That’s the focus, especially in the weird economic times we have. If you’re not part of the organization’s top 2 or 3 priorities, you’re not going to get any attention.

CSP Sean Sheppard | Consulting Business

What is the format of that content? Does the format matter? Is it a video? Is it written?

It’s whatever that audience prefers. It’s not about what we think. It’s about how they consume information. It’s different for everyone. The format of the messaging is different for every channel. We call it building a market message map. What’s the value proposition? Who’s your audience, what are they looking to do differently? How do they think they’re going to be looking at doing it differently?

You deliver a holding message or what I call a recruiting message because when you’re early stage, you’re not trying to sell. You shouldn’t be trying to sell your product or service. You should be recruiting people who share your vision, understand your current reality and are willing to give you the two things you need the most right as you’re learning, their time and their truth.

The time and the truth will lead to the revenue and then ultimately, to scalable options in the form of, “I have a happy cohort of early referenceable customers that will tell the world they’re better off with me than without me and why and how. I can use that to scale my business.” It’s a very different attitude, in my view and/or a different approach than trying to sell.

It sounds like it’s very much more focused on relationship-building. I’m wondering, how do you view that approach so it is the outreach to a prospective client more based on sharing that content and then looking to have a conversation around that content if it resonates with them? If it doesn’t, maybe it doesn’t but you’re trying to look for those people who do resonate with it.

You’re trying to find the hot buttons, the pain points that are painful enough for them that they’re excited or at least willing to talk or explore that with you. The focus is not on trying to sell them on your offering. It’s more simply about do they have these pain points and do they want to have a conversation around it. Can you add anything more to that or how do you do that?

That’s right. The second best answer is no. The sooner you can get there, the better. You want to create messaging that either resonates or doesn’t quickly by articulating who your audience is very quickly, geographically, demographically, psychographically or whatever it is. For people like this who are actively looking to make this kind of change through this approach, that’s your opening market message.

“If you are this person, you agree with this worldview and you are actively seeking to make a change and this is an interesting way of doing it, let’s have a conversation. If you’re not, you’re not.” It’s because typically, you’re a small entity of 1 or 2 people trying to get to as many people as you can. You don’t have the time. Get to the folks that have that innovative early adopter mindset that is actively looking to solve a problem that you can help them with.

You should recruit people who share your vision, understand your current reality, and are willing to give you the two things you need the most right now as you learn: their time and their truth. Click To Tweet

Have you found ways to identify or have some earlier indication of who those people are most likely to be? For example, is it a job title? Is it that they’ve entered into an organization within a certain period? Are there any factors that you found that are helpful to get a sense of who those people might be?

That’s what user interviews are all about. If you have a concept that you want to validate, you’ve got a hypothesis about a problem that you’re solving, a hypothesis about how you might solve a problem and a hypothesis about for whom you’re going to solve that problem. They call it the initial customer profile, not the idea. It’s because there’s a different mindset and set of attributes of the people that are willing to work with you now versus once you’re established.

You then go out and start interviewing humans that meet those profiles. You construct your customer interview framework in a way that gets to the unbiased truth as much as you can. This is what UX designers are great at, user researchers and user interviewers. I don’t mean putting this stuff into ChatGPT and getting it to spit out what things might look like. You still need humans to go out and validate because it’s a human-to-human exercise to get from 0 to 1.

For a small consulting firm or somebody with limited resources that necessarily can’t invest thousands of dollars in getting somebody to do that kind of research for them, how would you advise them on being able to capture some of that information or get those insights?

Given that ChatGPT and offshoots of that are a fabulous way for you to accelerate the research necessary to determine who’s got what problem and how you might be able to deliver a message that’s compelling enough to get them to solve it. The consulting world is very relationship-oriented. However, I strongly suggest people build an ecosystem of other consultants that share the same customers but do different things. They could help each other out and can be walked into that boardroom where those conversations are happening because that’s where those decisions get made.

Part of what you were saying before in terms of the value of getting a no, a lot of people are scared of getting noes so they take less action because they’re afraid of getting that rejection or hearing noes. To me, it sounded like you’re saying hearing no is a good thing. The more noes you get, the closer you find the people that do want this and whom it will resonate with.

The thought around it that I love your perspective on is, does that mean that the approach in your mind is one or it’s based more on volume? It means that you need a bigger list and you have to go after more people. I’m wondering about that because so many executives and decision-makers are inundated with sales messages that are hype and false. All this stuff is only hitting them.

Messages that lack personalization oftentimes don’t get as good of a response. How do you view being personalized enough that you’re able to do that with a smaller group? If you’re a smaller group, you might not get as many yeses as you’d like or not be able to touch as many people as you’d like. What do you think about that volume versus value type of equation?

CSP Sean Sheppard | Consulting Business

I’m not a volume fan. I don’t think it helps. I’m a fan of having a highly curated targeted audience with a clear set of problems that you can help solve for where you address that through your kind of messaging and you go where they live. You go to events and conferences. You participate in the webinars. You produce content that helps educate them. You come up with highly customized messaging. You show them things they haven’t seen. You tell them things they haven’t heard.

Give them a perspective on a problem set that they haven’t experienced before. I’m a big fan of doing it in that fashion because I don’t think it helps, especially with small consultancies. How many people can you support? If the shotgun approach doesn’t help you, it certainly doesn’t help them or whoever that audience is.

We see that as well with the clients that we work with. We talk about the approach if you’re a smaller startup or have limited resources. We shift more to U+ and your firm being more established and having worked with some very large organizations. You have that track record of success. What is the approach that you take and that you have found most effective to get meetings and appointments and essentially build a pipeline with qualified leads and people that you want to work with? Is there anything different?

We start with our worldview and our philosophy about why most innovations fail. Ninety-five percent of corporate innovations fail. Only 3% ever get to $50 million in annual recurring revenue. Why is that? All the research and all of our experience across the board says the same things. It’s mindset, skillset and lack of a framework. It’s people and a playbook. Also, not having the right stage relevant, people with the right mindset, skillset, experience and a framework to execute with a clear set of outcomes about what are we trying to get to. We want new revenue growth.

What’s the first step in getting new revenue growth? It’s getting to product market fit with an idea. What is that? It’s that cohort of early customers I was telling you about, that you can leverage and have a market that’s big enough for your organization to care about. How do we do that? We have a methodology but do you have the right people? Do you have anybody in your organization that’s ever built a startup? Probably not or they’ve been acquired, earned out and gone away or they’ve tried to hire them and they’ve been stifled so they leave.

Most of the entrepreneurs in these big companies are dead or retired. We start with that worldview and then we want to share that with the world. We have a very robust revenue ops strategy that has a tech stack attached to it with foundational content. Webinars and in-person events are very important in our business. Getting to know the teams that are responsible for new business building and big companies and the C-suite executives in person is important.

Delivering foundational content through the form of webinars, articles, research, white papers and those sorts of things is important. Also, thought leadership. I do a lot of public speaking and so does my business partner. We do a lot of stage speaking at events. We promote the resumes and backgrounds of the individual consultants that work with us. We share our success stories. We’ve got 60 case studies on the website in every industry and sector you can imagine.

We are sharing those stories. People have been after us to write a book. We haven’t got around to it but that’s also a great calling card in the consulting industry if you write a book. With AI, you can probably write one. I know a guy who’s been writing a book a day for 30 days. It takes about three hours to produce the book. It’s ridiculous. I don’t know if it’s valuable yet but it’s a point.

There’s a different mindset and different set of attributes of the people that are willing to work with you right now versus once you’re established. Click To Tweet

From there, it’s constantly following up until they tell you to shut up or this isn’t a fit. Getting to know is the truth. What you’re trying to do is find fit. Don’t think of it as rejection. Don’t sell, seek fit. Fit means, do they have a need that’s BANT, Budget, Authority, Need and Timing? Do you have a budget? Are you the authority figure you can make a decision? Do you have an acknowledged and recognized need that we both mutually agreed upon? Can I solve that need for you through the scope of some sort? Timing. Even if all those things line up, when is the right time for you to prioritize something like this?

It’s not only one thing that you’re doing. It’s multiple things. In your experience, is that the approach that people should take from day one?

It depends on the size and scale of their business. We’re a 150-person organization. We’re not tiny but we’re not huge either and we’re highly specialized. When you get to a place where you need some support to scale your outreach and do those things, you’ll know when that is. It’s when you’re too busy to continue to create it. There are a lot of ways to leverage outside tools, resources, people and contractors to help you do that stuff.

One thing I noticed, Sean, is that on your website, it’s very easy to book a twenty-minute call with you. There’s very little barrier to somebody clicking a button, accessing your calendar instantly and then scheduling a call with you. How effective has that been in generating qualified leads?

It hasn’t been as effective in generating cold inbound leads as it has been in scheduling meetings with people that you’re trying to get meetings with. Having that link in my signature line and referencing makes it so much easier than going back and forth on the calendar Olympics of seven emails. You want to make it easy for the right people to get time with you.

We’ve got some filters and things set up though. With my calendar, you can’t get it if it’s a personal email account, for example. It’s got to be a business account and then you need to give me a business reason why I should accept the meeting. I’m okay with that. I’ve always been an open and accessible person. I want to help people. That’s what I want to do.

That’s what I was wondering. How do you manage that? Let’s say somebody in a country or a type of company or whatever your qualification criteria are if it doesn’t match, how do you make sure that your calendar’s not getting filled with people that are not the best of your time?

I need to have information. That information needs to be in the meeting request. If it’s not there, I go do the research and look it up. I’ll determine right there and there whether or not it’s worth having the meeting. If not, I’ll politely decline and tell them why.

CSP Sean Sheppard | Consulting Business

One thing that you mentioned that I thought was very interesting because I know a lot of consultants struggle with this or it’s something that they’re not clear on is you said that your company promotes the team, individual consultants or individual contributors. It’s not only about Sean and your partner’s show. It’s not about the company.

You want to put the spotlight on some of your team members. One of the reasons why we’ve heard that people are concerned about doing that is if this person, the spotlight’s on them, maybe they’re going to get poached by a competitor or maybe they’re going to go off and do their thing. What do you think about that?

First of all, that’s fixed mindset thinking. Second of all, my philosophy in life is I want whatever’s best for my people and if that’s going somewhere else, that’s great. I shouldn’t resent them for that or take a protectionist view of what this looks like. The reality is that the leadership is only going to engage a certain number of people in an engagement anyway. You need to have strong people that are supporting you if you’re going to grow this business.

We promote all these people individually. We do employee spotlights every week of different people. We make announcements on new hires. We write content about our culture and we’re a fully distributed team that doesn’t have to hire for location. You can focus on skills and culture. Those things are important to us because that’s what we believe. Not everybody’s into that and that’s fine but it works for us because it’s who we are.

We talked a little bit about business development marketing content. Is there anything that you’re doing differently than you’ve done in the past that you’re finding is working well?

Especially, post-COVID, it’s the best. It’s being in any in-person engagement opportunities you can get. People are starving to get back out and see each other again. In our business, it is very much a trust business. Getting to know you before doing business together is important. Also, being there time and time again. You get great long-term engagements from people you’ve seen 3 or 4 times on the road at various things. Be willing to invest your time in those things.

How do you view or make that decision? There are a lot of different events that you could go to. What do you personally look for?

We always look at the audience. Who’s the audience and what’s the structure of the event?

When you get to a place where you know you need some support to scale your outreach and do those things, you’ll know when that is. It’s when you’re just too busy to continue to create it. Click To Tweet

What do you mean by structure?

Is it small and intimate where you get to spend time with people? Are there opportunities for speed dating and networking? There are some new apps like Brella out there that are fantastic.

What is that?

It’s an app that conferences are using as a way to allow the community to get together pre-event and then decide when they’re going to book ten-minute meetings together at pre-assigned tables with numbers on them. All you do is show up and the person’s there and you get to have a chat. You’re not going to solve the world’s problems in ten minutes but you’re going to at least start the relationship and then you follow up afterwards.

Those kinds of things are great. Is it strongly educational? Is it on brand? Who are the people putting it on? Where is it? What are your opportunities to engage that audience? Do you have an opportunity to speak? Are you always trying and get a speaking slot first by creating value through content that people want to hear?

It’s very clear to me that you have this abundance mindset as opposed to a scarcity mindset. I want to ask you about the competition. From the perspective of there are multiple firms that work in digital innovation or take technology to the market, how do you personally view creating that differentiation? How do you guys go on a boat and what have you focused on to create differentiation in the marketplace or how do you think about that?

Normally, you can do a positioning exercise. How are we different? That’s super important. I’m not minimizing it at all. It’s important but we were different from the get-go because of the people and the background and experience of our people. We all come from the startup world. We all know what it takes to get to product market fit so we structure our teams and our approach accordingly. A lot of these other firms will do elements of what we do but very few of them and I haven’t seen many have a one-stop shop approach to being the co-founders of your idea where we can design it, build it, launch it, sell it, commercialize it and scale it.

It sounds like you almost do everything for many of these organizations.

CSP Sean Sheppard | Consulting Business

That’s the idea. If you’re going to fund a startup, whether you’re a venture capitalist like me, who puts $3 million into a seed stage fund, what are you paying for? You are paying for them to build a team, get that thing to product market fit and then win a round. What does that team usually look like? It’s usually somewhere between 10 to 15 people doing product work, market work, ops and delivery and customers. It’s everything along the cycle. Hopefully, focused on getting that first cohort of customers.

You got people building the product. You got people designing the product. You’ve got people marketing and selling the product. You’ve got people supporting the customers. You’ve got all engineering. You’ve got all that stuff. That’s a 12 to 15-person team. Do you know what most corporates do? They throw shared resources at something like this. If it doesn’t work, the people go back to their old jobs and pretend like it never happened.

They’ll pay an innovation firm to do some research or maybe do some wireframes and design up some comps. Also, do some business model innovation workshops or train some people and get them all excited about the culture of innovation and then nothing ever happens. Maybe they’ll ask their internal IT team to go build this thing for them. They don’t build products. They build support systems. It’s all very different. For us, we felt like it was obvious what our differentiation was once we got in and started to look at the market and how people approach it. It’s a very worthy exercise for everybody to go through positioning and differentiation exercises to answer the question, “Why us? Why me?”

One thing that I saw on your website is you have this visual where people can see how your company compares to hiring other types of companies, whether what does a typical UX design firm provide or what do you get from a typical management consulting firm? What was the thought process behind that? How do you guys use it? Do people find it by themselves on the website as something that you point to and talk about in presentations? Can you give a little bit more background about why you created it and how you use it?

We created it because you have to productize even a service offering to some degree. People are very visual. I also know that most organizations don’t have an operating model for executing and innovation. We show them our model and say, “This is how we operate. This is a framework and you can use it on your own if you want. We’ll teach you how to use it but you need a process. You also need the right people. We can provide both or parts of both.” It helps frame very quickly for people who we are and what we do.

You’ve touched on this a little bit but there’s certainly a lot of noise in the media about the economy and uncertainty. Some companies are pulling back on their spending or they’re delaying making decisions. Others are certainly seeing great opportunities but I’m wondering for you, Sean, as somebody who’s dialed into many different organizations at different sizes, what are seeing in the marketplace?

I’m seeing exactly that. I’m seeing a lot of uncertainty and people delaying decisions, pulling back, making layoffs and not doing things they were doing before. They are taking longer to make decisions. Growth for us has not been as fast this year as it had been in my two prior years with the company. However, I also know that I’ve been through a lot of these. It will turn around at some point.

For those that haven’t been through as many of these as you have or certainly not, maybe people who have been through them but maybe more working inside of an organization as opposed to running an organization, maybe they’re feeling a bit more of the pinch or unsure of how will things play out and how does it impact their business, what’s your mindset? What are you telling yourself? What are the thoughts going through your mind? What are you telling your team to keep everybody moving forward?

Leadership will only engage a certain number of people in an engagement. You need to have strong people that are supporting you if you’re going to grow this business. Click To Tweet

First, I’m not blaming myself for it. There are things out of your control. There are only certain things you can control. The second thing is I simplify and focus.

What do you mean by that? Can you elaborate a little bit more?

I mean across the board. Simplify your story, message, who you’re targeting, the work that you’re doing and how you’re approaching the market to grow your business. Don’t do the things that aren’t paying your bills and putting food on your table. Also, do twice as much of those things and half of everything else. Focus on that. You can and will survive it. We know the whole story. When you come out the other side, you’ll be much stronger for it.

It’s because not everybody will survive. A lot of people are sticking their heads in the sand hoping that things pass.

I can’t predict the future any more than anybody else does.

Is there anything else that you haven’t mentioned that you are doing or you’re pushing your team to do and encouraging them to do in terms of how to navigate the slower budget cycles or people being slower to make decisions?

You’ve got to be more customized and flexible. You’ve got to have that do whatever it takes attitude in times like these. You’ve got to be creative in figuring out the different ways you can support and serve your customers.

Is that flexibility in your mind when it comes to the pricing of projects?

Don’t do the things that aren’t paying your bills and putting food on your table. Click To Tweet

Pricing is part of it. It’s pricing, scope and terms. All of those things should be on the table if you want the work.

Areas that you may not typically be as flexible, you’re finding or encouraging the team to be more flexible given the current situation.

Be open to negotiating and figuring it out with your customers.

Speaking of pricing and fees, how do you structure your kind of pricing or strategy for pricing inside the company? You have a very clear process and program that you take people through but what is the pricing inside of U+ based on?

It depends on the type of project and the scope of it but to say, we’re taking an idea from the beginning through to launch and scale. We charge for an agile team on a monthly basis and then we’ll do fixed scope, pricing and milestone stuff as well. When we have to, we’ll provide hourly rates typically with public entities, RFPs and those things. You’ve got to do that but we’re a fee for service.

In the situation where it sounds like the majority, it’s not hourly, it’s a fixed fee, more project-based work, are you still tracking or managing? Are there certain metrics that you’re looking at in terms of utilization? What are those key metrics that you are paying attention to?

Utilization rate is always an important one in this business. Margin is an important one. The margin at the time you close the contract and then can you increase that margin through the contract by being more efficient. Those are the things that we’re focused on and then making sure that we always give our people a good variety of different options and projects to work on because that’s what they love to do. They’re startup folks. They like that variety.

How do you track all that? Is there a certain app or technology they use for tracking the margin, hours and profitability?

Utilization rate is always an important one in the consulting business. Click To Tweet

It’s because we’ve got a strong development team so we built something in-house that works for us.

You talked about ways to kind of increase the margin. Are there certain things that you do that you’ve found effective? How do you go about selling deeper into organizations?

First, you’ve got to deliver. Show yourself as somebody who can be trusted, reliable and deliver and then start asking for introductions from the people that do trust you and look for different opportunities where you can be helpful.

In terms of finding op those opportunities and having that conversation with a buyer, do you wait until you’ve delivered on that first engagement and close that first series of scope?

I do. Different people have different approaches. That’s my style. I try not to ask until I’ve delivered. You got to give before you take.

Is there any initiative or big lesson that you’ve learned? Is there anything that maybe didn’t go the way that you expected looking back?

There’s been a bunch of projects that get killed midstream because of market conditions or other factors that had nothing to do with us. That’s frustrating.

Is there anything from within those experiences or maybe others that serves as a lesson for you that you go, “We went through this. It didn’t turn out the way we thought but we’ve done something as a result of it that has made us stronger.”

You don’t know what you don’t know yet. These are not well defined until you get the information from the market. Click To Tweet

We’ve made some changes to how we bill and charge. Also, when, where and how we commit to milestones.

Give a little more detail. Within those things, what did you change when it comes to how you bill or charge?

The easiest way to say it without sharing too much proprietary information is we’ve become better at selling and delivering the way people are used to buying in large organizations. Even if they’re trying to do innovative things, they’ve got some very old ways of thinking about pricing, deliverables, activities and milestones that are not typically used in the startup world. You wear many hats. You go across a lot of different things. You put an agile team on something. You might think you’re getting 40 hours a week but you’re probably getting 50 to 60 because these people aren’t committed to what they’re doing and we’re not charging you for that.

Some people don’t understand that until you go back and do an audit of the hours and find out that they got so much more value than we asked them for. It’s because we need the teams to be agile. We need them to have the ability to live on a dime based on what they learned from the market because you don’t know what you don’t know yet. These are not well defined until you get the information from the market. It’s not a traditional IT project.

How do you manage that? Let’s say, initially, the thinking behind the billing is the equivalent, even if you’re not using hourly. Let’s say it’s 40 hours but when you get in there, you find that you have to spend 50 or 60 hours. Is that a conversation you’re having with the buyer in advance? How do you handle that so that you’re not eroding the profitability of the project?

That’s another lesson. How well defined is the scope from the beginning and the spec of what the work is, especially if it’s technology-based stuff? We always tell our clients, the more defined the spec is and we will evaluate and assess that spec, the more accurate specifically we can be about pricing and milestones but there’s also the opposite end of that, which is I have no idea.

If I have no idea, then you’re going to pay me to scope all this to give you that answer, which takes a lot of time. Also, there’s the stuff in the middle where sometimes we have to take a risk and say, “We’ll provide a fixed timeline and milestone for this. We might go 10% over or 10% under but this way you can get your budget approved.

It’s back to working flexibly in some ways with the client. I have a couple more questions here and we’ll wrap up, Sean. I appreciate your time and you sharing. You’ve accomplished a lot in your career even to this point and lots more to come. What are 1 or 2 daily habits that you feel give you the edge, give you that superpower and help you to perform at the highest levels? Is there anything that you do on a daily basis?

Sell without selling out. Click To Tweet

I try to do a little bit of light exercise every morning. I try to not look at my phone until I’ve gone through my routine.

As a start at a certain time, do you do certain things? What does that look like?

It’s not always easy for it to be at the same time because of the nature of the business I’m in and the other demands in my life. However, I’m always usually the first one up and then I go right into my routine of doing my exercise and getting ready for the day. I avoid looking at the phone or anything, knowing from the night before when I had my first meetings.

I try to be up and doing some deep work and response work before I get into those meetings so I’m always responsive. There are a couple of pieces of media I consume on a daily basis that helps me mentally, emotionally and physically. The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday is one of my all-time favorites. Atomic Habits by James Clear is great and Greg McKeown’s Essentialism is another fantastic one. I’ve got a sleep app called Aura. That’s fantastic.

Have you got the ring?

It’s not them. It’s AURA.

I’m wearing the Oura ring. That’s OURA.

Aura is a sleep app that has meditative speakers, sounds and all sorts of things that help me regulate and sleep calmly. Those are the main things. The other thing is I’m a naturally positive person who’s always persevered, persistent and determined to get things done. That’s my nature to look at the bright side of most things.

You mentioned several authors. One of the questions I often like to ask people is about a book that they’ve read or listened to. It could be fiction or nonfiction. You’ve rattled off a bunch of classics there but is there any other book that comes to mind that might recommend to people?

I keep a copy of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, the Greg Hayes version by my bed. I also keep Wisdom of the Ages by Wayne Dyer, which is a compilation of a lot of smart philosophy. Discipline Is Destiny, which is Ryan Holiday’s new book I read, which is fantastic. Any and everything by Jordan Peterson has been fantastic for me and my family as well. It’s a reliance on a lot of those things.

I love that it’s not just purely business. It’s stuff that’s impacting your life.

We’re in professional services. Is there a difference between a person and a professional? I would argue there’s not. If you develop the person, you’ll develop the professional. I’ve come to believe that generally after many years of doing this. The skills that you develop in the consulting world are human skills and relationship skills. Andy Paul‘s new book on sales is fantastic and the name escapes me. I feel terrible because I’ve been on his podcast three times.

It’s Sell Without Selling Out.

He and I share this worldview that technology has made sales very transactional. We’re losing relationships. We’re over-relying on tools. We’re not treating each other well enough. Certainly, in society, we see a lot of that. To bring back integrity and humanity to sales and I don’t know if there’s anybody more articulate or a better voice when it comes to selling around that than Andy.

He’s been on the show as well so I could resonate with that. We’re big believers in that and a couple of our past companies had the word relationship in them. When we had a company in Japan, it was Kankei Culture. Kankei is the Japanese word for relationship. I’m with you on that, Sean.

I hope you enjoyed this conversation between Sean and Michael. If you did, then as always, be sure you hit that subscribe button wherever you listen to your favorite shows. If you want to help support the show, we’d ask you either head over to Apple Podcasts where there, you’ll have the chance to leave a rating and review or you can share this episode with a friend or colleague who you feel would truly enjoy reading this episode.

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