Building a Remote Consulting Business with Cali Williams Yost: Podcast #303

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Research is vital in many businesses because the gathered data will allow business owners to decide accordingly. That is one of the secrets today’s guest reveals. Cali Williams Yost, the CEO of Flex+Strategy Group, shares her expertise in building a remote consulting business. She provides tips on developing the skills of your managers to grow your business. Cali also reveals her secret in managing her work-life fit to grow your firm. Get a glimpse of how Cali grows her business and learn from her.

Joining Michael on the show is Cali Williams Yost, who’s a futurist, strategist, author, and keynote speaker who serves as the esteemed CEO of Flex+Strategy Group. Cali has the remarkable ability to unlock performance and enhance engagement through flexible workplace strategies. As you’ll read, Cali has worked with many leaders during her career. She mentions the lack of training and resources for current and future leaders. It can be challenging, even for the most experienced business person or entrepreneur to manage people. However, if you want to grow your business, this is an essential part.

If you’d like to work directly with the Consulting Success Team to receive personalized coaching and support and to optimize and grow your consulting, business, marketing, and revenue, visit ConsultingSuccess.com to learn more and apply. Let me tell you a little bit more about Cali who has worked with renowned institutions such as the United Nations, EY, the Singapore Government, and many other esteemed entities.

As you’re reading, there are a few things I want you to look out for. The first is the importance of being data-driven when making important decisions for your firm, how to market to future thinking leaders and how to identify them, how to use a book to drive new leads for your company, how to develop the skills of your managers to help grow your business, Cali’s secret to managing your work-life fit to grow your firm, and how to increase your fees without losing your customers. Here to share with you her incredible insight is Cali Williams Yost. Enjoy.

I thought where we’d start the conversation was to take us back in time a little bit. Before you started your consulting business, what were you doing?

I graduated from Columbia Business School in 1995. I started in this new emerging field of work flexibility strategy consulting in 1995. It was happening back then. I know we all think it’s only since COVID, but it’s not. I worked for a think tank, which is where this all very much started. It was very academic, and cutting-edge, and small think tanks were looking at it. I worked for the very early-stage thought leaders in this space. I realized I didn’t think the way we were approaching it was going to work.

I had been a banker, a manager in a bank, frontline banker. I worked in that bank for seven years and I’d been a manager for about two. I realized that for work to change and for it to be truly flexible, it had to be executed in the business. You can’t just do a top-down policy. That’s the approach they were taking. I looked around. I tried to find other consulting firms that were doing this work, and they weren’t. I thought, “I’m going to have to go out on my own.” That’s when I started my consulting practice in 1998.

I have to ask you because academics are not often known as being the most entrepreneurial. Coming from that background, especially for those who are joining us who may also come from an academic background, were there any advantages to that background in the academic world and think tank world? At the same time, were there any disadvantages or real challenges that presented for you?

For me, the think tank academic background has been and continues to be very helpful, and I’m very disciplined in terms of the data-driven approach to what I do. You had to be sharp and on point in terms of any kind of inference you were making from data. That, I continue to draw upon to this day. The thing that frustrated me to your point was I’m all about the business. This has always been about business for me.

It’s great to have the theory and the ultimate everybody’s happy fantasy world that I like to think about too, but I’m always very much about, “How’s this going to make a business more effective?” I bring both of those sensibilities together in my work and always have. That’s what I think the academic piece brings, but then I’m all real-time applied and, “What does this mean?” That is the aspect that I bring from my banking background to this work that I do.

I love the focus that you brought up around the power of data or being diligent with data. I was talking with some clients about this idea of what I refer to as specialized content. In that, a lot of people will put out general content and general information, but in the environment that we’re in, it’s very hard to stand out if what you’re sharing is just general. If there are no real deep insights, perspectives, opinions, data, or stories inside of that, it’s hard to be known for it. Clients and the marketplace appreciate somebody who can use data or bring data to life.

I’m wondering about those who might be in a similar position where they have a deep understanding of X, X being whatever it is that they’re experienced in, but maybe have just been at the surface level in terms of their content creation. They haven’t gone deep into data. What advice would you have for them or any best practices? How did you go about and how do you maybe still to this day and use data and research to establish yourself as an authority and as an expert in a way that helps you to build a business?

We started researching the current state of work flexibility. My first survey was many years ago. I partnered with ORC International, which is now branded something else, but it’s a reputable data house. We went out and did a survey of full-time US workers and how they were experiencing the ability to flexibly work and manage their lives. I always use that data to reinforce what I know works in terms of executing a flexible work strategy.

I’ll give you an example. There’s always this theory that women were most of the flexible workers pre-pandemic. That is not true. One of the things I try to say to people is how you ask the question. For example, we would ask the question, “Where do you do most of your work?” There was an answer, “I do most of my work from a remote location that is not on my employer’s site.” It doesn’t matter if it’s home. It doesn’t matter if it’s a co-working space. It doesn’t matter. You’re not in the actual office with everybody that you work with.

Make that investment in partnering with a data house that can get you that solid data to draw upon and use to illustrate what you do in terms of adding value to your clients. Click To Tweet

We found back in 2018 or 2015 that 1/3 of full-time US workers said they were doing their work from a remote location, not on their employer’s site. Of that 1/3, a majority were men, and one woman. I would keep raising my hand and say, “I think we think that most people who have flexibility are women. It’s not true.” This allows me to stand in my knowledge and point something out when the rest of the world thinks it’s something else. It has always been worth it to me to make that investment in partnering with a data house that can get you solid data that you can draw upon and use to illustrate what it is that you do in terms of adding value to your clients.

That’s a good perspective and great advice because there are a lot of different ways that people can get data, probably more than ever before. I agree. Rather than just saying, “This is my opinion. This is what I believe.” if you can back that up and say, “Here’s what I believe, but here’s why. It’s not just something that I’ve seen or that I’ve thought about, this is happening,” that’s a very powerful message. It stands out as well because people are drawn to numbers, percentages, dollar signs, and things of that nature. Let’s fast forward a little bit. You worked as a think tank. You also had the experience also working In a bank in a managerial position. You saw that things weren’t working the way that you believed that they could, so you decided to look for maybe other consulting firms.

I did. I thought, “Somebody’s got to be doing this,” and they weren’t. That’s interesting in terms of now, all of a sudden, all the big firms are diving in. It’s like, “You were not doing this until COVID hit.” That’s why I ended up going out on my own.

You were quite early. The demand wasn’t necessarily there or wasn’t as present as it is now. Walk us through. What was that environment like for you from a lead generation client perspective? Where did your first few clients come from?

I worked for the White House, the most prestigious think tank around these issues, which are families and work institutes when I worked for them. That gave me a lot of credibility in the market at the time. Believe it or not, there were a lot of organizations, even before COVID, that had flexible work arrangement policies in their businesses. I would find those organizations and those thoughtful future-facing leaders who are like, “Flexibility. We got to make this the way we operate and these policies are not working. We understand that you have an approach that can help us operationalize this, so come and work with us.” I focus on that small universe of forward-facing leaders who knew that was not going to work.

There were two drivers that were driving their vision. They were getting a lot of requests from talent for flexibility. They wanted to be able to offer that in a meaningful way that worked for their business as well as attracting talent, and they saw that as a competitive advantage. Also, workspace, interestingly enough. I know we’re all talking about how workspaces are not coming back to the way they were pre-COVID.

Leaders were already starting to say, “I don’t need all this space. I don’t have everybody coming in here. On average, my workspace occupancy is maybe 65% or 60% at any given time. We need to rethink this. Also, open office spaces are not working.” Enough of it was happening where I would connect with those leaders and we would start to execute a more flexible operating model. That is where I focused my lead generation. I will also say I wrote two books, so we can talk about books and how important they are.

Let’s put a bookmark into the book for a second. We’ll come back to it. I like how you weren’t trying to go for necessarily a large market. You were focusing on people who already were investing in this idea of flexible work arrangements. If they weren’t investing, they were at least interested in it. They saw the value in it. They were more future-thinking leaders.

Rather than trying to find or target your marketing and your outreach to people who are just leaders and trying to convince and educate them, you were focusing on those who already saw, which is an important distinction for everybody who’s joining us now. There are a couple of questions about that. The first is, how did you identify which organizations and which leaders were future thinking and were more likely to be open to that conversation?

Just talking to people and, as I like to say, getting in front of groups and presenting. In many cases, most of the time, it is getting the slow clap, which is like, “That is fascinating. Not going to do it, but good to know.” That 1 or 2 leaders would come up afterward and be like, “You are 100% right. We have got to talk to each other.” You have to just put yourself out there.

CSP Cali Williams Yost | Remote Consulting Business

Where were you speaking? Give us an idea of the kinds of places.

Industry and organizations. Somebody would say, “This interesting person, we should probably talk to her. Let’s see what she has to say.” I’m going to come back to the books in a minute. Also, managerial leadership conferences. There was always something, and usually, the angle was through women. How do we attract and retain women? About several years ago, I cut that. I was like, “This is not about women.”

I would go in through that, but then say, “This isn’t about women. I had my data and the whole thing.” It was just where this topic around, whether it’s diversity, equity, inclusion, women, technology, workspace, or flexibility. I found SHRM, Society for Human Resource Management Conferences. Again, where are people talking about these topics? I always had a little bit of a different angle and people would say, “Come and tell us what you think.”

It sounded like you’re leveraging your network through different connections that you have, number one. Even before that, you’ve developed your perspective, which is backed by data. You have a message that is different than the standard that’s out there, but it’s supported by data that is compelling. Therefore, different organizations are open to hearing it because they like that kind of stuff. The third part there is you’re presenting. You’re getting in front of people. You’re finding, “Where are the places that my ideal clients are congregating? Where can I get in front of them?” Was there anything else that you were doing at that time?

That was an excellent recap. It was exactly what I did. I will say one thing though. I was looking for leaders who were going beyond flexible work arrangements. They were understanding, “This is about the way we need to operate. We need to work across these different dimensions of onsite, remote, different times, and leveraging technology.” They had a very much more comprehensive picture of work beyond the traditional work model. Those would be the people who would resonate with what I had to say and understand, “This is the future. We’re going to go there.” They know I can help you get there.

At what stage of this journey did you write your first book?

Many years ago, one of the things that I would talk about was that if you created flexibility, you would help people balance their work and life. That was just one of the outcomes. There was productivity and workspace, but balance was one of the outcomes. I would see leaders glaze over. They could not go there with me, and then I would try harder.

One day, this leader took pity on me and said, “I’m going to tell you right now when you say that B word, all I hear is work less and we have so much work to do.” Out of nowhere, I said, “It isn’t about balance. It’s about how you fit your work and life together and help people do that in a way that allows them to still contribute to the business.” He sparked up. He was like, “I get it. I have a work-life fit that works for me, but so and so.” It was like night and day. I thought, “What just happened?” I rewound the tape and I realized it was this concept of work-life fit.

I kept using it as a way to explain how you are going to benefit the organization and support your people. I thought, “We got to teach people how to manage their work-life fit,” because the company can give you flexibility, but you have to go out, grab it, and use it. I wrote my first book because I couldn’t find anybody out there talking about how to fit your work and life together, leveraging that flexibility that you would have at your workplace. I wrote my first book, which was about how to do a formal reset or formally change how, when, and where you would work with a formal plan.

When I went out and promoted that book, people were talking to me about, “I need the day-to-day. How do I walk my dog?” I thought, “The first book was about the resets. The second book was called Tweak It, how to do the small shifts, and how, when, and where you work.” That’s the tweaks. I had the resets and the tweaks, and that became the skillset for individuals. That’s why I wrote my books because I saw it was missing. We were talking about managers and leaders, but not about people and what they need to do to be effective in this flexible work and life reality they found themselves. That’s why I wrote my books. I found a missing piece of the market. That then became part of my delivery model, but then also what I went out and talked about.

It isn’t about balance. It’s about how you fit your work and life together and help people do that in a way that allows them to still contribute to the business. Click To Tweet

I appreciate that breakdown. A few things about that, the first that I want to point out for everybody joining us that is incredibly important is that you probably would not have had that realization or the light bulb moment that, “My messaging of what I’m saying using the word balance is not resonating, but something else now is if you weren’t out there having conversations.” The idea of getting the business plan ready, trying to perfect things, playing with your website, and overthinking things is not going to cut it. You need to get out there and have conversations to ultimately validate and find that right fit. That’s number one.

Number two is the hesitation that a lot of people have when they think about writing a book because everybody has a book inside of them, is, “I don’t have the time.” Walk us through how you fit the book-writing process into working with clients, doing work, taking care of family, or whatever it might be. Give us the plan that you use or how you navigated that.

I’m going to tell you the truth. It is a lot of work. Books are a lot of work. I probably put more of myself into those books than a lot of other people do. I enjoy the process of that. It helps me think about how I’m thinking. It helps me work through my approach. When I knew I had a book in me, I had to plan in advance. I had to put money aside. Part of my model is I have consultants who work for me in a flexible way. I would give them the heads up, “I’m going into book mode.” They would know, “Cool. We’re going to pause while you do your books.”

That’s how I did it. I would put time aside to get the proposals written, then you pitch it, and then I would do some work. When the book got sold and I had to write it, then I had to put time aside again. That is not the only way to do this. You can hire people to help you write books and people do that. I did it myself. That’s not how you have to do it, but that’s how I managed to fit those into everything else.

You talked about putting money aside, and I appreciate you bringing that up. I’d love it if you get a little bit more tactical or detailed around that. How did you decide how much money to put aside? How are you thinking about that? How much time are you giving yourself? It is so people might be able to get a sense of your decision-making process around that. Was it 1 month, 3 months, 12 months?

The first time, I didn’t put enough away because I didn’t realize how long it took. The second time, I knew it was going to take longer. I always see these books as an investment in my company. Even if I’m not necessarily taking away as much a month as I normally would have, to me, I’m investing. This is time-invested. I would say the first time, I probably said, “Three months, that will be fine.” The second time, I probably did more than six months, but I also had seen a return from the first book.

When you say six months, do you mean essentially what your income would have been over a six-month period? That’s saved and parked in the bank, so you don’t have to be stressed out about, “Do I have the cashflow to survive this?”

Right, because I just knew I couldn’t do a lot of business development and a lot of client service as I was writing the book. That’s how I approached it, but again, it maybe wasn’t the full amount I would take for a month.

Enough to cover living expenses and not feel stressed.

Exactly. In my case, it was childcare. That’s the biggest thing that I had to cover because I had two little kids. My husband and I planned it all together, but I didn’t want to have to let my nanny go, so that was my big expense.

CSP Cali Williams Yost | Remote Consulting Business

You have booked one. You have book two. Walk us through what are these books doing for you. Even before that, what are you doing with the books to use them to grow the business? If you take us back at the benefit of hindsight, what do you feel worked best? If somebody was planning to write a book as well right now, how would you suggest that they leverage that book to grow their business?

The way I describe books is funny. Two things. 1) As I said, it does help you organize your thinking and it does help you hone in on how you want to present something in no other way that I have ever found. Again, this is me. 2) A book is a moment in time when people pay attention. When you have a book that comes out, people are, “A book.” They may never read the book, although, I will tell you, PS, fifteen years later, it is amazing the number of people who have come up to me and said, “Your book changed my life. I found your book. I was able to fit my work and life together in ways I want.”

That is rewarding fifteen years later, all those people. At the moment, it is a period of time when people will say, “Let’s pay attention to what they have to say. That’s interesting.” That gives you some exposure that you wouldn’t have otherwise. That was several years ago, then the last one I wrote was 7 years ago, and that still held for me.

Were you promoting through sending emails? Were you talking about it when you were giving presentations?

Yeah, because you go out and you say, “I have a book coming out.” I would let people want to have you speak like, “Let’s have you come and speak.” It does allow you to book business. In my case, this content then became part of my consulting delivery. Part of the execution of a high-performing flexible work strategy is giving people these skills and tools. That was the other piece of it as well. It just rounded out.

You’re developing your intellectual property in the format of a book, but the IP inside of the book, you’re also able to use as part of projects and in delivery. Take us to the current day. From a marketing perspective, it sounds like the book had an impact and the presentations had an impact. What’s working for you? The last book, as you said, was a couple of years ago that it was published. The first one was several years ago. Here we are in 2023. What’s working for you from a marketing and lead generation perspective?

What’s working for me now is all of a sudden the whole world has woken up to the fact that there’s flexibility. It helps to be one of the few people out there that’s saying, “Actually, I’ve been doing this for a while, and this is not new. Here’s how you want to think about moving forward.” It does help to have a long history of executing successful flexibility. COVID did fundamentally and forever change the way we think about work and it accelerated a trend that was already underway. I will be honest, I’m shocked still at the number of organizations that think we can go back, but there are now enough who are like, “We’re not going back. Now, what are we going to do?”

When you say go back, what do you mean? Do you mean people returning to the office full-time and not working from home? Define what go back means.

Go back means going back to the traditional work model, which was February 2020. Maybe in that case there were more days in the office than perhaps are going to happen going forward. For me, “go back” means, “We’re going back to the way we did things in February 2020” where I think we all still bought into the traditional work model as the model. The model is you go to the office 5 days a week, 9:00 to 5:00, but that was already disappearing before COVID, but it was random. There was no strategy around it. It was just happening.

As I said, COVID accelerated all of that to its most extreme form. Now, we’re coming back to the middle and we’re saying, “We’re not going back there, but that is not sustainable necessarily or even effective, so what does this new way of working look like? How do we take the best of what we learned in COVID, but add back what probably got lost in the sauce?” It was not an intentional and thoughtful way of executing a flexible work model. Again, I’m finding there are leaders who are like, “We’re not going back, but we got to move forward in a more intentional way. What does that look like?”

A book is a moment in time when people pay attention. Click To Tweet

What is the data telling you right now when you identify or look at organizations that you’ve either studied or that you’ve worked with, who you feel are effective in achieving success, and making things happen? What does that best practice model look like from a workforce perspective? I’m asking through the frame of a consultant who is building a team and maybe they have 10 or 15 people, maybe they’re working towards that, or maybe even more. Also, a consultant that is maybe going to work with organizations. If you could give us a little bit more detail about what are those high-performing effective organizations doing from a structure perspective that you feel is in the future?

I’m going to say this to you because we’re all consultants here. That is your worst consultant answer, but it is the truth. It depends. It depends on your business. It depends on what you do. It depends on how you’re sourcing your talent. It depends on, do your clients require you to be in person or onsite. We all have to remember that in the majority of workplaces, people have to be onsite.

That’s still true now, but that does not mean that there can’t be some degree of flexibility in terms of time or the way they structured schedules or what have you, but they have to be there. That is something to think about. If you’re a consultant that serves clients, for the most part, who have to be there, then you might have to be there. It doesn’t have to be there all the time, maybe not, but there’s an aspect of that that you have to think about.

For the consultant who does have a team and they’re thinking about, “What’s the best practice for me? I want to make sure that we can be effective.” Should they be thinking about, it so that they can work virtually, or they might be working onsite? My question is, what are the biggest misconceptions or mistakes that you see people making in that position where they’re a leader, they have a team somewhere between 10 to 25 people? What should they be thinking about avoiding? What are the mistakes and misconceptions around that?

The first and biggest misconception is you start with the where. Don’t do that. Start with the what. Start with the work. Ask yourself, “Based on what it is we need to do, how and where do we do that best?” That’s our foundational question for high-performance flexibility. It’s just, “What do we need to do? How, when, and where do we do it best?” You start with the what, then you look at the where. What happens is you start focusing on the where and days in the office, people show up, they’re doing the same stuff they were doing when they weren’t there, and they get disengaged. You’re not intentional. It doesn’t work.

With the consulting business, there is basic flexibility in many cases that you then have to think about the structure so that you are serving your clients in the way they want to be serviced. However, giving people the flexibility to do aspects of their work that don’t require them to necessarily be in an office. Also, make sure you are then finding the technology that enables that work and making sure it’s being used effectively. Managers have to manage. They do.

We may be moving to a world where we have to revisit whether you can just have some solid subject matter experts on your team who don’t love to manage, and that’s okay. You have to have people in managerial roles when people are working across these different dimensions who are good at setting priorities, making sure people have the resources they need, coordinating across these different dimensions, and they are comfortable with the technology.

Why is that more important now? It sounds like you’re saying that in this new model, and I’m resonating with what you’re saying, but I want to clarify for the benefit of everybody. How is that different in this new model as opposed to the old model of having subject matter experts, but then it sounds like you’re saying there’s a real importance and a real key to having people that can manage project management experience, their operations-focused. Why is that so important now compared to before?

I’m going to tell you what I believe Michael. You challenged me on this. There are two things that I believe before COVID that are important now. Managers weren’t managing great before COVID. When I would go into organizations, my experience covers every industry. Before COVID, I would go in and there’d be more remote work happening and more time flexibility. Managers would come up to me inevitably every project and say, “How do I know they’re working? I can’t see them.” My answer was always the same. It’s easy. “How are you doing it now? Just keep doing that.” Blank stare. We weren’t training managers to be effective for the most part. Some people don’t like to manage. They just don’t. They don’t like it. They’re not good at it. That has to be okay.

A lot of people have the manager label in terms of their title, but as you’re saying, they weren’t necessarily trained with a real focus on how to effectively manage people and teams.

CSP Cali Williams Yost | Remote Consulting Business

They maybe didn’t like it, so we have to make sure that managers have the skills, especially if they’re managing people they don’t see necessarily or they’re managing people they are working asynchronously with as well as in real-time. That’s a skill. We have to train people. The other piece of this is, you have to be comfortable with technology. You have to understand how to use the technology that’s available to you to coordinate the work and make sure you’ve put some norms in place so people are all coming at it in the same way. We didn’t do that very well before COVID.

These are all the things that when you are thinking about how you’re leading your team in the consulting world, you want to start with the work, structure it in a way how, when, and where that work is happening to serve your clients and make sure you can access the talent that you need, ensure that people know how to manage, and they’re using the technology and also your workspace. Don’t get rid of all your workspace. I am seeing people make the craziest decisions around the workspace right now when they don’t even know how people are working. You are going to have to think about, what I need in terms of physical space to enable this way we work and support the things that we’ve identified that happened better when we’re in person so that space is available.

I love that. It’s so true. It’s my experience as well to see people who have maybe had that manager title. They consider themselves to be a manager or senior level experience, but they don’t actually love managing or they’re not actually that good at that part of it. That’s a really important reminder for people as they are thinking about building teams or even bringing on somebody in a fractional or contract type of role.

The other thing that you mentioned, which is huge, is focusing first on what instead of where. To me, that kind of signals the focus should be more on the outcome and result. Less on the deliverable of where are we going to do this. It’s more about, “What do we need to do to create success?” That’s a great question to ask because then if everybody’s aligned and clear on what the outcome needs to be or what success looks like, you can reverse engineer that and figure out, “Where do we need to be? How do we need to do it? What technology do we need? What kind of reporting cadence do we need?” That’s a really good reminder for people.

I want to ask you another question about this fit because you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it and seeing some of the best practices as well as when things go wrong. For yourself, you’re running a consulting business. You have team members, a contractual type of structure and arrangement. You have kids and family. How do you manage your own life or the integration of doing your work and growing a business at the same time?

I ask this because this is a question that comes up for many of our clients as they are growing. Very often, it’s somewhere where they’re higher than 6 figures into 7 figures per year. They’re building a team, and it’s like, “We’re growing. We’re doing well. Now, there’s a lot more going on. On the business side, yes, I’m successful, but I’m starting to feel a little bit drained or overwhelmed. How do I navigate that? How do I continue to grow the business? That’s what I want to do, but I also want to make sure that I’m enjoying my life and spending time with my kids or elderly parents.” I’m wondering what you think about that and if there are any best practices that you can share about it.

In the early years of my consulting practice, I focused on those leaders who saw the future and were willing to do the work that I added value to. Remember, before COVID, that was a pretty limited universe. I managed to do that. I always got questions when I would go into organizations like, “You’re so lucky. You work for yourself.” I have some control over how, when, and where I work, but I still have clients. I have to be even more thoughtful and intentional about when I shut down and what I’m doing.

One of the reasons I wrote my second book is I would meet these people in organizations I called the work+life “fit” naturals. These would be people who come up to me and be like, “Why are you here? This is just like brushing your teeth.” I’m like, “It is not, and I’m going to tell you right now, you are unusual.” I studied them for years to learn their secrets, mostly because I wanted to know. I was like, “How are you doing this?”

Here are the basic secrets. I do this myself. Number one, they keep a shared calendar with all their work and personal to-dos in the same place. Why my book is called Tweak It is they break their work and personal priorities down into these small units and put them on their calendar. If you find that there’s something that’s not happening, they’re like, “You got to put it on your calendar,” and then each week, you go in and you make sure that you’re prioritizing the things that matter to you.

Also, my other favorite secret is they celebrate success. I have a high bar. If I didn’t get everything done, I’d be like, “Forget it.” They’d say, “Why are you doing that? You got 50% done with what you wanted to get done, that’s great. The next week, you’ll do something.” I celebrate success. I keep that shared calendar, and I do try to intentionally make those things that matter to me happen. The last few years have been insane, just the level of opportunity and growth. I have had to be very thoughtful about each stage, “Whom am I serving? What do I want to be doing? What’s missing?” I probably overdid it on the work part at certain points.

Give people the flexibility to do aspects of their work that don’t require them to be in an office. Ensure you find the technology that enables that work and they’re using it effectively. Managers have to manage. Click To Tweet

Do you mean like taking on too much work?

Too much. There have been periods over the last few years. I’ve had to step back and say, “Either I’m going to take on another person or I’m going to think about exactly who I’m serving and make sure that I’m resetting in that intentional way.” It is great when you are a consultant to have control over your time, but it’s hard.

How have you thought through that? That’s a great question to bring up that a lot of people are considering or have considered to grow. You either need to bring on another person or maybe more than one person. That might be part-time, full-time, contracts, freelance, or whatever. You need another brain and body.

The other side of it is if you’re not going to do that, then you need to make changes inside of the business. Maybe it’s systems, automation, or structure. Maybe it’s being more intentional or more restrictive in terms of what you say yes to and what you say no to. Maybe you’re increasing your pricing strategies. How did you personally think through that when you decided that you wanted to make that decision? What was the conversation going through your mind? Ultimately, which path did you take?

For me, it came down to, “Where am I value-adding?” I’ll give you a concrete example. There was a whole period of time where people were like, “Help us put our hybrid policy together.” I’m like, “I don’t do hybrid policy. I come in and help you put in place a strategic flexible operating model.” I look at the work, and then how we do it. That’s a whole other thing. I don’t do that. I had to say, “No, that’s not what we do.” I had to be disciplined about that, and it’s hard. That’s an opportunity. You’re like, “I can do that. That’s easy.” That’s not where I add value. My pricing structure, I had to change that.

How do you change the pricing structure?

When you’re looking more at how you are operating as an organization, that’s a higher-level strategy consulting process. I priced myself as a strategy-level consultant. I did increase my fees, not tremendously, but I stuck to it. I didn’t get, “I’ll just do that.” This is what it is.

That last part there, do you mean that during COVID, a lot of people would discount?

Right. They’re like, “Can you just do it for this?”

You maintained. You said, “I’m either increasing fees or I’m staying where I’ve been. I’m not going to discount or reduce my fees given what’s going on.”

CSP Cali Williams Yost | Remote Consulting Business

It’s tempting to be like, “If I get the volume.” It’s like, “I’m going to keep it here. I did bring on a couple of additional resources to try to help with some of that automation, systematizing things, and putting in place some training that I didn’t have before.” Again, it’s what you want. You also have to look at your definition of success. This is one of the things I wrote about in my first book, and we don’t talk about it enough, which is how I define success.

For me, the different categories are prestige, advancement, money, and caregiving are the four sectors that I look at. When my kids were little, it was hardcore caregiving. That was important to me. As my kids have gotten bigger and COVID hit, I was more like, “I’m going to advance. I’m going to make some more money.” There’s a level of prestige that’s important to me in terms of being recognized as an early leader in this field. I would like that to happen. Caregiving wasn’t so much in the mix because I didn’t have little kids. You and I have talked. I had to reschedule this interview because now my dad’s sick. As I think about my next level of growth over the coming couple of months, I’m putting that a little more into the equation.

You emphasize or focus more depending on what’s happening around you during that stage or season of life. That’s an important reminder because if you just have your head down working hard to build and grow, you can lose track of what success ultimately means. I’m all for making money, being an entrepreneur, and building businesses is what I’ve done for the last twenty-plus years.

At the same time, it’s, for me, very important to be intentional with that and to define, “What does success mean to me?” Also, making sure that the businesses that we create support the lifestyle that I want to have and not that I have to sacrifice my lifestyle to create the business that I want to have. I always look at making sure that lifestyle is at the apex or the top of the triangle as opposed to at the bottom.

I love that, Cali. There’s so much more that we could continue to dive into. I know we’re just scratching at the surface, but I want to be respectful of the time that we have on the calendar here. Where should people go to learn more about you, about your books, and about everything that you have going on?

You can go to FlexStrategyGroup.com. It’s all there. My books are Work + Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You and Tweak It. They’re both available on Amazon. If you go to our site, we do have a new Work Flexibility Scorecard, where you can go in and get a general output of where you stand on the different dimensions of high-performance flexibility. That’s something new you can do as well.

One final thing, is there a book that you have read or listened to in the last few months? It could be fiction or non-fiction, but just something that has resonated with you that you think others might enjoy as well.

I’m a huge Rick Rubin fan. Rick Rubin has a new book out.

Is it on creativity?

On creativity, yes. I highly recommend it. People said to me, “How did you know about this in 1995?” If you follow Rick Rubin’s philosophy, it will lead you in your path, and that is exactly what I’ve done. I read Rick Rubin’s book, and I’m like, “This is what I did and this is exactly how it worked out.” Go read Rick Rubin’s book, huge fan. It will be worthwhile.

Fantastic.

I hope you enjoyed this conversation between Cali and Michael. If you did, then as always, be sure you hit that subscribe button wherever you tune in to your favorite shows. If you want to help support the show, you can either leave a rating and review over on Apple Podcast or share this episode with a friend or colleague who you feel would truly enjoy reading this conversation. Quick reminder, if you want to work directly with the Consulting Success Team to receive personalized coaching and support to optimize and grow your consulting, business, marketing, and revenue, visit ConsultingSuccess.com to learn more and apply. Thank you again so much for reading. Until next time.

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