The Power of Specializing Your Consulting Firm with Sarah Heal: Podcast #309

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Nobody wants to be just another consulting firm. So, how will you stand out among others? Today, Sarah Heal, the Director and Co-Founder of Information Leadership, brings you the power of specializing your consulting firm to be on top of the industry. Sarah delves into improving messaging, delegating effectively, valuing employees, niching down, leveraging your words and social proof, and avoiding falling into a common trap. This episode is stuffed with insights and will help you climb into the pinnacle of your business success. So tune in to this episode with Sarah Heal.

In this episode, you’ll learn how to: 

  • Improved your messaging to win new clients.
  • Delegate effectively within your organization.
  • Value your employees when making critical hires.
  • Niche down to improve your sales process and revenue.
  • Leverage awards and social proof to increase your credibility within your market.
  • Avoid falling into a common trap before signing a new client.

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Joining us on the show is Sarah Heal, who’s the Director and Cofounder of Information Leadership, where they help organizations in New Zealand become more efficient, competitive, and innovative. Her firm, which consists of 70 employees, specializes in Microsoft 365 and Teams. Clients include well-known organizations in New Zealand, like the Ports of Auckland, Sky Network Television, and Wakat? Incorporation, among many others.

Before we get there, some exciting news for you is we are running a giveaway. We’re excited for this. Let me tell you exactly how you can enter, what you will get, and what you might win. First, if you head over to Apple Podcasts and leave a rating and review, what you’re going to receive is a free eBook on What Consultants Really Charged In 2023, where you’re going to learn what the highest-earning consultants do differently with their fees.

You can learn best practices and how to raise your fees by 2X to 3X. You’re going to get real-life case studies for our consultants who have increased their fees by up to 100%, plus an action plan for raising your fees with confidence on your very next consulting project. To claim that free eBook, all you have to do is simply send us an email with your Apple ID over at [email protected]. That’s for anyone who leaves a rating and review.

As a bonus for anyone who leaves a rating and review on Apple Podcasts, you’re also going to go into a pool with a chance to win lifetime access to our Momentum Consulting Course, which is one strategic hour each day to help you add six figures to your annual consulting income. This course is regularly $2,000. However, if you leave a rating and review, you get the chance to win it completely free. Head over to Apple Podcasts and leave a rating and review. You’ll get a free eBook plus get entered into a draw to win a $2,000 course on the Momentum Consulting Course.

Back to what you are going to learn by reading this episode with Sarah, first is how to improve your messaging to win new clients. How do you delegate effectively within your organization? How do you value your employees when making critical hires? How to niche down to improve your sales process and increase revenue? How do you leverage awards and social proof to increase your credibility within your market and how do you avoid following into a common trap before signing a new client? Plus, so much more. Here to share with you her full insight is Sarah Heal. Enjoy.

Welcome, Sarah.

Thank you. It’s good to be here.

I’m excited to dive into our conversation. There are lots of grounds to cover. We could start and have you give people a sense of how big is your company’s Information Leadership in terms of the number of people, employees, and revenue, anything that you can share.

We’re around about 70 employees. We’ve gone through quite a large growth spurt over the past couple of years. In any given month, we will work on around about 100 different jobs. Our primary target is central government, local government, and commercial organizations that have significant compliance or governance requirements. That’s the interest we spot.

We’re going to get into the details, break us down, and make this hopefully very valuable for everybody joining us. You touched on something. You said, “We’ve been going through a growth spurt over the last few years.” Can you talk a little bit more about that? When you say growth spurt, take us before the growth spurt and then to where you are now. What changed in terms of the number of employees or anything you can share in terms of the actual growth achieved in terms of percentages? Give us a sense of what is changing and what that growth spurt looks like.

From when we started, we’ve been growing steadily but carefully. When you start off where you’re two people and then you add one person, that’s quite a big percentage growth. Over time, we’ve slowly incrementally added numbers. We don’t take on depth, so we try and manage our risk tightly. One of the things that happened a couple of years ago is we got stuck at about that 40-person mark. We move back with them forward, 35, 45, backward, and forwards for a couple of years.

We put a particular emphasis on some of the work we’ve been doing around culture and values but also then getting very clear about our messaging and our customers who we’re trying to serve and what we’re trying to do. That meant that we’ve added a significant number. We added about 10 in 1 month. That comes with some growing pains that we’re trying to navigate our way through. The clearer that we’ve got about what they offer and what they’re messaging is, the more that the market has responded.

You’re at the 35 or 40 team member number for a while as you dialed in your offerings and messaging to the market got much clearer and added more focus to that. That has, in return, led to winning more business. As you’ve been winning more business, that’s now allowed you to continue building the team and go from 35 to 40 up to 70 people or where you are now.

We work in the technology space. One of the things people are very aware of if they work in the technology space is the phrase technological or technical date. If you are the owner of a company and you’re growing a company, something to be aware of is organizational data, which is if you grow, there’s hardening that you need to do around your systems and processes. There are different ways of thinking and organizing. For me, that step change from 50 to 70 has meant quite a significant step change in how we work and operate. We’ve been progressively dealing with that organizational debt of moving from a small company to a medium-sized company.

I’d love to have a two-part question. I’ll plant one and see them come back in a moment. I would love to know what’s an example of what has changed in going from that 50 to 70. You said there’s been some resistance, friction, or something you’ve had to overcome. I’d love to get an example of that. I’d also love it if, after that, we could then come back to what you mentioned. You mentioned that you change the messaging or the offers or focus, which leads to business picking up. What do you change specifically?

I’d love to know around the messaging or the offers and maybe an example of that so people can see like, “You change some wording. You change the focus of a problem or a result.” What did you adjust that you feel had the biggest overall impact? Let’s leave that for a moment, and if we could zoom back now to going from 50 to 70 people. What’s an example of something that you’ve had to adjust or alter in order to accommodate that growth?

The clearer you get about your offer and messaging, the more the market responds. Click To Tweet

There are a couple of things. That’s still very much a work in progress. I wouldn’t say that we were there yet. One of the things about having grown slowly and incrementally and when we grow slowly and incrementally, mostly, to a large extent, we’d hired people we knew and then they hired people that they knew, which was a lovely organic way to grow. When you’re making that step change, you run out of people that you know. Our ability to bring on significant numbers of people still keeps the revenues sticking. It makes them useful, productive, and safe for themselves and for us.

That’s been our largest challenge. That’s one we’re going to continue to navigate over the next few years because we do plan to grow further. It’s something that we are starting to think about. What does it look like to get good at this, from how we attract good talent to how we onboard it to how we then pull it into our projects and have it working well? That’s been one of the biggest challenges for us. The other challenge, and you get this where you found a lead, is to start where it’s a real strength that you can do everything.

I’ve pretty much done everything in the business. I’ve done the tape, payroll, business analysis, and scoping. The only thing I haven’t done is the deep code cutting. You get used to being able to do everything. It was only when we hit the 60 mark that we got a dedicated person in the people performance and capability space. I’m still thinking, “What are they going to do? This is about 20% of my time as a full-time job. She’s been flat out because she’s got that dedicated focus. She’s seeing things that we’re not seeing.”

That’s one of the biggest shifts of the founder. If you’re a founder who’s quite versatile and you have done a whole lot of stuff to thin-slicing your skillset, the business is going to ask different things of you at 70 people than it did at 40 and 20. You can’t keep doing all those other things and then adding more on. It’s about thinking about your skillset as a founder and thinking about, “How do I thin slice? Which pieces can I take out and give to someone else who might be better at it than I am, someone who’s a specialist in finance, people and performance, or in pricing? I used to read all their contracts, giving a relationship for the lawyer.”

It is all of those things that come with making that shift, the whole new people talented onboarding the thin slicing. The third one for us has been because we’ve grown organically, we’ve historically been very connected to people we’ve known their kids, their hobbies, and who they are. It starts to become problematic to scale one-on-one at 70. We are thinking about, “What does the business architecture look like to build that scale?”

Set up the regular mechanisms around, “What meetings are we going to have? What type of meetings are they going to be? How’s the communication going to flow? What metrics are we going to have? How’s that going to flow? What actions are we going to take?” We’ve gone from zero grant consulting with friends to building a serious business that’s doing significant volumes of turnover that has significant people’s welfare attached to it. It’s time to grow up and take this a bit more seriously.

Many of you who are joining us won’t be at the 70-employee level or even be at the 20-employee level. They might be having 5 or 10 people or, in some cases, only 2 or 3 people. They are thinking about growth and how they can make a bigger impact. They’re recognizing that they can’t do everything themselves. If they’re trying to do everything themselves or too much themselves, that likely means they’re spending a lot of time on low-value tasks and activities whereas if they want to grow, they need to shift to focusing much more on high-value activities.

Is there a framework or a process that you use or has it changed over the years? My real question is, what do you think about the connection between hiring and value? Some people talk about how every hiring that you bring on should be able to create four times their salary in value. I’m wondering, especially with your example of thin slicing, if there might be certain things that you need to take off your plate. Those activities may not necessarily create a certain level of value right away. I’m wondering what you think about hiring, the value that comes from that, and not necessarily putting money towards something that doesn’t add a lot of value for the business.

That’s a perceptive question. I don’t think we have the answer to that now. You can say we’re mature in some areas and immature in others. To dig into where our growth margins are and what drives profitability, one of the things that’s interesting and different about us, perhaps, is that we started off as a consulting company. We do small pieces of work. Maybe a $20,000 or a $30,000 job. Over time, we still do a little bit of that, but we now do large projects and massive implementations. We might have 10 or 12 people on a project for a period of 6 to 9 months.

We also provide regular services through contracts. As a service that gets recurring revenue, we’ve also built products. For us, there is a lot to unpick in terms of, “If I add a body here, what does that mean in terms of how that drives my revenue?” We’re tracking it, but it’s an area where I want us to do some more work. I don’t think we’re particularly clear. Maybe one of the other measures of value is the time that we get back as founders. We’re starting to be intentional about that around, “If I can hire someone and it means I don’t have to work a 40 or 50-hour week, then that’s one for me. If I hire someone and I don’t have to work a big week on this stuff, which I’m over, but I can start to explore some entry over here, then that’s the one as well.”

Value is not just the money, but it’s also the time you get back. One of the biggest things for me was we’ve had our finance manager for many years. She’s completely amazing and superb. She gives a great detailed report. She’s always across the number. She’s analytical. What I didn’t realize was that she was worrying about the money so I didn’t have to. I sat down with her and I said, “It worries me when I don’t see the cashflow on time because I wonder if we have enough money to pay the bills.”

CSP Sarah Heal | Specializing Consulting Firm

She said, “I am worrying about that for you, so you don’t have to. Here are all the safety mechanisms I’ve put in place. Here are all the triggers. Also, what I will do is I will make sure that you know, at this particular time every month, even if I haven’t done the full cashflow, P&L, and balance sheet for the month, I will let you know what our financial position is.” It’s an extra half hour for Rachel. For me, it’s sleeping at night. I’ve outsourced the worry.

I resonate with that very much, even though we’re not 70 people. That’s something that I think both on the buying back your time and making an investment to be able to have more time whether that’s time you’re spending with your kids on hobbies and other areas of the business. Time is our most precious asset. I totally resonate with that. The other one is, as a founder, there are little things that you’re going to often be worried about or thinking about. You want to know that things are taken care of, so you don’t need to think about them. I hear you on that.

Here is one more question that relates to this topic and I want to dive into some of the other questions that I’ve prepared for you. This one is when you talk about growing to new levels and pushing the boundaries of where you’ve been to this point, there are a lot of new territories that they are covering. How are you navigating that? I’m wondering, as a founder of a company that is consistently growing, are you working with coaches? Do you have mentors? Are you learning from books? Are you taking courses? How are you educating yourself or getting through this, or is it just you going through it and figuring it as it comes? What’s your approach to continuing to grow, learn, and apply best practices?

I’m fortunate. I’m a cofounder with my husband. We started the business together. Somewhere along the line, we thought we’d better get married as well, so we did that thing. We read all the time. We’re frequent readers. What we like to do is go away on holiday. We’ll take 2 or 3 business books. We’ll both read them and take our business plan with us. We’ll match that to the business plan.

We’re not about reading for the sake of reading. We are always looking for actionable insights and things that we can do that will make a difference. I use the word incremental. I like doing things incrementally. You try, but you see what happens. Our business plan is alive for us. It’s an evergreen document. We’ll shove the old stuff to the back. We put the new stuff at the front. We keep on iterating that.

There wouldn’t be a single month that we wouldn’t go back and look at that not intentionally, “Let’s sit down and look at the business plan,” but more, “We said we were going to do this. How’s that working for us? Remember when we planned that? That hasn’t turned out.” The whole book thing is intensive for us and also broad. We read a whole lot about human behavior, history, and science.

I love that you are not only consuming and learning, but the two of you have that platform or opportunity to discuss and implement it into your actual overlay on top of what the business is currently doing and then figure out, “Is there some way that we can apply this new idea, insight, tactic or this approach to strategy together?” That’s fantastic.

Can I talk about a couple of other things? It’s not just the rating. You mentioned coaches and mentors. We spend quite a bit of time finding good people to talk with. Typically, we wouldn’t enter into a long coaching engagement. An engagement for us might be 5 or 6 months. It may be a long engagement. What we’re looking for is someone at that moment in time who has done the thing or had a problem with the thing that we are struggling with. We’ve worked with an amazing several years ago, then worked with him again for another for a few years ago. We’ve worked with a great CEO and business operator here in New Zealand. We’re looking for people. At any given time, we have a problem.

One coach isn’t going to solve every problem that we’re going to have. We’re looking for someone who can help us with that specific problem. The one I’m grappling with at the moment is what it would look like for us if we were together as Chief Financial Officer because we’re at a scale now where ships are getting serious. I’ve got this wonderful financial manager. She said, “We’ve got to get a CFO.” Now I’m out and I’m talking to people about, “What does the CFO role look like in your organization? When’s the right time? What CFO is right?” I’m doing that stuff.

It is such an important attribute and mindset that you tend to see successful entrepreneurs have, which is recognizing that you’re going to need to invest in learning from others, whether it comes in the mentor approach, coaches, programs, or whatever because if somebody is already done what you’re looking to do, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

There are lots of brand-new people out there.

Time is our most precious asset. Click To Tweet

It is why it’s important to vet to make sure that you’re talking to somebody who truly has the experience and expertise and understands what you’re going through. I want to ask you about Microsoft 365 because your business is very connected to the Microsoft brand and Microsoft 365. I’m wondering why you decided to align and base your business on one company’s offering. Some people might look at that and go, “Isn’t that a bit of a danger if we’re putting all of our eggs into the Microsoft basket?” What does that mean for the business? I’m wondering if you could share the strategy or the thinking behind doing that.

It wasn’t intentional when we started. We started out doing general technology consulting, knowledge management, information management, and change management, and we still do a little bit of that. One of the things that we used to do a lot of engagements on was document management systems. What did an organization need? What was the best in the market? Around 2008 and 2009, we became aware of Microsoft SharePoint offering. They had SharePoint 2007 out. It looks like it might be a good fit for some of the problems that our customers were having. We might have only had about 6 or 8 people at the time. It was organizationally uncomfortable because we’d spent time in the competing technologies.

We saw the Microsoft offer and we knew it wasn’t mature, but we knew where Microsoft was taking the product. We said, “We have to start focusing over here.” It’s an organization that was tough for us. We built a brand around being technology agnostic and technology independent and there was a saying to our customers. We think this thing is going to take over the market. When Microsoft came out with Microsoft 365, which is SharePoint Word, etc. in the cloud, you could see the investment that Microsoft would make there. We couldn’t recommend anything else to our customers. They needed a partner who could take them out to the other end of the complex and make it simple. They needed a partner that they could trust to do it right. That was the shift for us.

Do you think that if you remained a vendor or technology company agnostically the company would have grown at the same rate and level of where it is now? Do you think you could have gotten there or do you believe that the focus on Microsoft was a wave that pulled you forward much faster?

If we hadn’t done that, we’d have about ten people. A typical engagement would be $20,000 to $30,000. We struggled to keep at ten. We’d bounce up and down. We’d be a small boat on choppy seas. Connecting to Microsoft and Microsoft 365 has meant that we can do larger pieces of work and those big implementations.

We’ve built a whole framework around what it looks like to be successful in Microsoft 365 so that we can take our customers right through the full project process and deliver a great outcome. That means we can train for that as well. We talked a little bit about messaging at the start. For us, it is getting clear about, “We like being technology-independent. We like doing information and knowledge management, but here’s what our customers are telling us. They need the help. Here’s where we need to play.”

I’m glad you’re bringing that up. I have a note here for us to come back to talk about what changed, catapulted, or pushed things forward a lot faster. What you are saying is that your growth has come from focusing. You are shifting away from being technology agnostic to selecting Microsoft 365. Here is another question I have for you and you could jump in and share this. From the research that we did, your focus is New Zealand. You’re not trying to work in America, Europe, or anywhere else in the world.

It appears, at least from my perspective, that you’ve been very selective, and over time, you have not necessarily tried to expand. You continue to narrow in and focus on a specific market with a specific technology. That has led to growth. Is there anything that I’m not seeing correctly there or anything that you would touch on? The reason I bring this up is that, so often, consultants believe that the way they will grow is through expanding.

They’re scared and fearful that if they narrow in, they’re going to lose a lot of opportunities, but here you are now. It appears to me that you are already at 40 or so people. Now, you’re at 70. To go from 40 to 70, you didn’t expand to have a ton of additional offerings. You narrowed in. Am I missing anything? Did I get anything wrong there? I’d love for you to correct me if I didn’t.

You spotted it. We have a phrase for it. This was organizationally controversial because when you get a certain customer base, every now and again, a customer will say to you, “I know this isn’t what you normally do, but we love working with your people. Can you come and do this weird and wonderful thing?” You think, “We could do that.” Before you know it, you’re doing something completely random that you can’t codify. You can make money on the time fees, but you’re never going to get the multiplier that you need around codifying what the methodology is, teaching it to others, and putting a framework around it.

It is very ineffective. It’s a key line. Our vision is to work with New Zealand organizations to make them resilient and competitive. That’s a key thing for us in the New Zealand world, intentionally. There’s that element of focus. The other element of focus is stopping doing things that we used to do that don’t serve our current focus. That’s hard because what that’s meant is, in many cases, we’ve given work to people who were historically our competitors.

CSP Sarah Heal | Specializing Consulting Firm

We’ve said, “We used to do this stuff, but we don’t do that anymore.” “In Steve’s company, they do that all the time. Go talk to them.” That’s hard. When you start out, you’re hunting. You’re looking for every single piece of work. You gather carefully and you make sure you pick up every little piece that’s going. For us, it is that huge mindset change to focus over here, give up some of the stuff that doesn’t serve that purpose and that mission anymore, and try hard not to get distracted.

If you were the founder or cofounder of a company, you have 5 or 10 employees, and you’re doing $1 million, $2 million, or $3 million, it doesn’t matter exactly the numbers, but let’s say if you were at a much smaller stage, would you be thinking on this topic change from where it is now?

You’re going to make sure you got cash coming in the door. When you’re small, you have to watch the numbers. You have to be looking at the bank account and keeping things safe. If you get that level of safety, then think about, “Where do we focus?” Your customers and the market will tell you the things that they’re coming to you for. That’s the direction that you need to be going. It is not the one-offs but where you’re getting that critical myth. We’ve had eighteen customers ask us for this thing, “Maybe here somewhere we could go.”

The point I want to drive for everyone joining is that your advice, even at the size you are now, is to narrow and focus. There are a lot of people earlier on in their business who think, “I can’t narrow in because in order to grow, I need to go broader. I have to provide more services,” but it seems like that’s not the case in your experience. Maybe that’s the way you start it off, but you focus just on New Zealand and Microsoft 365.

There’s plenty of market available. The pie is quite large, and here you have people who might be 1,3 or 5 employees. They’re thinking that they need to tackle a much bigger market and even have less focus than you. Hopefully, this goes to show that you can build a very significant business and growing business by being specialized, having clear folks, and not trying to be all things to all people.

I like the idea of going deep into your vertical in terms of your subject matter and the customers that you solve. The deeper that you go, the more your sales process takes care of itself because people know you for that thing. They talk to people and people come to you.

What have you done from a marketing perspective that has worked well? Is there anything that you’ve done that did not work that you tried something and it did not generate any results?

The thing that worked well, which we’ve stopped doing and they’re about to restart a couple of years ago, was we started to meet monthly, specifically focused on marketing.

Who is we?

Myself, Grant, my cofounder, and then a couple of key people. We had a marketing person and our key person who was involved with what we call that customer community. We started to meet. In fact, it was three weekly rather than monthly. We had to meet regularly and think about the tone of voice image we wanted to project, what the graphics matched that, and starting to build a cadence. It’s Business 101. We had a marketing plan.

We thought about a marketing positioning both in terms of talent we wanted to attract, as well as the customers that we wanted to attract and building that cadence. We did that successfully for a period of time, probably for about one year. The other thing that plugged into that was we entered the Microsoft partner awards for New Zealand and we won in our category. It’s about 3 times out of the 5 years in which we entered. Small companies are picking up big and pulling a lot of effort into those case studies as well.

Don’t read for the sake of reading. Always look for actionable insights and things we can do today that will make a difference. Click To Tweet

I’m wondering two things about this. When you told me about the awards in the case studies, is there anything that you did with them that you found helpful? Some people have case studies that put them on their website or they’ll say, “We won this award.” Is there any way you can leverage that or get it out there further?

We stopped using third parties to write and produce our award. You get the one-page case studies and they’re bland and generic because nobody cares about your customer. Nobody cares about what you offer as much as you do. Coming back to the fun slicing, this is something that Grant and I do because it interests us. We wrote the case studies granted the design where they’re in-house graphic designers. An external PR person or journalist not going to know what’s special about that customer and that job. We do because we feel it and we care about it. Bringing in their house and doing that ourselves was a real game-changer for us.

Was there anything else from those monthly or marketing meetings? I understand you’re putting more attention focus to marketing, which means you’re probably coming up with more ideas. You can track the data and see what’s working. Is there anything that came out of that aside from the awards and case studies that you found from a marketing perspective was very helpful in generating leads, inbound inquiries, and creating more conversations with ideal clients?

We put a lot of emphasis on our presence on LinkedIn. That’s given us the biggest being for the buck. I don’t know if it’s the same world why, but certainly, in New Zealand, everyone’s loosely connected to someone else or 1 or 2 connections removed. We put a lot of attention into our LinkedIn. The secret sauce there is we profiled our customers and their team. We focus less on, “Come and work with us. We’re wonderful.”

We are focused on the work that their customers are doing. We looked for their posts to amplify and give value to their posts as well. We are raising them, and then we’re sitting in the slipstream. One of the things that’s been lovely is if you look at their LinkedIn over the past couple of years, what you can see if you can see many customers mentioning our projects have a great team from information leadership here. They ran the amazing workshop, “We did this. We did that. We did the next thing.” That social proof came through because we amplified who they were, the good decisions that they made, and how they worked on their project rather than making it about us.

You mentioned sales processors and how you approach sales at a very high level. I’m wondering how long is your typical sales process when you’re dealing with some of these public organizations or large organizations that are your clients. What do you find as a typical sales cycle? How many months is it?

The longest has been ten years. Because of the organizations we work with, many of them have to go through a planning cycle. It can take 6 to 12 months for it to come through. Typically, what we’ll do is we’ll start with a smaller piece of work where we’ll work through with them what they want and will nail down the pricing, and then it will go through this cycle, which can take 4 or 5 months before it pops out the other end.

Is there anything you’ve done regarding the sales process that you have found has helped to shorten the sales cycle, to get a win sooner or the overall process more effective compared to the way I was before?

It’s hard to quantify, but I think this is where the marketing comes into play. We’re finding that we’re invited to have a conversation with prospective customers much more frequently. We’re invited oftentimes now before they select to provide information and give insights. We do that at no charge. We’ve run a number of workshops for customers at no charge to help them understand the domain that they’re stepping into.

If you think about the sales process starting there and going to when that’s a long time when the actual request for work comes through, then that’s shortened because we’ve already had those conversations upfront. Our company name, Information Leadership, is an aspirational name. One of the things we want to do if we want to provide leadership for the country in the area of information. We’re trying to educate and share as much as we can to help organizations make good decisions regardless of whether they choose us or not.

You’re doing that position of a thought leader and expert putting over valuable information and then regardless of whether the organization chooses to work with you or not. It’s that concept of giving value right before you try and get something.

CSP Sarah Heal | Specializing Consulting Firm

We try and do this in a way that’s unique. A lot of our content is not lots of words. It will have diagrams, graphics, and recognition to make it simple for our customers and our prospects. We are trying to bring value in that way as well so that if you read something from information leadership, it’s not 1 of 10 different articles about Microsoft 365. There are lots of people who can talk to you about what the functionality is and what different widgets and bits and pieces do.

What we’re trying to do is show, “If you take this piece of Microsoft 365 functionality, here’s how you connected into the business. Here are some of the things you need to watch out for. Here are some of the things you could share with your executive. Here are some of the things you could share with your team members.” We’re trying to provide something different and unique rather than pumping out content on a regular calendar, which is just, “Throw away. ChatGPT is going to do all that for us soon.”

It’s a great reminder for everyone to think about differentiation and not just do the same thing as everybody else. There are tons of articles and content out on Microsoft 365. You don’t want to be another one of those people or companies. Thinking about how you can bring something unique or deliver value in a unique way to those that you want to serve and work with. It is extremely important.

Another question, but this question goes 1 of 2 ways. I don’t like the word mistake because we’ve all made plenty of them, but I think about them as learning experiences. Is there one learning experience that you personally have had inside of the business that sticks with you that you remember quite vividly? Do you go that direction or is there a mistake or learning experience opportunity that you see other consulting firm owners make that you wish that they would avoid?

I can think of many mistakes. There are many things to choose from.

I often find it’s easier to think about what you see happening with others as opposed to seeing what’s happened to yourself, which is why people work with coaches, consultants, or experts because they have that external viewpoint. You can take that question. Whatever comes to you first is totally fine.

One of the mistakes that we’ve made is getting seduced by big-name organizations, “We want to do that piece of work because that will be prestigious for us and that will be amazing. Everyone will know that we’ve worked there.” That meant that we’ve taken work that’s not a good fit for us where we can’t make a difference or whether our people haven’t enjoyed doing that work. Where that’s taken us to IS before we bid for a piece of work, we have a five-step go-no-go questionnaire that a team of our experts go through.

One of the questions on there is, “Are we likely to make a difference? Is our team going to enjoy doing this piece of work?” People will show up for you. They will do the work that you ask them to do, but if you keep putting them into that unpleasant work, they’ll get to a point where they’ve had enough and that’s not okay. Thinking very critically, you talked about focus and its focus around the nature of the work, but it’s also the focus around, “Can we make a difference? Will the organization be good to work with?” Not getting produced by, “They’re big name,” is important.

Is that an internal document or do you also make that publicly available on your website for prospective buyers and clients to see?

I love that idea. It’s an internal document, but there’s no reason why we wouldn’t publish it. It’s interesting to help organizations see whether we would be a fit for them.

We’ve often found it. The most affecting or effective marketing comes from this idea of polarization, where you’re not trying to attract everybody. You’re trying to, in some ways, repel those who aren’t a good fit, but by doing so, your language tends to resonate with those who do have the same beliefs or values, and then they become more attracted to you because they now see and understand more of what you stand for.

We try to educate and share to help organizations make good decisions regardless of whether they choose us or not. Click To Tweet

I’ll have a look at that.

You’re running a business with 70 people. It’s growing. Lots of different things happening. How do you take care of yourself? When I ask, I’m referring to this idea of whether are there 1 or 2 habits that you do right on a daily basis that you feel support the performance and success, affecting this at work and also in life.

I work out every day. I can’t not work out.

What happens if you don’t?

I feel lethargic.

That’s why I’m asking because if I don’t exercise in the morning, I don’t feel like I’m showing up in the same way. I often feel guilty like, “Why do that?”

It’s like you’ve already had a win for the day, but whatever else happens, you’ve done the exercise. You mentioned earlier that you’ve got kids. The start of the day is the only time because, after that, anything can happen. You got to get there at the start of the day. The other thing I do. There’s a great book and it talks about planning your week. I go for the front and back burner, “What’s the one most important thing I have to do this week? What’s the second most important thing I have to do this week?” 1) Front burner. 2) Backburner, then I have the kitchen sink where I write the list of everything I have to do. I’ll review that every Sunday. I’ll move forward with the things that I haven’t done. Each Sunday, I’m thinking about, “What’s the one most important thing and what’s the second one if I knocked the first one off?”

You’re planning ahead and looking at that consistently to make sure that you spend your time not on the easiest things but on the things that contribute the most value and highest priority.

I’m a sucker for the easy things that you can cross off straight away.

Most people are, which is why people tend to do a lot of work that feels like it’s productive because they’re doing a lot of stuff and maybe spending a lot of time on it, but often it isn’t the stuff to build a business. The things that are harder tend to be reaching out to clients. We are trying to have a conversation or do a follow-up. These are things that, for many people, aren’t necessarily worthy of spending their time, but are the things that do help to build or grow the business. The other question I was going to ask you is if there is a book that you’ve either read or listened to, it could be fiction or nonfiction but assigned that you’ve enjoyed that you might suggest others take a look at as well.

I’m reading Scaling Up at the moment. It is hugely helpful and practical.

CSP Sarah Heal | Specializing Consulting Firm

It’s by Verne Harnish.

There are lots of great content in there. The other work that I’ve been looking into quite a bit is Elliott Jaques’s work on Requisite Organization. He’s written quite a lot of work about how organizations grow and develop over time and the problem-solving capabilities of leaders. It’s hard to find. It’s an older one. I had to get a second-hand copy.

Sometimes, the best ones are harder to find. That’s been my experience. I certainly have a bit of a hobby of trying to find those hard-to-find books or at least the joy of discovering them in used bookstores. I get you on that. Sarah, I want to thank you so much for coming here and spending a bit of time with us. I appreciate you sharing a bit of your story and your journey. I also want to make sure that people can learn more about you and everything you have going on at your company. Where’s the best place for them to go and learn more?

Our website is InformationLeadership.com.

Thank you for coming on.

Thank you so much for the invitation. It’s good to see you. Thanks for the good questions.

There you have it for this episode between Michael and Sarah. If you enjoyed this episode, as always, be sure you hit that subscribe button. To enter the contest, be sure to leave a rating and review over at Apple Podcasts. As you would read in this episode, Sarah spent a significant amount of time and money dedicated to finding coaches, dedicated at a minimum of six months to helping her and her company solve specific problems.

She’s done this throughout her career. If you’re looking to take your business from 6 to 7 figures or 7 or 8 figures, then you’re going to want the Consulting Success team there to help you. If you want to work with the Consulting Success team directly and receive personalized coaching to optimize and grow your consulting business marketing and revenue, be sure to visit ConsultingSuccess.com/Grow to learn more and apply. That’s the end of the line for us in this episode. We’ll be back next time for another episode. Until next time.

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