Strategic Hiring For Consultants – How To Build Your Bench For The Ultimate Consulting Success With Adam Oliver: Podcast #312

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Putting the right people in the right seats is crucial to any business, but for a consulting practice, it is a matter of life or death. Michael Zipursky talks about strategic hiring in this episode with Adam Oliver, Founder and CEO of Crafted, a product development consultancy employing over 26 people. Michael and Adam discuss the challenges of balancing between having a robust sales pipeline and a hiring pipeline and why the two are essential for your growth. Among other things, you’ll learn the secret to hiring effective remote employees and how to ensure a warm and balanced sales and hiring pipeline, how to win new clients using Adam’s personal sales approach, how to thrive even during a recession, how to free up your time as a founder to grow your practice and how to use case studies to back up your great growth. Tune in!

In this episode, you’ll learn how to:

  • Hire effective remote employees.
  • Ensure a warm and balanced sales and hiring pipeline.
  • Win new clients using Adam’s personal sales approach.
  • Thrive even during a recession.
  • Free up your time as a founder to grow your practice.
  • Use case studies to back up your rate growth.

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Connect with Adam

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Joining Michael on the show is Adam Oliver, who is the Founder and CEO of Crafted, a product development consultancy employing over 26 people. His clients include the US Air Force, OnTech, Tribus Technology, and many more. As you’re about to read, Michael and Adam discuss the challenges of balancing between having a robust sales pipeline and a hiring pipeline and why the two are essential for your growth.

If you’re looking to grow but are having trouble scaling from 6 to 78 figures, we can help to work directly with the Consulting Success team and receive personalized coaching and support to help you grow and scale your firm. Visit ConsultingSuccess.com/grow to learn more and apply now. Let me tell you a little bit more about what you’re going to learn in this episode with Adam.

The first is the secret to hiring effective remote employees and how to ensure a warm and balanced sales and hiring pipeline, how to win new clients using Adam’s personal sales approach, how to thrive even during a recession, how to free up your time as a founder to grow your practice and how to use case studies to back up your great growth. Here to share with you his insight and story is Adam Oliver.

Adam Oliver, welcome.

Michael, thanks for having me on.

I’m excited for our conversation. Let’s get started and have you share. Tell us what Crafted does.

Crafted is a product development consultancy. We’re mostly located in Denver, Colorado. We’ve got 80% or 90% of our employees here and a few remote employees throughout the United States. We’re in business to help our clients ship SaaS software, mostly B2B SaaS and a little bit of B2C SaaS and mobile apps. We are a product development consultancy.

You’re about 25 to 26, give or take, people now. You mentioned that 80% to 90% are local to you in the Denver, Colorado area, but you have a percentage of people who are hybrid. Talk to me a little bit about the benefits that you see or how you, as an owner-founder, think about when you’re hiring, trying to get people that are close to you as opposed to being open to finding people outside of your local area to hire and work with.

It’s been a good journey. It’s one of the good side effects of COVID. During pre-COVID, we were isolated. We’re like, “Let’s start the business and grow in Denver, Colorado, and in the front range. Our network and clientele were here.” It made sense. In pre-COVID, we were heavy on in-person collaboration. It was a lot of in-office, whiteboarding, sketching, and doing all the product development things that people have seen.

With COVID, the in-office aspect shut down, and the world went remote, but that also opened up all the doors to go remote for employee hiring and clients. A good side effect was now we knew a bunch of people in our network who were great engineers, designers, and PMs. We could open the door to go find them elsewhere and be opportunistic when we made those hires.

We still think of Crafted as being 75% to 80% local because we do think there’s some strength in that in-person collaboration, getting together, building the team culture, and having that in-person aspect. We’re trying to embrace the hybrid and be opportunistic with it. If we know we’ve got some great people out, mostly in the United States, that we can hire, we’d be shortsighted not to go ahead and hire them in a remote fashion, fly them out to Denver whenever they want to, and whenever they can join us to build that team aspect. It’s worked out great. It’s going to be the way that we continue to grow, 80% here and 20% to 30% remote across the country.

Is there any position that you would not hire for remotely? On the flip side, is there maybe any position that you would hire remotely? Is there any structure or framework you have around which positions are better to be remote versus local?

I wouldn’t say there’s a definite no or yes in either of those. I’m trying to be opportunistic. In our model, we are heavily weighted on engineers. You might bring one product manager, one designer, and many engineers to a project. What I have found is that perhaps having a product designer or a product manager in some of the core engineering teams, local is beneficial. They can run the core aspects of collaboration and client engagement. You could have additional engineers remote across the country.

If you have people who can crank at home and get a lot of good software done, that’s an easy role to hire remotely. Click To Tweet

If you have people who can crank at home and get a lot of good software done, that’s an easy role to hire remotely. We’ll be more opportunistic on the design and PM side because that’s a collaborative role. There’s typically only one of those per client. There’s a lot that you can get done in person. I wouldn’t close the door to those being fully remote, but now, those are mostly in Denver.

I’ll plot the question, and I’ll come back to this for a moment. I’m wondering. How do you decide when to go about hiring? Some of these questions are ones that I was thinking of asking you a little bit later on. I’m going to try and ease this into this. Since we’re talking about about team and hiring, it’s right for this question to come now. I’m interested in your experience building up a good-sized team to this point. How do you personally think about when is the right time to hire? Do you wait for a project to come in? Do you staff up, go, and sell? Where’s your mindset as it relates to when the right time is to hire?

We might change it a little bit going forward, but historically, we’ve mostly sold the business and have a hiring pipeline ready to support that. I find, with my network, it’s been easier to get the sale, and you have people ready to jump on with Crafted when the time is right, and you have to keep that warm. It’s mostly being opportunistic and hiring at the right time to fill client needs.

What we’ve done historically is we’ve also leveraged contractors to help us with the ebbs and flows of the consulting world, which I’m sure many of the founders are reading this experience. It’s an up-and-down of a good sales pipeline and a good hiring pipeline. Getting those things to balance out at the right place in time is one of the tricks of our business.

What we’ve tried to do is never let one of those pipelines get cold. Even if you’re fat and happy with consulting work and clients, you don’t want to let the sales pipeline cool off. Conversely, if you have your project staffed and you’re still trying to sell, you don’t want to let the hiring pipeline get cold and have to start the momentum. We try to keep them as warm as possible. We’re ready to take advantage when the time is right.

Adam, when you say keep them warm, I’d love it if we could go a level deeper. Can you maybe offer an example of what that looks like both on the sales marketing pipeline as well as the hiring pipeline of what’s an action that you would do or something that would happen that people could see what that looks like?

I’ll talk first to the hiring pipeline since that’s where we were, but we will keep our job postings up and keep them green field on the job boards. What we’ll occasionally do at that point is take down the more junior or mid-level postings and keep the senior-level postings up there. If the right person comes through, we’ll go through with that.

The other thing I’ll do with the candidates that might be a good fit is try to be transparent with them. I’ll start conversations. I’ll let them know where we’re at, but also not put them in a pretense of where we’re hiring and say, “This might take a few months. You’ve done well in the hiring process. We want you to be a part of the team. We’re not quite there yet. We understand if you have to take another opportunity, but let’s stay in touch. Let’s try to make this work as soon as we can make it work.” That way they know I’m not going to put them and Crafted in a bad position. That’s worked out well for us. Job applicants are open, receptive, and appreciative of that mindset.

Before we talk about the sales marketing pipeline example, to clarify, are you always hiring? Do you have job postings up on different job boards throughout the year, and do you keep keeping them up there? I’m trying to get a sense of whether you are always hiring. Is it throughout the year? You put them up and take them down.

We keep the postings up throughout the year. We try to do our best to communicate with those applicants who are coming through if it is slow.

CSP Adam Oliver | Strategic Hiring

Where do they go up? Are you using LinkedIn, Indeed, or different niche-specific job boards? Where are you putting these job descriptions?

We use JazzHR. That post out to ZipRecruiter, Indeed, and LinkedIn. We’re big with Built In Colorado and BuiltIn.com if some people in the tech community have seen that. They stay ongoing. That’s what helps us keep it warm versus letting it go ice cold. That way, we have some flow of applicants. We can dig back into that stack of resumes when we need to and stay in the loop with them.

Do you allocate a budget monthly and annually to keep those job postings up and live? Some of the platforms charge, and some are free, but take us inside. What does that look like? How much might you spend on an annual or monthly basis to keep all these job postings live?

With LinkedIn, you could turn those on and off when you wanted to. We would do that because there’s more of a spend there. We would maybe spend $500 to $1,000 if we needed to spike our resumes. We don’t use that as often now that we have JazzHR because it does some of that posting for us. JazzHR is around 4,000 a year for a company the size of Crafted. Built In Colorado does some marketing. We spend around $10,000 or $12,000 a year with them.

I look at those as a recruiting spend, but I almost consider it marketing. I don’t want to turn off marketing and sales. When we talk about the sales pipeline, I also don’t want to turn off those pipelines. I’d consider that roughly $15,000 a year. It needs to be ongoing to keep things warm or hot and not let them get cold. Before we had some of those platforms, it was hot or cold. We are rushed to find the right person before it goes ice cold.

Are you the person on your team who is looking at these applications as they come in? Is there somebody else in your team who is doing this, and how often is that person looking at them?

As it gets cold, we try to stay on top of them to be respectful of the candidates and make sure we’re giving a good experience. As we’ve grown the first several years of Crafted, it was solely on me and a little bit on my partner, the CTO. Now that we’ve grown to the 20 to 25. We are trying to delegate that to more of our head of product, our head of design, and our head of engineering and start to delegate and spread out that work.

Sometimes, we will get in there and do some of the initial pre-screening and sift through the resumes and say, “A hundred resumes came in. I only need you guys to look at these 5 or 10. We’ll weed it out.” At this moment, with Crafted being a growing consultancy, it’s like who has the most bandwidth at the moment to take care of some of that stuff.

Is it being looked at on a daily basis, weekly basis, or monthly basis? What does that look like?

It’s more of an average of weekly. We’ll go in and take a peak. When things get hot, it’ll be more daily. If things get cold, it might slip every 2 or 4 weeks. Weekly, we try to see what’s going on in those channels.

Even if you’re fat and happy with consulting work and clients, you don’t want to let the sales pipeline cool off. The same goes for your hiring pipeline. Click To Tweet

Let’s shift. You were talking about one of the other things that you never like to stop or go cold, the sales/marketing pipeline. You have a clear difference in the way that you view both sales and marketing pipelines. Could you offer an example in that area?

That is one we focus on even more and never let it get cold. Even if you’re happy with where you’re at as a consultancy, you need those next deals coming through. You need a lot of them, especially now as we’re facing this shaky economy. It’s even more important that not only do not let it cool, but you should be doing whatever you can to heat it up by 5X.

At this point in the Crafted journey, I consider the marketing and sales the same funnel and flows because we’re a small enough team. We’re putting more focus on that. There are a few more marketing dollars behind it on various forms of outreach and thought leadership. It’s consulting in general, but in this day and age with the economy, it’s important to never let that thing cool. We’ve had points in the crafted journey where we’ve been happy with our client base. It’s kept our team in full. At that point, you need a couple of people looking out in the future and getting ready for those next steps.

I’m smiling because this is a conversation we have with our clients quite often, especially those that are more established. They’re successful. They’re feeling like they’re in a good place. They look into the future of their calendars and the work they have booked. They think to themselves, “I don’t need any more leads. I’m good for a while.”

Inevitably, I can tell because of the way that you’re smiling. All of a sudden, something happens, a client cancels, delays, pauses, ends early, budgets get cut, or whatever it might be. That pipeline you felt good about is you’re not feeling as good about it. It’s a lot harder to get things restarted as opposed to making sure that you always keep that foot on the pedal and keep things moving along.

I’d love it if we could shift. I want to come back to the marketing and hear a little bit more about what you are doing, specifically to build that pipeline. The comment around thinking like, how do you 5X or how do you take things to that next level during the unstable or uncertain period that we’re in now? Take us back to the beginning of Crafted. When you launched this business, how did you get the first few clients to come in?

Initially, it was based on my network. I’ve been rooted in the Denver community my whole life. I was born and raised here. I went to college here. My career has been in and around Denver in the tech scene. I’ve grown a good network that I feel good about. That was my first iteration of going at this by myself and talking to my network, saying, “Do you need X, Y, Z?”

It ended up being relatively easy. Initially, getting those first few clients was some good relationships. It’s a great way to grow the business. After that one, I brought on a partner who is a good buddy of mine from college. He had a similar size network in Denver, but it was also different. There was not a lot of overlap. That doubled our network power. There are a lot of great people in the tech space. That was phenomenal.

The second iteration of that was our clients or our network understanding what we could do and they would go out and pitch Crafted for us. They will make introductions. If they heard somebody needed great product development consulting, they were happy to put our name in the mix. That landed us a lot of deals. Those were the first two rings.

We’re on this journey of like, “How do we get further beyond those rings and get into the open market of people we don’t necessarily know yet? How do we start breaking down those doors?” We’re having some success there at the moment, battling through the economy because even if you have some success, budgets are tight, and there is a lot more scrutiny, but no. We’re trying to get out beyond our first few rings of the network.

CSP Adam Oliver | Strategic Hiring

If we put this into the context of LinkedIn, you started with your first-degree connections and second-degree connections. You’re working on getting to the majority of the marketplace, which is a third-degree connection with people that you don’t have any connection with directly. I’d love it if we could hit rewind for a second. You talked about the first-degree connections of people who were in your network. That’s where the initial business came from.

When you and your cofounder came in, and you were soliciting, reaching out to that network, or landing those first several projects, how did that come about? Were you going to events and meeting people and talking there? Were you sending emails? Were you picking up the phone and calling people? If you could take us back, what were you doing? Whatever format that message was, I’d love to know what you were saying to people that seemed to resonate with them.

My approach has always been personal. If you’re talking to those first-degree connections, it’s easy to say, “Let’s go talk tech. Let’s get together for coffee and beer and talk about our careers, what you’re doing, and what Crafted is doing.” A lot of these people need technology help. You would hear that come through quickly. They were like, “We’re trying to achieve X, Y, Z. We’re struggling here. We need more value delivered.” It would easily evolve to know. You’re like, “How do you think about external help in consultancies versus hiring full-time?”

Would you ask that question, or would they bring that up to you?

I would listen to where they had pain points and what they were trying to do. I would explain what we do. It naturally evolved into like, “It sounds like your team isn’t executing something that Crafted could help you with.” That’s the foot in the door to talk, and eventually, you progress into scoping a project and talking about budgets. I kept it as an easy, friendly progression of sales flow. It seemed to work well.

When you think about that initial outreach that you did to your network and those meetings as well as the second ring or the secondary connections, the clients that you were working with who would go out to their network and talk about how great Crafted was and the work that you all were doing. Is there anything inside that you feel was like a bit of not necessarily a special sauce, but it worked well, or was it key to generating more appointments, referrals, or conversations? Anything that stands out that you feel worked well for you guys, and maybe others don’t do it as much as they should.

Initially, I’m keeping it friendly helped. We are focusing on hearing what their business was trying to achieve. That’s a common sales thing. That’s nothing new. What we could do and what we focused on was like, “How can we help you be successful personally, but also your company?” A lot of these people might be a director or a VP. They’re trying to make career growth. Their way to get career growth is by being successful with their company. We would try to focus our messaging on how we can make you and your team successful, like as people, but also, we’ll deliver value for your company that you’re trying to help grow.

Another thing that Crafted does that resonated with them is we are not a consultancy or an agency that sits in our office. You give us a project. We sent it back. Part of our discipline or methodology is we pair up with you closely on your domain expertise with our product development expertise. That’s resonated in the market because a lot of the pain points you’d hear are like, “We’ve tried this with an agency. We’ve tried this with an outsourced company. It doesn’t go well.”

What does that look like? When you say, “It piques my interest,” and I could see how that would be valuable, how many consultancies would do the exact opposite? They sit in their office. They’re sending stuff back and forth. A common one is that a firm might go in and create some amazing recommendations, but the client has trouble implementing those recommendations. I get what you’re saying, but can you share or paint that picture of what that tangibly looks like? Are you going to their offices? How are you making that work?

The pre-COVID post looks a little different. We’re sitting at desks right next to each other. We’re pairing on these problems and these solutions. We’re PMs, designers, and engineers. We’re coming up with the solutions together in a lifetime. Post-COVID is a lot more Zoom and meeting in person when we can and when it makes sense, but we’ve had to learn how to use a lot of these great online tools effectively and efficiently.

It’s a lot harder to get things restarted as opposed to making sure that you always keep that foot on the pedal and keep things moving along. Click To Tweet

Some of our roots in that, when we call it pairing, comes from what’s called extreme programming back in the software development days when two engineers sit together. They’re typing on the same computer and writing code together. That evolved over the last several years. That’s the methodology we take. Let’s get two designers hatching stuff out together. What that does with our clients is it blends their domain expertise with our product development expertise. It closes that gap and risks that they’re not going to give what they think they get.

The other thing that you mentioned, Michael, is what we don’t do is do some consulting and give you a recommendation. We don’t give you a PowerPoint deck that says, “You should go build this technology.” We get in there with them, and it’s like, “It’s not a high-level strategy. Let’s get in here and build this software together. We’re going to ship it all the way to production.” That reduced some of the risk that they can’t implement what we’re thinking about. It’s like, “We’re implementing it together with you. Let’s get this thing in the hands of real users who help us in that fashion.”

You mentioned that in post-COVID, you’re using tools now a lot more that allow you to collaborate or work closely with clients as opposed to going to meet with them. You’ll still meet with them when you can. What are some of those tools? Are there any favorites that you use at Crafted?

These tools are going a long way, and they’ve come up fast, but Zoom is great for us. We use Zoom, and there are a few other tools like it, but Zoom is great. Another one that we use a ton is Miro, which is a real-time whiteboard collaboration. There are a lot of great ways to do that. In the realm of user research and user-centered design, there are a lot of great tools now where you can get a user on a live video stream.

They can share their screen. They can show you the software they’re working with. You get to see their face, reactions, and emotions. All those types of tools have come a long way to help that. On the engineering side, there are a lot of great ways to still do pair programming, do live code reviews, and close the gap between two engineers being in different locations in one.

On the marketing side, if we now hit the fast-forward button, it takes us to the current time. You mentioned that you’re trying a bunch of stuff. Some of it’s working. Some of it maybe isn’t. If you were to identify what is working best for you and for everybody joining us, what works best for you, Adam, doesn’t mean it’s going to work best for somebody else, but what is working best for you now to generate high-quality leads and fill the pipeline? What’s generating results?

This has been in our roots. It’s going to keep working for us. We need to evolve it. A hundred percent of what’s working is building relationships. It is a personable and connected relationship. Letting newer relationships know that we have value to give. We’re happy to talk to you about it without putting a contract in front of your face.

If you’re having problems with tech, let’s talk. We’ll give you advice. We’ll start to show you how we can bring you a different approach to that. It evolves over time, but building a personal relationship where it doesn’t feel only business, and it doesn’t feel like I’m pushing you into a contract and things like that is still my approach. It’s been the thing that’s worked with us the most.

You have to prove two things. One, I do personally care about you, and I’m making a great relationship with you. We can add value. On the value side, we can do what we say we’re going to do. Let’s talk the talk enough to convince them that they need us, but walk the walk. On day one, we get in there. We start collaborating on software and building and shipping software because you can build great relationships but not execute. You have to back all that up with being a great consultancy, which we have the start it Crafted. You have to make sure that’s evident with these people you’re talking to.

Adam, when you talk about building relationships, nurturing or developing them further, are you referring to relationships with people you already know? These are either current clients, past clients, or people inside of your network. Are you also using this approach in terms of outbound, or some people might call it cold outreach, going to people you have no relationship with yet? Who are you using this with?

CSP Adam Oliver | Strategic Hiring

Anything from good friends and close network connections, and you have a few rings, people I’ve known in the community. Maybe we don’t get together all the time, but you can nurture that relationship. They’re the people that if you hit them up for coffee, lunches, or beers, they’re going to say, “Yes. Let’s talk about whatever.”

Those are the first two rings, and they are great to nurture and keep going. I’d say getting onto that third ring that we’re talking about is we do a lot of stuff in the community. In Denver, we have Denver Startup Week, which is a phenomenal week-long startup event. There are a lot of meetup groups that are pretty potent and have some good things. We’ll go and do talks at those meetup events. We’ll host happy hours where we’re the sponsor of those happy hours. That’s a great way to meet people and have good, deep conversations about technology and product development.

What usually spawns from there is that next level, “Let’s get coffee and lunch. You give me advice. I’ll give you advice. Let’s talk. We’ll see where it goes.” That’s a great way to build a relationship where they know, “Adam and Adam’s team at Crafted are great people to talk to. They will give us thoughts and advice. We’ll walk away from the conversation with a lot to ponder and stretch our thinking about.” Our whole motto is, “You plant the seeds. You keep watering the seeds. Who knows what will happen? Nothing but good things will happen.”

It sounds like you’re not necessarily going, “Here are twenty people I’ve never met before but I would love to work with. I’m going to reach out to them through email, LinkedIn, calls, or direct mail.” That’s not what you’re doing. It’s more, “I’m going to show up where I believe my ideal clients might be. I’m going to add as much value as I can. From that, I’m going to develop relationships and stay in touch with those people.” Is that correct, or are you doing some of the former?

We are doing some of the former. There are two different motions that we have there. We have HubSpot as an email marketing platform. We have a marketing person in charge of all of that outbound outreach. We are going after targeted industries and lists. We are trying to nurture those. I would consider those two different things.

Myself and my partner are great at relationship building and more of the biz dev flow. We do have the marketing flow where it’s like going after certain niche markets. We’re testing things and trying different drip campaigns with emails. That one is a little more nebulous. It’s a harder one to figure out. We’re thinking about it as experiments. We’re running a lot of experiments.

Would you say most of your results are coming from networking, meeting face-to-face, and building relationships with people that you’re meeting at events, as opposed to the direct outreach to people with whom you don’t have a relationship yet?

A big goal that we have is to get that other channel working for us.

Your website lists that you work with startups, growth-stage companies, and enterprise companies. It appears in all industries. I know you mentioned the real focus is around SaaS, but that’s a wide range, going from startup to enterprise. Do you see that your revenue and profit come more from 1 of those 3 than the other 2? Is there a breakdown of that inside of your business?

I’m happy to be transparent with the readers on this one. We had some good advisor sessions around this topic. A number of clients, probably 60%, come from that middle growth stage, 20% startup and 20% enterprise. Profit-wise or revenue-wise, 75% comes from the enterprise. I call it 70%. It’s 20% from the growth stage company and 10%. Revenue and profits are different than the number of clients.

When you plant the seeds and keep watering them, nothing but good things will happen. Click To Tweet

Some advice I’ve been getting, and it’ll be on the mind of the readers is, “Where do you focus your attention?” We have a lot of fun working with growth-stage companies. They’re nimble and agile. They’re trying to double and triple their EBITDA. It’s an adrenaline-filled environment. Enterprises pay a lot of bills and have a lot to offer from that standpoint. They have a lot of complexities. One of our next challenges is figuring out if it is good to be more agnostic and be able to do anything. Do we need to get more focused? Do we need to pinpoint one of those segments more aggressively, especially with the marketing outreach I’m talking about? It is on our mind.

I appreciate you sharing the breakdown. That’s helpful for people to get a sense and a better look into that transparently. Based on those numbers, is there any reason that you would continue targeting or even mentioning startups, given that it’s a smaller percentage of revenue and a much smaller percentage of profit?

A good piece of advice I’ve gotten in where my gut has taken me is I don’t think there’s a reason to leave any of those segments out. You don’t have to turn down work. Startups are a lot of fun to work with. When you have 1 or 2 founders, and they get some funding, that is the most adrenaline-filled, fun work you can do. It’s refreshing for the employee base to get to go do that. We’ve had a couple of those in our portfolio. It’s still profitable. It’s still in a good range.

What it is for me is maybe you spend less time focusing and fishing for that work and maybe certainly less marketing dollars there. You focus more of that work on the growth stage, which can be a lot of fun, or you go after a few of those enterprise deals that can give you stability for a year or two at a time or more. I don’t think it’s giving up on one where you focus a little bit.

We’ve talked about pre and post-pandemic. One thing that everybody around the world has been dealing with in one form or another is higher inflation. Has that impacted your company? I’m sure it’s impacted your clients in one form or another. What I’m wondering is, if it has impacted your company, are there any changes that you’ve made to deal with that?

On the Crafted side, it has. There have been some roles we’ve tried to hire. You’re like, “They’re asking for a little more than I thought they were going to ask for. Can we absorb that salary?” You see a little bit of that. It’s justified. Some of that’s getting countered at the moment with a lot of people being on the job market.” People realize, “Before I could go be an engineer and get a 20% or 30% bump anywhere I want to go, they have to be a little bit more competitive.” That’s leveling off a bit.

We’ve hired a couple of operational roles. It surprised us when we had our benchmark, but we landed the right people. That’s the important thing. It’s with a bit of a premium, but we know they’re awesome. They’re going to deliver value for the business. My focus is not on how we tighten anything up but more on how we leverage those people in exponential ways. That’s fine. If they’re $10,000 or $20,000 more than you thought, that’s great. How can you leverage that to make it worth $200,000, $300,000, or $400,000 extra in revenue? That’s one aspect.

On the economy side of clients, we’re seeing a lot more scrutiny with boards of directors and C-levels where previously they wanted to do 5 or 10 projects. They weren’t asking about budgets. They’re like, “Go get these ten things done.” The teams were like, “We don’t know how we’re going to do that.” Boards are seeing ten priorities. They’re like, “Don’t do six of those. Do four. That’s it.” We know we need to focus.” In a good way, it’s getting businesses, especially tech businesses, to focus, which is something they should have done all along. On the downside, sometimes that’s at the cost of money that could be spent with consultancies like us.

Is there anything based on that and what you’re seeing that has resulted in you making any changes to your messaging, how you go to the market, the content that you’re creating, or the services you’re providing?

One thing we’ve heightened with everybody else is our messaging and stuff around machine learning and AI. We have a background in that. We have a great portfolio of projects. We were admittedly behind the eight-ball and getting that loud and proud on our website. It is a bit of a mess. What happened, going back to the part of our previous conversation, is we were a little bit fat and happy with our current work. Instead, what we should have been doing is being like, “We should get ahead of this by a mile.” We’re like, “We’re not behind the wave, but we need to catch up and start surfing on this thing quickly.” That’s one thing that’s changed.

CSP Adam Oliver | Strategic Hiring

The other thing that we’re changing with the economy in front of us is making sure we have the right people doing the right jobs. That mainly means freeing up myself and my partner’s time to do as much biz dev and sales as we can because we know to get the same number of deals we had in 2023, we’re going to have to do double or triple the amount of work to keep that the same for 2024. Our assumption is that it’s going to be a tough grind of a year. We need to be effective and efficient with our time.

How do you view that? For some people, especially as they are growing a business and it’s becoming more established, the focus starts to shift from hustling and building to, “I want to optimize my lifestyle. I don’t want to have to work more hours. If anything, I want to work less hours.” What do you think about that? You have a family. What’s going through your mind when you look at that situation and scenario? Are you fired up about having to go out and work a lot harder or spend a lot more time building the business? Take us inside your mindset a little bit for that.

I’m big on work-life balance for me and my team. We want to do great things for our clients. We want to make great money for ourselves and our team. We want to do that by balancing it out. We don’t want to spend in a sloppy fashion and have no profits. We can all work twenty hours a week. That’s not effective. At the same time, our approach has been to grow and manage the burden until it gets a little bit painful. Solve for that next pain point before it gets too painful. You don’t want to be underwater. You don’t want to be working 100 hours a week.

We’re right at that inflection point with Crafted, where our team could help us grow to about 20 to 25 employees. We’re starting. We’re like, “We could keep doing this. We could sustain the business as it is, not work too much, and have a good balance. If we want to grow the business, get through the economy, and grow to 30, 40, or 50 people, now is the time that we need to reinvest in that next level of operational and marketing efficiencies. They’re going to be the next few hires that help us double the size of the business. Let us focus on biz dev and sales. We’re at that point where the pain was mounting a little bit. Let’s solve the pain and get ready for our next ability to double the business here.

I have a few more questions before we wrap up. I’d love to know, since we’re talking about offers and especially because you cater or at least work with companies all the way from startups and growth to enterprise level, what do you think about pricing? What is your pricing structure? What does that range look like? How do you set your fees and pricing? Is there a specific model that you use?

Admittedly, it’s me and my partner judging it from proposal to proposal. It doesn’t vary, but is the economy doing well? Is money abundant? Are we at a spot where we can grow and back up our rate of growth with good case studies? When you have zero case studies, it’s hard to charge a premium. When you’ve proven that you can do this for great companies, you can start to inch your way up.

To more specifically answer your question, we don’t want to be mixed in with the top consultancies like your McKinseys, Deloittes, and Slaloms. One, they have a lot more clout than we do, admittedly, but we don’t want to be mixed in where we’re like, “You guys are the same price as McKinsey.” They’re charging $500 an hour, which I don’t agree with, but we don’t want to be in that mix.

I’m not going to send our people out into the world and make no money, where we’re working hour for hour, and we’re making zero profit. We price ourselves in the middle of the market for US-based consultancies. We certainly know you can go offshore or nearshore, and it’s going to be different. All we do is speak to the differences in those models. If our clients want to go with one of those models, that’s fine, but they’re different. They need to understand the difference. We’re not going to price ourselves out of a profit and into some higher competition. Over time, we’ll certainly try to increase that margin.

Are you using cost plus time and materials and making sure that you have a certain margin built into your pricing? Is it more project-based? Is it value-based? How are you thinking about that part of the pricing component?

Everything we do is time and materials-based scoping. In the software world, it’s a bad idea to get into a fixed-bid or fixed-scope type of work. It rarely works. It’s one thing I’ve stayed heavily away from.

Startups are a lot of fun to work with. When you have one or two founders, and they get some funding, that is the most adrenaline-filled, fun work you can do. Click To Tweet

Is that because things always change, or you don’t know what’s going to happen until you get in there?

It’s been proven time and time again with bad case studies that blow up relationships and projects. All of a sudden, you’re doing a project for no profit. We’re a time and materials at a blended hourly rate. We have a lot of great, experienced people, but whether you’re getting our most senior engineer or a mid-level engineer, they can all deliver, and they’re all fantastic. They are blended right across the entire project and disciplines.

What’s worked for me, and the readers can figure it out, is I’ve tried to stay keenly away from complex structures like, “This resource is $400 an hour. This one is $120 an hour.” That’s like, “Who are you giving me? Why are you giving me them?” Half of your clients might want cheap resources. Half of your clients might want only the most senior. That gets complicated and convoluted. I don’t want them picking resources. I also don’t want to have to explain a complex structure of different price points. A blended rate hourly, and it keeps it simple and straightforward.

Adam, I want to thank you for coming on. Before we direct people to where they can learn more about you and Crafted, do you have a couple of minutes if I go through a couple of final questions?

Absolutely.

You’re running a company of 20 to 25 people. You have a family. There’s a lot going on. There’s no question there. Are there 1 or 2 habits or things you’re doing on a regular basis that you feel contribute to your performance, clarity, or focus and allow you to show up in the way that you do?

What I try to do when I’m doing it correctly, which sometimes goes up and down, is working out. For me, it’s getting outside. I trail run. I try to get to the gym. I make sure I’m eating right. That has a drag. One thing I’ve learned later in life is being hungover is not a good state of mind. It’s not for me. I don’t deal with it well. It’s changed my thoughts on drinking. Not that I never have a cocktail and have some good social time, but I don’t have time in my life to be hungover for a day.

I’m being smart about how I treat my body and my mind. I’m getting good rest. I’ve never had a problem sleeping like some founders do. The other one that’s most important for me is carving out a good time away from the job to be with my wife and my kids. I don’t let things distract me. I will be as present as I can be. I feel like working on it. I admit. Sometimes, it goes away, but those are the things that keep me grounded. If I’m doing those things right, I can bring my full energy to the job and the team.

In the last several months, is there a book that you have read or listened to? It could be fiction or nonfiction, but it is something you enjoyed that you think others might.

There are two books. Atomic Habits has been around for a while. It gives me something to reflect on. The other one that our team read, which is good for the consulting space, is Smart Brevity by the Axios team. It is a simple read. Some of it makes sense. It’s a good thing to refresh yourself on, especially as a consultant. It packs a punch, and you’re like, “Am I communicating in a good, clear, concise way?” We’ve enjoyed that book.

Adam, I want to thank you for making time and coming here. Where should people go, the one place to learn more about you and Crafted? What’s the URL?

Check us out at www.Crafted.Solutions. We appreciate it. Michael, thank you so much.

Thanks again for coming on, Adam.

Thanks for reading the episode between Michael and Adam. If you enjoy this show, be sure to hit that subscribe button. If you want to help support the show, you can do so by either sharing this episode or by heading over to Apple Podcast, where you can leave a rating and review. As a reminder, if you want to work directly with the Consulting Success Team to receive personalized coaching and support to help you grow and skill your firm, 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 with another episode. Until next time.

 

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