How to Build a Magnetic Personal Consulting Brand with Joe Mechlinski: Podcast #315

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Build not just a brand, but a magnetic force that attracts opportunities. Today, Joe Mechlinski, the founder of SHIFT, shows us the way to speaking, recurring revenue, and personal brand converge to reshape the future of consulting. Hear about his early struggles and how he found a unique approach to consulting that changed his career.

In this episode with Joe, you’ll learn how to:

  • Learn strategies for helping leaders excel in times of rapid and exponential change.
  • Discover how writing and publishing a book can elevate your credibility and expand your business.
  • Understand how to embrace and learn from rejection to foster personal and professional growth.
  • Gain insights on identifying key decision-makers within any organization to enhance your consulting effectiveness.
  • Uncover methods to identify a company’s insecurities and leverage this knowledge to attract new clients.
  • Explore ways to build your business so that it thrives independently, reducing reliance on your constant involvement.
  • Learn to navigate your business successfully through economic downturns and challenging times.
  • Find out how to implement sustainable recurring revenue models or memberships in your business.
  • Learn the steps to building a strong, influential platform for your consulting practice.

Book your complimentary growth session call

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Joe’s Website and Books

Joining Michael on the show is Joe Mechlinski, a renowned figure in the world of workplace engagement and human potential. As a New York Times best-selling author and captivating speaker, Joe has consistently demonstrated his deep commitment to transforming workplace dynamics. He’s not just a thought leader. He’s a social entrepreneur at heart, fervently believing that a fully engaged workforce is the cornerstone of unlocking extraordinary human potential.

In his role as CEO of SHIFT, Joe Spearheads initiatives to redefine workplace engagement. Under his leadership, SHIFT has evolved into a consulting powerhouse, expanding its team to 40 management consultants between the years of 2012 and 2020. His insights and strategies have not only shaped organizational cultures but have also gained wide recognition with features in publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, and the Wall Street Journal.

As you’re going to read about, it wasn’t always easy for Joe. If you’re one of those people who are feeling swamped with all the guesswork, endless hours, and those pesky little slipups while trying to grow your consulting practice, you don’t have to go it alone. The Consulting Success team is offering a free, no-pressure growth session call. Here’s what we’re going to tackle on that call. We’re going to do a deep dive into what makes your situation unique. We will have a real talk about your goals and whip up a success plan that’s tailor-made just for you. We’ll help you dodge those frustrating costly blunders and save you from the headache of trying to figure it all out on your own.

Lastly, you’ll get ongoing support and the accountability you need. Plus, you’ll join a buzzing community of successful consultants like you. Let’s be honest. Growing a business by yourself can be pretty tough at times. To book your free consulting growth session, head over to ConsultingSuccess.com/Grow.

Without further ado, join us in this enlightening episode with Joe where we uncover the secrets to transforming leadership and consulting practices in an ever-evolving world. From mastering change to building credibility, fostering resilience, and creating a sustainable, influential consulting business, this episode has it all. Without further ado, I hope you enjoy this episode with Joe Mechlinski. Enjoy.

Welcome, Joe. It is great to have you. I am looking forward to diving into our conversation to talk about you, how you’ve grown your company, SHIFT, lessons learned, and all that good stuff. Why don’t we start off and have you share what does SHIFT do?

We help leaders thrive through exponential change. That’s the fancy term. We celebrated our 23rd anniversary, service anniversary, or whatever you want to call it. It could be the birthday on November 2nd, 2023.

Congratulations.

It also marks half my life I had to think about this. I’ve been doing this since I was 23 years old inside of this business. It’s been a long and crazy journey. We think of ourselves as a small McKinsey. That is the way that I frame the model.

I love that last part. There are lots of good thoughts running through my mind when you say that. If you give people a sense of the size of the company, how many clients and projects do you typically work on in a given year, revenue, or anything that you’re able to share?

Why don’t I give you a little thumbnail of how this whole thing got started for a second? I was an entrepreneur in the late ‘90s. I was coming out of college and got a job with Anderson Consulting. I thought I had made it. One of the last things I was doing entrepreneurially landed me in the home of the former CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank in Maryland. This guy got ahold of me for about six months after hearing some of my life story, which we don’t necessarily need to get into in this episode. He was like, “You are the most unemployable person I’ve ever met.” I was like, “Crap.”

The background is I grew up in the inner city of Baltimore. I grew up where they shot the wire. I was able to get to Hopkins. I get there and I’m a quantum leap away from the world I came from. He was like, “You’re about to make that next quantum leap except this time, I don’t necessarily see you as a corporate guy.”

This among lots of other things, my mom passed, which was a lot of death by the time I was 23. I ended up starting up this company with the idea of how to bring a little more humanity to the workplace. The difference between me and a lot of the guys that didn’t make it out of my neighborhood was that my dad didn’t lose his job. He didn’t work for the big GM plant in Baltimore. He happened to work for a small business that became big. I had this front-row seat to watching my dad who’s the goat of dads who didn’t have a good dad and didn’t have a dad that was around. He showed up. He used to instill this idea. He was like, “I don’t have to work. I get to work.” This is a guy working outside in the elements. That statement meant something.

As a 23-year-old kid who didn’t know anything, and I’m older and still don’t know much, I would walk into some of these companies. One of my companies went from 5 to 150 people. I’m a sports guy. It was based on rhythms, rituals, and routines, having a goal and a vision, and then aligning the team to get to that place as you would as the football coach. It was a lot of the things that I’ve learned playing sports that I brought to business and then a lot of personal development.

CSP Joe Mechlinski | Consulting Business

I went through all of Tony Robbins’ stuff. I went through all of these things when I was 21, 22, and 23 and fell in love with the idea of learning and growing. I was like, “Why are people not doing this in the work? Why do people show up on Monday and hate their life? Why do people act like this is something they have to do?”

Through the years, and I can give you more here in a second, I found myself about twelve years into the business working with a couple hundred companies. I put all of that into a book. It was called Grow Regardless. It did really well. It hit The New York Times. It was the number-one book in the world for three days. I beat 50 Shades of Grey, believe it or not. The next couple of companies that called us were big companies like Benjamin Moore. I called them like, “I have no idea what to do to help you. I didn’t take the job with Anderson to get away from big Corporate America.”

From 2012 to about 2020, we grew the team to 40-some management consultants and spread out across 6 different cities. It was more of your traditional, not time and material. We were billing based on retainer because that’s all I ever knew. I didn’t think about doing the time-for-the-money thing in the traditional sense. I’ve done a lot of other things in terms of investing and starting other businesses around the consulting business.

If you had asked me when I was 23, would I still be doing this at 23? I’d be like, “I don’t think so.” If you’re in this game, what you’ll find very quickly is that you’re only as good as your last meeting. That’s a tough business to be in unless you’re doing staff augmentation or government contracting, or unless you’ve got some other version of a moat or a subscription business that will really lock you in.

I’ve built up a team. We’re transitioning here a bit post-pandemic into a tech-enabled consultancy. We built a platform and bought a small company. I can give you more on that later. It has been a journey of many different ins and outs. My wife was like, “It’s your 23rd anniversary today. It has been six companies since the last time you did all this.” She’s not lying. It’s been a lot of twists and turns, but it’s an honorable position.

It’s a privilege to get a chance to be brought into someone else’s company and to be asked to help and serve. That’s been the big purpose and the big why for me. My ad not losing his job and my dad working for a company that could provide me a life in a very different way than where we came from is a really big part of my why.

Take me back to the statement you made about how you’re only as good as your last meeting. What does that mean to you? Where does that come from?

In my first couple of clients, one company went from $2 million to $50 million in a few years. I was 23 or 24 years old. We were fired. I was like, “I don’t get this. We went from here to there. There’s a lot of acknowledgment that I was a big part of this.” It was less about me getting credit and more about, “I am in this not to repeat the same lesson.” It’s that old line of, “Do you have 20 years of experience or a 1-year experience 20 times?” I am more on the former. I’m like, “Let’s build out the next thing.”

We’ve worked with 600-plus clients, which means I’ve also been fired 600 times. As a guy who did not love rejection, I got into a weird business. These are not just coaching clients. These were mini transformational moments where we would spend 2 to 3 years with an account and they run their course. Some last 7 to 8 years. Some of them last three months. Sometimes, there’s that chemistry and that magic, and then sometimes not.

You’re only as good as your last meeting. Click To Tweet

For me, we never signed up anybody to a long-term contract. I’ve been saying the same thing for twenty-some years, which is like, “If it’s not good, don’t pay us.” They’re like, “What do you mean?” I’m like, “The contract is such crap.” I’ve been in big corporate gigs where I’ve had a client pay us $250,000 a month. I’ve had them sign the agreement and then I’ve had them the next day say, “We’re not doing this anymore,” for no reason.

To me, when I say, “You’re only as good as your last meeting,” it’s a scarcity mindset of a not positive way to think about things. On the other side, it’s acknowledging that you’ve got to earn your keep with the client and you’ve got to constantly be delivering value, not in a way that it’s like drinking from a fire hose. Sometimes, your value is your presence. Sometimes, your value is a connection you make for the client. Sometimes, your value is your thing, your framework, or your way, but I find it often that it is not that.

What’s the difference between the clients that you work with for, let’s say, 3 months and those that you work with for 3 years? If you do a quick analysis, and maybe this is something you’ve likely done, are there some criteria or characteristics? Are there any lessons that you learned from the clients that maybe tend to not stick around as long compared to those that you have worked with for many years?

We’ve ranged from small to mid-size to standup, more mature family businesses, and even multibillion-dollar companies. I’ve been very fortunate that we’ve been at the C-Suite in some of those companies to see a real machine or a real matrix happen. In the environments where we last longer, a couple of things are true. Number one is regardless of the person’s title. We’ve worked with the CEO of a $10 billion company and they were not running the company. It’s got to be someone who’s calling the shots. Even though the title may sometimes give you the signal that sometimes, it’s not true.

That leads to the second piece, which is what’s the actual insecurity we’re dealing with with the CEO? I’m not a therapist or a psychologist, but if the insecurity is, “I’m not enough. I need to be seen. Therefore, I wouldn’t be excited about sharing my new advisor or new consulting company that I’m going to have come in and run the play,” then this competitiveness about where the ideas originate from is a huge red flag for me. That includes them asking us to say, “What did you come up with? What did you do?” It is like, “I’m not here to be your monkey. I don’t dance. I don’t dance great, but I dance occasionally. What I’m here to do is produce magic between us, and that does not mean I don’t have good ideas.”

In fact, I would argue some of the value that we bring is emergent ideas that none of us have thought of, but that is because they emerge between us. It’s not because I’m coming in as your sage on the stage, your guru, or some other authority figure because I’ve been doing this for a long time. I have a lot more humility to know there are multiple ways. It is all situational. I trust at the end of the day that our clients will figure it out for themselves with a lot of good guidance around them.

The last thing that seems to be a mark for us and our business at SHIFT is a CEO who has all of the things, like the growth mindset. They embrace change. They’re progressive. There is this one thing that seems to stick with us, which is that they get their people are their most important asset. They understand that the job is the responsibility of other human beings. They don’t look at it as the means to an end. That is the privilege. The privilege is in this position of serving. They are not overdoing the servant leadership thing but not also overdoing the power over people if that makes sense.

A lot of people can resonate with that in probably several aspects of it. How do you identify that? What have you found is the best way? You’re talking about, one, being able to figure out who’s calling the shots where, in some cases, it’s not apparent in potentially several meetings or you don’t know that based on a title. The insecurity is something that is deeper. I don’t know if you’re finding that people are sharing publicly, “Here’s what I’m insecure about.” How do you identify that?

In terms of finding leaders where they recognize that people are their most valuable asset, how do you identify that? What’s coming up? I’d love it if you take us a little bit behind the scenes. When you’re having meetings or you’re deciding who to work with or who not to work with, how do you try and suss out or identify those three different criteria or parts?

CSP Joe Mechlinski | Consulting Business

That’s another great question without a specific answer, but I’ll do my best to come up and coddle something together.

I have a feeling we’ll probably have a few of these throughout our conversation so it’s all good.

One of my mentors, to shamelessly namedrop, is Richard Saul Wurman, Founder of TED. He has written 91 books and he is 88 years old. He has this line. He talks about tango, like who’s leading who. It’s about the conversation. It is evident when you enter into a conversation. You’re putting me on the hot seat. You’re asking me the questions, and that’s cool. That’s the interview. That’s the format.

If we were grabbing coffee, there could be some back and forth on this volley, but eventually, I want to get to know you. Are you willing to participate in the sharing of conversation? Are you willing to dance with me? I’ve got an ace up my sleeve because my story is not traditional. I’m not pedigreed. It’s a miracle I’m here. If I share not the whole thing but bits and pieces and they respond in kind, what you have is a good-faith actor. You have somebody who’s willing to maybe enter into that ring of conversation with you.

The other piece that you’ll see, too, is the way that they treat people. Everybody’s got their anecdotes around this. There was a scene from Yellowstone, to be a little cheesy here for a minute, where Kevin Costner was talking about, “I don’t work on the land. I work with it.” You’ll start to hear that from people who have a relationship with power such that they’re not overdoing it. In fact, they look at it like this. Everything from how you work with your assistant, so to speak, or your team, are you working with them or are you talking to them? There are all these little things that you’ll pick up on in terms of language, the energy of a conversation, and the way in which the person positions and presents themselves.

When I think about culture as your most important asset, the subtle piece in that is that it is people who have hope. They are hope. They believe that better is possible. They believe that people haven’t reached their potential yet. They believe there’s more juice in the can, so to speak. Every once in a while, I talk to an executive who has been there and done that and who doesn’t have any time for me. They’ve done all the things and they’re going to tell me about all their things. Those things are great. I hear them and receive them. I go, “That’s great. How can I think about those things?”

I then go, “How are things going?” They’re like, “It’s great. It couldn’t be better.” I’m like, “What are you trying to work on?” They’re like, “You’d be surprised. We’re working on it. It’s going great.” I’m like, “Is there anything that you think could be better or different?” They’re like, “No. We’re getting what we can get.” That is hopeless. In fact, not only is it hopeless, but I’d argue, “Why do we need you? If it’s doing its thing, what are you doing? Why do we need a babysitter? We don’t need someone to mind the shop. We need somebody to create value in a barrier-free environment so that people can build a healthy and high-performing environment.” That job is never done.

These are not booby traps. As we are casually having this conversation about what the EQ is, if you will, of the leader, how they have their self-awareness is a big piece. You’re looking for the narcissism that shows up in those roles. We all have narcissism. It’s not a bad word all the time, but it can be when you’re not able to see yourself from a distance in a relationship with other people.

There’s a quote. They say the music is in the space between the notes. Culture, leadership, and character are in the space between people. How does that show up? How do you show up? You pick up on it. We all have a pretty reasonable scent for the sociopaths or the creeps and then the folks in the middle who are earnestly trying to run the play. They’re trying to figure out what’s good for the organization. This is a good one. Whatever’s good for them is good for their team, the organization, their clients, and the rest of the world. They’re looking for that triple to 4 or 5-time win all the way through. That’s a marker for me. It’s somebody who can think expansively. They can widen their circle of concern. Sometimes, that really shows up in that way.

It’s acknowledging that you’ve got to earn your keep and that you’ve got to constantly deliver value. Click To Tweet

Most consulting founders will have an experience where they’ll be talking to somebody that inside, they know. There is that gut feeling like, “This is probably not going to work out. I don’t really get a good vibe,” but the deal is so lucrative. There’s such a big opportunity. The dollar signs, euro, or whatever currency they’re working in is flashing and they take the business on. I’m wondering if you can take us back to maybe a period when that happened if it did. I’m also wondering when you realized. When did the light bulb go off? When did you draw the line in the sand telling yourself and telling your team, “We’re not going to do this again.” What did it look like?

I started the company with the idea that I wasn’t going to be the Joe Show. No offense to anyone who is, but it wasn’t my path. I wanted to make the room smarter, not be the smartest in the room. We’ve had that model. I’m not the smartest person that does what we do. I have my gifts and my lanes. We built the company up for the first 5 to 7 years. We got to 2008, which is about seven years in. For a myriad of reasons, we’ll cut to the chase. I lost all my money. In my first year of marriage, I had $1 million in debt. It was like, “Welcome. Here we are.”

On a side, I told my lady, “This is going to probably take a couple of years. I’m sorry. This may not be a good time for you to stick around. This is a perfect off-ramp if you want it.” She didn’t flinch, which was a nice thing to have at that point. As we entered into 2009, we went from 30-some people down to 10. In 2009, ’10, and ‘11, I was young. I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to pay all this debt back and how we’re going to run a $1 million-plus business with a $20,000-a-month debt load. This is all to share that the stakes were high. It felt irreversible and it felt like I had to go hardcore hunt and pursue. I was like, “The economy is terrible. Who the hell are we? I don’t have a book yet.” It was what it was.

We had two quick relationships or two quick clients that I’ll mention. One guy, and I won’t mention his name, is serving about ten years for fraud. I got myself mixed up with this guy. He was a very influential figure in the tech community. When I met him, I was like, “I’m getting to know him a little bit.” He was like, “I don’t eat meat because I believe in karma.” I was like, “I know a lot of vegans. I’ve never heard someone say that.” That was okay.

He started adding up these stories. He was an early investor in a bunch of big companies. This is 2009 and ‘10. His perch was way different than my perch. We hired a bunch of people. We did a little recruiting at that period of time. He was probably into me for $100,000 for 90 days of work, and then he fired the whole team. He doesn’t respond to an email. He gets his partner involved who’s building foundations in another country.

Here I am, broke. I have no money and I’ve got a guy being heavy a little bit with me. It was 2 or 3 years of him making threats. I grew up in Baltimore City. I was like, “You got to ease up on the real threats. The fake threats, have at it with your attorney, but the real threats would be a bad idea.” Me being my typical chippy self, I’m not suggesting that this is ever a good outcome. I’m sharing with you how the story went.

We got another client at the same period of time who was doing solar panels. That was in 2009, way before what Solar City has become. When you’re young, you’re trying to figure out the pattern. Who has it and who doesn’t? Who’s full of crap and who’s not? Who are the people who were in the right time and right place but didn’t have a clue what they were doing? Who are the people that they’ve got a touch? I sometimes get wooed by the touch. I look at their last couple of moments. I sometimes look at the past to predict the future potential state. If they solved it, then why couldn’t they solve it again? That’s not a good way to always think about things.

To make a long story short, one guy owes us over $100,000. The solar company owes us well over $60,000 or $70,000. Those were hard moments. I have a memory of all the times that I was not feeling I got the right end of the stick. With the guy who ended up getting caught for fraud, this took ten years for them to catch him, or maybe not. It was maybe eight.

You live and you learn. You’re going to be fine. No matter how intimate you are with the CEO, if it’s not their money, it’s not their decision. If it’s a publicly traded or a big company, or they’re the hired gun, remind yourself that everyone’s doing the best they can. Everyone, at the end of the day, is likely to make a decision about what’s best for them and that is okay. Sometimes, not everything’s going to come out fair in the way that you want it to.

CSP Joe Mechlinski | Consulting Business

Remember. 90% of venture and seed companies do not work. No matter how big and cool they seem, they’re likely not to work. You have to calibrate that into your thinking of where you are going to spend your time, energy, and resources. I am 23 years in and I’m still probably in a few relationships that we shouldn’t be because we have to.

Let’s fast forward. You shared a period of struggle. This time, things are different. You talked earlier about the book and how the book opened doors. Was there anything else that you were doing even before the book that you feel played a big role or had a big impact on building a pipeline, generating leads, and getting you into the room for appointments and meetings business development and marketing-wise?

I don’t think anything’s going to necessarily translate. I started SHIFT at the same time I started a foundation in Baltimore City. Out of the gate, these were two things running in parallel. One was trying to work on a social enterprise before that was even a concept, and then SHIFT was over here. I was walking the halls with do-gooders, which were my target audience. I was on boards. I did a lot of not-for-profit work. This will be the first time I’ve ever uttered this, but it is written. I donated and invested over $1 million way before I had it. Some of it was my survivor’s guilt. Some of it was I wanted to play a part. Some of it was, “I’ll figure it out myself.” Some of it was I thought it was my chance to help in the same way I was helped. All of those things are true.

I then really started thinking, “What are the other ways that we can grow the business?” We had a recruiting practice for a period of time, but that was episodic revenue, not recurring revenue. For everyone who’s got a non-recurring revenue model, I would urge you to run into that as fast as you can. It is not for everybody, but there is some stability that gives you a chance to breathe when you get to the first of every month. There was a period of time when we had over $400,000 a month of recurring revenue. You walk in with a $100,000 net profit every month. That is a big, deep breath you take.

Up to the time that I wrote my first book, we probably did $15-plus million over 6, 7, 10 years, or whatever it was. It was not a lot. It was up and down based on projects, big gigs, and not big gigs. Post my first book to my second book, that was almost over $50 million. All of a sudden, people think you have something to say. All of a sudden, they want to hear you speak.

I can give you a couple of other things that we did. We created a membership group around the business called SHIFT Society. It’s a do-gooder thing. It was a spot for executives to go to once we got done working with them. Maybe it wasn’t their whole company, but we were working with them in a YPO cool group. I got involved in a venture company. It was the same thing. I wanted to get to earlier companies. It had a mission-based feel. Everything we’ve done has got a little bit of, “Go save the world,” thing going on.

It sounds like proximity is key for you, like getting close to the right people, whether it’s being part of foundations or boards, being involved in some kind of an investment vehicle, or creating a membership to work with your clients. When they transition out, you’re still keeping people close. Is that very intentional? Do you feel a core to how you go about building businesses is proximity?

Yes. It is about relationships without sounding like a dreary old person talking about how relationships are everything. How do you scale authentic connections? You and I are part of Hampton. I’m part of 4 or 5 other groups. It’s a way for me to have people that I know that I can connect with. I’ve taken a crew of people to Tel Aviv to check out the tech scene. I’ve gone to Branson’s island a couple of times. We’ve done things that are extreme.

There’s a book called Professional Services Marketing. It’s a really old academic book. Before inbound marketing was cool, you could talk about your research. You can report on things. I had a podcast for a minute, a couple of them. You can put stuff in a book. You can write white papers. You can write blogs. Those are all that way to contain content where you’re the flower, not the bee. The people are coming towards you because you’ve got something to say. I’ve also done the bee thing fairly well. It’s exhausting because you’re always on. The thing for me has always been like, “I’m going to do things that fill my cup up and I’ll run into the right people.”

I have a lot more humility to know there is no one way. There are multiple ways. It is all situational. Click To Tweet

In the early days, you were in these different groups, whether it was foundations or boards. You then get the book out. Is there anything you’re doing that stands out to you as being quite different and is working very well that you have not yet mentioned?

Speaking seems like an obvious thing for some. For me, it becomes a weird thing that I can’t explain to you. I’m not a great speaker, but I’m an amazing trainer and facilitator. What I have become very gifted at is if I’ve got a room of 10, 100, or 1,000, give me 1 hour and a half to 2 hours. Generally speaking, you’ll leave that with an amazing amount of understanding of who we are and what we stand for. That tends to be by far the best taco to buy from our enchilada.

Once you write a book, whoever they are wants you to do two years of talking about the book. I didn’t do that for either book. However, there is something about if you have something to say, you have a voice and a message for you to be willing to literally and figuratively scream from the mountaintop. That sometimes gets overlooked in the sense of like, “We’ll go find a speaking event or have people talk to you.”

Think about that as a church moment. I don’t go, but when I did, it was the idea that it’s a spiritual gathering of human beings that maybe want to be receptive to a new point of view or maybe skeptical of a new point of view. What role can you play in gathering this group of human hearts and souls to start to re-think the way they do things and not accept your recipe lock, stock, and barrel? They’re willing to maybe tango, co-create, and the all-new AG buzzy words. That becomes something that people take with them and hold it. As a consultant, whether you’re a one-off shop or not, never say no to a speaking opportunity. I say no often. Say yes and invest in it, not just to tell your old stories over and over again. Get to know the company before you go in, and that will all show.

You talked about the recurring model and how you’d encourage more people to have their engagements structured where there is a recurring revenue component to it, if not fully focused on that. Is there anything inside of that that you’ve done if somebody’s thinking to themselves, “I’m providing more custom consulting services,” whether it’s hourly, project-based, or whatever? Do you have any suggestions, guidance, or anything that you can offer in terms of how maybe you’ve done that in your own business? Maybe you even have some principles that you think are key to recurring revenue.

You’re familiar with the Corporate Executive Board. This was a think tank back in the day that became a billion-dollar behemoth bought by Gartner. Why? It is because of their membership. They would produce these papers. They didn’t do, from my understanding, strict consulting, but they might’ve done some advising. They then decided to put this out like Gartner, Forrester, or some of these other bigger shops.

That was my 2014 thinking. I was like, “The consulting business as a lab. We’re going to use it to test and try things. We’re going to use it to grow ourselves and our clients, and then we’ll have places to put them, whether it’s this membership model or whether they buy our books.” I had books. Media was a thought process for SHIFT. I thought about the idea of ventures, so SHIFT Ventures is and was a thing back then.

What I found was I have been climbing the ladder of understanding. I started out as like, “I can help your team sell more. I can help your leaders lead better. I can help your structure, your systems, and your strategy.” It was then like, “At the C-level, let’s raise some money. Let’s go public. Let’s buy companies. Let’s succeed from an executive level.” These are things we learned along the way. Having an understanding of what capital markets are all about and how you leverage equity and different forms of resources as a capital allocator ultimately was something I wanted to learn. All these things were learned, SHIFT Recruiting, SHIFT Media, and SHIFT Ventures.

We resold diagnostics. We resold other people’s platforms. We became a VAR, Value Added Reseller, to a couple of other places. There are ecosystems within Salesforce or Microsoft. Grab your big favorite software company. Most of them sell through some type of VAR network. That could be a tremendous leverage point in terms of more leads. That’s more on the tech side.

CSP Joe Mechlinski | Consulting Business

For me, if I had to do it all over again, I would’ve either partnered with a tech company earlier on and became a VAR or do what we’re doing, which is go buy something and go build something. See if you can break the time value barrier. There’s a quote from Churchill. He said, “We shape buildings and then they shape us.” The most humbling thing about building a tech platform has been to realize that. It is a precise game, not this game of personality.

To summarize for everyone that’s joining us, you’re saying you can go out and build a new tool or software or have an engagement in a way that you provide your services using recurring revenue. You can also find other products or services that you can offer to your clients, and software could be one example of that. It doesn’t have to always be something that you create yourself. It could be what other resources are out there that your ideal clients would find valuable tools or whatever it might be. You can offer that, and through that, you might be able to create significant recurring revenue in your business.

You didn’t ask, and I’m not sure it’s okay to do this, but SHIFT is using Latch, this platform that is this way to get your team on the same page without scheduling more meetings. I’m looking at SHIFT as the client number one. We’re using it with our clients. We’ve got thousands of users on it. We’ve been live for about six months and we’re getting a chance to see how we take this to market as SHIFT.

I’ve sat on all these different sides of the table. I’m like, “Maybe we should build out an indirect network of consultants who really are amazing at what they do and they’ll sell this.” We are testing that out with a couple of folks. I know a lot of folks in the industry who are amazing. Maybe it’s where I’m in life, but I know a lot of people in their 60s and 70s who are amazing. They are aging out not because of them but because of the way the world is moving so fast.

When I say, “Have you heard of Mr. Beast?” It’s not because I’ve got kids that are 11 and 13. It’s because there’s a YouTube economy like there was an Amazon economy or internet economy before the brick-and-mortar economy. There are a lot of people that don’t know that. You’d be surprised at what people are doing to build their own platforms and then leverage that platform and monetize it in a way that is very different. The puck has moved greatly, in my opinion.

As a consulting founder, you’ve had a team of 40-plus at times, what are you spending your time on that when you look back with the benefit of hindsight, you think to yourself, “I should have been spending more time on this earlier.”

Building a platform, and I’ll say that in two ways. Where I gave you the whole, “I want to make the room smarter and not be the smartest in the room,” I have not done a great job of building my individual Joe, not the SHIFT platform. I’ve always had this inner critic of not wanting to have a big ego and not putting myself out there. It’s not about me and all the things.

When you say platform, you’re referring to building your personal brand?

Yes. I mean it in two ways. A personal brand is one piece. YouTube Shorts and Instagram reels are things that, from a business-to-business perspective, I had always said, “I’m going to be late. I’m already late. I don’t want to jump in.” It is like, “Go.” The second piece is a literal platform or a literal product where you don’t allow your past to dictate whether you can jump in. It is the no-code or low-code. What’s going on with AI? If you are reading this, the door’s wide open. Maybe years ago, we all had to have different kinds of personalities to build things. This time, it feels like we are in the 2nd inning of this 9-inning game. It’s about to get fun really fast soon.

No matter how intimate you are with the CEO, if it’s not their money, it’s not their decision. Click To Tweet

What’s one thing that you’re still spending time on that you feel like you really shouldn’t be? It’s not the highest-value work. It doesn’t create the most value for you or for the company but you still find yourself doing it or in the weeds.

I am still in some client work, and some of that client work is not programmatic. It’s not based on our work. It’s based on someone’s need to talk. I know that I have a very different presence than some of our team. It’s not always linear. It’s not always clean. Sometimes, it is like, “Did I invest that in the right person or the right thing?” That’s the struggle we all have. What are the temptations to resist? The opportunity is to seize as it relates to where to put your time, energy, and focus.

Client work has always been a little bit of my thing. I am very good at it. At the same time, my role should be in building. For me, where I am in my vision is I want to build real enterprise value. Of all the things I’ve done in business, I have not done everything. The one thing that is missing from my resume is not buying, building, or starting. It’s finishing and selling.

To round my own understanding at a visceral level, I want to know what it’s like to raise money, so I did it. I’ve raised a lot of money. In our venture firm, I helped. It was not me, but I was around for $20 million. It’s not a small amount of money. It wasn’t me, but I helped. I was in the conversations, but I’m not the one with the proverbial gun to your head to know what that was like. For me, learning by doing is always my default. As creators, consultants, and people running shops that are helping people do the work, it’s important that your words and actions are very close together and that your feelings and lived experience match the things you’re teaching.

We’re going to wrap up here in a moment. I’m wondering. Is there any model or framework for how you approach decisions as it relates to how you spend your time when you decide to hire another team member versus looking at the difference between what that salary or “expense” is going to be versus the potential return? Are there any models or frameworks that you always keep upfront and center and use to make decisions inside a business?

This is not great advice I’m about to give you. Every situation is different. A lot of the pressure to hire people inside of a small consulting company is the world’s move to contractors, 1099, partnerships, and JVs. I have a team of W-2, which is hefty and heavy. That is not variable a lot. Some of our team is variable, but not really. That is pressure to make sure that we hit our numbers and we’re doing what we do.

If I were thinking about this fresh, I would think about making sure that the way I get business is the way that I do the business on the backend. If this is episodic, then I would have an episodic model in the backend. If this is recurring, then I would have a recurring model on this end. Another thing that I would think about is, “How do I spend my time?”

Don’t read Flawless Consulting by Peter Block. Don’t worry about The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge. Get ten years into the future and imagine that every one of your clients is going to fire you. How’s that going to feel? When you look back after helping all these other people solve their problems, what was the problem you solved for yourself? This is for all the martyrs and all the selfless givers. I’m a people pleaser. I get it. I want to be helpful. I want to be a service. I really meant it, but I also know that I can get sucked up into other people’s drama and their stuff. That’s the gig. That’s the job. I should go do that.

As you’re thinking about adding people, remember that nothing lasts forever. “Forever is a long time,” as my dad used to say. He said that to me as I was walking down the aisle to marry my lady. He was like, “Forever is a long time and nothing lasts forever.” I’m like, “That’s you all the time.” He never misses. I’m like, “That’s a mess,” so we’re clear.

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On the consulting side, as you’re thinking about bringing people in, it’s a tight job market. If you’re lucky enough to get somebody that you really like, find a way to align the incentive structure. You have to remember. You’re hiring them because likely, they can’t bring in business. Everybody who says they’re going to sell and do, immediately handicap that because if they could do it, they would have. It doesn’t mean they aren’t amazing at delivering it, but if they could bring in the business, they would’ve already done it. It doesn’t mean they can’t learn skills and play a role in your system to bring in business.

I would be remiss if I didn’t think about probably the 100-plus people I’ve hired in 23 years and how many of them had the right pedigree, the right background, and the right experience. They had done it for other people. Maybe we’re the problem. Even when we’ve hired those people from mid-tier shops, they’ve had a hard time. To your point, I sell at a very intimate, connected level. That’s the way I do it. It doesn’t make it right or wrong. It’s the way we do it. That’s hard for people to step into and then recreate that out of nowhere.

I want to thank you for coming and sharing a little bit of your story with us here It’s important that people can learn more about your company, your work, and everything that you guys have going on. Where’s the best place we should send them? What’s that one URL that we should make sure to direct people to?

ShiftTheWork.com.

Thanks so much for coming on.

Thank you.

There you have it for this episode between Joe and Michael. If you enjoyed this episode, then as always, be sure you hit that subscribe button wherever you read your favorite shows. If you want to help support this show, you can either like this episode or share this with a friend or colleague who you feel would truly enjoy reading this conversation. A quick reminder, if you want to book your free, no-pressure consulting growth call, head over to ConsultingSuccess.com/Grow. Thank you so much again for reading this episode. We’ll be back soon with another one. Until next time.

 

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