The Consultant’s Dilemma

It started as an accident.

“What’s your rate?”

“Ummm . . .”

After teaching a growth marketing workshop at General Assembly in 2015, a startup founder in my class asked me to build them a marketing plan.

And she wanted to know my price. I said the first number that came to my head.

“It’s a flat fee for a marketing plan at $750” – I said this number having never consulted for anyone before.

I ended up spending 30 hours and three full weekends on it.  That’s $25/hour for those of you scoring at home.

via GIPHY

I shot myself in the foot on that deal, but I impressed them enough that they asked if I would consult on the side.  When they asked for my hourly rate, I decided to do some research before I answered this time. 🙂

This happened a few more times as I was teaching marketing workshops and sharing my blog content.

At the time, I was an employee at a demanding startup, and it became more and more difficult to juggle my priorities.  I woke up at 5 a.m. every weekday to work for three hours on my clients, then I would head into the office for my day job.  I left at 7 p.m. every evening to spend a few hours with my wife and then worked a few more hours until I passed out with my laptop in bed, usually around 1 a.m.  After months of this, I realized it wasn’t sustainable and my wife was worried I was becoming a zombie.

I had to make a decision.

The Jump: Leaving my day job and going out on my own

First, I had to weigh the risk vs the reward. Can I get a guarantee that the money will come in?  Can I get more money consulting than being an employee? What’s the upside of each? Stock options with my employer vs. the opportunities that come with consulting.

My first task: Could I get clients to commit to a six-month guarantee?  Two clients agreed to raise my fee and guarantee six months of pay.  With these two, I was able to make more than I was at my startup.  Plus, I had other clients that were getting started.  Financially, it made more sense to make the jump.  Plus, I had been saving the consulting money for a rainy day.  (Sidenote:  I am always paranoid that every client will just leave me so I don’t spend money.)

Some people see the jump as a risky move, but it was the opposite for me.  I had already proven that I worked well with these companies and they guaranteed they would engage me for 6 months at more than what I was making.  Fortunately, my wife had a job with benefits and insurance to cover us both. Quick rant: I really feel for single consultants who don’t have this luxury.  It sucks, and we should be supporting bootstrapped entrepreneurs/consultants, but that’s for another blog post.

In my eyes, the jump was the safe move. Clients are committed. Insurance is covered. Game on. It was time to start hustling.

The Reality of Consulting

Your boss = Everyone
I quit my job and went full-time to work for myself.  I’m my own boss! I can do whatever I want, right? Nope. That’s 100% wrong.  My job was to help early-stage companies grow.  That means CEOs are paying me to get results.  That also means when things don’t go well they can email me, slack me, text me or call me 24/7. It usually goes like this: “We run out of VC money in 9 months and we have to hit our goals.  What are we doing to make that happen?” I went from having one boss to multiple bosses.

Accelerated Learning
One thing I hadn’t factored in was my exposure to new growth experiments.  I went from focusing on one business model to working on multiple marketing strategies across multiple industries.  This allowed me to accelerate my learning by performing more tests and experiments across different sectors.  I found that I was learning more in three months than I did the entire previous year.  As my experience went up, I became more confident in things I could do and more aware of the things I didn’t want to do. Also, I quickly learned what my weaknesses are … like design work. 🙁

The Unspoken Conflict
This is what sucks about consulting and most people don’t admit it. The more clients you take on the less you can deliver for each one.  I was in denial about this for a while but now I have come to terms with it.  My natural instinct is to say yes to every task and go above and beyond.    I’m game for all-nighters or working weekends to get things done.  This works as an employee but not as a consultant. You have to manage expectations and be very clear about your scope of work and your deliverables. I still try to undersell and over deliver, but not when it hurts my personal business.  This has been hard for me but very necessary.  Also, I have learned that I have to cap how many projects that I take on at one time so I can over deliver.

The Dilemma: How to Scale Yourself
I started hiring virtual assistants to help with some day-to-day items.  I was able to outsource my weekly reporting, copywriting, web production and research projects.  With the help of tools like Report Garden, Bonzai and Boomerang, I can automate invoices, correspondence and client reports.  This helped free up time, but that time was quickly filled with new clients and meetings.   I have since hit a wall.

So, how do I scale?  What do I scale?  This is the dilemma. What do I do?

I have decided that these are my options.

  1. Go upstream and raise my rates
  2. Niche down and just focus on one offering
  3. Become an agency (Hire and train employees so I can take on more clients)
  4. Keep consulting and self-fund a product on the side (Hey, it worked for 37signals and Hiten Shah)

Instead of picking just one of the above, I’m trying a couple of these options. Most people would say this is a bad idea and to focus on one.  They are probably right. Instead, I have found partners I trust to help with each one of these. Would love to know your opinion on what to do? Or you can wait to see what happens with me.

Feel free to take a peek at each experiment.

Newsletter: How to Create a Data-Driven Social Media Strategy

Snapchat. Instagram. Facebook. Twitter. Linkedin. Quora. Reddit. Pinterest.

The list of social channels goes on and on. But should your company be on every channel? Or just one?

And how do you know if you’re focused on the best social channel for you?

Well, I worked with MediaBistro to come up with a Data-Driven Social Media Strategy. Read it here.

As usual, here are five articles that got my attention this week:

(1) Facebook Metrics: New Ways to Measure Ad and Page Engagement

(2) How to Get Your Emails Delivered to the Gmail Primary Tab Easily

(3) Our 6 Must Reads On Pricing a Product

(4) 17 Obscure Persuasion Techniques for Conversion Optimization

(5) The Road to a $100M Company Doesn’t Start with Product

I will be teaching or speaking in the next few months. Here are the dates:

– 8/15: Digital Marketing Workshop in Seattle, WA
– 8/23: Marketing Talk in NY, NY
– 8/14: Data Talk in San Francisco, CA
2/22: Growth Marketing in LA, CA

Cheers!

Jim Huffman
Co-Founder & CEO
GrowthHit

Newsletter: How to NOT Become an Outdated Marketer

As a marketer, how do you stay on top of everything?

It’s really hard to know what’s trending in the digital space. The landscape moves so fast. It’s overwhelming. And it’s just annoying.

Translation: it’s easy for your marketing skills to become outdated.

But, I’ve found a few go-to sources that help me stay in the know.

Actually, they help me stay ahead of most other marketers.  I am able to browse these sources in 10 minutes and learn a little something every single day.  If anything, they help me identify trends of where the market is going.  Here is a quick list by vertical.

For Facebook ads, I use this blog and I do a call with my Facebook ad rep once a month. Their blog is good as well – boring, but good.

For conversion tips, conversionXL is hard to beat.

For SEO tips, Search Engine Land, MOZ and the Google Analytics blog will cover 99% of what you want.  (Brian Dean’s blog is worth a shout out.)

For growth case studies, these guys are the main hub and I love the Sumo blog.

For social media, the team at Buffer constantly churns out great case studies.

For product inspiration, I reference the Product Hunt App at least once a day.

For design inspiration, I am not a designer but I like to be in the know. I check out Dribble’s top list and I look at the top apps in the app store once a week. Optimizely provides great case studies as well.

I use Feedly’s RSS feed to pull in most of these feeds.

Disclaimer: I’m kind of obsessed with basketball so here are my other must-read resources for staying in the know as a die-hard hoops fan.

For basketball season, I toss on another 10 minutes of reading here and . . . here.  Oh, and I may or may not watch the locker room speech from Hoosiers before big meetings.

As usual, here are five articles that got my attention this week:

(1) 7 Facebook Headline Hacks to drive clicks through the roof

(2) How to Turn Your (Boring and Generic) Emails Into Emails that Convert

(3) 3 Ways To Drive Visitors To Your Latest Blog Post

(4) Funnel Analysis: Finding and Fixing Conversion Problems with Google Analytics

(5) Why Product Market Fit Isn’t Enough

I will be teaching or speaking in the next few months. Here are the dates:

– 7/17: Digital Marketing Workshop in Seattle, WA
– 8/15: Digital Marketing Workshop in Seattle, WA
– 8/23: Marketing Talk in NY, NY
– 8/14: Data Talk in San Francisco, CA
2/22: Growth Marketing in LA, CA

Cheers!

Jim Huffman
Co-Founder & CEO
GrowthHit

6/23/2017 Newsletter: Thank you for Downloading Our Alexa App

I just want to give a quick thank you.

My co-founder and I truly thank you for downloading and supporting our Growth Hacker Alexa App.  We’re approaching 5,000 plays and our team is working hard to curate content just for you.  To date, here is the most popular growth hacking tip:

“Tweet and Like buttons isn’t word of mouth marketing. Rather, word of mouth comes from content, thoughtfulness, solved problems, and ease of use—in short, the whole experience of a product or service.” – Sean Ellis, Former Head of Growth at Dropbox and GrowthHackers CEO

Again, thank you for your support. We’ll continue to bring you more products and services. Like this one.

As usual, here are five articles that got my attention this week:

(1) 5 Facebook Ad Optimization Rules to Steal (And 5 Reasons Why You Need Them)

(2) If You Had 24 Hours to Improve Revenue, What Would You Do?  Top Growth Hackers Respond

(3) How to Write Sales Copy for Your Emails to Get Results?

(4) 162 Best Ecommerce Site Designs of 2017

(5) How to Get Your Medium Stories to Rank on The Front Page of Google

I will be teaching or speaking in the next few months. Here are the dates:

– 7/17: Digital Marketing Workshop in Seattle, WA
– 8/15: Digital Marketing Workshop in Seattle, WA
– 8/23: Marketing Talk in NY, NY
– 8/14: Data Talk in San Francisco, CA
2/22: Growth Marketing in LA, CA

Cheers!

Jim Huffman
Co-Founder & CEO
GrowthHIt