In the competitive business world, we all need to look inside and see what makes us stand out and relevant from the rest of the crowd. Oftentimes, it is our journey and how we tell it that connects us with people. Willard Barth learned that being authentic and transparent is the best way to connect with people because it shows them the steps to success you are sharing are not just theories. Willard has helped many companies grow with two processes he calls The Seven Stages Methodology and The Anatomy Of Transformation, both of which have led people to recognize him not just as the guy in a fancy suit, but as every other business owner who made mistakes, picked himself up, and came up on top and shares to the rest of the world how he did it.
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Authentic And Transparent Consulting Through The Anatomy Of Transformation with Willard Barth
I’m very excited to have Willard Barth joining us. Willard, welcome.
Thanks, Michael. It’s great to be here.
For those who aren’t familiar with you and your work, explain for us what you do.
It’s a combination of things. I released a new book called The Anatomy of Transformation which documents a process that I’ve used for 30 years of my own life. I’ve also used it with my clients to help them go from where they are and to where they want to be. I am a business consultant. I’ve been doing that now professionally for twenty years. I also co-founded a coaching academy. We launched it about two years ago, where we help teach people how to make that transformation from the corporate world or a regular job into a profession where you will be a coach or consultant.
Talk to me a little bit more about where this came from. You used the word transformation a couple of times. What were you doing before you got into this line of work?
A lot of insanity. I lost my leg when I was eight years old to bone cancer. It put me on a very diverse path, and in one aspect, it made me a mega achiever. Whatever people told me that I couldn’t do, I had to go out and prove them wrong. I was one of the first licensed amputee motorcyclists in Pennsylvania. I started making my living as a musician at fifteen years old, lettered in junior high school wrestling, lettered in high school football, and had my first business by the time I was nineteen years old. To the external world, it looked like I was a great example of how somebody deals with overcoming these things, but inside, I was a basket case. I had a lot of questions, not much self-esteem, a lot of anger.
At the age of thirteen, I ended up finding the wonderful world of alcohol and drugs. In the same way that I overachieved in other areas of my life, I took that to the limit also.
Because of the abuse going down that pathway, at nineteen years old, I had my first business. At twenty years old, I was facing five to eight years in jail. I ended up doing a total of twelve months between jails, halfway houses, and rehabs. When I talk about transformation, I talk about the tools that I use to transform my own life, and now I share it with other people. It was about taking my life where I was mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and financially destroyed based on the actions that I took and the decisions I made when I was younger, and turning it around to being a life that is beyond what I ever could have dreamed was possible. The transformation for me is more than just a buzzword. It is having gone from waking up in the morning, looking in a mirror and not being able to stand seeing what was looking back at me, to loving who I am, loving what I do, and loving helping other people transform their lives and their businesses.
One thing that stood out to me as I was reading your website, you clearly stated on your site that you’ve been sober for 28 years and counting. That’s a very personal thing to share. So many people in the world of business want to hide behind their vulnerabilities, their mistakes, and their challenges. You’re putting that front and center. Why?
I did stop talking about it for several years, and it negatively impacted what I was doing. We all have to look at what differentiates us from the competition and what is it about ourselves and our journey that allows somebody who’s looking to work with us to go, “This person is not just talking the talk, but walk the walk.” In 2009, I had released this video series that was called Self-Awareness 101. I got a lot of inquiries from that video series asking more about my past. They were like, “You know what you’re talking about, but where did you learn these things?”
I went back to starting sharing that part of my journey and some of the other things. I learned that transparency and authenticity at a level that many people are uncomfortable with, is one of my greatest assets. Because people don’t look at me as being somebody who’s just wearing the suit and using a bunch of fancy lingo. They recognize that I’ve walked this journey and the things I’m sharing with them is not theory. It’s the actual steps that I use to overcome these things in my life.
It is an important conversation, both from the personal perspective but also from a business perspective. So many people these days have this fear. If they’re very honest with themselves, they deep down inside recognize that being more honest and transparent about their vulnerabilities or their challenges is a good thing to do. Your case is a great example of that, and I would go as far as saying that most of the well-known personalities or thought leaders are those that choose to be very honest and prolific in sharing their stories. Many of those stories revolve around tough times and overcoming them and not only talking about the good stuff.
I’ve had the opportunity over the past several decades to witness many different speakers who come from different backgrounds. It’s very hard for me to connect with somebody who doesn’t share some of the challenges that I have overcome. It’s true when it comes to business too. I resonate more with the person who’s talking to me about the failures they had in business and what they learned from those failures, than somebody who seems to be a wonder kid that has the golden touch. I’m not a wonder kid and I don’t have the golden touch. How am I going to follow their path? How am I going to model what it is that they’ve done, when I know that I have in the past made mistakes and I’m probably going to make them in the future? If you tell me, “I started a business and I went bankrupt. Then I had to pick myself up. I had to brush myself off. I learned that I made mistakes on not doing things contractually the way that I needed to do them. I learned that I didn’t get patents.”
If you’re sharing with me how your success came from those bumps and bruises, I connect with you more. I’m more willing to go, this is the average Joe who made his mistakes and succeeded, versus somebody that has the movie screen ending written for them. I want to connect with you and know that you understand what it’s like to walk this path and will walk up and wake up and face fears that every one of us has to face, or overcome these limiting belief systems that you may have that prevent you from moving forward. What did you do to overcome that belief that you don’t know enough, or that you’re not as good of a leader as you need to be? How did you overcome those things? That’s what I want to know.
As consultants, this is very much a relationship-based business. People want to interact with people who they feel close to and they trust. There’s no better way in having someone trust you than to be very open and honest with them. Ultimately, sharing these true transparent messages create messaging that people can resonate with. If you’re just talking to a bunch of hype and marketing jibber jabber, it doesn’t resonate with most real buyers. Real buyers want real connection.
It’s interesting because I’ve been having this conversation with clients as well as with other colleagues recently about the importance of transparency in marketing and exposing, even embracing and sharing vulnerabilities. What you’re providing here in terms of your story is a great example. I want to take us to where you are right now and then we can work our way backwards and figure out how you got to where you are. You’ve helped now many multi-million dollar companies grow. They’ve added employees, they’ve increased their revenue significantly, and you have a process for doing that. What is that process called?
There are two processes that we use. One is the Seven Stages Methodology. There are seven stages that a business goes through, whether it is a dog walking business or a multinational company, they all go through those same seven phases. The other is what I wrote the book about, which is what I call the Anatomy of Transformation, and that is another system and another process that you use within the business with each person who’s involved or with each department that’s involved. It’s unique in the fact that the framework overlays any area that we’re looking to transform. You just plug in other strategies. It’s a combination of those two things that have allowed us to get great results for people we work with.
For consultants who are either an independent solo consultant or the owner of a small consulting firm, which of these processes would most benefit them?
With the Seven Stages, that’s helping you identify where your client is struggling at right now. Stage one is what we call the strategic planning stage. The company could be in business for eighteen years, but they still have not worked out the strategic plan of where they’re going. They may not be clear on their business identity. They may not be clear on their ideal client. They may not be clear on all those things. Stage two is the specialty stage, where you become the industry leader or the person that people think of when they’re looking for your product or service.
Stage three is the synergy stage where you are now having to work with other people. Depending on where you’re coming into work with a company at, they may be in any one of these phases or be performing at anywhere from 30 to 80% in any one of these different stages. Stage four is the systems stage. A business will never become scalable until you’ve got systems, procedures, and policies in place that allow the business to operate without you being hands on in everything.
Most businesses fail between stage three and stage four. They’ll get a bunch of people in, but they won’t have the processes or the systems in place that allow these people to thrive. Stage five is where the business becomes its own entity. It becomes something that operates better when the business owner is not there. It’s not because the business owner is a liability, but it’s because you’ve paid attention to making sure you have the right people in the right places, and that the right processes and systems are in place for them to excel during their job.
Stage six is where you’ve now become an entity that is investible. You can either get VCs to invest, or you can turn it into a franchise. You can take it public because the system has proven that it runs without you having to be involved. Stage seven is about turning it into a legacy, where the business will continue long after you retire, after your step away, and can be handed down through the family, or turned over to a trust.
This is obviously very well thought out, seven-stage approach that you use when you go into work with client organizations. Do you always have the seven-stage process, or is it something that you develop in a certain number of years into your practice as a consultant?
This is a methodology that came from one of my partners that I work with as a consultant. His name is Carl Gould. He wrote the book that’s called The 7 Stages of Small-Business Success. It’s a methodology I wish I could take credit for, but it’s what Carl did, and we use it with every business that we come into. We do an analysis with the companies when we come into, to identify where are they in each of these phases. Have they reached maturity in some of these phases?
I’ve come in and sat down with businesses that have been in business for fifteen, twenty years, and their stage one and stage two are still that of an infant. They haven’t laid out, “What is my exit strategy? What is my plan for building this company? How am I going to scale it? How am I going to grow it?” They haven’t identified what makes them different from the competition when it comes to their product or service. How they can become the person or the product that’s thought of when somebody’s looking for that specific solution?
I’m thinking about some of the consultants, and there’ll be some who may not yet have a very well-developed process of how they take a client through an engagement. Talk to us a little bit about the difference between when you were consulting and didn’t have the seven stage process. How did things change when you start to apply and implemented and take clients through a very specific process? What shifted in your business?
Everything shifted in my business when this happened. One of my mentors, when I was working on my latest book, The Anatomy of Transformation, asked me about Napoleon Hill who we all know now because of Think and Grow Rich, The Law of Success and Outwitting The Devil. During his lifetime, he actually failed in many areas. He ended up destitute at the end of his life where he was living in a family’s basement in West Virginia. My mentor asked me, “What was the difference between Napoleon Hill and W. Clement Stone who built an empire teaching the same skills that Napoleon Hill talked about?” The answer was Napoleon Hill was selling concepts; W. Clement Stone with selling systems. People will invest in systems, especially when they’re a business and they’re looking at you as a consultant. They want your expertise but they also want to know that there is a proven system, there’s a formula, there is a path that you’re going to follow to get them from where they are to where they want to be.
If you’re just coming in and they’re talking to them about concepts, the probability that they’re going to write you that check to hire you is dramatically reduced. I’m a very intelligent person. I’ve learned a lot from my journey, my mistakes, and my successes. I can come in and I can sit down and I can have a conversation with anybody, and we can find solutions. If I’m just flying by the seam of my pants, they’re just having a conversation with somebody. If I come in and say, “We have a proven methodology that we’ve used with these companies that have gotten them to go from here to here. We have a system that we follow and I’m going to walk you through that process,” they gain so much more certainty that you’re not just leading them down a path where you don’t know where they’re going. When you have a methodology that you can follow, when you have a system that you can hang your hat on, it just makes doing business so much easier.
I can’t agree more, because it’s so true. I had this conversation with a client. They said that when they’re in with a client and they’re talking to their client about a process, the client gets it, but they’re still not sure of it. When they start talking about a program, and more of a system and more of a package, there’s a lot more buy in from the client. I would just encourage everyone to think about your own current service offerings and products and how you engage with clients.
If you haven’t well-defined your offerings, this would be a great opportunity to work on that or to get some assistance with it. Having it can certainly make a very big difference not only to your business, but it can also help you to do a better job of delivering your expertise to the clients. When you have that real program in place and you’re doing the same things over and over again for clients, you get better and better at it, which then helps you to achieve better results for clients. I’m sure you’ve seen the same thing in your own work.
It gives them more certainty and it also gives me a roadmap to follow when I’m working with them. You had mentioned that a lot of your listeners are either transitioning from corporate into becoming consultants, or they’re just starting their businesses consultants. Some of the mistakes that I made early on came from that recognizing how to even sell my consulting services. I’m having great conversations with business owners, I’m having great conversations with potential clients, but I’m also giving them enough information that they feel they don’t need me. Many people, when they’re coming out of having worked for someone else and now getting ready to start their own consulting business, you have to learn that there’s a very fine line between telling them what, and selling them how.
When you have a program, a system, or a methodology, it makes it much easier for you to be able to tell them what you need to tell them, what the benefits are going to be of working with you, and then they’re going to say, “How do we do that?” You say, “I have a very specific process that we follow, and we can talk about what that engagement would look like.” In the past, I would sit there verbally vomit on the person that I’m talking to and just share all these great ideas and all these great concepts to the point where I would overwhelm them. Then it would come time to ask them for doing business and they’re like, “I’m pretty good. I can go with what you told me right now.” I talked myself out of business.
It’s almost like consultants are going in and giving you essentially a presentation to a buyer, instead of acting more like a doctor and trying to diagnose. People often go in and just try to prescribe without doing the diagnosis first. Asking all the good, important, and meaningful questions is where you learn how to identify the value that the buyer cares most about, and then figure out how to position your offering in a way that resonates with them.
There are two groups of people that make the majority of our listeners the first group are those who have been running consulting businesses for quite some time and want to get to the next level, then there’s also those who are transitioning from a corporate career who have deep expertise in subject matter and domain knowledge but haven’t yet grown their consulting business and so they’re working on it. For you as a business consultant, what are you doing right now to get more clients? What’s working best for you for attracting clients? Contrast that to what you were doing when you first got started.
My funnel generation mainly right now is speaking. I make sure that the audience I’m speaking in front of is my ideal client. I’ve done a lot of thought and development into what’s my business identity. What do I do with my core, what differentiates me from the competition, and what are the benefits for someone who works with me? I know those pieces, so I’m able to express it to somebody. I’ll get out and I’ll do speaking presentations. It doesn’t matter if it’s in front of a meetup group or whether it’s in front of a professional association. My experience that has worked best for me is that business comes from my face to face interactions, where people get to see me present, interact with me, ask questions, have that face to face conversation afterwards, and then follow up and move to the complimentary strategy session.
That’s part of my process also. After they see me speak, I offer a complimentary session where I spend an hour with them on the phone and doing exactly what you said, taking the doctor approach. The 40 minutes of that phone call is just me asking them questions about areas of their business, identifying what the challenges are, where are they now versus where they want to be, what it’s costing them in either a lost potential revenue, or what it’s costing them in expenses that are being incurred from them not being where they want to be. Just being able to quantify and make it tangible of what the financial cost is for them not to be knowing what they know that they need to be doing. From there, moving into what’s called a DISCoverY Day, which is a more in depth analysis. That is a paid service where we look at 55 areas of the business, and then moving into execution of the plan.
How many speaking engagements do you typically do per year or per month?
I had some health issues come up in Q4 of last year, so I’ve taken some time off the road. Normally, I’m going to two to three engagements per month. My goal for 2018 is to get up with the release of the book, to get up to six to eight.
Have you found that when you do it properly, it’s typically enough to fill your funnel with enough leads and opportunities?
Then you get them into a strategy call, which is a free hour long consultation assessment. From there, if they want to enroll and get started with you, then they go into this DISCoverY Day, which is a full day. What’s the range of pricing for DISCoverY Day typically?
That depends on the size of the company. If they’re $500,000 to $5 million company, DISCoverY Day is actually two days. For a smaller company it can be $10,000 for that process. If you’re looking at a $5-millioncompany to a $20-millioncompany, it can be $20,000 for those two days. From that $20 million up to $50 million, it might be as much as $35,000 for those two days.
From there, then you’re moving on to more full engagement, where you’d be helping them to implement more of the information, strategies, and tactics that you’d be working through during those couple of DISCoverY Days.
The DISCoverY Day, they’re being broken down in two parts. Number one is the discovery. We have the owner and his top advisors or his key performers fill out some information that allows us to assess what’s going on in the 55 areas of the business. On day one, we’re breaking that data down and going, based on what you’ve told us, here’s what we see is happening. Tell us why that’s happening. I’ve seen some consultants who come in and it’s tell, tell, tell. What I would rather do and what’s worked for us is we come in and say, “This is what you told us is happening in your company. Give me more information.”
Many business owners are resistant to the consultant coming in being the know it all. If I come in and I help them describe, discover, and communicate about what their problems are, they’re going to come up with a lot of the solutions on their own. On day one, we’re identifying what the challenges are and what the solutions are. Day Two, we start working on the strategic plan that they’ll be able to implement over the next three years to be able to solve some of those problems.
At the end of day two, they’ve got a three-year strategic plan that they’re able to take an implement and execute on their own if they like. We know that the majority of business owners know what they should be doing, they’re just not doing what they know they should be doing. When we’ve helped them lay out the plan, normally their question is, “What’s next? What’s the next step to executing this? I’m so caught up in the day to day operations of my business. You give me a lot of great next steps for me to take, and I don’t know where and how I’m going to implement these things.” That DISCoverY Day gives them so much value in identifying what the challenges are, identifying what the solutions are, and laying out the plan that you’ve built that trust that they’re going to say, “I need you to help me execute this.”
If they were able to accomplish it by themselves, they probably already would have. It also goes back to a concern that a lot of consultants have about giving away too much information, even when it’s just in your initial sales process. Most real buyers who will be prepared to invest with you, they’re the people that know that they’re not going to accomplish everything themselves or they would’ve already gotten there.
You should never be too concerned about providing too much value or sharing, because the people that would just take your information and run with it would likely never engage with you anyways or make any real investment. What does this compare to when you were earlier on in building your consulting business in those early days? Right now it’s speaking that’s working very well for you. Were you speaking also at that time, or were you doing something different?
I was doing speaking back then also. I also was relying and counting a lot on personal referrals when I first started. I do suggest that to people who are starting their business. You need to look to the relationships that you currently have, the people who know your skill set, the people who trust you, and get them to make the introductions. The thing that I was struggling so much early on was I wasn’t clear on who my ideal client was. I thought everybody could use what I was teaching. What I learned the hard way was that when you’re marketing to everybody, you’re selling to nobody.
You have to recognize your ideal clients so well, that you know what keeps them up at night. You know what they get in fights with their spouse about. You know what their biggest challenges and their biggest opportunities are. Even though it’s a business that’s hiring you to do the work, the person who makes the decision is a human being. They have pains that they’re trying to get rid of, or problems that they’re trying to solve. What gets them to write the check is when they know you understand that pain, you understand those problems, and you have a solution for them that’s going to get them out of that pain and get rid of those problems.
A lot of consultants will be resonating with what you’re saying right now. Honing in on that ideal client and focusing on them is probably one of the most challenging decisions that any consultant needs to make, simply for the fact that it’s a choice. It’s a choice of a process of elimination. You have to say no to a lot of things so that you can get very clear on what to say yes to. Oftentimes what consultants find is they say, “I’ve narrowed in on my ideal client. I know that they are.”
Let’s say they’re manufacturers in this specific geographic area. They have this number of employees. This is their size in terms of revenue, and I know that my ideal client within these kinds of organizations is the VP of operations. When it comes down to honing in on their messaging to figure out what that VP of operations cares most about, oftentimes people don’t know right away what that is. It might be five or ten different things. From your experience, what would you say that people should do to hone in and figure out what is going to be the most effective messaging so that their message and their marketing will get the attention and interest and resonate with our ideal client?
There’s a very detailed process that I take people through in doing this, but I will give you some of the key points of it. I get pushed back all the time when I bring this up to a client or a potential consultant. First you identify the B2B aspects as you did. What industry are they in? What’s the size of their company? What’s the revenue? Are they local, regional, national, or global, as far as their company? Now that you’ve identified it’s the VP of marketing that you’re talking to, now comes the second part, and this is where people always want to argue with me in this area. There is a list of twelve to fifteen questions that I start zeroing in asking people. I get the weirdest looks when I do this, but I tell people, “You need to be very specific on this person. Is it a man or woman? How old are they?” “They’re between 35 and 55.”“Great age range, but I need a specific age. How old are they?”
They keep pushing back. I give them a couple of filters to run it through. If they have had experience before in business and doing these business, I say, “I want you to think of these three things. Number one, who has been your most profitable client? Number two, who got it? Who knew the benefits and why they needed to hire you, without you having to explain it and without you having to twist their arm, they just got it. Number three, who is the easiest and most fun to deal with? When you start running it through these filters, if you’ve been doing this for awhile, you start seeing a pattern. It’s a female, they’re 42 years old, they’ve been married and they have two kids and they live in the suburbs. People go, “We’re talking about business consulting. Why would you worry about all these things?”
I’ll give you a very specific reason. Because a 42-year-old woman who’s married with two kids who lives in the suburbs will have totally different things that are keeping her up at night or that are effecting the way she does business than a 55-year-old man who’s divorced with two kids. Because his two kids will be out of school, he doesn’t have to deal with all the things he does as a parent whose children are in activities in school. You started to get to know this person so well and what’s going on in their life, that you know where to connect with them, when to connect with them, or what to communicate with them about. Most people aren’t willing to put that level of effort into identifying who their ideal client is. I’m not telling you, you will only do business with them, but this is your ideal client. You’ll do business with anybody who comes, but these are the ones that you love to work with. They’re profitable, and they’re the ones that you now know where to target your messaging to, because you’re going to communicate directly with them.
Some people are willing to put in more work to be more committed and to go through things in a much finer and more detailed approach. I couldn’t agree more with what you just said there. A lot of great nuggets and ideas for everyone to think about. I would highly encourage you to give thought to your own process and to how you’re approaching your own ideal clients. You’ve probably seen that this is not the first time that an experienced consultant like Willard is sharing this message. I’m not saying it’s easy to do, but it’s highly important focusing in on your ideal client and getting very clear on who they are.
It’s very challenging for a lot of people, but it’s one of the best steps that you can take because not only will your life becomes a lot easier, not only will your business benefit and start to grow in terms of more sales and more clients, but you’ll also be able to focus your energy on the right people and stop focusing and spending energy on those that aren’t ideal to do business with you. I want to make sure that people can connect with you, can learn more about your work and your book and just everything that you have going on. Where can people go to learn more about you and your work?
First, go to my website which is WillardBarth.Com. If they’re interested in the book, I have a special offer going on. I’ll send you the book for free. All you have to do is cover the cost of shipping and handling. Along with getting a physical copy of the book, you’ll also get the e-book version, and you can get that by going TAOTBook.Com.
Thank you so much for sharing your story and some of your experiences and taking us along your journey here.
It’s been my absolute pleasure. Thank you very much for having me.
Mentioned in This Episode:
- Willard Barth
- The Anatomy of Transformation
- Self-Awareness 101
- The Seven Stages Of Small-Business Success
- The 7 Stages of Small-Business Success
- Think and Grow Rich
- The Law of Success
- Outwitting The Devil
- DISCoverY Day