Maybe it’s time to reconsider your marketing approach, particularly in your path to becoming a 7-figure consultant. While some people invest a lot of time into creating content or figuring out how to do advertising or speaking or going to a lot of trade shows, Barc Holmes of Coral Mountain Consulting has found an approach that works well for him. He is a master of not only building and nurturing, but strengthening relationships. Using his simple Agile user experience delivery framework, Barc says that he can guarantee an increase in your development team’s velocity by at least 25%. And if you value relationships, the potential results could be astounding.
But here’s the thing: Advertising doesn’t exist in a digital way. The difference between marketing and advertising and experience are all blurred together. You’re providing information and value and if you want that value, you continue to have a relationship with that brand or those people. They’re your friends more than they’re your clients.
With over 25 years of experience working with digital development executives in Fortune 500 companies like Disney, Intuit, Verizon, Citrix, American Honda, and many others, Barc has helped teams innovate, test, and deliver results faster. If you consider yourself a good manager or executive who needs just a few tips to move even a bit faster, then Coral Mountain Consulting is for you.
I’m very excited to have Barc Holmes joining us. Barc, welcome.
Michael, good to hear from you.
Barc, for those who aren’t familiar with your work and don’t know what you do, just take a moment and share with us what you do.
I get called in most of the time to help set up digital PMOs for either brand new organizations or organizations within organizations.
Tell me more about that. What does that look like?
I’ve been a project manager my whole life and ultimately ended up as a VP of production for Disney Parks and Resorts online. We did all of the websites, mobile apps for Disneyland, Disney World, cruise lines and other things. We went from about 220 people when I started there and seven years later, we were 780. The number of requests for projects coming in was growing massively. We went through a transformation in how we delivered and changed the whole process and approach to digital delivery.
I got such a kick out of it. I loved doing it and I decided to go off on my own. Then one thing led to another. People that I’d worked with either at Disney or elsewhere called me to help set up the same delivery process in their organizations. Either theirs were faltering or they had a brand-new budget and they wanted to start a new organization, they want to start from scratch. I went from company to company helping set these things up, but it wasn’t just delivery.
One of my specialty is helping the executives transform all of the operational pieces from not just delivering and delivering quality code. Most of the companies that are working with are digital, but also helping change how they do legal. I’m an ex-attorney, how they set up contracts, masters and statements to work in a more concise, innovative way. Then working with procurement, change their approaches, HR, how they hire people. Finance, how they capture CapEx and Opex in digital organizations, which is a bigger and bigger thing all the time. Even though I come in as a delivery consultant and expert, nine times out of ten, I end up spending most of my time almost other operational areas.
I remember when you first reached out before we started working together, I was looking at where you’d been, the types of companies that you had experience with and it’s a very solid list. You mentioned Disney but take us through your career path and who you worked with before you started your own consulting business.
I’ve been consulting forever with a lot of car companies. I live in LA, so I ended up doing a lot of work for Honda, Nissan, infinity, Toyota. I did a good amount of hospitality work for Marriott and a bunch of the big companies. Then I got recruited by Disney to help set up a production there. People don’t do it a lot anymore, but there’s a waterfall approach to the delivering software that’s very stage gate. We had a very fixed price, fixed time approach doing what they used to call bottom up estimate.
It’s very detailed estimates of delivering work and we’re very successful at it. Not many companies are. I took that approach into Disney and most car companies have to deliver that way. That’s the way we did it, but then it all changed somewhere around 2000, 2001. It became agile or lean all the time. They’re much smaller increments of delivering value directly to the customers. It changes the whole operational, the whole value stream of how you deliver a work, whether it’s software, hardware or firmware.I was a little too much of a generalist in the beginning. Click To Tweet
Then once I past Disney, again that was working with almost twenty different companies including Youth and ESPN Zone and all the different parks and other types of entertainment companies that they have. Then it was on to big tech companies like Intuit. I was called down there to help with their marketing group to transform their delivery process. Their technology group was already very advanced. Then I went onto Citrix up in Santa Barbara and then Royal Caribbean cruise lines down in Miami, Wyndham Resorts and a bunch of others. They’re all pretty big brands that are feeling the tug of digital. They’re looking for help on how they can deliver faster. Usually more innovation, more connection with their customers, so they’re not delivering these things after six months that people don’t want.
A lot of us have had that experience in one form or another and can relate. I want to dig more into your business. You now have a seven-figure consulting business. How long did it take you to reach that level of growth in your consulting business?
A lot shorter than I expected. When I left Disney, I suddenly realized the day later that I had no idea how to sell and I still don’t. I realized I still had bills to pay regardless. I wasn’t sure about how to go about it. I made a good living as an employee at Disney. They’ve got a great compensation program and suddenly to have that washed away was a shock but the first year, I was able to make that up in consulting. That was merely by relationship that I had at Intuit and took that and was able to get back to where I was previous year. Then every year since then, it’s five years ago, I have at least doubled my gross income every year. How did it happen? A lot of it is luck. A lot of us relationships. I like to tell myself it’s because I’m bringing expertise.
When you look back at the steps that you’ve taken to grow your consulting business, is there anything that you’ve identified that helped you more than anything else? Anything that you think, “If I did that sooner, I would have seen even better or faster results.”
The big thing for me has been developing a deep expertise, they always call it the t-shape consultant. I have a deep expertise in one very narrow area of an approach to delivery that includes all the tools and the processes of doing that. That’s our framework that almost everything else that I do hangs off of and because people know me for that, they also bring me in for related things at the top of the T, whether t’s finance or legal or HR or procurement. Those are all things that are burning in their world, but they say, “I know you’ve got a way of delivering. Maybe you can help me with this thing and procurement as well.” If I would have gone in earlier, I would have established that knowledge and made sure people understood how to apply it earlier. A shorter way of saying that is I was a little too much of a generalist in the beginning.
Your real focus on the area where you can provide the greatest value to people is where you lead with, that’s what your messaging is about. That’s where you start the conversation with a perspective buyer or in a relationship and once you’ve entered into that relationship and you’re working with that client, you’re in an engagement, then they start to learn a lot more about how you can help them in other ways and that then produces significantly more revenue and work for you with that organization. I know you said that you were a generalist and maybe and you switched to a specialist, but as you were making that transition, because you’ve shared how it’s been a very successful and important one for you, did you ever have concern around, “Am I going to leave opportunity on the table if I narrow too much?”
I did before I did it. I don’t anymore. It’s probably not a great subject for this for giving advice people on how to sell their services and how to present themselves because I frankly never have. All of my work has come from people I work with recommending me to other people without me asking them to do so. They say, “This guy does this thing. It’s helped us do X, Y, and Z and bring these returns.” Then they’d call me up and they say, “I don’t have exactly the same problem that the other guy had, but here’s one that may be related.” I’ll talk with them and talk about how my expertise can apply to that, that secondary issue that they’re having.
I love how humble you are, Barc, but the reality is there’s probably more going on here that maybe first meets the eye. You aren’t doing tons of marketing. You don’t consider yourself to be a sales person or two to put much effort into sales. Business is coming your way but clearly, you’re doing something that is working for you. What it sounds like to me, one of the things that you’re doing is ensuring that you deliver tremendous value for your clients. They’re seeing great results, which is then leading them to talk more about you, which is bringing you more work. What keeps you on top of your game? How do you provide such great results for your clients?
I’ll take that in two ways. One, I would say it’s not only delivering good results. I don’t want to lie. We fail on the project at Royal Caribbean. We started with the three of us, my friend, Jay Schneider, who I worked with at Disney, his secretary, and me on one floor down in Miami and now we’re over a thousand people with a budget of about $200 million and delivering scads of value and doing super innovative things for people that want a different experience on their cruise vacation. In that process, we make a lot of mistakes. That’s what I bring is how to contain those mistakes in a short period of time, but when people hear about, “That’s an opportunity me to get out and try new things very quickly and see if they work,” they get excited about that. The second part I would add to that, though I don’t do any marketing, I do keep lots of relationships.
I don’t want to think that I’m totally cut off from the world, I have multiple texts and calls and emails from friends saying, “I’m in town. Let’s go out for lunch and just chat about things and let’s kick some ideas around.” It’s that kind of relationship world that we are all in as consultants that I curry every day and I never ever asked for a recommendation or a reference or a job. What I do is always say, “Have you thought about this?” Or I’ll send them articles or send them new ideas.
Nine times out of ten, if I ever write a blog article, I will do a very short draft of it and send it to key clients and say, “Here’s an idea that I have. Do you think this is right? Do you think this is true? Will this apply to you?” I’ll be honest with you, nine times out of ten, they will say, “Nope, I disagree with that. That’s too forward thinking for me. We’ll never get that through our finance team,” or something like that. They’re my editorial board and we’re in this together. There’s that one piece for me that I wouldn’t call it marketing. It’s called building honest relationships. Then there’s the other part of actually delivering detailed expertise to these folks that they appreciate.I wouldn't call it marketing. It's called building honest relationships. Click To Tweet
The way I look at that is your marketing is relationships. While some people invest a lot of time into, let’s say creating content or figuring out how to do advertising or speaking or going to a lot of trade shows, whatever it is that they’re doing to get clients and to build their business and to build their pipeline, you found an approach that works well for you, which is to become a master of not only building and nurturing, but strengthening relationships. That takes some of your time. You don’t just sit back, do nothing and business lands in your lap.
It might feel like that at times, but you are working on relationships. You value relationships. You’re providing value to people beyond even meeting and as you said you’ll send them an article that you found or something that would be valuable for them or you will share something that you’re working on with them. That’s all building relationships. You stay top of mind. You provide value and you continue to stay on their radar. That’s a great opportunity for people to recognize and to see the value of that because certainly, firsthand, you’ve done very well with that approach.
In the event that any of my clients overhear this conversation, that in no way is what I do marketing. In my business, particularly in digital, we always say, “Marketing doesn’t exist anymore. Advertising doesn’t exist.” In digital way, you have a mobile app or a wearable or in-room automation or sometimes even a website. The difference between marketing and advertising and experience are all munged together. You’re providing information and value and if you want that value, you continue to have a relationship with that brand or those people.
It’s the same thing when I talk with these people, they’re my friends more than they’re my clients. They are people that I want to succeed. If they ever thought that what I’m doing, and I’m sure periodically they do, when I send them an article or call them up with an idea, they think, “He’s marketing me.” Do that once or twice and that they won’t pick up the phone. When I honestly reveal myself and I’m vulnerable to making mistakes, but hopefully giving them value while trying, then they’ll stay my friends and that, to me, is way more important.
We’ve been having a lot of discussions internally about some of those topics and with clients and I think you’re right on the mark there in terms of opening to being vulnerable and sharing at the highest level. We refer to it as marketing, as the act of working on our business. At the end of the day, it is about creating these relationships and providing value to people and doing it from a place where you don’t necessarily expect anything back.
These days a lot of people have very short-term thinking. They expect to do something and see a result. Barc, I know you’re a very big believer in this. We’re very big believers in playing the longer-term game and wanting to do whatever we can to make an impact, to provide value even if it doesn’t provide something back right away. That’s an insightful share and I appreciate you providing that.
How do you typically structure your engagements? You’ve mentioned that some clients you work with right now very closely, but just to give people a sense when they hear where you’re at in terms of your business and the development, how are you structuring your projects? Are they daily rates? Are they based on value or ROI or are you using retainers? What kind of structure are you typically using with clients?
All of the above. It always depends on their budgets, on their needs, what kind of burning platform they’re standing on at the moment. When I started right after Disney, most of my work was a fixed price deliverable. I get thousands for weeks and this is what I’m going to deliver at the end of it. I tried to do that as much as I can so I can schedule my own hours. The last few clients have wanted me there on the ground as much as possible, open to taking on whatever challenges or needs from facilitating an offsite to working with legal and drafting new masters and sounds. Many of the times not knowing what that would take to do those, they would just bring me on per hour. I would say in the past couple of years, I’ve moved over to more hourly rates than I have in the past.
I don’t like that as much because I have to keep track of my hours and I can’t stand that. I much rather keep track of the value that I’m delivering. I’ve gotten into the lucky position that they turned to me frequently to staff positions. Then I’ll either bring in subs who I am directly responsible for who will be part of my company or I will just staff legions of scrum masters, project managers, product owners, artists, designers for them because they trust me to interview well, put them through lots of tests to make sure they’re the right people for it. Then they pay me for that. My work is not only through my hourly and fixed price contracts but through my staffing agency.
What does your company look like in terms of the team or what kind of resources do you find are necessary to run your business in a very smooth fashion?
I’ll go from the top. It’s me doing most of the relationships with my friends who need the help. I have an office manager who takes care of all of my invoicing and billing and also sets up the initial interviews if they need additional resources. We’ve got another person that helps manage the staffing organization. I’ve got the usual accountant, attorney, financial adviser, and a banker who helps with loans because a lot of these companies don’t pay for 90 days, so we have to deal with that. Then as far as people on the ground, I’ve got about a dozen people on the ground at different clients who are doing mostly project management work, but there’s a number of designers, product people, and a finance person. I got three finance people in one of our clients.They're my friends more than they're my clients. They are people that I want to succeed. Click To Tweet
Barc, you’ve built your business to a very nice level of success. Many consultants experience challenges along the way. You’ve painted a pretty rosy picture to this point, but I’m sure that you’ve encountered some challenges along the way as well. What stands out for you as one of the bigger challenges that you faced as you’ve been growing your consulting business over the last several years?
My biggest problem is I suck as a sales guy. I keep saying, “I got to write a book, I got to work with Michael and figure out how to get my CRM together or speak in public,” or do all the things that a guy like me should be doing, but I end up working so much and never do any of that. That’s bad because at any moment, it could all stop and I’m going to be sitting there in my pajamas going, “What the hell?” That hasn’t happened yet. It could, certainly, and I’ve got my fingers crossed. That’s certainly not a great strategy.
I know I have to create and do some of those things and those are scary to me. I have had some downtimes a couple months here and there over the years in between gigs. I find my biggest problem is my own inner vibe. I get down and I get worried and I start feeling like it’s all crumbling down and that I’m not worthy and all the things that I’m sure every consultant will recognize. You feel like, “Why did I just dial up LinkedIn and get a salary position?”
Then I wake up the next morning and keep my fingers crossed once again. I’ve been very lucky to come out of those troughs and be able to deliver. When I look back on it, my big biggest thing is during those downtimes is to train. There’s a lot happening in my industry. Every day there’s new stuff coming out. I go to a lot of conferences, not only about software but about innovation and the future and philosophy and management, all the kinds of things I never know when that little nugget is going to come. While I’m worrying about the next contract or the next call to come, the best thing I can do is to train and to learn more to get my mind off of it.
Do you ever meet people at these events or trainings that you ended up creating friendships with that lead to opportunities?
I’ve never gotten work directly for meeting people at any of these conferences. Two things always happen. I get back from South by Southwest, which is my yearly trek among many. I get so excited about what’s happening in our world. All the positive things. Elon Musk, you’re standing next to that guy, it’s hard not to get a contact. All the things that are happening, it’s hard not to take that same level of excitement and ideas into your next client. Those things do transfer and then it gets me more work.
What I also find is I run into old clients at a lot of these things and I say, “How are you,” and we have lunch and just reconnect. They don’t always get me more work, though sometimes they do, but then they’re having lunch with somebody else and the guy goes, “I need somebody to help me set up a delivery organization.” He goes, “I had lunch with Barc Holmes. Just talking to him.” That’s how it happens. At every gig I’ve had, it happens exactly like that. They happen to find out either from me when we were standing in the street in Austin or they happen to read one of my blog posts and they said, “I think Barc’s available. You should call him.” Maybe second or third connection will get me there.
It’s interesting how those things work and I think especially the one point that you made a boat just training yourself. If you want to stay at the top of your game in any aspect of business and life, you’ve got to work on it and work on it consistently and find ways to improve so that you can continue to deliver greater value for clients, increase your confidence as well and maintain that. I find interesting how so many people think that their clients need to be at the cutting edge or that their clients need to implement some new strategy or take information and apply it in some way, yet the consultants themselves don’t do that for them or for their business, so it’s great to see that you are doing that. All of us need to make sure that we’re taking our own medicine to stay sane.
I figure I’m an idiot and I just go and have me teach me some basic thing that I can rely on my next client and I’m always greatly rewarded. I was watching a video, a talk by Brian Eno. He used to be a keyboard player in a band called Roxy Music, but he’s now a very well-known speaker and artist and forward thinker. He’s says genius or people like Da Vinci or Picasso that are well-known for their great ideas or their vision of the future, but his point of view and it’s pretty well researched and true that always these folks come from a scene.
He comes from an environment of other people who were already working on the same kinds of ideas and visions and it just happens this one genius is the person who’s able to capture that concept and get it out to the right people so they understand it. In all cases, that genius has come from a group of people. I go out of my way to be in the right group of people and hopefully be certainly not the genius but at least the mouthpiece for the ideas they’re already talking about to my clients. That’s part of my job is to be there and to start to hear these new ideas or disagreements or tools or whatever it is so I can start to apply those for my clients.All the things that are happening, it's hard not to take that same level of excitement and ideas into your next client. Click To Tweet
Barc, appreciate you coming on here and telling us a little bit of your story and sharing with us. I’ve been so thrilled with the success that you continue to have in your business and a real honor and pleasure to see that. What’s the best way for people to learn more about your work and to connect with you?
You can go to my website, BarcHolmes.com and as far as I know, all of the email links and everything else still work on that. You can email me. My consulting company is Coral Mountain Consulting. I’d be happy to chat with you.
Not all of our guests are giving their personal emails on the show. Everyone, thanks for tuning in. Barc, thanks so much for coming on.
Thanks for having me, Michael. Great to catch up with you again.