During the time when coaching and consulting wasn’t as easy as it is today, Carl Gould didn’t offer any excuses for the lack of progress. Instead he continued through and his experiences during those challenging days are now the biggest factors that set him apart from other coaches. Carl transitioned from construction to consulting and realized he was missing opportunities in areas he had no expertise in. His solution was to start consulting as a team. Carl shares that when you are building your bench of superstars, the key is to develop the right culture where everyone has the same vision and values.
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Consulting As A Team To Develop A Culture of Vision And Value with Carl Gould
I’m very excited to have Carl Gould joining us. Carl, welcome.
How are you doing, Michael? Great to be here.
Carl, for those who aren’t familiar with your work, just take a moment and explain what you do.
I started out my career in a construction. I had a couple of construction companies, landscaping company, construction, real estate development. I sold both of those businesses, and in 2002, launched my consulting company. Because I’ve written some industry standard methodologies, I’ve also spent a fair amount of time training and helping small coaching and consulting firms launch. I have a trained over 7,000 coaches now in 35 countries. I’ve also mentored the launch of 5,000 small consultancies.
Let’s take a step back here. You mentioned that you got started in construction and landscaping. It would seem to the outsider just hearing that, that going from running construction companies and landscaping and selling those businesses to all of a sudden now working within both corporate organizations as well as established businesses as well as working with coaches and so forth. How did you make that transition? What caused you to make that shift?
I’m surprised you missed that book, Michael, but it’s a very natural transition from construction to coaching. They’re almost side by side. They have nothing related to each other, but construction is probably one of the most complex industries you can be in. What I didn’t know at the time was that it was very nicely preparing me for advising other companies. As I’ve learned in comparison to construction, just about every industry is pretty simple and straightforward. I was very thankful for that early education.
I started out in construction only because I grew up in it. When it came time for me to begin my entrepreneurial career, construction just seemed like a natural segue because I had done it my whole life. It was easy for me to consider that as a career. In 1986, I started my first landscaping business right out of college. Along the way, I sold that business and then started a construction company. In 1990, I went to a personal development seminar by Tony Robbins. I really fell in love with personal development and the idea of helping people. I decided, “I want to do this as a full-time business in life.” At the time, coaching and consulting is not what it is today. There were no podcasts and you were a straight on one-to-one coach. That’s what the industry was at the time.
The idea that someone was going to do this as a profession was just unheard of. It was a part-time thing, it wasn’t a full-time business at all. Nothing really prepared me for it other than my desire to want to do it and provide value and be there for people. The one thing that did get me moving in this direction is that I started training other people in my methodology. Early on in the coaching industry game, there was the opportunity to train others on a methodology that showed them how to make this into a real business. That was my passion.
I wanted to do this as a profession. I looked around and the average coach at the time made $23,000 a year. I said, “You can’t do this as a profession and hope to have a family and be making $23,000 a year. I don’t care what part of the world you live in, you’re not going to live on that.” I had to find a way to make this a real profession. I created all sorts of practice management tools and diagnostic tools and just created a template that people found very useful at the time.
Was the transition easy for you though? You mentioned that you’re coming from a background of building and construction business, a complicated business, a lot of moving parts. Then going into consulting and coaching which many might say doesn’t have as many moving parts, a much more simple business and process. Was it easy for you or was it a real challenge to get those first clients and to build the business?
I became the certified coach for other methodologies. Getting clients in the beginning wasn’t necessarily hard, but they weren’t my clients. That was the key. I was doing coaching for others. As part of their methodology or part of their seminar or people who would inquire about this thing would then say, “I’d like to learn more situational leadership. I understand you’re a coach in that.” Getting the clients early on wasn’t hard. Getting my clients early on was the challenge because I was not a known entity at the time. I learned other methodologies and I became the certified coach, somebody who knew that method enough to be the coach in it. Getting into coaching and getting clients wasn’t the tricky part but establishing myself in my own business with my own clientele, that was the hard part.
I want to come back to that and explore your journey and approach in terms of how you’ve made it work with great success for you. When you were making that transition though, what kinds of clients were you working with? What kinds of companies?
Back at that time, the coaching industry was coaching itself. It was coaches coaching coaches. I did a lot of coaching of other people that wanted to start the business. I also was working with some small to midsize entrepreneurs and helping them grow their business. That was most of what was going on at the time. Then over time I grew into doing more coaching for larger businesses and creating a model where I’d be working with multiple people in the same business, so multiple coaching multiple positions inside of a company.
You had just come out of two different businesses and selling two companies. I don’t know if they’re large sales or you got rid of them because you wanted to shift your passion, focus to coaching and consulting and so forth. Did you have this thinking of, “I’ve just been in landscaping construction, could I go and apply my coaching, my consulting passion and develop my skills, helping other owners of construction businesses?”
If I thought it through as much as you might suggest here, then I probably never would have done it because it was not easy. You got to remember the times too; it was fifteen years ago and you told somebody you are a professional coach, they would say, “What sport?” If I could get them to stop laughing at me long enough to explain what I did, I’d be able to explain the profession. It was just a different time. You were either a consultant or a technical consultant of some sort but this idea of being a coach in its form, I can’t stress enough how much it wasn’t around back then. That was the trickiest part. I was passionate about it.
If you told me how much resistance I was going to be up against and how hard I was going to have to fight for people to accept the coaching as a profession. Now, it’s very well accepted. This is what coaches are, this is what they do, this is how they do it. The results have been well-documented. That wasn’t the case at the time. If I could get you to understand what I do well enough and then you would get a sense of what the upside benefits are, then I could land you as a client. If not, that was the challenge. I was used to that in my construction business. The construction business is a hustle, like many small businesses. I can out-hustle you and I’ll get the client and that was what I did.
That’s where your ethic came from in your mindset that even though you were encountering a lot of challenges, people pretty much, in many cases not being open to even the idea of working with a coach to help them in their business and so forth, what got you through was your experience. A lot of people who would’ve been in that situation would have gone like, “This isn’t cut out for me or I’m not cut out for it,” or they would have found all kinds of different excuses or reasons for their lack of progress but you were able to continue through that. Would you say that just came from your past experiences? Was it something else as you were building that helped you to get through those tough times?
No, it was just pigheaded persistence. There was no secret sauce in, “How did you pull this off?” My passion for wanting to make this and I got a little bit of a taste with a couple of prospective clients about how this could work. I thought, “This is something I can make work and I want this to work badly.” What I did was while I was considering selling my business, I kept the coaching company running. I started the coaching company and I kept the construction business going at the same time. I was running two businesses side by side, which was a lot. That was tough for those two years but by the time I sold the construction company, I had a decent amount of clients enough to make a living on. Nothing great but I can make a living on and I made sure that I had my plate pretty full.
As a matter of fact, I was doing a fair amount of work with Tony Robbins at the time. I said to him or his company, “Give me the international clients.” He gave me the people in Europe and Australia because here in New Jersey where I live, I could be coaching somebody at 3:00 in the morning New Jersey time, but it was lunchtime in Europe. I coached in the off hours. My Australian clients I can call in the evening because it was during the day for them. I had a construction company during the day and some coaching clients, and I had coaching clients at night because I said, “I’ll take the international ones.” They were like, “Isn’t he being ambitious?” I’m thinking, “No, it’s just the only time I’ve got to do it.” It worked out well because they didn’t have people that wanted to take that clientele. It worked out good both ways.
It certainly sounds like you were hustling there, Carl. You just decided, you made a commitment to succeed and did whatever you needed to do make that happen. Let’s explore this transition that you made, because you said at the beginning, your clients weren’t actually your clients. They were coming from these other agencies or companies that were sending you clients. There are many consultants who are in that exact same place.
They might be relying on one main core client, and then when that disappears, they have to start all over again or they’re working with some agency or other consultants and see who is feeding them their business, but they don’t have their own clients. Obviously, that erodes their margins. They’re not building a business. They’re consultant but they’re not a firm owner. How did you decide and how did you go about making that transition to actually starting to build your own clientele?
When you are a contract coach for another model, you’re a freelancer. It’s a quick way to accelerate your launch, but it does have its limitations. That’s part of the turf, but it is a viable model and frankly, I’d recommend coaches do that. I did it and that got me to a thousand coaching sessions delivered much quicker than any of my colleagues because they were trying that, “Let me get one client here, one client there.” I had tons of clientele and client appointments and coaching sessions in the beginning. While it didn’t pay as well, it was a quick path to honing my skills. I flew past my colleagues as far as number of sessions delivered and all that. I like it as a strategy. I have no problem with it. Even today, I don’t need to do it anymore, so I don’t but I would have no problem doing it.
Creating your own business, that’s the trick. Here’s the thing that I learned and here’s what’s coming in the coaching and consulting world. Every time I would work with somebody, they would say, “I could use help in marketing on the business side. I could use help on my sales. I could use help on my operations, and I could use help with someone in finance.” I kept thinking, “Why am I referring out to other coaches what all my clients are asking for every single time? What if I put together a coaching team, and go to our clients with a team, evaluate what our core client looks for and provide those services in advance in a bundled package as opposed to waiting for them to say, ‘I need help with this.’”
Then I go out, and I look in my database and send them a referral. Why don’t I just bundle it in the beginning and sell a team concept, not just the core concept? That went really well. More and more, this is where the industry is going, where it’s not enough to call yourself a coach or it’s not enough to just say you’re one type of specialized consultant. You can get projects that way, but you’re missing out on a few key fundamental things. One is you’re missing out on the opportunity to gain referrals from the other professionals. I remember somebody asked me if I could do a speech to a group of people that were looking for jobs. They said, “Carl, you’re more entrepreneurial. What can you talk about for people looking to get hired?” I said, “Are you kidding me? If I do my job right, I get fired 300 times a year.”
Any entrepreneur is one of the best people ever to talk about how to get hired because they have to sell themselves. As soon as they’re done with one project, they are unemployed and they have to go out and they have to find the next job. “I’m your guy. If I do my job right, I’m unemployed as soon as the project is over.” That’s both the upside and the downside for our project consultant because they say that if you do your job well, you’re not likely to get a lot of repeat work. People hire some consultants again and again. If you think about it, my auto mechanic, if he does his job right, I should be there less and less. If you’re an IT consultant, my computers are not supposed to go down.
If you’re a project-type consultant, nothing wrong with it, and I know plenty of people who do it and do it well, the downside of that model is that you have to market yourself a lot more than you normally would if you had other disciplines that you could offer in your program. That’s what I did. I said, “People keep asking for this. I don’t mind marketing and selling, but I’d rather not do it if you gave me the choice. I got into the coaching field so I could coach and not so I could market myself about coaching. I wanted to coach people. If I want to spend less of my time marketing and more time coaching, then let’s create a model that is more comprehensive.” That was my answer to that. That helped me transition into my own business, and it was a true business. I wasn’t a single shingle warrior. I was more of a business, not just a practice.
There’s a lot of truth to this for many consultants. Going in you do one project, and in many cases then the project is over, you can find a ways to set up a model where you can do ongoing optimization and support and service and additional coaching. There’re always ways to potentially add more value for a client but for a solo consultant or small consulting firm, certainly their skills in marketing and promoting themselves and getting out there, they always want to be generating more leads. The model that you’re talking about that you’ve embraced and has worked really well for you is all about building a company with a group of other consultants in different disciplines so that you can serve your clients in many different areas and generate a lot more revenue as you’re adding more value in those different disciplines for that one client.
The hesitation that a lot of consultants have to this is that there’s management involved. You have to manage other people, you have to worry about them performing. A lot of consultants move out of the corporate space because they want fewer spinning wheels, not more. What has your experience been in terms of working with a group of other consultants and still managing them, unless you really enjoy the act of managing? How do you set up systems? What is your approach to making this all work without a lot of headaches?
If you are the certified consultant in another model, you miss all of the administrative and organizational development and management headaches that come with it. There is that upside. If you want to build a business, then you need people that are in line with your mission, vision, values and purpose. You need people that believe in two things mostly. They have to be certified in what you do, the method of delivery. At the end of the day, if I’m a coaching company, I need people who want to be coaches. When they’re done at the end of the day, they’re tired because they gave it all but they’re energized because they got to do what they love all day long, the ‘what’ has to be there.
There’s no question about that. More importantly, how you do what you do and why you do what you do, you need to have people who are in alignment with that. In our firm we use, we recommend out subcontracted coaches to do the work, but you have to understand our model because we do a lot of outside the box advising. We give the kind of advice that not a lot of other advisors would really have the guts to make. You’ve got to have people who understand that, who bought into that methodology and say, “This is a good path. I see it as a successful path for the client. I want to go in that direction.”
What I’m hearing you say is that first, if a consultant wants to build a firm where there’s going to be other group of consultants or others advisors or associates, the key is developing the right culture. Making sure that everyone that comes on board is bought in and embraces not only the culture, but also the vision, the values, the methodology. If you get that part right, then there are a lot fewer headaches than there would be if you’re bringing in people who are not the right people.
You’re bringing in people that naturally every single day want to do this work and want to do it the way we were doing the how and the why. They believe in why we’re doing it. They believe in how we’re doing it. If you think about it, if you wanted to go on a long run one day and you put a little note out that says, “I want to do some long distance running, but I don’t feel like doing it by myself. I was hoping I could go with people that are runners.” You put that out and you do a Meetup group or an Evite or just a little neighborhood blog and you say, “Meet me in front of the ABC Bank and we’re going to go for a ten-mile run.” People that don’t like running aren’t going to show up for this, and people that only will run a mile aren’t going to show up either. The people that are going to show up are the people that like to run or willing to run ten miles. You’re not going to have to talk them into all the reasons why running ten miles is a good idea. They’re going to be there willingly, passionate. They might not be having a great day and running ten miles might be hard for them that day, but they are going to do it by choice because what your proposing is part of their plan. It’s part of their DNA and it’s part of what they’ve said that they want to do and be. The key is getting it upfront. In real estate, we say, “You don’t make money when you sell real estate. You make money when you buy real estate.” You made the right deal in the beginning for the right price and everyone agree. It’s the same thing in business. Your employees are successful on the day you hire them. Not just the days that they’re getting trained and everything else. It’s how you buy that’s critical.
For someone listening to this and going, “I love this idea. I want to add additional associates and consultants to my own business. I want to build the bench,” because that is certainly something that many consultants will want to do at some point in their business, what tips can you offer for finding those superstars? For finding the people that are going to have the right cultural fit and shared values and so forth? Where should people think about looking to find those people?
Depending on the type of business operations. If you’re a locally-located business and you operate locally, then there’s still local people who buy locally and like to work locally. I would still take ads out in the traditional places. The newspaper because they all have online classifieds. The local paper, Craigslist, there are local people who like to buy locally through local means, so I would put those in. If you are a virtual company but there are virtual organizations, like I belong to some international CEO groups, and they all have an intranet and they all have a database or a directory or organizational trade magazines.
Then if you’re looking for somebody with a specific set of skills, I would go in that direction. I would look in the areas where their buying preferences are probably the highest. I want to buy local, so I’m going to market local. I want to be part of this virtual organization or part of this think tank or part of this group of subject matter experts, let’s find out where they interact, and we can put advertisements there. I would go in the places where there’s already a predisposition to where they might be located and where they already interact because they’re likely to want to get even more involved.
With these people that you bring on, are you ever bringing on people that help you to actually do your own business development and marketing for your firm or is that done more in house by you or other key team members?
We do it using outside contractors and sales reps and affiliates. I’ve long held the view that how you pay somebody doesn’t matter. Legally it matters, you have to make sure you’re following all the right laws and all that, and that’s easy enough. All the laws are written very clearly, so there’s no problem there. What you do is whether somebody is paid as a subcontractor or a W2 employee here in the States or they’re a strategic alliance partner or an affiliate, how they get paid is not that big a deal. It’s how much are you making them feel a part of your organization so they want to advance your business plan, so part of their business plan is to advance your business plan. That’s when you know you’ve got a good partner there. Just making sure that they understand what you’re trying to accomplish and it’s well spelled out what you’re expecting of them, how you brought them onto your team is much less important.
On the topic of marketing, what’s working best for your company to attract those established corporate or larger organizations? What method or approach is most effective for you?
What’s most effective for me is speaking to groups, and also advertising and marketing our services at industry trade organizations. The larger the company that the CEO or the manager runs, the more likely they are to stick within their trade organizations or in smaller mastermind groups. That’s where they tend to do their networking. That’s worked for us. I’ll be the breakout or a keynote speaker at an industry trade event or go speak to small mastermind groups or small forum or peer-to-peer advisory board groups, that’ll be where I tend to market myself and that seems to be effective.
You’re very targeted. You’re not as willing to speak to a general group of entrepreneurs if you’re targeting a specific industry or you have some set criteria for who your ideal client is. You’re going to the specific trade event where you know your ideal clients are going to be.
I will give presentations to larger groups as long as I know that there is a segment of that group that is the target audience, then I’m happy to do that.
Carl, I really appreciate. I mean there’s so much more that we could be going into here, but I want to thank you so much for coming on and sharing a bit of your journey and what you’re up to. I want to make sure that everyone can learn more about you and the work that you do. What’s the best place for people to go to connect and learn more about all of your work?
CarlGould.com is a great place to see what I’m doing. One of the things that we like to offer to any of your audience is something we call the free business analysis. When you go to the site just under Contact, type in, “Free business analysis.” It’s up to two-hour consultation where we’ll walk you through a specific process and offer you five growth strategies for your business. If you’d like to take us up on it, go to CarlGould.com or 7StageAdvisors.com and contact us there, either spot. We’ll hook up and provide you some value in your business and hopefully help you grow to the next level.
Thanks again, Carl. It’s been a lot of fun.
Thanks so much, Michael. I really appreciate the opportunity.