Have you ever wanted to work and live in an RV? Imagine exploring the world, meeting different people, and experiencing different cultures. You can do all of that and still work on your business from your RV. This is what Mark Treichel does for a living. After 33 years of hard work, Mark retired from the National Credit Union Administration. He bought an RV and decided that he wanted to explore the world while starting a consulting business. He is now the Founder of Mark Treichel, LLC. Join Michael Zipursky and Mark in a conversation about how Mark started his business. Learn how the pandemic helped him build his business from an RV and how he is scaling it towards the future.
I’m with Mark Treichel. Mark, welcome.
Michael, I’m glad to be here.
I’m excited about this, Mark. I always enjoy our conversations. Just to set the stage for the people who aren’t familiar with you and then we’ll dive in and get you to share more about it but you’re a consultant and advisor to credit unions, CEOs and Leaders. You’re also the founder of your own consulting business, which is where you do all that work. You spent 33 years as Executive Director, Regional Director, Director of Special Actions and pretty much everything under the sun when it comes to the NCUA, which is the National Credit Union Administration. I’m excited to dive into your story and explore how you got to where you are. The success that you’ve been seeing in your business, which I think people will find very interesting because your success has been quite rapid and you’re continuing to grow and to see some good things.Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Click To Tweet
Let’s go back a little bit. You are the NCUA for 33 years and that’s a long time, which is not common anymore. Back in the day, I always think of my wife’s father. I consider him like a samurai. He’s Japanese and he’s pretty much been with one company his whole life. He’s still there even though he could have been retired many years ago. That’s not common these days. People tend to move around from job to job. Why stay so long?
I had a couple of opportunities to leave but so when you’re with the federal government here in the US it’s one of the few organizations that still have a defined benefit retirement plan. If you choose not to leave after the first 5 or 6 years, you get these handcuffs where it makes some sense to stay so that you can get your pension. For me, I stayed until I was 58, two years longer than beyond when I was eligible. I’ve got a nice pension that I earned over that time so that made it easy to stay.
I did have some opportunities to leave but every time I did the math. I loved what I was doing too. NCUA gave me all these great opportunities. I started in Minnesota. We moved to Dallas, California, New York, DC. We moved back to New York and ultimately moved to DC. We had this great adventure along the way, which also made it fun to stay but the pension was a big part of it. Now that I’ve got that pension, it’s time to have a little bit of fun and see what I can build as a consultant.
Talk to me more about that because some people would be very much looking forward to the day when they get to “retire” and that might mean spending the days on some beach or taking it easy but you did the exact opposite. You went from having a full-time job for 33 years working your way up to the highest level of ranks in the organization. You got a nice pension. You could have been in a good place and said, “I’m good. I don’t need to work hard and build a business,” but here you are doing exactly that. You’re doing exceptionally well but why? What was the drive within you that said, “I want to go out and try this thing called building a consulting business.”
Initially, I was going to dip my toe into it. It’s a homage to my father. You talked about working at a place for 33, 34 years. He worked at Northwestern Bell and AT&T for that amount of time and he had opportunities to consult and he said, “No.” Later in life, one time he said, “Mark, after two years, people stopped calling.” I took that to heart I always knew that he regretted not doing it. I knew if I was going to do it, I wasn’t going to take a lot of time off. If I had any name recognition and any skillsets built up, I wanted to take advantage of that.
I then had a mentor at work who stayed until he was 65. He told me he stayed too long because people felt his shelf life wasn’t long enough. I left early enough and my dad told me, “If you’re going to do it give it a shot.” Either the reality was I knew I was going to retire in 2020. I knew I was going to try and do some consulting. I’d had people reach out saying, “When you retire, give me a call.” I had a couple lined up and because I have an RV and we were planning on heading west and traveling a lot, I was going to do some consulting from the RV. I was going to concerts, have some fun and dabble in it. Then COVID-19 hit.
I retired in 2020, June 30th and I was up here in the Adirondack Mountains. I was doing a lot of yard work. I knew I wanted to get into it then I got into this show called Consulting Success. I would be out doing yard work and I was listening to you talk to different consultants. In each one I listened to, I picked something up. I tend to be obsessive-compulsive but when I do something, I go all-in. Instead of dabbling in it, the COVID-19 pandemic created an opportunity where I was stuck up here in the mountains. I threw myself into it and the success came a little quicker than I anticipated. The other thing is it’s fun. I’m enjoying it. One of the things you taught me was to focus on now that I’m doing it and I’m not working for somebody else. Do what you want. Take the projects you want. It’s been a lot of fun. I’m enjoying it. It doesn’t seem like work and I guess that’s why I’m doing it.
I love that you certainly have seen some great success. I’ll want to come back to one thing that you mentioned. You mentioned the OCD side of it but I think there’s maybe more inside of that. Some people in the same situation come 2020 or whenever it was, the exact month that you decided, “I’m going to start this consulting thing,” and then COVID-19 becomes a much bigger issue. Some people would look at that and said, ”Maybe I’ll put this idea on the back burner because COVID-19 is going to because of all restrictions and challenges.” Even if COVID-19 hadn’t happened, there could have been some other economic challenge, just something happened.
There are always things that happen in life and around the world but you looked at that and you leaned into that challenging environment situation instead of waiting. The question I have for you, Mark, is where does that come from inside of you? Have you been this way since you were younger? Did you work on it and develop it? What’s given you that level of confidence to look at a challenge in front of you that might turn many people away but you went right into the fire?
My dad taught me that the most important skillset you can have is to be persistent. He loved quotes. There’s a Coolidge quote that, “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.” I’ve always been persistent. We took challenges moving around the country. Every time we moved, we uprooted our family and didn’t have any friends to rely on. We’ve always been autonomous. The agency I worked at, NCUA, works out of their homes. We had a remote staff. I was used to doing that at first and then I was an executive. I then retire and I had built these hotspots and these phone systems. I was ready to travel because I wanted to be available for my family and clients.
I guess when it happened, it was like, “I’ve got this extra time. I’m not going to be moving around as much.” I leaned in and I’ve grown. Every time I moved around the country, I grew so much by getting exposed to different cultures, groups, people, thoughts and that diversity of thought made me stronger and stronger. It wasn’t like it was a big risk, plus this was more of a fun project. It’s not like I have to pay the mortgage. It’s not like I have to get that next client. It was something that looked like a challenge and now, when the success came, it was like, “Let me see what I can build this into.” I’ve never got to do that. I reported to career NCUA executives or politically appointed boards and there were different pressures associated with this. It’s, “How can I serve my client? How can I help them, which ironically, in turn, can help the agency I used to work with if they succeed?” and it’s a blast. I guess it comes from way back in my dad.
I want to dig a little bit deeper. Have you actively worked on developing that mindset from a younger age? Has it happened and you haven’t necessarily been conscious of it but it’s there? You very clearly, Mark, every time that we speak and then the actions that I see you taking, how proactive and action-oriented you are. Everything in front of you, you always look for the positive before you look for the negative. When you view a challenge, you don’t try and find a reason not to move forward. You think, “How do I get around this challenge?” Where does that come from?
Both my parents were so positive. They always told me I could be anything I wanted to be. They always encouraged me to do things. They always gave me the opportunity to do things. I do have a glass-half-full attitude. I do a little bit of meditating, not as much as I need to but there are things I can do to keep me on that positive line of thinking. I like mantras. I like quotes. I’ve got quotes I saved my entire career where I would at a drop of a hat situation would come up. I could think of that sentence that would get me focused and refocused on the tasks at hand. I like being able to check off that I did something especially if someone is expecting me to do it. It was born in me a little bit too.
Let’s now move a little bit forward in this journey. You’ve decided that you’re going to move out of the NCUA and start your own consulting business. I want to talk more about the RV and the adventure that you’ve been in 2020 or so here. How do you go about getting your first client? A few people had reached out but walk us through the actual first client and how that came about.
The first client had called me before I retired and thought I had. He said, “I need to hire you.” I said, “It’s not until June 2020. I’m taking July and August off. I will call you in September 2020.” I called him. He told me the situation he was dealing with. He needed a helping hand with his regulator who was NCUA. I did a little bit of reading. I had a book that I bought about how to structure your consulting contracts and things like that. He hired me on a three-month retainer and he achieved success in December. Right before I reached out to you, I had a couple of interviews that were done about my retirement. One of these trade associations picked up a story and that led to somebody contacting me, asking me if I was interested.Starting your own business enables you to do what you want and take the projects you want. Click To Tweet
I hit LinkedIn real hard. One of the advantages I had, I did a post on LinkedIn that got a lot of attraction and I took advantage of that. I was reaching out to connect to all the CEOs at that juncture. I had about 400, 450 C-suite contacts right out of the gate at retirement that gave me a forum where I could be heard and be seen. Those three came along easy and that’s also when I was reading your show. I joined your group and you started teaching me. It was fortuitous because I was starting and at very foundational points and you had this program put together where I could look at each piece of it and say, “What can I learn from this and implement it?”
We jumped into it with imperfect action. I learned at NCUA, your line is imperfect action. The one from my quote list is, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” When you said it, I was like, “I’ve lived that.” I got out there. I started communicating with some emails and with some posts on LinkedIn. Immediately, I started getting conversations and those conversations started off. I’ve never been in sales. I guess I’ve been a salesman selling ideas to the NCUA board or to my staff but never where I felt like I was selling myself. I had to get used to that. The conversations got easier and the clients started coming in. We started getting some success on what they were trying to achieve and it mushroomed from there.
I want to go back to your perspective or the 2020 hindsight. When you look at everything that you’ve done to this point, Mark, and knowing what you know now. Is there anything that you would do differently? Any advice that you might offer to somebody who would be in a similar situation to the one that you were in? Anything that stands out for you as, “I could have done that differently or better,” in the early days?
The one thing I would have done better before I left NCUA is I had a lot of contacts. Now that I’m in the consulting land, if I can get an opportunity to get in front of my potential clients, I’m all over it. Leagues, associations and things like that. It’s free advertising and an opportunity for them to get to know me. I didn’t realize I had opportunities like that but I would delegate that more near the end of my career. I let some of those opportunities to build bonds slip away. The reality was I didn’t anticipate doing this that much. If I realized I was going to, I would have approached that end of my career a little bit differently and so then jumping to now that I’m consulting, if there are things I would do differently.
I think you answered what I was looking for, which is what you would do differently if you had the perspective or the benefit of hindsight and to maybe capture that or summarize it. When you were in that role, you may delegate some of those opportunities for you to build strong relationships with associations, potential clients, potential points of leverage or distribution to get in front of ideal clients because you were a busy leader. That wasn’t a priority for you but now knowing what you know, those relationships could have maybe helped springboard or accelerate some of the growth. Not that you’re doing shabby but that would have been one thing. Is that correct?
It would have. I could have nurtured those had I realized what I was going to be doing. I was extremely busy doing what I had to do. I had great people who could go out, do that and get that message out. I did embrace the opportunities that were there to build that network.
Let’s keep going through this journey. You’re reading the show, which feels fine to me because there you are. You’re back now from Florida, in the Adirondacks Mountains. What was going on in your mind? What did you feel that time, “I need some help with this.” What do you feel least prepared for that made you reach out, ultimately join and be a part of the Clarity Coaching Program?
There was so much I didn’t know. By reading you do interviews like this, I’d pick a couple of things up from everyone and I’d go, “I need to do that.” There’s the intro, “If you’re interested, give us a ring.” I talked to my wife and I talked to your cousin, Sam, and she listened to it. When I got off the phone, I said, “What do you think?” She said, “You got to do this.” She’s half owner of the consulting firm. She said, “Those guys sound great. They’re going to take you to the next level.” I knew that you knew the business.
The other thing is at NCUA, when we got new executives, we hired coaches for them. The thought of hiring a coach, the idea of it, people can look at that like, “I don’t need a coach,” or you can look at that like, “Let me see what that coach can teach me.” This showed me that I could learn then while getting on the calls with you, getting on with the group where we have these dialogues where you have your topics then we have the opportunity to ask questions and we can feed off each other. It’s like learning on steroids. Also, with me being at my foundation, it’s not like I’m ten years in and I have things and systems to undo. I’m starting them all. It was a perfect fit.
What have you seen in your business since that point in terms of new clients and the changes that you’ve made in terms of your approach to pricing in comparison to what you were doing before with your three initial clients? Walk us through what are some of the biggest structural changes or marketing changes or even outcomes and results that you’ve seen to this point?If you feel like you could get out and do it, give it a shot. Click To Tweet
I had three clients. I think I’m on client number 24 since then. You have spikes and I’ve had some good months. I’ve had some months where there have been a couple of clients that have come in but you taught me about building the pipeline and getting out there as a thought leader. You said something about, “It’s all about what the ideal client is and who is it that you want to work with.” I focused on that a lot. I reined in and got more of a rifle approach to what I was offering. In the first conversation you and I had, you said, “What is it you’re hoping to make and how many clients do you need?”
It was so logical that it’s very appropriate to have a rifle approach to it. Do what I want because I don’t need that many clients and I can’t serve all that many with what I want to do on the retainer side of things. That was a big positive. Putting a CRM system in place and making sure I’m out there in front of potential clients. You said, “Once you identify that perfect client, they have to know you exist. If they don’t know you exist, they’re not going to hire you.” That was like a lightning bolt. I got to get out there. When I used to have to do speeches, I would try and boil complex things down into simple short messages.
That worked well into doing blogging. I’ve done a few videos. I need to do that. I can then take those blogs and I shorten those up into LinkedIn posts and constantly reminding my ideal clients that I’m here. I get a couple of calls a week where people say, “NCUA is coming in or they just left. I didn’t like how it went. How can you help me?” I walked through some of the successes I’ve already had and I walked through those first few stories with my first few clients. The other thing that’s changed is on the front end, you feel like you’re selling. You feel like, “I got to get this client.” You feel like you’re chasing the client.
At this juncture, after having done it so much, it’s more like, “They have to catch me. They have to make it onto the list of the small number of clients that I am able to work with.” You asked about pricing and what’s happened with pricing. I’ve achieved a point where I’ve hit the pricing model that I like for my retainer. Early on the first ones you offer up, you’re wondering what makes the most sense. You then see what has success. If I have too many clients, I might have to look at tweaking that a little bit because of the supply and demand. That’s a laundry list of some of the things.
The other thing I wanted to hit on it as well here, Mark, is you’ve encountered something that I think we’ve seen many others also hit, which is transitioning from corporate into consulting. The mindset often begins that I want to be a solo independent consultant and work with clients. I don’t want to have to deal with team, employees and all that stuff. That’s why I left the corporate world. I’m glad to have my own time and be the master of my own domain. As your business has continued to see greater and greater growth, you’re serving more clients and there’s more demand for your expertise, you’ve started to look at how to scale, how to grow, how to bring in more team and do that in a much more structured and systematized way. It’d be helpful if you could speak for a moment around your experience. When did that light bulb go off for you and how would you compare and contrast what you were seeing before and what your mindset was before around team and around growth and where it is now and what lessons you’ve learned from that?
It was great to not have bosses. It’s great to not have subordinates and all the pressures that go with that. My spouse helps me with a lot of the administrative things. My daughter on the front end helped me with some videos. She helped set up my website. You start getting into a team. I hired someone to work on my website. I hire coaches to help me on the consulting side. I hire someone at payroll and CRM. There are systems out there where I can start to learn them, which has been fascinating but then there are also subcontractors, which I’ve started to look at how I can take some of those things and delegate some of those because me spending my time on that is not the best of use of my time.
Having the job that I had at NCUA and moving all around the country, there are people retiring from NCUA every day. There are people who are already retired and they all have little niches. I did a lot of exam things when I was an executive. There are these subject matter experts out there, which are a great opportunity for me to partner with. I’ve got two former NCUA folks that I’ve subcontracted with. I’ve added them to my team, which allows me to leverage, scale and even longer-term beyond that, I know who the best and brightest are of those that are going to retire and I’ve got a shortlist of folks I’m going to add to that team.Getting exposed to different cultures, groups, and people can make you stronger as a person. Click To Tweet
Ironically, I was a leader. I was an executive for 22 years and I can see myself start gravitating back towards building a team. It was fun. One of the projects we took on was a deliverable where someone wanted us to analyze something and I sent it to one of my experts and he looked at it. I got it back. I gave it to my other guy, who is more of a generalist but he had this way of digging into the internet and found some other things. I got this smile because it was like, “I’ve got my team back.” It was what I was doing before but I’m doing it from the other side. When I started, it was like, “Let’s dabble in it,” and then it was like, “Wow.”
There’s a need here and I enjoy the service side of it and helping these credit unions achieve success but it’s also fun to see what I can build. Now that I’m not all in, it’s like, “I need to get systems in place because maybe I’ll do this for 10 years or 15 years but there’s a need for it. There’s a market for it. You and I had some conversations about putting those systems in place so that at some juncture, maybe this is something that I’d look to sell to somebody else who’s retired from NCUA 10, 15 years from now.” One of the things when people retire they go, “What am I going to do?” I miss that social side of it and I’ve got contractors that I’ve pursued that are going to be coming on or who have going, “I like staying connected.” It keeps your mind sharp. It keeps the connections, that sense of community and that’s been a real part of this too.
I am so excited to see where you continue to take this because it’s powerful. For many consultants, when you start off and you’re going to focus on doing things yourself and you might have good reasons for not wanting to build a team. When you get to a point where you realize that to make a greater impact and to grow more, you can’t do it all yourself. The idea of that initially, maybe you had someone hesitate to bring people on, when you view it as a way to buy back some of your time, have more of a community. A way to accelerate growth and to be able to make a greater impact, you can just do more. It becomes a lot of fun to start putting those different pieces together and do it as a team, as a family. I’m excited that you’re going down that path as well.
I got a call from a potential client and he has a meeting with NCUA. He said, “I’d like you to take a look at this.” I said, “I’ve got a real tight schedule. I got a guy in Montana who works with me and you get it to me.” He briefed me on what he thought needed to be done. I’m going to look at it. It makes me smile because he has great quality work and he makes me be able to expand what I can do and how much assistance I can provide out there.
One thing we need to talk about as well is you spent the last 2020 or so living, working and building your business from an RV. You showed me pictures. We’ve done calls when you’ve been in the RV as well. I’ve had the ability to see inside the RV a little bit. It’s a pretty bad-ass RV. It’s cool, the outside and the inside. I remember seeing you send that photo from the outside. You were somewhere, I think on the Florida Coast. It’s beautiful and looked cool but first of all, why? You and your wife are in the RV. You’re driving all-around. You’re exploring new places. You’re by the ocean. You’re in tropical climates. It seems cool. Why do that? What was the drive for you to get in the RV and have that experience?
We both camped a little earlier in our lives and we got away from it. In 2017, we went to a music festival in Washington State called the Gorge and the Dave Matthews band plays all Labor Day. They play Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We met some new friends out there and we tent camped. At the end of the week my wife said to me, “Mark, we’ve been outside for seven straight days. We had not been in a building.” I was like, “Yeah. It’s been awesome.” We came back. We thought we might get a teardrop that you pull behind your car and then we looked at a pop-up. We discovered the Class B RV, which is a van converted into an RV. I knew if we were going to do it, I wanted it to be something that had a small footprint.
We threw ourselves into YouTube and learned which five bands we might like. We flew down to Florida and the Tampa RV Show is the biggest RV show in the US. We fell in love with the one we got. I bought it before I retired and we were going to go check out nature. We were going to go to national parks, state parks, concerts and I was going to dabble in consulting. We had the mountain place. We knew we wanted to end up in Florida as residents and buy a little condo but this is the perfect in-between where we can go explore the US. You can drive off the road into a little town where they have a museum from some guy who invented something in that city.
There’s this other thing that I may have talked to you about before. It’s called Harvest Hosts. It’s a group you can join. It’s companies that run breweries, wineries or llama farms and you call them up and say, “Can I stay there tonight?” You go to the brewery, you buy a couple of beers and they let you keep your RV on their private property. That’s an exciting way to reasonably get around the country. We had that adventure again. We moved so much and I guess moving every day didn’t seem like that big a deal.
You want to have the adventure and very clearly, you’re focused on lifestyle. You’re not making big sacrifices in your lifestyle to fit the business. I think from what I’ve seen, you put your lifestyle as a priority and made adjustments in the structure of your business, in what you do to support your lifestyle, not the other way around. Were you concerned about anything from a business perspective and being able to be successful while you’re out on the road?
My biggest concern was the ability to be able to do Zoom, to be in South Dakota and have connectivity. I went through a lot of research. There’s a group out there called Mobile Internet Aficionados, which is fantastic. They’ve been living out of their RV for years. Chris and Cherie, these consultants who built a great business. It’s like flying a plane. You have two engines in case one of them goes out. I have coverage on every provider in hotspot and I have coverage in every provider on phone. If there is coverage, I’m going to have it. If I was going to be offering up retainers, I didn’t want people not to be able to get me and that was a concern.
Marie, my spouse, is so flexible as far as I got a new potential new client call. She’s like, “You go ahead and take it. We can push dinner back an hour or stop an hour earlier to make sure you have coverage along the way. We’ll get there a little bit later.” I guess the other thing is I don’t drive a lot in one day. I keep the trip short. When we do it we know that I’ve built flexibility into the schedule so that whatever happens, we’ll be able to accommodate it.
When you looked back at the experience, I know that you’ve been doing a series on LinkedIn where you’ve been chronically in your experience of the business, being in RV and all that. What would be a couple of lessons that you think for a consultant or an entrepreneur that you’ve learned from this experience that you feel might be valuable to share?
If you feel like you could get out and do it, give it a shot. Now is someday. Don’t wait. I ran into a lot of people working from the road. COVID-19 changed the world as far as telework. I would walk through the RV park and you’d see people on their phones. You’d see people inside on laptops. It’s a real community and I guess the other side of it is the people who do this are a good community. They’re helpful people. They’re happy people. Get out. If you feel like you don’t want to travel because of COVID-19 or you don’t want to get on planes, get yourself an RV because you’re in the same bed every night.
You can keep your distance yet you can have fun and you can still see the world. There’s a lot of activity out there even during COVID-19 where we were able to be safe yet we were able to be out in society and get redundant systems. Also, check out the state park system. It is fantastic, particularly in Florida. It’s absolutely beautiful. We got reconnected with nature, seeing turtles, alligators and pelicans. I never realized how fascinating and cool those creatures were. In Flagler Beach, they’d be flying overhead all the time. There’s something about it that grounds you and reminds you that there’s more to life than that next client. There’s more to life than that next call. There’s a beautiful world to see.
Mark, you certainly know about how to run a successful consulting business from an RV and that should be the title of our episode here. Even beyond an RV, the main message that I take from that as I’ve been following your journey throughout here is live life now. Don’t put off things that are important for you. Also, recognize that you as an entrepreneur, as a business owner, as a consultant can create whatever you want. You first had to be clear about what you want to create but then figure out what’s important to you, prioritize your lifestyle and things that are meaningful and structure the business to support that. When you do, you’ll find that you’re able to create that.
If you don’t, you’ll get pulled in all these different directions by what you think you should do, what society tells you to do or what clients want from you. You’ve done such an amazing job of being clear about what is meaningful for you, for your family and then going after it relentlessly. A powerful keyword is persistence. I know you’ve been very persistent with your marketing, reaching out to people and being consistent with that. It certainly paid off and so much more to come. Mark, I want to thank you for coming on here. I also want to make sure that people can learn more about you, the work that you do and check out some of your posts and videos. They can try and find the RV there so that they have a clear image of what that’s all about. Where’s the best place for them to go?Your clients need to know you exist. If they don’t, they’re not going to hire you. Click To Tweet
You can reach me by phone at (407) 493-1180. I’m also on LinkedIn, Mark Treichel and Credit Union’s after it. My website is MarkTreichel.com. My email is [email protected]. I’d love to talk to people about consulting, credit unions, RVs, Dave Matthews, you name it.
I want to encourage everyone that’s reading this, please do not call Mark just to say hi but be thoughtful about your outreach. I would encourage you to send a message or an email first. I don’t want Mark to get inundated with phone calls nonstop. Respect his time the same way that you would want your time respected. I don’t want you getting bombed with contacts but I know that certainly, people would appreciate it. I want to encourage everyone to check out at least Mark’s website or go to his LinkedIn profile, connect with him because you can learn a lot from his journey regardless of what stage you’re at in your consulting business whether you’re further along. There are some great life lessons that you can learn from Mark. If you’re earlier stage, a great model for success. Thanks for coming on, Mark.
Michael, thank you so much. Thank you for helping me on this journey. I couldn’t have done it without you.
- National Credit Union Administration
- Clarity Coaching Program
- Harvest Hosts
- Mobile Internet Aficionados
- Mark Treichel – LinkedIn
- [email protected]