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Episode #212
Jonathan Fields

How to Design a Consulting Business You and Your Clients Love

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Summary

While business success and happiness seem exclusive, it is possible to design a successful consulting business that you and your clients will be happy about. Best-selling author and founder of the Good Life Project Jonathan Fields sits down with host Michael Zipursky as they talk about the fundamental nature of work, transforming yourself, self-awareness, and self-discovery. Jonathan shares stories of his entrepreneurial ventures and insights on transforming your business using mindset and self-confidence. Listen as he also talks about confronting fear and anxiety. Tune in for valuable insights into the consulting business only here.

I’m very excited to have Jonathan Fields with us. Jonathan, welcome.

Thanks. It’s great to be here with you.

For those who aren’t familiar with you and your work, you’re an author, speaker, producer and business builder. You’re also the host of the Good Life Project. You’re the Founder and President of Spark Endeavors, which you’ve been running since 2019. You’ve been featured in lots of well-known publications and media, New York Times, CNN, Forbes and a whole bunch of others.

I want to dive into and take this conversation down the path of how you help people deeply understand themselves and find the work that allows them to thrive. Before we do that, take us back to the early days. You graduated from law school and worked as an attorney. Why did you leave the world of law?

CSP 212 | Designing A Consulting Business

 

There’s the reason I left at that time and then there’s probably a bit of a different thing if I reflect on the decision in hindsight. That was many years ago at this point in my life. I graduated from law school. I was very fortunate. I did well. I had opportunities. I started my career in the Securities and Exchange Commission, a giant federal government agency investigating insider trading. I went out to one of the largest law firms in the world in their New York office, where I was doing securities work, IPOs and all the fancy stuff with the fancy business card, fancy suits, fantastic salary and perks.

The stress of that pretty much destroyed me physically and emotionally. Within a matter of weeks, I found myself in emergency surgery when my immune system shut down after barely going home for about three weeks and barely sleeping, taking horrible care of myself, and working on a deal where there was no wiggle room and we had to get it done. If we didn’t get it done by a specific date, the laws in the country that we were doing the deal changed the next morning and our client would be out of luck. This was the day-to-day life of the type of work that I was doing and I couldn’t handle the stress of it.

My immune system shut down. I ended up with a huge infection in the middle of my body that ate a hole through my intestines from the outside in. That sent me into emergency surgery. When your body rejects your career, at some point, you have to listen. It’s interesting because you asked me. You were like, “What was the decision? How did I know it was time to leave?” Back then, I had a very strong sense after that I was not long for the path of law and the career wasn’t right for me. I had nothing against the practice of law. I just felt like it wasn’t the place for me to be.

In hindsight, had I known then what I know now, especially with some of the deep-dive work that we’ve been doing, I might have made a different decision, to be honest with you. I might have had the ability to reframe that moment. Instead of saying, “I need to leave this career and the entire industry of law entirely,” I might have looked at it and said, “The way that I’m stepping into it is not a way that is working well for my psychology, physiology, and the way that I want to bring myself to my work in the world.”

It’s such a vast field. There are many different ways to step into it and to practice that maybe I could reimagine a different way to do it that was much more aligned with what I need to come alive. In hindsight, had I known then what I know now, I don’t doubt that I probably would have at least tried that a whole lot more to see if I could make it work and may well have been able to do it, but back then, I was ready to blow everything up and walk away, which is exactly what I ended up doing.

When your body literally rejects your career, at some point, you have to listen. Click To Tweet

When you look back now on the benefit of hindsight, what do you think you may have done differently? I’m asking because very often, especially when people are entering an area that is relatively new for them, they go right into the status quo. They try and fit into the box and don’t necessarily approach things creatively. They don’t push themselves and ask the question like, “How could I achieve the outcome that I want but maybe in a way that better suits me as opposed to what I’m seeing others do?” If you went back into that situation, knowing what you know now, what may you have tried that could have got you a better result?

You described something which is important, which is that so many of us step into our careers, certainly trying to look for the box that seems to have the most opportunity and then we figure out how to fit ourselves into that box. Especially when that box comes with a certain amount of prestige and salary, there’s a large incentive to do that and sometimes that’s how we earn our jobs.

There are certain industries where they’re notorious for that. People will do it for 2, 3, 4 or 5 years and then move on. That’s what I did for sure. Rather than stepping into it and before understanding what to say yes or no to, I would have done some inner work myself. I would have asked myself questions like, “What type of work makes me come alive? What type of work empties me out? What type of work gives me the feeling of meaningfulness and purpose and allows me to drop into flow?”

I don’t know whether I would have been able to find the answers at the level that I could now, but I would have at least spent a lot more time on that query. Rather than looking at the market and saying, “How can I fit into what’s offered in the market?” I would have done a whole bunch of detailed internal personal work first or at least very early on in my path to understanding what the fundamental nature of work that makes me come alive is.

Also, that empties me out so I can do more of the former and less of the latter because when we do that, it gives us a sense of agency. Instead of walking around and trying to figure out how we can fit into the next rectangular box when we’re in a square box, we walk around having a lot of clarity about the qualities of the work that need to be present for us to be a strong yes. You get lowered a lot less into places, spaces and opportunities that are not fantastic fits for you. I would focus a lot more on the inner work and the process of self-awareness and self-discovery, which I didn’t start to focus on until much later in my career in life.

CSP 212 | Designing A Consulting Business

 

You’ve accomplished so much. We’re going to talk about whether it’s the yoga studio, different businesses and one of the top-rated podcasts out there. As you speak about this, it makes me wonder. When I look at most people who spend time doing the inner work, it almost always is the result that they’ve gone through that messy middle.

I wonder, is that a part of it? Is that the way that it’s supposed to be that in order to get to a place where we need to do the inner work, we first have to go through challenging situations? Have you found in your work that there are people who are very intentional early on? They don’t even know where they want to go, but they spend time digging into the inner work before they set out on their path.

It’s such a great question and one that I’ve been asking myself and also a lot of people for a lot of years. My anecdotal evidence-based answer to that would be, it’s very rare for somebody to deepen into a process of self-inquiry, especially early in life, without having some major disruptive moment that shakes and drops them into the existential question because it’s not the way that we’re taught to function in life.

Instead of saying we, which is a pretty universal term, I would probably say that is probably more of a Western mindset. In the Eastern mindset, it tends to be steeped more in holistic ideas and a different ideology and philosophy, but a Western mindset is decidedly more externally focused than internally focused. Usually, the thing that brings them inside, and I’m raising my hand right here like, “I don’t get to carve my life or myself out of this,” is it’s something big that happens that makes you ask that big question.

We’re seeing it now. The volume of people who have been dropped into a state of profound disruption and now find themselves as a result of that, asking the big existential questions that they had never asked for the last 10, 20, 30 or 40 working years of their lives. It’s leading people at a scale that we’ve never seen before to re-examine the bargain that they made when they started their career and ask themselves, “Is that the bargain that I want to continue to make for the rest of my working life?” For a lot of them, the answer is no.

Ask yourself what type of work actually makes me come alive? Click To Tweet

This is deep stuff. I want to come back to this because we can keep going, peeling the layers of the onion back there. I want to touch on a few of the things that stand out to me. Around the early 2000s or so, you started Sonic Yoga in New York City. You later sold that in 2008. Why did you get into the yoga business? Was that what you did right after you left the world of law or was there something else that happened in between?

There was an in-between, but it was all part of the same thread. I’ve had a lifelong fascination with the human potential and also the mind-body connection, wellness and entrepreneurship. I was the lemonade stand kid. I was a competitive gymnast as a kid. I was always fascinated by how we rise into our potential and how our bodies and minds connect to do that. I walked away from that when I was practicing law entirely, both in the context of my own life and also in terms of fascination.

I knew when I left law that I wanted to go back into the world of entrepreneurship, well-being and human potential. I also knew it was going to take a huge hit. In my first job out of law, I was making $12 an hour as a personal trainer, learning the ropes of the fitness industry. I could have very likely talked my way into a management-level position, but I thought it was important for me to understand, “What is the social dynamic? What is the actual human interaction that happens at the fundamental point of contact in this industry? What is going right and wrong so that I could understand how to create a better mousetrap?”

I did that for about six months until I got a good beat on what I wanted to do and then opened my first fitness facility, which I grew for about two and a half years before selling to an investor group. I got curious about the world of yoga along the way. I had started to develop my own practice in no small part incited by an interest in breathing exercises or, in the yoga world, what they call pranayama.

When I was wrapping up my legal career, because I was so freaked out by the adversarial nature of what I was doing, I needed to find a way to very quickly downregulate my system and breathing is a powerful way to do that. That eventually led to a fascination with yoga. After I sold the fitness facility, which took a little bit of time, I was living in Hell’s Kitchen in New York. I ended up signing a six-year lease for a floor in a building to create what I hoped would become one of the premier yoga centers in New York City.

I was married. I had a three-month-old baby and a new home. The date that I signed that lease was September 10th, 2001, which was the day before 9/11 in New York City. I woke up that next day and to the absolute worst thing imaginable. There were people that we knew that didn’t come home. At the same time, we were mourning that and dealing with the city that was destroyed. I was asking myself, “Am I going to launch a new venture into this environment?”

That moment was pretty pivotal for me because it brought me back to the essential truth that we have one pass through this thing called life. The vast majority of our waking hours are going to be spent doing this thing we call work. To the extent that we can make that thing more nourishing, meaningful, purpose-driven, exciting and energizing, then I wanted to figure out how to do that and be a part of it.

We went ahead and opened that business, which became this beautiful, flourishing international community of people. It was a powerful moment. It started with a fascination with this new space for me, my next entrepreneurial venture. I had no business teaching when I started out, even though I cobbled together enough knowledge to do it and eventually trained to be proficient at it, but it was the next evolution for me.

It was also something that allowed me to dive deeply into Eastern philosophy, spirituality and teachings, whether it’s Hinduism, Sanskrit and Buddhism, and understand a completely different frame on what’s valuable in life and how to step into the way that we meet each day and the people in our lives. It was something that I still consider to this day. Even though I haven’t taught physical yoga classes asana for more than thirteen years, I feel still very much like the work that I’m doing now is yoga, but in a different context.

When you were at that point on September 11th, did you move forward or not move forward with this? That’s not necessarily like that exact moment in time, but around that period, when you decided to move forward with that business, what was the biggest challenge that you faced?

It’s probably my fear.

It’s so strong that had you thinking, “Maybe I should not move forward with this.”

CSP 212 | Designing A Consulting Business

 

Every fiber of my being was questioning whether I should move forward with it. I was living in a city that was financially, emotionally, psychologically and physically devastated. I had a three-month-old baby and starting a new venture in the best of times is very risky. I was married. I had a new home. There was a lot riding on this.

There were way more reasons to be fearful and shut it down than it was to move forward, but it was that realization that we were in a moment in time where there was never a greater need for a place for a community, healing, movement, breath and a place to be. Coupled with that realization, I knew somebody who was at the top of one of those towers with two young kids, a wife and a beautiful home who never came out and were not guaranteed anything. I felt like this was the thing that I needed to do. Was I scared? Yes, I was terrified, but I was more scared of not doing it than I was doing it.

I want to bend that conversation or point a little bit to the world of consulting. Often, consultants hesitate to get in front of ideal clients. Whether it’s launching their business or some new aspect or campaign, they have all kinds of voices in their minds telling them why they shouldn’t do that, “Don’t interrupt people. Don’t promote yourself. Don’t bother. Maybe I’m not good enough. I should wait until I do this and that.”

Based on your experience of building multiple businesses, working towards mastery mindset or maybe you have mastered many aspects of mindset, what encouragement or suggestions would you have to somebody who is reading now who knows they need to do something? They feel the calling, but they’re not taking action. Something is holding them back. What advice might you offer them?

Trust me, I get that in a very visceral way. I sold the yoga center at the end of 2008. Since then, I have been doing a combination of media production, running two different companies, speaking, writing and consulting. I’ve worked with everyone from startups to individuals, professionals and global enterprises with 250,000 employees in them. I get how terrifying it can be to put yourself out there to create new offerings, products and services. When you think about the big thing, for most people, it’s terrifying.

One of the things that I have found that’s super effective, not just for me but for everybody, is that if we take that thing that we’re talking about creating, maybe it’s a new product, offering or pitch for something, rather than thinking about it like, “How am I going to build this whole thing? How am I going to prove that it’s viable and worthy? I’m in that place now with an entirely new body of work in the market and nobody is going to take me seriously. I’m going to be destroyed if I go out there in a big way and people laugh me out of the room.”

All of that has to be on the table because if there’s no risk at all, that means that you’re not doing anything new. If you’re not doing anything new, why are we here? I’m not here to replicate the lives and the work of other people. I’m here because I want to push the envelope of what’s happening. You should feel bad. If you don’t ever feel bad, it tends to be a sign that complacency is setting in.

If you’re cool with that and your business keeps rocking, that’s fine, but what I’ve seen for the most part is when we hit that point, there are no sideways. The illusion of coasting, riding it out and everything being okay is an illusion. Life applies friction. Eventually, things will start to grind and slow. It’s part of our job to continue to lean into the process of ideation and innovation or else we’re going to become obsolete slowly. I’ve been in that place. I get it visually.

What I found works well for me is to create a clear picture of what you would love to see happen. Create that big picture, vision or thing you want to create or that big thing you want to offer and then chunk it down into the steps that will take to get there. What 50, 75 or 100 steps or actions will I need to take to get to that place to make that happen or else to get it to a place where there’s at least the possibility of it happening at the scale that I imagine?

It's part of our job to continue to lean into the ideation and innovation process, or else we're going to slowly become obsolete. Click To Tweet

A lot of people do that, but then there’s one other thing that is pretty transformational, which is you don’t just chunk the steps. You chunk the stakes. The thing that freaks us out is not the amount of work it will take to pull it off. We’re pretty comfortable working hard. A safe bet people who are reading this work hard. The thing that freaks us out, shuts us down and causes fear is not the level of work. We’re not afraid that we’re going to work hard and that’s not going to work.

We’re afraid that we’re going to work hard, put something out into the world and it’s going to be rejected. We’re going to be laughed out of the room. We’re going to be outcasts and discredited. The stakes of that we feel are career-ending potentially. What if instead, you took the stakes of putting this big, new thing out into the world or a new offering or to a single client who is big and chunk those stakes down like, “What’s the first step forward where the stakes are so low that it’s almost impossible for your brain to say, ‘This is too terrifying to at least take this time and do a little action?'”

You take the big stakes and you’re like, “What is the smallest thing that I can do where the stakes are also low and take that first step?” Hold the ultimate vision out there. Know what it is and then take this tiny little step where the action is small and the stakes are low and to see how it feels. If it feels okay, take the next step where the stakes are also chunked into a smaller little thing.

What you’ll find is over time, the fear of taking those tiny, little small steps and low stakes, the fear tends to diminish. It tends almost completely to go away when you approach it that way. What happens over time is with every step, then your progress towards that ultimate goal tends to prove the viability of the thing that you fear not being viable. You’ll get 15 steps into 100 steps and you’ll start to realize that you’re getting feedback and data.

It’s disproving the assumptions you had about this thing being valuable and viable, which is awesome because it’s better to know that early on than down the road when you’ve spent a year developing it and then rolling it out to the world. It’s soundly rejected and it doesn’t work. The fear side I totally get and I live with that on a persistent basis, but when you approach it by getting a clear picture of that big thing that you would love to make happen and then chunk the steps and stakes, it pretty much eliminates most of that problem, to be honest with you.

I want to wander down the path together to the word fulfillment. A lot of the work you do is helping people to become more fulfilled. How do you, first of all, define that? What does fulfillment look like to you?

Fulfillment to me is a nebulous word. The equivalent word that I use or phrase is coming alive like, “I feel like I’ve come alive or I’m alive.” Spark is the shorthand that I’ve reverted to. When I think about that, I could answer that question in two ways. I could answer it in the context of work or life. There’s a lot of overlap, but they’re not necessarily the same. When a lot of us think about the context of work, we think about security, status, prestige and “success” defined by the outside world.

When I think about it in the context of work, how do I feel when I feel my body is alive and I’m completely and utterly content with what I’m doing? There tend to be five components of that state for me. One is meaningfulness. I feel like what I’m doing is meaningful to me that it matters. I feel like I’m energized and excited to do that work. That’s a big part of being fulfilled, satisfied or alive for me. I feel like I can dip into a well of my potential that doesn’t always feel available to me and feel like I’m showing up as my best self and performing at my highest possible level.

CSP 212 | Designing A Consulting Business

 

There’s nothing being held back and stifled or that I can’t access and tap into. It’s all tumbling out there into the effort. I feel like I can access that flow state where I become absorbed in the nature of the activity, conversation, relationship or pursuit and time flies. I blink. I’ve worked an hour and it has been twelve hours and a broader sense of purpose in life. I know that I’m working towards something that I care about and that there’s a sense that I’m doing the thing that I’m here to do.

You used the word fulfilled. I used the phrase coming alive or spark. To me, there are five components of that and those are the five components. If you drew a Venn diagram, the overlap of meaningfulness, flow, excitement, energy, expressed potential and purpose, that’s the state that I aspire to in the context of work. You can get all of those things in your work if you’re intentional about it. Also, it’s important to note that work is not the only way to get those. There’s a huge amount of meaning that I derive from being a dad, husband, son, brother and friend. There are different ways to access those different components more broadly in life as well, which is why I made that distinction.

I’ve often talked about the apex of a triangle. Many people will put their business right at the top. They’ll make all kinds of decisions, put their lifestyle or life below that and have to make sacrifices in their lifestyle to support their business. I’m a big believer that we should be putting our lifestyle at the apex and get clear about like, “What does a meaningful life and success look like?” Put the business below it so that you can structure the business to support the lifestyle that you want.

One of your brands, Good Life Project, is about creating that good life. Are there any strategies in addition to what you shared around the five different Sparketypes or components? Is there anything else that you have found helpful in your journey as an entrepreneur and consultant as well to strike that right balance where we can make sure that our lifestyle and the meaning and success support with businesses? Any thoughts you have around how to move that or think through that strategically so that those two will work well together?

There’s a meta-skill that, in my mind, it would be amazing if everybody cultivated it. Everything that we’re talking about is a matter of being intentional. We can’t do any of these things. We can’t devote ourselves to saying yes to things that are meaningful and no to things that aren’t. It’s all about being intentional and making intentional choices, but here’s the thing.

You can’t be intentional unless and until you’re aware. That’s self-aware and also externally aware. You’ve got to be aware of your own inner world, experience, thoughts and feelings, but you’ve also got to be more aware of what’s happening around you. Not just the facade, illusion, subject or overlay, which tends to involve massive amounts of bias that we bring to certain circumstances. We want to be as clear and aware as humanly possible because if we’re not aware, we don’t have the ability to be intentional, even if we think we’re being intentional.

How do you cultivate awareness? For me, the power skill and practice, which has been an essential part of my life, is mindfulness. That shows up in two ways. It shows up as a daily sitting practice. Every morning, I roll out of bed and my day starts with a sitting mindfulness practice and breathing practice. That centers and grounds me in my breath and body. Also, because of mindfulness practice in particular, which is a type of meditative practice, part of what it trains you to do is see where your thoughts are going and then drop the thoughts.

We're not afraid to work hard, and it's not going to work. We're afraid to work hard, put something out into the world, and it's going to be rejected. Click To Tweet

If you want to talk about how to deal with fear, anxiety or spin, you can’t deal with any of that until you are aware of the fact that you’re anxious or you’ve got destructive thoughts spinning in your head. This particular practice of mindfulness trains you thousands of times over and over to check in and say like, “What was I thinking? Let me let that go.” Five seconds later, you’re back to the same thing, but it gives you the skill to zoom the lens out. It gives you meta-attention. It’s almost like you’re out behind you and looking down into your head and you’re noticing what’s happening. It’s incredibly powerful.

Also, more persistently over time, it allows you to see more clearly what’s going on both in your internal responses to circumstances and situations and also what’s happening around you. You’ll have a lot more clarity around social dynamics in a room. It gives you the ability to be less reactive and more responsive and intentional in the way that you both treat yourself and others.

It also allows you to deal with high levels of uncertainty where the stakes are high with much more equanimity. That has been game-changing for me. As a consultant, entrepreneur, founder, dad and human being on the planet who is living in times where there’s a whole lot of groundlessness and the stakes are sometimes life and death, that practice to me has been transformative in a lot of ways.

That’s powerful to know. I would love to learn more about that. I don’t have a mindfulness practice, but a couple of years ago, I started paying more attention to the thoughts that were running through my mind, specifically when I got excited about something as well as even more so the opposite. All of a sudden, I started to feel a bit of a wave of negative emotion would come across my mind. Oftentimes, I wouldn’t know what would happen. That would then carry over to how I would interact with my wife, kids or team members.

I started thinking like, “Where is this coming from?” I would stop myself and go, “Why am I having this negative emotion?” I then recognized where I would walk backward and go, “You read an email without even consciously understanding what you did and something in that email made you upset.” The more that I become conscious of that, I found that I have fewer of those because I almost trained my mind to deal with negative things or events that I’m not even anticipating would come my way. It sounds like there’s a bit of that in the mindfulness but a whole lot more. It’s definitely something for me to look more into.

Honestly, what you described is very similar to mindfulness practice. This is the way that you engage in a mindful way with your thoughts and feelings, which is all it is. There are a lot of different ways you can sit, follow your breath and all those different things.

I highly encourage everybody to look into this because it’s a game-changer. Sometimes, we’re not even in control of ourselves or our own thoughts. We have an emotion that takes over how we interpret things and then that translates into how we interact with others. Getting control of yourself, I’ve found, has been very helpful for me.

I want to talk about your book, Sparked. You have Sparketype, which is a program that you’ve developed to help people discover their unique imprint for the work that makes them come alive. What I would love, if you could do, Jonathan, is walk us through high-level the development of this. Where did this idea begin? Was the book or the assessment first? Do you have an accredited training program? It would be very interesting for everyone to know. How did you go from the seed of an idea to the development of a whole suite of different offerings connected to that core idea?

I’m happy to share that process because so many people are in this space of consulting, coaching or mentoring in some meaningful way. We have so many ideas spinning in our heads. Often, they, over time, through interaction with people, were testing and validating. They turn into a methodology, but we don’t even realize that they’re a defined methodology, set of intellectual property or body of work. We never map and build them out as this identifiable thing and then offer them to the world in a way where there’s something distinct or perceived as being able to offer something very different.

The process for me started with and, as it generally does, a burning question. It goes all the way back to that moment I described back after 9/11, where I had this deep fascination with how we spend our lives and, in particular, our working lives. Over the years, what I realized is I developed a lot of systems and processes to help entrepreneurs, founders and people who are early in business try and develop more conscious businesses that didn’t just serve a market need. It wasn’t just about product-market fit. It was also about what I call product-maker fit. You wanted to do something for yourself.

People had started asking me this question. They kept saying like, “What should I do with my life?” When they were asking me, what they were really asking was, “How do I find and do work that makes me come alive?” When I use that phrase, come alive, it’s those five components that I described. I realized that there had been a lot written about this question. There’s a lot written about purpose, meaning and work. There’s a lot of spiritual practice and ideology around it. There’s a lot of academic research. A lot of it is coming from the world of Social Science and Applied Positive Psychology.

I was pretty deep into all of those worlds, but I didn’t see a whole lot of practical guidance. I saw a lot of fantastic and interesting indexes and tools. Many of us had used them before that answered a lot of different questions, the more generalized personality traits, relational styles, all sorts of things like that. I didn’t see something that spoke to this question of like, “How do we identify on the most basic level the fundamental impulse for work that makes us come alive so that we can do more of it?” I began to wonder, “Are there an identifiable, mappable set of impulses or imprints for work that gives us that feeling?”

If there was, I could identify them and then build tools that would help elicit them from people fairly quickly. That would be incredibly valuable on two levels. One, for the individual, because you would have so much more agency and freedom to understand how to show up and align yourself with work that gives you that feeling but also in the context of organizations, leadership and engagement. You would understand how to effectively remove friction and dramatically decrease the need for extrinsic motivation, which we know doesn’t work past the first three heartbeats anyway.

You have to be more aware of what's happening around you, not just the facade that tends to involve massive amounts of bias that we bring to certain circumstances. Click To Tweet

I started deepening into this question, looking at every job and list imaginable and deconstructing, “What are the fundamental ways that people exert themselves in the context of these different things?” I was, to be honest, pretty shocked. It distilled down very quickly to ten fundamental impulses for effort. I had no idea if I would ever get to anything and I didn’t know if it would be 12 or 1,000. It distilled down to ten and that number bugs me because it feels way too slick. The scientist side of me always holds open the possibility that with further research, we’ll identify some different things. That’s where we’ve landed at this point.

Once I found those fundamental impulses, I started to realize that each one of them also tends to have its own quirky set of behaviors, tendencies and preferences that wrap around those impulses. A person who has that impulse tends to also move into the world in peculiar and particular ways that are unique to them in those formed archetypes. I started calling those Sparketypes because it was a fun way to say like, “The archetype for work that sparks you at a con.” I started sharing them around and asking people about them. I was getting tremendous feedback, but I wanted more feedback at scale.

We spent most of 2018 developing an assessment to try and see if we could do two things. 1) Validate or invalidate these ideas at scale and 2) Build a tool that if it went out into the world and then we’re getting strong feedback and validation, it would be helpful and allow people to understand what their imprint or Sparketype was fairly quickly. We released that out of beta at the end of 2018. Since then, between 550,000 and 600,000 people have completed the assessment now.

I want to clarify because, to some people, that number is going to be mind-blowing. How have you gone about getting that many people to take the assessment?

It’s a combination of a lot of different things. I came into that having a pretty substantial personal platform from the world of media because I had been producing a show and been very fortunate that it’s a large show with a big audience. I was able to see the initial audience in no small part through that. One of the things that we learned is because it is, to a certain extent, an identity-focused assessment, when people discover something that is that fundamental about themselves, they share it. There has been a tremendous amount of sharing around it as well.

Once we got to that point, I started realizing, “There’s something much bigger happening here.” When the numbers start to get that big, then all of a sudden, you get stories, use cases and applications. I start to take these ideas into companies in a soft way. I’m starting with maybe a friend I know who is in L&D in a small company. I say, “Can I come and do a lunch and learn?” It is as much for me to learn and get feedback on these things to provide value.

These are low-stake ways that I was talking about before. It’s not a huge deal that there are six people in a room and we’re bouncing ideas. The feedback was good and I kept developing the ideas. It gets more and more robust where eventually I start talking to larger organizations. All of a sudden, I find myself sitting down for a part-day workshop with the ELT of a giant global enterprise, sharing these ideas. They invite me in because the ideas resonate so much that they want all their senior leaders to be exposed to these ideas.

When you’re approaching all these people, is there an intention to run a paid workshop or put people through a paid program? Is the initial outreach and approach focused on like, “I would love to get some ideas from you or share this with you?” I think that I’m getting one sensory. I want to confirm. What’s your mindset approach when you’re going into those conversations?

If I’m being honest, by the time I started having those conversations, I had a pretty strong sense that we had created something that was valuable because all the feedback was like, “We’ve taken every assessment on the planet.” There’s a lot of good ones and they tell us a lot of stuff. Some of the organizations had built their own internal ones. They’re like, “This is telling us something different. This is adding a different piece of information and it’s valuable to us.”

When I would go to the next level of organizations, at that point, it was probably twofold. I’m going in because I want to continue to get feedback and develop the ideas for sure. Also, in the back of my mind, I’m starting to think, “This is something bigger.” We started this under the umbrella of my existing company and brand, Good Life Project, because I didn’t know how anyone would respond to it when we first launched it and I didn’t want to build anything I didn’t have to.

Once we saw what the response was in 2019, we split it into its own company. It’s a research and development training organization to deepen into these ideas and then share them with the world. At that point, the idea is in part, “Let’s keep developing this and getting feedback. Let’s develop programming around that would help figure out how this gets deployed both for individuals and also within organizations like, ‘Where does it make the most sense for people to use these tools and ideas?'” It was a slow evolutionary process, but at a certain point for sure, a part of it became, “Let’s start to build revenue, both programming and revenue centers around this.”

When I show up and speak at an organization, I get a keynote fee, half-day or full-day fee for that. As we have other people that we’re training up in the IP and sending them out into the world, we’re building something bigger. Now, the engagements all serve a dual purpose. They continue to let us learn as we apply the work, but also, when we show up, we expect to get paid now because we know that we have something that’s a value. That has been reflected to us enough times that to not do that takes too much time and energy away from the organization.

There’s another thing and this might be valuable for consultants in general when you think about how you’re stepping into work. There is classic psychology in the marketplace, especially with organizations in the world of consulting, which is that price implies quality. If you’re showing up and giving everything away or charging below-market rates, the perception is there’s a reason for that. Whereas I show up and charge my full keynote rate or full half-day rate.

For certifications, we charge what I feel is a very fair rate, but it’s not positioned as free or as an entry-level engagement in the marketplace. It’s important because sometimes we can be scared to step in and do that because there are all sorts of fear around being judged and not being accepted. People are thinking you’re overcharging.

I was taught from the very early days of business, “You never price the way that you sell things on an hourly basis or things like that. It’s all value-based pricing.” It’s the way that I approach things. It’s like, “If you have a problem, I can solve it.” What is the economic value of the pain caused by that problem? If I can help you solve that problem at a fraction of what the economic pain is monetized at and that is still a substantial amount of revenue that comes into my organization, then we’re both happy.

You can't deal with fear or anxiety until you are aware that you're anxious or that you have destructive thoughts spinning in your head. Click To Tweet

There are two schools of thought around, “You developed this methodology. You have this approach.” You could build a team or even be you, Jonathan Fields, going out, giving the keynotes, doing the one-day workshops or whatever it might be. That’s the business and grow it that way, where it seems to me you’ve been very intentional. You’re doing that, but you’re also transitioning actively to building up a team of others who can be accredited and trained on this methodology and approach and have them go out into the world. Why take that path? Where did that decision come into play?

Full disclosure, we’re in the middle of making those decisions as I’m having this conversation with you because the body of work and the reception are moving so quickly now. Days after my book came out, which has exploded the volume of attention towards the body of work, we’re in the middle of that question a lot now. We have had a strong interest in some training or accreditation and how to work with these ideas and tools for a long time in no small part because we’ve been getting a lot of messages for a couple of years now.

Everyone from coaches, consultants, L&D pros and HR pros are saying, “We’re using this work with our clients and orgs.” Everyone is asking us all these questions and we’re not entirely sure how to answer them. We’re like, “We need to step into that marketplace with some intelligent training that helps people understand how to work with the body of work and the tools in a way that is constructive and not destructive.” I care deeply about how that happens.

At this point, rather than saying like, “We’re doing a certification program and anybody who shows up and pays the tuition is certified,” that is not our model at all. I care deeply about who we allow to carry this work forward. There’s a selection process and an application process. Even after you do the initial training, there’s an applied part of it. We want to see how you’re working with these tools and ideas in the marketplace before we say okay. We’re taking our time with it is the honest answer.

If we feel we do want at the end of the day a lot more control, then we may focus more heavily on building up our team internally or partnering with an existing training organization or someone else who will help us scale in an intelligent way. Fundamentally underneath it, for me, it feels like the world is reflecting back that there’s some value in what we’ve developed.

To the extent that whether it’s the book or assessment, which is completely free and gated, which is a little bit unusual in the business world, I want these ideas to go out into the world and for people to interact with them. If they can help people step into a place of more meaning in their lives, especially now, we need that more than ever.

We want to be as clear and aware as humanly possible because if we're not aware, we can't be intentional, even if we think we're being intentional. Click To Tweet

I’m going to have you share where people should go to learn more about the book, assessment and everything that you have going on. Before that, one question that I like to ask a guest at the end, especially it’s a good one for you because you are well-studied and well-read, what is the top book, either fiction or nonfiction, that you enjoyed?

I read many books, especially for the show, because I interviewed many authors. I enjoyed Adam Grant’s Think Again. In the nonfiction world, I’m a huge fan of not getting locked into positions. I try and hold myself open and test my assumptions on a regular basis. His whole philosophy of, “Spend more time rethinking that thinking,” resonates with me.

Let us know where people should go to learn more about your book, the assessment and everything else you have going on.

You can take the assessments completely free and available online at Sparketype.com. You’ll find the book there too. The book is available at booksellers everywhere in the world. If you want to listen to the podcast, it’s Good Life Project on whatever your favorite listening app is.

Jonathan, thanks so much for hanging out. I appreciate it. I enjoyed the conversation.

Thanks so much.

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2 thoughts on “How to Design a Consulting Business You and Your Clients Love with Jonathan Fields: Podcast #212

  1. Excellent Podcast on moving into your purpose by being aware of your Self Awareness and facing your limiting beliefs. You have to take risk and view it as a positive step into your business in order to fullfill your purpose and learn from your failures,mistakes just like you become aware of your accomplishments and successes. Outstanding Podcast!

    • Glad you enjoyed it Debbie. I really enjoyed the conversation with Jonathan : )

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