Office relocations can draw issues especially in the productivity and engagement of employees. When Jessica Lederer found the holes in the relocation process, she knew right then she can make a change by starting a workplace strategy firm and structuring consulting offers. Jessica is now the CEO of Ingage, Inc., a business focused on helping organizations that are moving or thinking about how they can leverage their physical space better to maximize employee engagement, productivity, and corporate culture. She shares how to leverage your network to create those early conversations that will lead to your first piece of business. An expert in generational issues found in the workplace, Jessica dives in the power of starting conversations, productizing consulting services, and crafting pricing models.
I’m very excited to have Jessica Lederer joining us. Jessica, welcome.
Thanks for having me.
For those who don’t know you, take a moment and explain what you do.
I am the Founder and CEO of Ingage Inc. It is a workplace strategy firm that helps organizations that are moving or thinking about how they can leverage their physical space better do so in a way that maximizes employee engagement productivity and the kind of culture that they’re trying to create.
You started your career as an OD, Organizational Development consultant.
I spent ten years in the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley doing organizational development work, which is around leadership development, talent management, organizational development in general and organizational design. I transitioned to look specifically at the physical workplace through a series of different projects and clients that I was working with that got me interested in this field and then started this company.
Let’s go back to those days when you were an OD consultant working in high-tech. Tell us a little bit more about what types of companies and what size of companies were you working with, what your average client back then looked like?
In the beginning, I was an internal consultant. I was working at Oracle doing internal OD consulting at Oracle. When I went into my own consulting, my clients ranged the gamut. I wrote a book on generational stereotyping in the workplace. That book got me to speak at a lot of different engagements all over the nation, various conferences and private events. A speaker agency from New York City reached out to me and asked me to represent me. They started getting me gigs, speaking all over the place. That got me exposure to a diverse group of leaders. I would work with Toyota, Lockheed Martin and then a nonprofit museum in a small town in California.
I would work with PBIDs, space planners and building planners. I would work with cities. I would work with the State of California and then with the National Global Network Marketing Organization. My specialty was not so much in what kind of client I was serving, but more so in the work that I was doing, which I found to be difficult when it came to marketing. I was serving such a wide variety of people that it made it a lot harder to speak to clients about, “I am the right person for you because you are my client.”
We should dive a little bit deeper into that. You mentioned that this book launched a lot of things. You said that it was the book that helped you to get your first few clients once you left Oracle and went out on your own as a consultant.
The book was a catalyst for exponential growth, but I was doing consulting before the book. It was through networking, through connections, through introductions and people that I knew in my professional circles that knew what I was capable of and would recommend me. I started before the book technically but once the book happened, I started getting unsolicited contacts from people saying, “Can you come in and can you help us?”
Take us back to that day when you left Oracle and you hand over your shingle and said, “I’m a consultant now. I can help people.” What did you do? How do you go about leveraging your network to create those early conversations that led to your first piece of business?
It was relationship building in a very raw level. I met with as many people as I could over coffee, over lunch, over happy hours, over drinks and just said, “This is what I’m doing now. I could use your support and introduction to anyone that you think might be needing this. This is the kind of thing that I do.” Part of it was coming up with a clear elevator pitch about what organizational development is. The language is so vague and all-encompassing that not a lot of people know what that is. I experimented with different buzzwords that would maybe resonate with people.
At one point, it was an internal employee culture transformation. Then it was leadership development and talent management. All these different things would resonate with some people and not others. I was asking for help. I was reaching out to people and saying, “I’m doing this. I’m scared. I would love your support. Is there anyone you could introduce me to in a hard way?” Not just, “You should meet Jessica. She’s cool.” It’s to say, “I know about Jessica’s skill set in this area. She could be good for your organization. Do you want to meet with her?” I knew that the meetings that I was getting were going to lead somewhere.There's a real-time feedback that you get in taking action. Click To Tweet
You said that you were scared or at least that was something that you mentioned to people. You’re venturing into the zone of the unknown and those kinds of unchartered territory. A lot of people who are in that place when they’re endeavoring into something new, when they feel that fear, they would use that as a reason or an excuse not to push and not to get in front of a lot of people. They would try and perfect everything before going out and having those conversations. What drove you? It sounds like you were engaging a lot of conversations even though you did maybe have some fears. There are a lot of unknowns for you. What was going on in your mind at that time?
I have been a big fan of design thinking and design thinking principles for a long time. I encourage people to fail fast. That was what I was doing. I was out there failing fast so I would see what worked and what didn’t. It was stress testing my ideas about what might work and what might not when building the business. I could see real time what was working and what wasn’t. There were some missed opportunities, but I also think there were many more opportunities that were created because I wasn’t afraid to have a conversation before I was even ready. I didn’t have a website when I got started. I just said, “This is what I do.”
That’s such an important message for people to hear. All the time, there are people reaching out who says, “I’m holding off doing these things because I need to have my website ready and my brochure ready. I have to have my messaging perfectly intact before I try and build my business.” It’s reason after reason not to take action. You just took action but based on that, that’s what helped you to refine, optimize and improve what you were doing to make it better and better.
There’s real-time feedback that you get in taking action. You’ll know what’s working as soon as it happens and then you will know what’s not as soon as you get the door slammed at your face.
You’re talking about this book that launched you into all these different places. People are reaching out, speaking agents, this, that and the other. You made it sound easy. What did you do? Did you just write a book and say, “Here’s the book to the world,” and people consumed it? Did you do a lot of promotion? What did you do to get that kind of response from writing a book? There are a lot of people that have written books that have done nothing for it.
People always ask me what my second book is going to be and I can’t get there. The reason my book was successful is that I had a topic that was interesting to people at that time. Frankly, my writing is all right. It’s not that exciting. It’s not that great. It’s just the topic of generations and Millennials in the workplace. What are we doing stereotyping these Millennials when we talk about how to engage, retain and attract talent of that generation? Everyone was talking about that at the time. My theory was we need to stop talking about what Millennials want because they are a diverse group of people that are all very different. It’s lazy leadership to put them all in one bucket and say this is the golden solution for how to attract and retain Millennials.
The real work is treating everyone as diverse as they are and accepting that we’re going to have to do the hard work of understanding our employee population one by one. It was just the right message at the right time and people were so interested in it. In terms of my second book, I have plenty that I could write about, but nothing that I think is interesting to people right now. The stuff I want to write about is workplace strategy, how to get the most out of your real estate to engage. It’s something that’s going to go nearly as well because people don’t care.
I get that the right place, right time message resonates. It’s important in all marketing. What did you physically do with the book? Was it published by a big publisher and they did a publicity campaign around it? What happened to take that book from you publishing it to creating the results that it did for you?
I set a rule for myself that I was going to write fifteen minutes a day. I thought if I write fifteen minutes a day, I’ll get it done more quickly. The very first day when I sat down, I didn’t want to write because I knew I just want to procrastinate. Instead, I researched publishers. The way that I did that is I searched Google for the biggest business book publisher in the world. I found that it was Wiley and then I LinkedIn search for editors at Wiley and found someone in San Francisco. I sent her a LinkedIn message and said, “I am writing a book on generational stereotypes, are you interested?” I had a book contract a week later. The first thing is not being scared to approach the big dogs for publishing. I wouldn’t self-publish because I think that there’s a perception that it’s not as credible of a book. I would at least try to get in front of the big publishing before you give out and do the self-publishing thing.
The second thing I did was I hired a PR firm when I finished writing the book out of New York that had experienced with book PR. They got my name out there. I thought it was going to be book signings and fun book tours and media things. It was writing a bunch of articles for Forbes and Inc. and all of those big clicky news sources where people go to read about management tips. I was writing more than ever after I wrote the book for these articles, which was just regurgitating the content of my book. That online presence then makes me more googleable. When I would speak, people would see me being an expert in all of these different online publications. It gave me credibility.
The third thing is I’m a good public speaker. I’m funny and I know my material. I keep it quick and I practice a lot. The best thing for my speaking career was being good because I would get referrals. Every time I speak, people will email me the next day like, “I saw you speak yesterday. I thought you were great. Could you come and speak at this other conference?” That got me more leads for speaking engagements than speaking agency even did than any of the outreach I did to push my content out there. It was the number one thing that got me more gigs.
It wasn’t one thing. You didn’t just try one big thing and put all of your eggs in one basket. It was all these little investments and decisions that you made that compounded together to create a result that snowballs and continues to clearly help to build your business and your brand. You did the consulting thing on your own for a while after leaving Oracle. One thing that I noticed about your career is it looks like you went back into the corporate world at one point working with Fulcrum Property being their Chief Revenue Officer. I’m interested to know why you went from an independent consultant back into the corporate world and now back out to running a consulting type of business. Take me through that transition. What was going on in your mind and the reasons behind that?
Fulcrum was always a client of mine. It started that I was doing ten hours a week there and then because we just jived well, my role grew. I was always an hourly consultant for Fulcrum, but my role was such that I was doing so much. I was working there 30 to 40 hours a week that they gave me the title. It looked like I was an employee there, but I was never an employee there. The consulting never ended. They weren’t my only client at the time. They were my most time-consuming client, but I was still doing work elsewhere as well. It was doing the work with Fulcrum which is a real estate development company. It’s a super impressive cutting-edge real estate company where I would see tenants that were moving into our properties dealing with these space design issues and how they could get the most out of their employees when they were making decisions about the move. That launched this new focus around Ingage Inc., this company that I am now running.
It created that niche because I didn’t have a niche because I did all things to all organizations. This was like, “If you’re moving, you’re the person I need to talk to.” Having that power in marketing was change-making in terms of building a business because I could tell you exactly whether or not you were my client. Are you moving? If you’re moving, you’re my client. Are you changing your space? If you’re changing your space, you’re my client. The work that I’m doing goes way beyond just the physical space because culture is made up of an ecosystem of different things that happen. Physical space is one of the ten things in that ecosystem, leadership, autonomy, authority, performance management, technology and all of those things are all part of the ecosystem. I’m diving into that when we’re doing the organizational development work. I’m still consulting as if I always had in the organizational development level. It’s within the context of this physical space question.The real work is treating everyone as diverse as they are. Click To Tweet
One of the things that I found challenging when I was consulting was that I am young-ish. I’m 35 years old. I’ve got blonde hair. Sometimes it’s hard to convince the CEO of some company that’s been the CEO for 30 years who is a 65-year-old gray-haired guy that he needs leadership help and he needs it from me. Even if he is convinced that he needs leadership help from me, he might feel challenged to announce to his team, “I need leadership help and this is who I’ve hired to do it.” There’s just an optics thing that made it challenging that I noticed. I would lose business to gray-haired older guys all the time that were not as good as what we do.
With the office relocation spin on it, it’s a way to say, “I’m a leader of this organization, but I don’t know about office relocation. I don’t know about physical space and how that will affect employee productivity.” I’m willing to ask for help from this person who may not come apart. It makes me feel safer to say I need help in this area, even though I end up doing all these other things. There was also an unconscious bias thing that I was addressing with being a young woman consultant. It’s more challenging than being an older guy to solve it.
Some of the potentials could be seeing it as a weakness and turning it into a strength. You’re finding a hook. You’re finding a way to make what you’re doing more accessible to those people that you’re going after. That’s clever. One thing here that I found interesting about your business model is it looks like you’ve almost productized your service offerings. You have two packages. Is that correct?
Yeah, I did productize my business. Thank you for noticing that.
Talk to me about that. Especially in your business where there’s a lot of complexity I could see when someone is relocating their offices, there are a lot of different moving parts, pieces, time and all that stuff. Why did you productize? Why did you decide to take your consulting business and productize your service offerings?
I had spent years consulting knowing that most of the energy I was putting into building my business was into putting together proposals. I’m doing ten hours of work for clients that haven’t signed the contract yet. Then it ends up being a waste of time because they don’t go with me. I was sick of all the lost ROI on my time for clients who wanted a very specific proposal to what their needs were because they’re so special. Even though they were all versions of the same thing, I just thought that it was a complete waste of time. There’s something about the model of consulting in which you get paid some deposit. You do the work and then you get to feed on the back end.
When I was doing some of the federal work that I did and the state work that I did, some of the times they wouldn’t pay anything until after it was complete. I’d have to do all the work. As I started to hire contractors to help support the business, there was a cashflow issue with that. It didn’t make a lot of sense that I was having to pay them before I could pay myself. Even though these projects are highly customized and I would come up with these different estimates and how much time it would take me and then price it out accordingly, I wasn’t always right about how much time it would take me. It was difficult to have these different models of like, “You’re going to be paying me on a retainer. You’re going to be paying me on a project basis. You’re going to be paying me on an hourly basis.” I had different models all over the place. It was just complicated.
When I heard about how to productize the consulting business, it made so much sense to me. One of the people that motivated me to do this was a friend of mine that I’ve known for several years now who is a blue-collar window washer in Colorado. He lives in his sister’s basement and is from all outside appearances not a very successful business owner. Although he does have his own window washing business, which he alone runs and operates. He does the window washing and he built the business by flyering. When he puts his flyers out, if he says it’s going to be $250, some houses are going to be a little bit bigger and he’s not going to get what he should have gotten.
Some houses are going to be a little bit smaller and he’s going to get overpaid. At the end of the day, rather than overcomplicating the pricing, he’s like, “Everything is $250. I don’t care what your house is, in the end, it’s going to even out.” There were a few times he was at a big house and thinking, “I should be getting paid more than $250 for this.” It was the same concept as me. All of my pricing is based on a number of employees and those number ranges are large. I have one range that is 160 to 500 people. If you have 161 people, you’re going to pay the same as if you have 499 people in your company and so on. Some of these clients, I’m losing a bit and some of these clients, I’m gaining a bit. It’s so simple and it saves me a headache.
Your pricing model is based on not just the single number of employees, but you have employee ranges. From 100 to 500 employees, it’s this set price. If you have 501 employees to 1,000 employees, it’s this. If you have 1,001 to 5,000, it’s this price. How many tiers of pricing do you currently have?
Your ideal clients can inevitably fit into one of those tiers.
It’s transparent. When they go to their pricing website, they can look it up and they can see what the price is. They know that they’re getting the same price quoted to them with every other client. They’re just based on employees because they may have a small real estate footprint because they have a lot of teleworkers. The work that I’m doing might have to do with how do we engage our teleworkers to be more collaborative with the people on site. It’s still a lot of work. It’s not about the real estate, it’s about the people.
Do you show your pricing on the website? When I saw it, it said, “Schedule a consultation. Talk to us.” At what stage do people see your pricing?The first thing is not being scared to approach the big dogs. Click To Tweet
Once they’re interested, I do have a hidden web page with the pricing. Once they schedule the consultation, I get in front of them. I make sure that they are aware of exactly what we do because some people reach out and they think that we’re going to help them move furniture. We don’t do that. We’re a cultural organization. Once we have the first level of conversation, I send them to this secret page that has all of the pricing so they can see what it is with everyone else that’s interested.
Based on the tiers that you now have with your pricing, do you still find that with some projects, they’re less profitable but others are more profitable? Is there still a margin for “error” that happens with structuring your business?
I’m okay with that margin for error. I pack that in. One of the things that our model includes is people have to pay up front. They can pay online. They pick their number of employees, they pick their package. They click to purchase, they put in their credit card information and it’s paid like a product that you buy online. I get the money up front. I can pay my contractors up front and then I do the work. That’s a very different model than the traditional conflicting model.
How large can some of these packages get? I’m just thinking about someone sitting behind their desk and they have to use the company credit card. Are people paying for a $50,000 or $100,000 or more at one time or these packages tend to be less than that?
It varies. For one to fourteen employees, the package is $23,000. I’m working with a client whose complete package was $225,000.
Do they pay $225,000 on the website in one go or are you providing payment plans for certain clients depending on the price point for them?
I don’t provide payment plans unless necessary. That’s not a path I want to go down. When people ask about it, they’re asking just to see if they can. If I’m going to lose the deal over a payment plan, then we’ll negotiate. Typically I say, “No, this is the model. This is how we do it. It’s a product-based business. You’re going to have to pay up front.” Most organizations, government agencies, public entities excluded are totally fine with that.
Even over $100,000 to $200,000, they’re paying with credit card or when you reach a certain level, people are doing wire transfers. How do you handle that?
Some are asking for an invoice and they’re sending me a check in the mail. The way that they pay doesn’t matter. What I’m trying to avoid is they pay a deposit and once the service is complete, they’re going to pay me the rest of it. This service can last than a year. We do work together for a very long time. I don’t want to wait for another year before I’m going to get paid for the work that I’m going to be doing.
It’s so smart that you are doing that. There are far too many people who are scared to do that. They put themselves in a position where they have to spend so much more time worrying about whether or not they’re going to get paid. They’re worried about what’s going to happen instead of just focusing on being able to deliver value for the client and creating great result because you don’t have to think about payment.
Some of the work I do involves interviewing leadership, interviewing managers, having intimate conversations with people about what’s working in the culture and what’s not working in the culture. Sometimes when people are overly managing the project, rather than meeting with this person one-on-one, why don’t you meet with all six of these people? It doesn’t work because when I’m meeting with six people to ask about what’s not working, they’re going to be a lot less candid and I’m not going to get at the truth. It allows people to back off and let me do the work the way that I will do it, knowing that I’m not trying to just squeeze them for more hours.
What’s been the biggest challenge that you’ve faced with your current business?
It’s a way to talk about an industry that not a lot of people know exist. Maybe that’s my blind spot or in my area of weakness. Workplace strategy is an industry. It’s not one that many people know about. The buzzwords of workplace strategy sound like it could be so many different things. I have to talk about how your real estate affects employee behavior. There is some real data that shows how your physical space can affect employee engagement productivity. Some people think, “A change in scenery is just a change in scenery. It’s not going to change behavior.” I have reinforced and convince them that, yes, it will change behavior and here are some examples how. When I started talking about how open collaborative workspace does not allow people to collaborate more, they start to get it. It’s usually this long conversation whereas some people are out there selling things that everyone knows what it is. “I am going to be your social media person. I’m going to sell you your social media presence. I’m going to do all of your tweeting. I’m going to put out on your Facebook.” People get what that is and they know that what they’re paying for. They want it versus this kind of industry that not a lot of people know that it existed.
Are you fine that you’re overcoming that by speaking or by putting out content around? What’s your approach to solving that?
It’s having conversations with people and getting in front of them. It’s part of why when you go on the website, I don’t just have pricing. I have scheduled a consultation. When I can get on the phone with people and have that more extended conversation about what your challenges are, what’s going on with your move, where you’re at in the process, then they can start to understand what the offering is.
What’s the best way for people to learn more about your work and connect with you? Where should they go?
My website is IngageInc.com. People can check that out. My email is [email protected]. They’re more than welcome to reach out to me on that. We have a Twitter account and all that, but we’ve slowed down on our activity online because it’s just not my client. It’s not necessarily the most effective use of my time. I would say send me an email.
Jessica, thank you again so much for coming on. I appreciate what you’ve shared here. It’s a lot of value for people. Thanks so much.
It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.