Adam started out as an electrical apprentice while in college pursuing an electrical engineering degree. After 20 years in construction management, he decided to make the leap to consulting, as a way to give back to the construction and contracting community. He attributes his decision to make this transition into consulting, in part, to The Consulting Success System — How to Become a Successful Consultant. Adam has now been growing Ascent Consulting for three years. He calls these years a time of accelerated growth, a greater depth of understanding and a time to hone his skills of understanding as a consultant deliver and sell value and deliver top-quality projects to his clients. On this episode of The Consulting Success Podcast you’ll learn how to effectively grow your business in your area of expertise, how to transition from fee-based to a value-based pricing, and how to recognize when it’s time to start sharing your workload with employees so that you can continue focusing on the work that you do best.
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Pricing projects based on the value they deliver — instead of the time you spend on them — will allow you to increase your fees.
Landing Your Next Six-Figure Project with Adam Cooper
I’m very excited to have Adam Cooper joining us. Adam, a big welcome to you.
For those that don’t know you, introduce yourself, your company, where you’re based.
My name’s Adam Cooper. I own Ascent Consulting and we’re based in Atlanta, Georgia.
How long have you been running Ascent Consulting for?
Over three years now.
What has the three-year ride been for you?
It’s been a fun ride. It’s started out slow. You were a big part of that, whether you knew it or not, with your book and your Consulting Success System that I did on my own. It really gave me a lot of foundational tools to get going. The last two years have been accelerated growth, depth of understanding, and honing my skills as a consultant and learning how to deliver value, sell value to clients, and deliver projects.
It sounded like you were saying that I played a big role in your business being slow at the beginning there.
I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d never been a consultant before. I always operated in the industry that I now consult to. I knew how to be a project manager and how to run construction jobs and how to run construction companies, but I never knew how to be a consultant. I got the Consulting Success System online and read your book and used some of your forms. If you look at my proposals now, they still have some of the elements of the samples that you had in that system that I bought.
Before you became a consultant, what were you doing? What did your day-to-day look like?
Before I became a consultant, I had been a project manager for several large national contractors in the US. I managed high rises, industrial jobs, manufacturing facilities, chemical plants, construction. I manage them, mostly electrically. I was an electrical project manager for an electrical contractor where I was working for a general contractor doing that work. My day-to-day was managing materials, labor, subcontractors, rental equipment, completing budgets, or advice and interfacing with the other contractors on the job to build projects from the ground up.
At what point did you start thinking about venturing out on your own and starting your own consulting business?
I had been an entrepreneur in the past. I owned my own construction companies, my own design build firms, but I’d never done what we call “consulting.”I was building a project here in Atlanta and I was working for a company based in California. It was a very difficult project. It was a two and a half-year project that was supposed to be done in a year and a half. It just dragged on and had a lot of problems. The owner was difficult. At that point, after twenty years of construction management and operations, I was fed up. I didn’t want to be in this field anymore. I was looking for something else to do.
When you decide to make that shift and go out on your own into consulting, what would you identify as one of the greatest challenges that you face?
One of the greatest challenges for me was the selling component of being a consultant. As a consultant, I had to sell myself. I was trying to figure out how to price that service. I was generating revenue, I was selling myself, but a lot of it was time for money. It was very much a time-based sell instead of a value-based sell.
How did you work through that? What was the shift that you made and what impact did that have on your business once you changed from trading time for dollars to focus more on value and ROI? What does that change look like? How did you go about making that shift?
There are a couple of components to that. One was your coaching program, the Accelerator Coaching and The Elite program helped me hone that skill. There were also a couple of books that I read. The Consulting Bible by Alan Weiss was one of them where he also talked about selling value instead of time. Learning how to have those sales conversations, those value-based conversations with clients or potential clients up front that I learned from both you and some of the books I read helped me get good at having those conversations and teaching me how to price based on value. That’s the metrics behind it and the underlying foundation.
Would you say before you weren’t having in-depth conversations, or what I often refer to as a real meaningful conversation, and that you weren’t identifying the value that the buyer cared about as much, but once you made that shift, you were focusing a lot on that?
Yes. Initially, I was trying to determine what their budget was and then trying to design a project that met their budget. Now I talk to them about what’s the value of taking on this project and how can we structure a deal where the fee is related to the value it’s creating and that works within their budget. I can adjust scope and durations to accomplishing that scope that fit within a client’s budget, maximizing their value and my fee.
What impact did that have on your business when you made that shift?
The initial value of the projects I was pricing increased. Before, I was basing the price of the project where my fees were based on the time that it’s going to take me. I might price a project at $4,000 a month for three months, so a $12,000 project. Now, I was talking about the value of that project would create, that maybe it was going to create $100,000 worth of value. I can sell the project for $20,000 to $25,000 in the same timeframe. They were happy with the value they were getting, and the fee was a percentage of the value. It no longer had anything to do with how much time it was going to take me or how many hours a week I would devote to that project.
You’ve gone on to use this process very successfully to the point of landing a large project. We’re talking into multiple six figures. How did you get there? From a place of looking at hourly fees and trading your time for money, to a place where you’re landing a product that has multiple six figures. What did that look like? What went into that? How did you make that happen?
In addition to the coaching, a lot of trial and error. When I tried to value database pricing model, I didn’t know how to do it exactly. I had a sense of it, but I got a lot of no’s at first. I had to learn how to be fair with the client and price things in a way that made sense for them as well as for me. It was really a lot of trial and error at first. The large six-figure projects, I don’t land those right away. It starts out with a small offering. It’s a, “Let me come and do an assessment for you.” They get to know me a little bit. I do $4,000, $5,000, $6,000, $7,000 little assessment projects for them. They like what they get from that. That leads into a bigger project. I can say, “How about we do some type of a limited scope project?” Maybe that’s worth $30,000 or $40,000 to them. I take that on and I accomplish that successfully.
I’ve built a foundation of trust. I’ve built the value. They see the value that they’re getting from working with me. They’re seeing real tangible results, whether that’s increased profitability or higher employee morale or a well-designed marketing, and they’re getting more sales opportunities, whatever that may be. They’re interested in taking on a bigger project. We’ve identified something that’s more pervasive across the organization, something that I can help with at organizational level. I’ve built up, over time, this level of contribution to their organization. They want to continue to work with me. That has led to the big six-figure projects.
At the beginning you got your fair share of people saying “no” and not agreeing to your pricing. A lot of people would look at that experience, if they were in your shoes and say, “I guess this new approach that I’m trying of value in ROI focused views isn’t working. It doesn’t work. I’ve had many no’s. This new process isn’t correct. I’m going to go back to what I was doing before.” But you didn’t. You kept on going. What was going on in your mind when that was happening, when you were getting no’s from people? What allowed you to continue going and learn from those experiences and reach the other side where now you’re enjoying great success with it?
Some of it has to do with who I am as a person. I’m not a person who takes a “no” as a failure. A “no” for me is “I’ve got something more to learn and I should try again.” I would go back to them sometime and say, “What didn’t I do right? What did you feel wasn’t handled properly? How could I have done this differently? What is your budget and how do we get to an agreement that works for both of us?”The no’s weren’t like “no” and I didn’t do business with them or talk to them again. A lot of times, the “no” was, “No, this doesn’t look right to me. Let’s talk about it some more. Let’s keep working on how this works for both of us.” I wouldn’t give up. I also had other people telling me that this was the way to go. I had you as a coach telling me that this is the way to price this. I had books I was reading that were backing this up and validating this methodology, this way to operate. I had some other consultant friends that I reached out to and would help me. We would take the names out of the proposals, but we would share the proposals with each other behind the scenes and give each other feedback. All of that helped me to stick with it and keep refining and improving and getting better and better at it. I was really committed to the process and to the end result. I want to sell value-based projects, not time-based projects.
As your business has been scaling up, you’re not doing everything yourself. From the time that I met you several years ago, you had an assistant or someone within your organization. How far back did you bring someone else on into your business? At what stage?
I was probably working with clients actively for about nine to ten months. I had reached this point in the business where I didn’t have enough hours in my day to meet all of my clients’ needs without sacrificing my own time. I didn’t want to go from working 40 hours for somebody else to working 60 hours for a bunch of clients. I wanted to maintain a nice work load and decent working hours. It was at that point that I said, “I want to bring in somebody who can complement me.”That was when I brought in my first person. He was designed to be an additional consultant to work with me. I had him for about six or eight months. Then I brought in an assistant who work in admin. I figured out after about six months of having both of them that the admin was contributing a lot more to the business than the second consultant. He and I parted ways. When I started working with you, he had just left and I just had my assistant. I worked with the assistant up until about four months ago. Now, I’ve got a second person working for me. The assistant turned into my marketing person. She does all the marketing and graphic design work and all the things on the marketing side of the business. I still do the operational stuff. I have an assistant to help me with the operational piece of the business.
You’re a team of three.
Correct. I have contractors I use for piecemeal things, web design, data mining, and things like that.
It’s really great that you took that step early on. A lot of people hold out as long as possible and say things to themselves and fool themselves into believing that, “I can do this faster. There’s no point hiring and training someone else up. That’s going to cost me money to bring someone else on.”Pretty early in your business, like nine months in or so, you made the conscious choice to add someone to your business, to relieve some of that pressure, and allow you to spend more time working with clients and being strategic. What influenced that? Was it just you realizing that you didn’t have enough time and you thought, “One way to do this would be to bring someone else on the could take on some of the work that I have?” Was it something else that influenced your decision to use other people as resources to scale up your business?
There were two reasons for me. The first one was a sense of scalability. I knew that I wanted to take the business bigger and I wanted to take on larger projects. I knew that I couldn’t do it by myself. I knew inherently. I know as being a project manager, running multimillion-dollar construction projects, I can’t be the only person running the show. A general has to have his lieutenants and sergeants. You have to be able to delegate tasks. That was part of it. The other thing was you and I did an exercise. I call it the Tens Exercise. $10, $100, $1,000, $10,000 activities. I remember breaking that down and it was like I need to find somebody who can do all the $10 and $100 activities, so I can focus on the $1,000 and $10,000 activities, working in my sweet spot and learning how to delegate. I had done that as an employee for other people. It made sense to do it in this business as well.
That’s a great exercise to go through, one that I learned from a book by Perry Marshall. It’s been very beneficial for many people. The business has grown to a very nice level. You have a total of three people in the business. How do you approach work-life balance? What are you doing when you’re not working with clients and making a bunch of money?
I like to run and exercise. I try and make time in the evenings. I like to go when the sun’s going down here in Atlanta, maybe about 6 PM or 7 PM and get out and run, burn a few calories and get some movement. I travel a lot for my clients. I’m on the road every other week. I try and make sure I’m doing fun things with friends and girlfriend on the weekends. I try and make sure I scheduled downtime, but I also love working on the business. I will oftentimes sit around and work on client things during the day. In the evenings, if I’m free, I oftentimes will sit around and update the CRM or work on some web design stuff or play around with some creative marketing ideas or just reach out to clients. I schedule some fun client activities. I created a monthly poker night that I invite all my clients and some affiliates and some people I work with. We all get together in one of my client’s offices and we have a friendly, little risk poker game. I bring pizza and beer. Everybody sits around and has a good time. Building those personal relationships continue to enhance the professional relationships as well.
The consulting business is all about relationships. That’s such a great example of how to further strengthen those relationships. What’s the best way for people to learn more about you and your work, and connect with you?
The best way to learn about us is to go to our website which is AscentConsults.com. You can always call us at 404-566-5855. That’s our office line which is a virtual number that me and my assistant both answer. You can even book a consultation with me right on our website. There’s a way to book a meeting with me. That was something that you taught us how to do, the automated calendar integration. I use that for scheduling everything from initial consultations, to client meetings, to ways to book a lunch with me for my friends and family. Those are great ways to connect with us.
Thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate you sharing here with us.
Thanks, Michael. It’s been an honor to be interviewed with you. Thank you for everything you’ve contributed to me and my business.
My pleasure. I’m excited to see where the business goes. I know there’s a lot more growth to come.
Mentioned in This Episode:
The Consulting Success System 2.0 — How to Become a Successful Consultant
The Consulting Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Create and Expand a Seven-Figure Consulting Firm, by Alan Weiss