Are you thinking of venturing into the unknown to pursue building your own business? Today’s guest is Amanda Hill, CEO of Female Forward. Amanda left her position in P&G to pursue her calling in consulting. Amanda was driven by her servant leadership mentality, passion for learning new industries, and her personal desire to have more time for herself and her children to take the leap of faith outside of her comfort zone. What are the important things you need to know when starting your business? Hiring someone to do what you don’t enjoy doing and consulting with mentors are valuable pieces of advice. Want to learn more? Join in the conversation and learn from Amanda’s experiences in building her consulting business!
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Leaving a Multi-Billion Dollar Company to Start a Consulting Business with Amanda Hill
I have Amanda Hill with me. Amanda, welcome.
I’m excited to be here, Michael.
I’m excited for our conversation as well. Amanda, you have years of experience in brand building, advising billion-dollar brands, mid-sized companies and even startups. You served as the North American Feminine Care Brand Director at Procter & Gamble, also known as P&G, where you are a part of adding $100 million in sales. In 2018, you started your consulting business, Female Forward, where you help CPG brands sell more effectively to women. I know you’re also working, not only in CPG. There are other areas of expertise there but let’s dive in. A great place to start would be your experience at P&G. When you think back to those days, what are some of the lessons that you learned at such a well-known brand and company that you still apply now or that you carried with you to this point?
There are two things that I learned at P&G. First is a brand-building framework, how to build brands, understanding the importance of brand equity and strategy, and how strategy informs executional choices. For me, learning the thinking aspect of brand building and marketing was important at P&G, not just executing. That is the skill that I’ve been able to keep and have been able to bring to other industries. It’s a transferable skill. The second thing that I learned and developed at P&G was leadership. P&G prides itself in developing leaders. As I grew in the company, I got to practice and fine tune the ability to have a point of view, have rationale, listen to others, build, problem solve and try to do it all with a collaborative can-do spirit. When I think about my great experience at P&G, it was learning marketing fundamentals and also the softer skill of leadership.
When people often consider these large brands, the strategies that they use, the different vernacular and so forth, oftentimes they don’t feel it’s appropriate or relevant to smaller businesses. I want to speak to you about what you’ve taken from that and how you’ve embedded or embraced some of those larger company practices in your consulting business. In 2018, you started your own consulting business, Female Forward. Why? What was the impetus, the reason for you to leave the corporate world, to leave such a well-known and respected brand by many to start your own thing?
My time at P&G was wonderful. I was enjoying myself there. I was doing well there but admittedly, I had been having a nagging feeling inside that there was more for me to do both professionally and personally. I’ve always been one who has loved learning about other companies and industries. I would love it when I was at P& G. They would bring external speakers and I’d get to see and experience other business challenges. I was intrigued by other brands and businesses that had a different model or worked in a different industry and had different challenges. That was one of the reasons why I started thinking, “Is there a next chapter for me that leverages my skills from P&G, but also lets me explore more business and brand problems that I can help solve?”
It’s certainly personally. I have two children. I was also savoring the time that I had with them. I wanted a lifestyle where I would have more time for them, more time for myself exercising and some of my own joys. When I combine the servant leadership mentality that I had, my passion for learning new industries, and then my personal desire to have a different lifestyle, that’s what led me to consulting. I haven’t looked back. I could never go back. I have enjoyed the blend of those three things as a consultant.Get comfortable with discomfort; be comfortable being outside your comfort zone. Click To Tweet
It’s been an honor watching the development of your business over the years and since we’ve known each other and worked together. What you’re sharing resonates with many people out there who want to realize their potential, want to have more freedom and more time, and so it is a natural transition. What surprised you most or what challenged you the most when you made the leap from corporate to consulting? When you think back about those early few months or even first year, what was the biggest surprise for you? What do you remember as being the biggest challenge for you?
For me, when I look back at that time, the biggest challenge was getting comfortable with discomfort. I’ve been working at the same company for years doing the same type of work. I knew a lot of the people. I don’t think I realized how comfortable I was. When I ventured out, I went from a company of 100,000 to a company of one. I had to get comfortable with being outside my comfort zone. Whether that was getting comfortable with a different income stream, whether that was getting comfortable reaching out to a new people at a new network, whether it was getting comfortable with not knowing the answers. I was starting in a business model that I’d never experienced before.
That’s served me well. I had to change my mindset. What do I have to lose? My father had a great quote, which I held onto during that time which is, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” I remember in those moments of discomfort, when I might have been scared to pick up the phone and call someone or to try a marketing technique for my business, I kept coming back to that quote. Over time, it paid off. For me, the toughest challenge was having to face my own discomfort, and just walk right into it and take action.
That’s a great quote. It’s one I’ve heard before that I agree with. It’s so valuable to recognize that. If you don’t try, you’re not going to know and you’ll have regrets. Anything else that you’ve done or that’s helped you when you’re confronting something that you know you should do but there’s hesitation because it’s uncomfortable or maybe you try something and it doesn’t work out? You start having those thoughts creep in like, “Am I cut out to do this? Should I change something?” What’s been most helpful for you through that process as you’ve faced that discomfort? That is something that every consultant faces at one time or another. Some people are more open in admitting it than others but we all face it. What else have you found? What other kinds of tools do you have in your tool belt for dealing with that?
Another thing that’s helped me is having a network of other consultants who have said, “I tried this and it worked.” That’s given me a lot of confidence through the Consulting Success community, through other former P&G people that I know that are consultants, when they share with me what’s worked for them, even if it’s uncomfortable for me, that has helped me move forward and get over that fear. One of the lessons is surrounding yourself with people who have walked down that path ahead of you because they also help reduce that fear factor that someone, a rookie like me experienced.
It’s even more important where in many places around the world, it’s still hard to go back to the networking events or to the other places. Many of us are spending a lot more of our time online. Tapping into that community and having people around you to support you or to ask questions and get answers is critical. In 2019, you joined our Clarity Coaching Program. One lesson that you’ve implemented and you’ve seen great results with is this idea of hiring, delegating and partnering. Walk us through that in your business specifically. What did things look like before you start to embrace that mindset?
I was experiencing great success, which was wonderful with consulting. At that time, I was a one-woman show. I started realizing that I had a lot of good opportunities that I wanted to say yes to but I didn’t personally have the bandwidth to take on all of that work. That was the first seed that was planted in my head that. I’m going to need to figure out a different solution for growing my business than just relying upon myself. The second seed that led to some changes is I also started realizing there was critical work that I needed to do to grow my business, but it was work that I didn’t enjoy such as developing content, getting my website and my CRM program up and running.
Michael, you helped coach me and said, “Amanda, hire people to help you with this.” You reframed my thinking around the return on that investment. The combination of those two things, of starting to feel stretched with my workload, combined with knowing there were tasks I needed to do to grow my business that I wasn’t that enthusiastic about, led me to enthusiastically jump in to hiring support and partners. I hired people to do the projects that I didn’t enjoy doing on my business such as CRM set up and website design. I also have found some other partners that I bring in that I subcontract that helped me with strategic projects. That frees me up to be able to say yes to the work that I want to do, but also at the same time, delivering high quality results as well.
Maybe that’s where your mindset was regarding hiring, delegating and partnering with others before you made that leap. What beliefs did you have or what do you feel held you back from starting that sooner? Is there anything that you see in hindsight?
The most common one and I experienced this is financial one. Am I going to make as much money if I’m having to pay people to help me? Michael, you helped change my mindset on this. This is the way to grow your business. It does not minimize your financial outcomes. The only way to grow is by bringing in people who can help support you in the mission. Your concept around how much you would pay a contractor versus if you spent that same hour building your business with potential clients, just that reframing was huge for me. It helped me let go of the financial restriction that I was thinking about and helped free me up to dive right in.The only way to grow is by bringing in people who can help support you in the mission. Click To Tweet
If you compare to where you are and what the business is like, what changes have you seen? What impact has it had both from a business perspective but also from a personal lifestyle perspective for you?
It’s paid off for me. There are now few projects that I do by myself. A couple of things, one is professionally. I was on a call with a client where I had brought in a couple of partners to help me share the load and to also bring valuable perspective. He had great things to say as he had shared the work we had done with him up to the CEO. The CEO had great things to say about the work. It validated to me that when you bring in other people, you get a better outcome than when you’re by yourself. That’s one thing I’ve experienced.
Sure enough, I’ve got a second project lined up with that same client because the quality of the work that this small team that I brought in exceeded their expectations. Professionally, it is delighting customers. Personally, it’s enabled me to not have to work at night, not have to work on the weekends, have a little bit of breathing room in the day versus running back and forth to client meetings and trying to squeeze in the work. It’s also freeing up some time for me to think about my own business as well, in addition to my client’s business. For me, it’s been beneficial both personally and professionally.
That’s an area that a lot of people miss when they consider this idea of delegating, hiring or building a team, whether contractors or full-time people. The first thought is around the financial. “I’m spending money to get somebody to do something, should I just do it myself?” One part that people also don’t think about is that when you’re making that investment, you’re buying back your time. For all of us, you’ll never hear anybody on their death bed going, “I wish I had more money.” It’s always, “I wish I had more time. I wish I spent more time with these people, with my loved ones, did these things, challenge myself, living without regrets.” Not only is it a great way to grow your business but you free up a lot more of your own time, which allows you to spend more time on the right areas of the business or more time on the personal side with family and so forth.
The other thing I wanted to mention because it’s an important topic that a lot of people do face is when you think about building a team, what I’ve seen with a lot of people who have come from the corporate world like yourself, Amanda, is initially there’s a hesitation to this idea of, “I don’t want to manage people. I was doing that in the corporate world. That’s one of the reasons I left. I was tired of the politics and bureaucracy. I want to do my thing and have the freedom.” That lasts for a little while but inevitably for those who do want to grow, it’s not necessarily right for everybody but for a lot of people, the initial mindset is, “I don’t want to add more people because that means more management and more work. That’s the whole reason why I made a shift.”
What you’ve seen in many others who have embraced this new mindset is that when you are fully in control, when you call the shots, you get to bring on the right people. You can bring in contractors, freelancers, full-time people and partners. You get to control and structure a team in the way that you want it and need it. You can do it in a profitable way. You can do it in a slow step, moving forward manner. Doing that gives you a lot of pleasure because not only can you surround yourself with other great people, not only are you then helping other people with their livelihoods, supporting them and their family so it’s that whole trickledown effect of building the economy, but then you get the business benefits and the personal benefits.
It is a great path for people to explore. Hopefully, for any of you reading and so forth, consider how you might be able to apply that into your business. One thing, Amanda that I’ve been consistently impressed with as we’ve been working together is how well you implement and take action. Some people will hear ideas and concepts. They think about them and maybe test a little bit here but they don’t immerse themselves into it. I know for many people, 2020 was a challenging year to be in business but your business grew. What are some of the lessons or actions that you’ve taken that have made the biggest difference in 2020 on your business?
I’m naturally an action-oriented person. I like to make it happen. I have tried many things in 2020. The pandemic created space for me to try quite a bit as it related to content, getting comfortable with video content, getting comfortable developing tools that can help people at large. Those are a few things that I put into high gear during the pandemic time period. I’ve maintained that level. I brought someone in to help me so that I can maintain that level. Consistent stream of valuable content, I am seeing the dividends. I’m getting calls from people saying, “Amanda, I thought of you.” I had that happen and I think it’s a function of being top of mind with potential clients through content. It’s been a huge help to my business but it’s also been a huge relief to bring in someone to help me do that at the same time.
The other change that I’ve made to my business is carving out time to focus on my business. Michael, as you know, I was not doing that. You rightfully pointed out that that is something I needed to implement. I now have a designated time during the week where I spend time thinking about who do I need to recontact? What are some capabilities that I need to create within my business? Are there people that I need to hire and bring on? I dedicate that time to building my business. I was not doing that before. I was too caught up in delivering client work 100% of the time. Those are two things that I have done in 2020 that have helped me advance my business and also at the same time without sacrificing my personal life.You miss a hundred percent of the shots you don't take. Click To Tweet
Let’s come back to the big secret from big business. You were working in the corporate world. You had big budgets, big opportunities and lots of time to see and test different things. Many small business owners, consulting firm owners or even solo independent consultants look at what big businesses are doing. Sometimes they just dismiss it because they believe it’s not going to be relevant for what they’re doing. Other times I see people trying to emulate what big businesses is doing but it’s so off target because they’re trying to accomplish something that is not going to necessarily work for their business.
When you think about all the best practices and lessons that you’ve learned, even strategies from P&G and from working with some large clients over the years, what are you seeing or what do you take from that that you think is applicable to the consultant who’s reading this, who either is an independent consultant or maybe a small firm owner? Especially around this idea of brand building. You talked about brand equity and how to go about building a brand, but anything from that marketing or branding perspective that you think is a big opportunity or something that you think many small business owners don’t use or implement well and that could be an opportunity for them.
These are related but there are a couple of things. One is understanding your target audience, whether you’re a billion-dollar brand or whether you are a solopreneur. That is extremely critical. Intimately understanding their needs, their desires, their unmet needs, who the competition is and your target audience’s mind is important inputs. Oftentimes what I see is sometimes people get excited by the latest digital tool or the latest sponsorship. They might be missing what’s relevant for their target audience. That’s a skill that we used in big business that is applicable no matter the size of your company.
That leads to the second thing, which is when you understand your consumer, you develop a strategy or choices to win with them. Oftentimes, what I see in smaller companies is they think they’ve got to be all things to all people and they have to do everything. The fact is in a smaller company, you have less resources so you have even more choices. You have to do the opposite. In order to inform those priorities or choices, you have to understand your target audience. That target audience understanding is what helps shine a light on what are the most critical areas you should invest in or what type of communication you should have for your business. They’re related to me but I think those tenets are true no matter if you’re a one-person show or a one-woman show like I am or whether you are a billion-dollar business is understanding your target audience and using that insight to set priorities or choices for your investments.
We continue to see this idea and application of the 80/20 principle. It’s all about focus. You’re so correct that when you’re a smaller business, if it’s 1 person or 5, 10, 15 employees, you’re still a small business. You don’t have a lot of resources. Your most valuable asset that you have the least of is time. Getting clear on where do you dedicate that time and if you try and spread yourself or spread your different offerings to different types of clients, it only means you can give a certain smaller percentage into any one market or any one idea. There’s a lot more complexity to serve all the different people or different offerings. All that takes away your ability to make an impact. Those are great points.
I want you to put on your fortune teller hat here, Amanda. From a marketing branding perspective, if you cast your mind into the future a little bit down the road, are there any trends, any opportunities or any changes that you think? If you were to make a prediction or a guess into the future, anything that you think the consultant reading this should think about or might have an opportunity in planning for when it comes to marketing and branding into 2022, 2023 and the future from there?
We’re already seeing a shift. In the past, a lot of businesses and brands would tout their tangible benefits, “My product works faster. My product works better.” As a result of the pandemic, what people want even before how your product performs is, are you a good service? It’s customer service. Are you going to answer the phone? Are you going to help me when I have an issue? Are you going to help me assemble this? Are you going to be available for Q&A? That’s the shift that I see including for consultants. Oftentimes we think about our work as a project. We deliver a project. How do we also think about ongoing advising for businesses and companies as an example? People are yearning for more customer service so they can get to the end result better and faster. There’s going to be a real shift from tangible deliverables to more intangible deliverables. That’s true for consultants and it’s true for traditional brands as well.
It resonates with me because I’ve had a couple of experiences where I’ve called up one online brokerage. You’re put into a queue. It’s like hundreds of people. You end up hanging up. It’s happened in a few different situations. It does make me think when I compare an online brokerage that I use to then another investment firm that I work with where I can pick up the phone, call and get one of the head people right away. Even though you might pay a bit of a higher field on one side, it’s worth paying for that because you have access. That principle of what you’re introducing, I never thought about it in terms of that is the way that the future is going, but I love that.
I think that’s powerful. I do believe that every consultant, every firm could benefit from looking at how do you make yourself more accessible, able to provide more strategic insights, support, all of that to be there for your clients. Amanda, you’re an action taker, a high performer. You love getting things done. What are you doing, whether it’s a habit, a routine? What keeps you sharp, focused and performing at those levels? Anything you do from a routine like reading. Anything that is part of your DNA or who you are that others might be able to also learn from.Be proactive at personally developing yourself. Click To Tweet
When you go from a huge company where there’s a lot of established training and speakers to being on your own, you have to be proactive at personally developing yourself. I do quite a few things. I’m a member of the Consulting Success community. That helps keep me sharp. I also am a member of the local marketing association as well so that I can stay in touch with the marketing trends and shifts that are happening. I also take a lot of networking calls with people that are in different industries. I always say yes to those because I learn through those conversations and those people. I like to read. I signed up for the digital version of the Harvard Business Review as well because I’m fascinated with case studies. I want to stay in touch with those. Those are a few of the sources that helped me stay in touch with the industry. Being a solopreneur, the risk is you lose touch. I have had to be more deliberate in creating those connections and carving out time so that I can stay in touch with the industry.
Amanda, thank you so much for coming on here to the show. Even more importantly, where can people go to learn more about you to see your content and what you put out? Tell us where the best places for people to go?
Amanda, thank you again so much.
Thank you, Michael.