Transitions and changes can be challenging at times. It may be a little bit rockier for a short period, but the sooner that you make that transition toward the better, the sooner that you will reap the rewards. Douglas Miller, ElasticSearch expert and consultant, shares his story about his journey upon transitioning from working through agencies and consulting firms to actually building his own business with clients. Douglas shares his best practices to show people how to make that leap to a flourishing success.
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Moving From Agency Work To Starting Your Own Consulting Business with Douglas Miller
I’m excited to have Douglas Miller joining us. Doug, welcome.
Thanks a lot for having me, Michael. I’m excited about being on your podcast for the first time. I’m looking forward to it.
There’s a lot for us to explore and talk about. It’s great to have you share your story. Let’s have you take a moment and explain what you do and what kind of consultant you are.
My company, Weblink Technologies, specializes in implementing and designing Elasticsearch clusters. Elasticsearch over the last couple years has been growing in popularity. For those who don’t know Elasticsearch is, it’s a product that was born from the search space but was morphed to handle data analytics and search. This is an exciting field because with the explosion of data analytics and data science, companies are looking for an easy way to get into the space. Elasticsearch is one of those tools that bridges the gap. One thing because is it’s open source, it’s free and it allows companies to scale and solve different types of problems that they normally wouldn’t have the breath to take on.When you give your rate to recruiters but don’t know what’s happening in the business, at the end of the day you won’t have a business left. Click To Tweet
I want to explore that a little bit more because probably a lot of people may not be familiar with Elasticsearch. It’s something that probably many of us are using on a daily basis, whether we’re logging into Netflix and doing searches or using some other type of online application to search for information on a well-established website or network. You’ve worked with companies like Nike, Walgreens, Dish Network, Boeing and others. I’ve seen firsthand through our work together the tremendous growth of your consulting business. It’s great to have you on the show and to have you share your journey to this point and some best practices that others can benefit from too. One thing that you’ve been working on as you’ve been making us transition the way that you started off, which is like as a contractor or working through another consulting company or an agency to now building this up so that you are working with your own direct end user clients. Let’s explore that. Why did you decide that was an important step for you to take in your business?
I’ve been in technology for a while and I’ve done consulting on and off again. I never knew what I was doing. I thought I did until I got to a point where I kept having the same types of experiences. Some people might be aware of it where you are contacted by ex-recruiter, they’re asking for what your rate is on the spot. You’re over the place as far as what the rate is, you don’t understand exactly what’s happening with the business. You’re giving them a rate and you’re leaving a lot of money on the table. On top of that, at the end of the day, at the end of your engagement, you typically don’t have any business left. The client is done with you and so as the agency, unless they can find you something else. After doing four or five years of that, I started asking myself some questions.
The question came down to the value that is being brought to the table. I ran into situations where agencies will typically see me as the talent only and that’s it. No other value was brought, whether you solve the client’s problems, whether the client was making $1 million more because of your solutions or what you’re doing. You were typically seen as just talent and you have no business pretty much after the engagement is done. That’s where I got to the point where I felt it’s time for a change. I started looking at different ways to change what I was doing and move into the next phase of my career where I no longer had to depend on third parties to find my clients for me. That’s when I started down the path of actually exploring what exactly it would take in order to bring major clients to my doorstep.
What would you say are some of the big lessons that you’ve learned that others might benefit from in your journey of going from working through agencies and other consulting firms to building your own business with clients that you’re working with directly where you’re able to provide a lot more value directly to them but also receive greater compensation as part of that value that you’re delivering? What are some big lessons that stand out for you?
There are riches in niches. You have to compartmentalize down or get good at something that’s either considered a niche or something that you can use to set yourself apart from the crowd. That is one of the key determining factors that’s going to allow you to be able to scale to the next level. Consulting can be very competitive. It’s important to differentiate yourself in some unique way and take that one thing and start marketing it directly to companies and getting feedback. That’s exactly what I started doing. I started with more of an article writing, content generation to establish my experience and my skill set from more of an industry standpoint. These were things that people were talking about in the industry behind the scenes but nobody was publishing and nobody’s starting that conversation. I started generating different types of content and articles, which I felt was a key to my industry and bringing up that conversation to a lot of companies. That started getting the ball rolling. At least it got me noticed.
What you’re saying is one of the steps that you’ve taken that’s worked well for you to be able to shift from working through agencies to building your own consulting business where there’s a lot more value that can be created is to work on building your authority? You’ve done that through content and then be able to leverage that content to share with prospective ideal clients that gets their attention, positions you as the expert that they want to work with. That creates a conversation to go further and move forward together. Is that what you’re saying?There are riches in niches. Click To Tweet
That’s exactly what I did. Using LinkedIn as a platform to start that conversation is always a good starting step. That got a lot of visibility and reaching out, having those drip campaigns to your targeted audience is important. That’s the key thing. That’s going to help you overcome that fear and give you more confidence to say no to those recruiters when you need to get that feedback from the decision makers.
When you say drip campaigns is setting up some of the things that we worked through where you are identifying your ideal client. That can be through LinkedIn or another platform or place and then focusing on how you start to build a relationship with them in a meaningful and relevant way? How can you add value for them? In your case, that’s providing content to them. When you say drip, what you’re referring to is being able to do that consistently. It’s not a one time, “I’m going to try and win this person’s business type of transactional mindset.” It’s about creating, strengthening, and sustaining a relationship with ideal clients over the long-term. You do enough of that and that starts to build your pipeline.
That’s the key thing, building that pipeline. It’s one key thing that I want people to know about the campaign. The ultimate goal is to get those clients to your door and want to engage with you. More importantly, you want to build a pipeline. For example, if your content is good and you’re hitting on an area that the community is talking about or interested in, you’re going to have a couple of 100 to 300 people looking at that content. That’s pretty good. Those clicks and those views can filter into your overall pipeline. You understand where they’re coming from, you understand what they’re clicking on, what they’re looking at and what terms are important to them. That helps zero in on who you need to be talking to next.
Did you face any hesitation when the majority of your business was coming from agencies and other sources not under your own business? Making that leap from having business come to you and working as a consultant, not a consulting business owner at that early stage, which a lot of people consider themselves to be consultants or contractors, they don’t actually have their own business. Making that leap to committing to building your business. Did you have any concerns or hesitations when you were applying to make that leap?
Yeah. A lot of people might be thinking this, especially people in my shoes that has started down this road. First, you’re going to rebel against that idea. You like the idea of being able to have your own business and have you consulting and have clients. Starting off, you may not totally commit. You may say, “I’ll try it but if somebody comes along with a decent offer, I’m probably going to want to take it.” The main hesitation is to say no. Say no to that recruiter that has that $100 an hour offer for you and that you feel you want but realistically is not going to get you to where you need to be. For me, it was getting to the point where I was consistently saying no to those recruiters. I was following the path with the drip campaigns and putting out good high-quality targeted articles to my ideal candidates, my ideal customers. That was pretty much the scariest part because you don’t know if it’s actually going to convert. You don’t know when it’s going to convert. That causes a lot of hesitance.
It’s like a chicken and egg situation. It’s very hard to say no when someone’s offering you a contract that might be $50,000, $100,000 or maybe even $300,000 over a period of time. The challenge so many people have when they say yes to that is now all their time is accounted for. You can’t create more time, which leaves you with little opportunity to build your own business. It is very hard to do that but the commitment that you made and others have made, once you say that, “I’m turning down short-term money but I’m building this for the long-term. It might mean that the road will be a little bit rockier for a short period of time as I make that transition.” The sooner that I make that transition and start working on building my business, the sooner that you’re able to actually reap the rewards that come from having a business and not one agency or client.
The most important thing is to take a step back and develop a process of testing. I like to take a process that I use called test, operate, test and exit. I like to test things first, put a mode of operation in place, test it, operate it for a minute and then get my feedback and then create another test for operating for a minute, when it works then I exit. I know this thing works. It’s important to have those different types of strategies in place where you’re able to say, “I need to take one part of what I’m doing, and I need to develop it into a very short re-sellable package. Hours that let’s say for example, you can do something in two hours but you’re selling it as a ten-hour package, which doesn’t take a lot of your time. Something you can use to test. I put it out there to the actual potential customers and get immediate feedback. That’s going to help build the confidence for you to say no to that recruiter that’s going to say, “I’m going to give you $100 an hour.” You’re getting feedback from actual customers and decision makers, which is going to help haul your process down the line.Building a pipeline is the key thing on drip campaigns. Click To Tweet
You mentioned that one of the big things for you has been mindset. Talk a little bit about what you mean when you say learning a new mindset. What is the new mindset that you’ve been adopting? How has it been paying off for you?
The one thing that I realized I had to shift was my understanding of value. That is a major mindset shift. Most of the people you talked to wouldn’t understand what you’re talking about. Understanding what your value is, how you sell value and how you get your client to understand the value of what you’re doing is a big shift. Value determines what you’re going to charge if that client is coming back and you wanted to put a pretty big bill right in front of them. Automatically, they’re going to balk and say, “We don’t want to pay this but they don’t understand the value that they’re getting.”
What would a before and after look like? Before this mindset that you’ve adopted, how would you have approached a client situation around pricing? Let’s look out how you would maybe approach that in terms of value or the mindset that you would have towards that. What was the before look?
The before look would be very simple. It would have been five minutes on the phone with a recruiter and probably about the third question would have been, “What’s your rate?” That doesn’t exist. You have no concept of your value. You basically market.
What is your approach when you’re speaking with a prospective client? How are you thinking more value? How’s the plan out?
For prospective client I’m thinking that I need to understand exactly what their number one goal is. What are some of the pain points that they’re experiencing and why they’re contacting me? I’ve found is that clients contact me because they’re in some type of pain or crisis. They’re are exploring an area and they think they know the value of what they want to get it or they think they know what Elasticsearch can do for them. They see the potential of what Elasticsearch can do for them. They’re coming to me because they don’t want to go down the path of an expensive installation and not getting the value out of what they think they should have got. With that type of understanding, I’m able to approach a client understanding exactly what are some of the pain points? What are some of the wins, goals, and gains that they’re going to get from having this and pricing my value appropriately? It’s more of a percentage of what they’re going to get. Some of these clients are pretty big. I went from maybe a six-figure engagement to a seven-figure engagement working with one client doing one installation. Before that was completely unheard of as far as what I would even ask for client. I make sure they have enough budget in order to engage with me before I even had that conversation.
By going from a six-figure engagement to a seven-figure engagement, it sounds like that’s had a pretty big impact on your business and the trajectory of your growth overall.The major mindset shift is to shift your understanding of value. Click To Tweet
Ever since I’ve been working with you and your system, I have doubled my double pretty much. I’m on track to do seven figures with what I’m doing with the client base. I’ve been engaged with some pretty large clients that have approached me for the same type of services directly. This hasn’t been through a third party. If I named some of the names people would know who they are. Because of that, I’m able to approach them and say, “What you’re trying to do, this is basically what it’s going to cost.” I’ll be right, it’s not like it’s through a third party, it’s basically through utilizing the principles that I’m saying, “Understanding the value, understanding what they’re going to gain and then pricing it appropriately based off of that.”
Every time you and I have a conversation, it’s exciting for me because you’re sharing a new win or a new progress, initiative or engagement you’ve begun or that you’re in discussions with. It’s always good stuff that’s happening. You’re always making progress, which is amazing to see. I’m excited by what you’re accomplishing. People who are looking at their current consulting business, whether that’s the early stages or the mid stages, they’ve been doing this for a while but they want to achieve greater growth. What would you say to them in terms of coaching? How important do you believe that that is for someone regardless of what industry they’re in or what type of consultant they are in order to grow to that next level?
If there’s a consultant that doesn’t have a coach, they probably won’t make it to the next level. I’m going to be completely honest with you.
Why do you say that?
Coaching is what champions do. If you think about Michael Jordan, you can’t forget about his coach, Phil Jackson. Michael Jordan alone, he’s a great talent. He’s a great superstar but people don’t realize that he had a coach. He had someone that can direct that talent and help grow that talent. Without an actual coach and a coach in the area that you’re trying to expand in, you’re not seeking that third-party mentorship in order to get to the next level. All the most successful CEOs in history will have some type of coaching that’s the best kept secret in the industry. A lot of those people that you see are great and they’re magnificent. They have very good coaches behind them in order to get to that next level, you need a coach in order to get to the next level.
I appreciate you coming on here sharing a bit of your journey. It’s been amazing to see the progress and what you’ve just been accomplishing. I know big things are going to continue to happen for you here. I also want to make sure that people can learn more about you and your work, especially for those who are interested in Elasticsearch. Doug is a real expert in Elasticsearch and in your LinkedIn profile, there are some accomplishments. Some ROI that you’ve helped your clients to achieve like savings of $500,000 or reducing things by 60%. Some real tangible savings in ROI and value that you deliver for your clients. That’s probably also an important aspect of your messaging and that’s helped you with your marketing. Look at what Doug has put together here. What he’s doing is a good example of a best practice to build a business and to shift from working with agencies or other consulting firms to building your own consulting business. With that said, Doug, I want to make sure that people can learn more about your work, have an opportunity to potentially connect with you if that’s all right. Where’s the best place for them to learn more about you and your work?
Doug, thanks so much for coming on. I appreciate it.
Thank you so much for having me, Michael. This is a great opportunity to connect and share my story.
Have a great one.