Business doesn’t always have to be all about the technical processes. It’s also about the people running it. Professional speaker and corporate relationship expert Tony Chatman works with the people side of business to determine the kind of leadership that either makes the business succeed or fail. He points out how, too often, people are trained for very specific technical expertise, failing to give them the proper skill set to navigate the relationships that help the organization to jump to the next level. Gathering his own personal experiences, he shares what led him to this realization and then taking it into speaking engagements that allowed him to reach out to many organizations. Tony shares some tips on how you can do it yourself, helping your business grow and helping others as well.
I’m excited to have Tony Chatman joining us. Tony, welcome.
Thanks for having me.
Tony, for those who don’t know you, take a moment to explain what you do.
I’m two things. I’m a professional speaker and then I’m a Corporate Relationship Expert. What that means is when organizations hire me, they’re not trying to fix the processes or their products but they’re focused on the people side of the business. I help leaders and teams become more effective. I especially work with groups where they’re going through change and disruption and I also deal with certain obstacles that keep organizations from being able to be connected. Things like unconscious bias, that’s often a dysfunction that keeps the relationships within the organization from being effective.
You’ve worked with the US Secret Service, Chase Bank, Estée Lauder, NASA, a whole bunch of others to help people reach those new heights of effectiveness by what you call understanding themselves and others better. Explain to us what that is and how do you do that.If you don’t welcome people, they are less likely to come. Click To Tweet
When I first got into the business, I came in as a chemical engineer. I had very specific training that was effective and useful in my industry. I came into the business even though I was coming into the ground level, I had a running start. I’m ready to go. Very quickly as I started taking on leadership positions, I realized that although I had a lot of technical training, it was often the people side of the business or the human dimension of business that was determining whether an organization was successful or failing. I’m trained in how to work with a Fourier Infrared Spectrometer, that’s what I do. Now I’m dealing with all of these different personalities, needs, wants and motivations. I started to see that’s not what I was trained for. People are thrown into business being trained in very specific technical expertise and yet they often don’t have the skillset to be able to navigate the relationships. Being able to work in those areas, I’ve seen it helps people, groups, teams and whole organizations be able to make the jump to the next level.
The audience reading this is probably thinking how does a chemical engineer become a Corporate Relationship Expert? What did that path look like? How did you go about taking that technical and scientific background and then shifting it into the more of the corporate side? Did you go and get training? Did you consume books and courses and then apply it? What did that path look like?
It was a combination of all those things. After I started failing miserably as a leader, I realized I have to get help. I had a good mentor and he pointed me in some specific directions in terms of books and workshops. Once I started doing that, I began to go after with this incredible appetite. I had to devour everything I could. I went to grad school, one of the top MBA programs in the world. As I was doing it, my wife and I made a decision that we wanted to leave our corporate jobs and work in the area of nonprofit. That was where the learning curve began for me because we worked in a faith-based nonprofit and I was leading large groups of people. At the same time, I was interacting with people at a personal level and I started to see certain patterns. I view engineering almost like I view the Marines. Once you’re an engineer, you’re always an engineer. I look at things in a particular way that people who are not engineers don’t. They just don’t look at things that way.
What is that? I’ve interviewed and I know many successful marketers and business owners who have their background as an engineer. What is it that you see or that you find that you’re able to observe and to identify that others maybe overlook?
First, I look for patterns. Certain patterns make themselves evident. Once you have a pattern, I understand that the pattern is rarely as simple as it seems. Things work well in a vacuum. Most of your formulas are made to be in a perfect situation, but then there are all of these outside factors that start to come in. The same thing happens as I’m looking at things from an engineering standpoint. I’m able to say, “This works, but it works in this situation because of this. It works in this situation because of this, and it does not work at all in these three situations.”
Can you give us an example of how you apply that to your business or even the early days of leading that nonprofit?
Delegation. It’s one of the things I had to do and one of the things many of your readers have to do, especially if they’re business owners and entrepreneurs. You get to this point where you can no longer run the company by yourself. You become the limiting reagent. You’re the bottleneck. You have to start hiring people. Now, you’ve got to bring in this whole team of people who you think, “I’ve got people who have my vision, have my dream, have my passion,” but not to start offloading things to them which is so hard to do when this is your baby. Most people say, “I have to start delegating.” They have some very basic principles. Make sure you have buy-in. Make sure you reward success. Make sure you give feedback. I look at it and say, “There’s a process to this.” Before you do anything, you have to make some basic assessments.
As I started delegating and seeing what was going right and what was going wrong, I said, “For these people, I don’t fully trust them.” It’s not just that I don’t trust them. It’s one of two areas. I either don’t trust the fact that they’re reliable or I don’t trust their basic knowledge, skills, and ability, KSAs. I don’t trust they’re reliable. That either means I don’t trust that they’re motivated or they have character issues. I’m going to have to manage them differently as I’m delegating responsibilities to them. I’m going to have to have certain benchmarks. I’m going to go back and I’m going to check those benchmarks and make sure that they’re following through on what they said they’re going to do. I’m going to be far more likely to regulate their progress if I trust their knowledge, skills and ability. If I don’t trust their knowledge, skills and ability, then I’m going to have to develop them.
This is a great example of approaching anything in our businesses or life in a more methodical way. Most people in terms of hiring, they’d say, “I have this need and I need to go find someone to help me with,” and they would go and try and find that person. They wouldn’t think about, “How do I measure the success of that person? What are the different components or variables that based on what I see or what I need to look for, I might need to make adjustments?” You’re already seeing a few steps ahead, whereas a lot of people go at it and get things started, but they’re not seeing as far around the curve as you might be.
I’m trying to see around the curve and I’m trying to go back and say, “What were the components that are going to make them successful around the curve? How do I measure those components, not just their success?” Those are the building blocks to what’s going to happen later. If I fail at this first step, I’m done. I’m toast.Speaking is not about you selling; it's about you having something to share with the world. Click To Tweet
This is an important point and for everyone reading, you might be wondering this is a little bit different than what we often talk about on the podcast. This specifically is a great example and an opportunity for all of us to look at how we approach our goal setting, measuring objectives, and charting out where we want to take our business, our success and our life. Thinking about it through some additional filters and getting granular around how do we measure success? If we get this result, what do we then need to do? How do we approach or how do we fix it? How do we optimize it? I want to come back to your story because there’s a lot that we can uncover here that will be of benefit for everyone. You started this nonprofit. You shared with us how you started to make the shift from being an engineer to leading others. Figuring out how to improve leadership or how to work with people and start to develop a process around that. At what point did you then decide, “I’m going to go out and become a consultant. I’ll start to speak, work and to advise organizations around this area of relationships and leadership.”
I burned out. I was overworked. If there’s a problem with nonprofit is that it’s nonprofit. I’m overworked, underpaid. My wife is working with me. She’s starting out health issues. I try to go back to being a chemical engineer. Technology has passed me up, there’s no angle back. I start a company with a friend. It goes well for a while. I ended up training traders for a hedge fund, but the market changed. The US went to war. Everything’s crazy. I find myself working a temp job for an engineering firm and I realized within a week, “I can’t do this. This is not who I am.” In my mind, I’m going back and I’m trying to connect the dots. What are the things that I’m good at that made me successful along the way? The other thing I did is I pulled together a group of my closest friends. These were people who have known me for eight, ten, twelve years professionally, personally and they have a bit of influence. I said, “We need to meet. We need to talk. I need someone to help me process this because I’m in the middle of it. I can’t see it, but I need your help,” and so I put together my own little advisory group. We met at a friend’s house and one of them asked me the proverbial, “Tony, if you could do anything in the world, what would it be?”
At the time, I was honestly thinking about business development but because I had been connecting the dots, I almost reflexively said, “If I could do anything, I’d get paid to speak.” I didn’t know that was a business, but it came out. These are people who had seen me speak hundreds of times. They believed in me. Three weeks later, I found myself in Bermuda opening for Les Brown, the motivational speaker. That was the beginning of it and I got a taste. I had to go back and say, “It’s great that I had the skill set to do this, but I don’t know how to run this as a business.” I took eleven months and worked for a seminar company. I viewed it as going to grad school. I spoke five days a week in different cities, three weeks out of the month. I was vetting out how accurate is the information that I have? How do I market? How do I sell? What resonates? What doesn’t resonate? At the end of eleven months, I walked away from that and honed in on, “Here’s what I’m doing. Here’s my focus. This is my business.”
What did you take from that? Eleven months of living, breathing, having the benefit of seeing systems that are already working and figuring out how they could be improved and so forth. When you then took that into starting your own business, what was the first thing that you did to go and get a client?
First to back up, the thing about working with a seminar company is they give you a workbook but it’s up to you to make it come alive. You may have eight different modules. You get to decide how much time you spend on each module, what you emphasize, what you don’t emphasize. Quickly, I knew these are key triggers. Because I was getting feedback from certain managers within the group, I was immediately getting, “Here are my pain points,” and it was a very clear pattern. I knew exactly what to do. I first started with my personal network. They are people who I knew that knew that I had the skill set, but also that I knew would make a true business decision. I didn’t want any favors. I didn’t want any handouts. I just wanted to leverage my connections and I began getting business that way.
What did that look like? Did you send an email to those people saying, “This is what I’m doing,” and you talked about how you could help them? Did you suggest jumping on a phone call? Did you meet people in person? More specifically, what did you do to get that first couple of clients?
I met people in person as much as I could.
These were more local people to you at that time?
They were local. Certain people I traveled to and certain people I did call. This was before Zoom. There’s nothing like, especially when you’re breaking into the business, face-to-face. I don’t even read my emails. Who reads all of their emails? No one has time to do that. What gets lost in an email is passion. I knew it if people could see my passion as well as my expertise because as they could ask me questions, they’re vetting me. They’re trying to see, “How real are you, Tony? Is this a phase you’re going through? Did you just read one book or do you know this? I know you’ve led before, but do you really know this?” That put me into some interesting circles, one in which I was at a Blue Ocean Strategy meeting and everyone in the room was a VP or higher for a Fortune 500 company. It was because I had been vetted by people that I respected and they said, “I’m going to bring you into this circle and now your network is expanding.” It was personal, but one of the phrases that came up quite often because I built a lot of trust with people was, “Tony, I know two things. I know that number one, you take your reputation seriously and number two, you would never do anything to hurt me or my business.” Those two things got me in a lot of doors.
Those opened the doors for you. The relationships you had, the network you had got you your first few consulting or speaking clients. What about now? What’s working for you best in terms of your lead generation and creating new opportunities to work with clients?If you’re not doing an offer to help someone, then you’re doing a disservice to the people and the business. Click To Tweet
For me, the number one thing is speaking breeds more speaking. If I speak in an event, if I give a workshop, I will normally walk away with at least two or three referrals for more business. It’s the quality of what I bring, it is the connection that I make and it’s the relationship and the credibility that bring throughout the entire process. I’m customer-oriented throughout the entire process. I have an assistant, but I’m the one who’s on the phone with people who want to hire me. I’m the one who is making sure that they feel connected to me and not just connected to my company. I can still do that at this level. I may not be able to do that forever, but I can. The biggest thing is the more I get to speak, the more I get hired. What that also does is it allows me to do more than speak. For example, I had an organization hear me speak. They said, “We need to change the entire culture of our organization. Can you help us do this? We have a harassment culture. We have 8,000 employees and we need you to spearhead this.” I could not have gotten that through an email. There’s no possible way. I couldn’t have gotten that through a sales call. When they heard the legitimacy of what I was bringing and saw everyone else’s response and then we’re able to ask me specific questions and I could quickly answer them. They felt that I was the person.
I want to find out how you’re getting these speaking engagements. Before that, are you doing anything during the talk that you’re delivering that is helping you to generate leads? Is there some form that you pass out or are you suggesting that people come up to you at the back of the room after the talk? What have you found that works best to help you to get people to come up to you afterward or to inquire after the talk? Where are you generating leads?
I’ve played with that for a long time and I’m still playing with it. The first thing is from stage I ask. I literally say something to the nature of, “Many of you are looking to hire someone to come in and address something like this,” or I’ll say, “Many of you know that your organization is looking to bring someone in. Don’t you want someone that you know is credible, that’s effective and that’s entertaining? What we don’t want to do is sit through any more boring meetings, boring training, etc.” I literally ask. I’ll often have a form there with them as well. It’s a follow-up form, but it’s a referral form. The first part of it is, “Would you give me a testimonial? What would you like best? What would you like to change?” Truthfully, I’m even looking at it. It’s there because it’s there but then afterward it’s, “Do you know anyone who could benefit from this training? Please give me their contact information,” then I ask for their contact information if they’re willing to give me that as well. If I have that form, I’ll probably have twelve to fifteen names when I walk out. What I will next do is I will email the person who gave me the referral. I’ll ask them to introduce me. You’re connecting with them immediately because there’s a certain amount of credibility that if Michael refers me to Renee and says, “Renee, Tony’s awesome,” that’s much different than me saying, “Michael gave me your number.”
How do you collect those forms? Are you asking people to bring them up to you? Do you walk around? Is someone that’s working with you go and pick them up? What are the actual steps you take to get those forms back?
I normally have someone with me and I ask people to hand them to that person. What that allows is it draws two lines. If walking out, everyone’s giving that form to that person. People go, “I should give that form. It’s a group thing.” It also keeps me from getting blocked by people who want to come up and have a conversation because there’ll also be a number of people who say, “Here’s my card. I want to hire you to do X,” like speaking in Atlantic City a couple months ago and, “I work for the State Department. I need you to do X,” and, “I work for Homeland Security. I need you to do X.” It was about four people like that, all of whom have already hired me. I want to distinguish between that referral of someone else who, “This person could benefit,” versus, “I want to hire you myself,” and want that to be two distinct lines.
This is a great example of you’re making an offer. You’re letting people know you’re inviting them to become a client or to at least learn more. These days, many people are concerned about being too salesy, too promotional or too strong. They hold back completely for asking for anything, making a suggestion or providing an invitation to that prospective buyer. If you don’t ask, if you don’t let people know that they’re welcome to hand in a form, to reach out to you or to get in touch then it’s less likely they’re going to. How do you get these speaking engagements? What are you doing? What’s working best for you to land speaking engagements?
I struggle with coming across as salesy, as self-promoting, as even narcissistic. I wrestle with that. My mindset is when I’m onstage I give you everything I can give you. It’s entertaining but it is densely packed with actionable information. If you use these strategies, you will see a difference. When I come back, I feel confident in saying, “Wouldn’t you like me to replicate this for whoever I’m doing this for?” That’s what I’m selling. I met with a social media influencer. He said, “It’s not about you selling, it’s that you have something to share with the world.” Whether it’s my book, my CDs or me speaking, I feel that it’s of a quality that it’s beneficial. In that way, it’s easier for me mentally to ask for that. I don’t feel like I’m selling something for the sake of selling it. I’m selling it because if you implement this, your workplace will be better and you’ll make more money.
That’s what it’s all about is providing value. It’s about helping people to solve problems. If you saw someone come up to you and they were completely dehydrated, you could tell that they weren’t where they should be. You had a bottle of water or you could fill up a glass of water and offer it to them, you wouldn’t do that being afraid of offending them or something. You would say, “Here’s some water,” and if they drink that quickly, you probably would say, “Would you like some more?” because you know that it’s going to benefit them. It’s the same thing with our businesses. If we believe that we can help someone, add value and solve a problem that they might have then it’s our responsibility to at least let people know. It’s their option whether or not to say yes to want to learn more about that and to engage. If we don’t make that offer, then we’re doing their business, their situation and them personally a disservice and we’re doing our business a disservice as well. How do you go out and get these speaking engagements? What have you found to work best? Maybe for someone who’s reading this that has been consulting for some time? They’re good at what they do but they keep hearing from other guests on the Consulting Success Podcast or they know themselves that speaking can help to grow their business. What should they do? How should they approach going out to get more speaking engagements?
I’m going to start with how I started getting speaking engagements. If that’s what people are wondering, then they need to be able to start where I started. 2008 recession, I lost all my clients. Back to ground zero. The first thing I decided was on an industry. I said, “It’s a recession. The federal government is the place to go during a recession. They print their own money literally.” The internet was the internet, but it wasn’t the internet not like it is now. I went to the library. I pulled out this book of associations and looked for as many federal association conferences as I could and I contacted them. There still was an internet, I also Googled it. I said, “Federal conferences,” and certain ones came up. There’s a National Conference for Blacks In Government. There’s the National Conference for Federally Employed Women. There are all these conferences that come up and many of them had a call for speakers’ right on their website. I looked at their call for speakers and I started applying.
I took my topics and I tweaked them for the Federal Government. By tweaking them, it wasn’t that I added the Federal Government in as part of the wording. I did a little research. I said, “For the Federal Government, there’s a thing called ECQs, Executive Core Qualifications.” For a person to become an executive in the Federal Government, they have to meet these five standards. They have to be able to lead people, lead during change, and they have to have business acumen. They have to be results-driven and they have to be able to build coalitions. Those are five things. Can I take any of my topics and make sure that when a person reads this, they think, “This ties into that ECQ,” so I started doing that. When I applied within the federal space, they would look and they’d go, “This is relevant to the development of our leaders,” and it turns out that even when there’s a budget issue, those five areas are mission critical. Even when there’s no budget, there’s a budget for those areas.People die from overexposure. Decide what events work for you. Click To Tweet
I slowly began getting to speak at a couple of conferences. I learned more from speaking at the first two conferences than I gained in terms of business. I learned what I was doing wrong. I got lots and lots of feedback. Not just feedback forms, I talked to people afterward. I hung out at the conference. I bought people drinks. I went, “What’d you think? What can I do differently?” They would say, “Here’s what you don’t know about the federal space,” and they would tell me. The same time I also realized there are certain journals and magazines that people in the federal space read. What I would try to do is target them to write articles just to build credibility because I didn’t have any federal clients yet. Those two things started to build a little bit of a brand name.
The next year when it came around, I was speaking at those same conferences. It was this magical thing where now my breakout rooms are full because people remembered me from last year. They saw an article. They read something and they started inviting their friends to my workshops. Now I’m getting major business from it. The first year I got speaking engagements, I got a gig at the EPA. The next year, it was like the National Security Agency. It was the Secret Service. It was these high-profile agencies that people came to my workshop just to vet me and see if they could bring me in to speak.
For those first few speaking engagements you landed, were they paid or did you do them for free? What did that look like?
Free. I came in and I spoke for free because I trusted in my speaking skills. I knew there’s no amount of writing a bio. There’s no amount of writing an article. There’s not even a good enough video that can capture what it’s like to be in the room with me. I always have believed if I can get you in the room and I have a microphone, I got you. I was willing to speak for free. Even now I’ll target eight to ten events that I’ll speak at for free, but they’re my choice and I go with the specific intent. For example, I’m trying to get more nongovernment business. This year I’ve targeted specific events and I’m willing to speak at some at full fee, some at a minor fee, some at no fee because I’m more interested in building the brand in that industry.
At what point did you recognize and decide to make the switch from saying yes to free? Were you providing speaking engagement and talk to someone without any compensation for saying, “I’m only going to now take on or go after paid speaking gigs?”
I don’t know if there was a point. Here’s what I’d say. Within six months, I started to be able to tell which events if I spoke at for free could bring in money and which events were a waste of time. That’s why I say it’s my choice. I always have someone say, “Can you come to speak at my event for free? It’s great exposure,” and my response is, “People die from exposure.” I get that and I get what they need to do. I totally understand it but for the most part, people have a budget. Me having the confidence of saying, “I know you have a budget,” changes the game.
What I found in the speaking engagements that I’ve had over the years is that even sometimes when someone says that they don’t have a budget initially. When you come back and if you want to generate direct revenue from that actual talk, coming back and letting them know, “I can’t do this for free, but what is your budget? What can you make work?” that often has resulted in, “We have $5,000. We could put towards this. We were applying to but it certainly seems like this would make sense.” Sticking to your ground or deciding what works for you and what doesn’t work for you is important. The other thing that you mentioned here and I hope it’s coming across for everyone is that speaking, even if you’re not receiving direct compensation from it, it’s marketing. It puts you in front of your ideal clients in a powerful way that allows them to see you and to start receiving value in having that trust, that relationship and that rapport-building up. They’re a lot more comfortable. You’ve clearly demonstrated here two engagements on the back end, into the workshops or consulting engagements that then come from the speaking.
Another question here for you is as you’re going to all these different conventions and conferences. You’re giving talks and you’re walking out of the room with piles of paper with people that are interested and you’re getting inquiries afterward. I would imagine that you have a fair bit of potential lead flow. You have this pipeline with a lot of different contacts in it. How are you managing that? What have you found to work best for you to stay top of mind for all these people? I’m sure not everyone that becomes a contact in your database is ready to buy from you at this exact moment. What are you doing to ensure that they’re thinking of you? Even though they may not buy right now, they might then want to buy in a few weeks, months or years down the road?
That’s the golden thing. I realized I don’t have the bandwidth to do it all, so I hired an assistant who has a background in building sales funnels and helping work CRMs and all of that stuff. I was more worried about that than someone who could organize my emails. One of the things I didn’t mention as far as building my list. I’ve experimented with the text to opt-in. That’s hit or miss. I’ve had some. I’ve had 100% opt-in. I’ve had others where I’ve had 10% and it seemed hit or miss. One of the things that I have liked doing and I can do this now easier with an assistant is to say, “If you give me your business card, I will email you some form of notes for this workshop and also we’re going to do a drawing.” The drawing will often either be I’m going to give away a free book or let’s say I’m speaking at a conference.
I did this in Kansas City where I spoke eight times over five days. There was this huge market that was next to the convention center that everyone went to eat at. I went to the owner and said, “Would you be willing to give me ten gift cards that I would basically give away to audience members, but in doing I’m going to promote your establishment.” “Absolutely, no brainer.” He didn’t blink. He would have given me 50 if I’d asked. In the beginning, my assistant would pass this thing around say, “If you guys put your business card in this bowl or hat, we’re going to auction off a gift card to one lucky winner. We’re going to give you a copy of the notes because many of you are going to have to go back and report back what you’ve learned and you’re going to be opted in to get more information.” People loved it. 8,000 names later that’s how I built that part of the list. My assistant helps me do my monthly newsletter, which I’m trying to convert to text. People aren’t reading the emails, the open rate’s low. That’s the trend so I’m figuring that part out.
More importantly, there’s a huge difference between my casual contacts, my referred leads and my hot leads. I break them into those basic three categories. My hot leads, I’m on them. I’m emailing them personally, we’re having discussions. I’m doing this thing our friend, George B. Thomas, is helping me figure out. I’m not just sending them emails but I’m sending the emails of me giving them a personalized video. I’ll shoot a video for them and I have a sheet of paper with their name on it like, “This is to Mark,” and far greater likelihood that they’re going to open that video and far greater likelihood that they’re going to listen for two minutes versus read 500 words. That’s how I’m managing it. It’s still a work in progress. I know that I’ve got money slipping through the cracks in a few places. I’m trying to patch those up.
It’s good that you’ve made that decision to bring someone on to help you in that area. Far too often people hold off on that. They think, “I can do it myself. It’d take too long to train them. They’re not going to get it right. It’s going to cost me money,” but they’re not seeing the investment side of it. There’s so much money slipping through the cracks. A great way to start plugging those holes is to figure out what are the real priorities? What could I be doing better? By filling some of those things will then allow us to start to accumulate a lot more opportunities.
That was huge for me because, honestly I was making good money by myself. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. I knew to get to where I wanted to get to and to spread my message out farther, I was getting it my own way and I had to bring someone else on.
You’re generating more than in terms of revenue and income than a percent of the speakers or more out there. What is the biggest contributing factor to that? What do you feel allows you or helps you to generate significantly more revenue than others?
Other than I believe I’m good at what I do, I know my marketplace. I know what’s hot. I know what the price points are. People give me input, “You should raise your pricing.” I can in this market. I’ve been building in this marketplace for a long period of time, I have a strong enough brand that I have traction. I stayed with this marketplace for several years. Where others have jumped ship, it’s allowed me to have enough of a name that I can stay here and be known.
I appreciate you coming on the show. I want to make sure that people can learn more about your work, see what you’re up to and connect. What’s the best place for people to go to learn more about you?
You have some great resources on your website as well, Tony. Thanks so much for sharing some of your story or your journey and especially around some of these tips of how you’ve gone on to build a thriving business. For anyone interested in getting involved in speaking to grow their consulting business, there are some real gems in this episode. Thanks so much for coming on.
Thanks so much for having me, Michael. I appreciate it.
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