In the consulting business, nothing gets people to connect with you more than telling your stories. Yuri Kruman of Master The Talk Consulting leveraged his talent for storytelling to do that. In this episode, Yuri shares how he got into building his consulting business, taking us into his transition from the startup world. He talks about doing his own PR work to get more clients by reaching out for publications to write, and later on becoming a contributor himself that has allowed him to understand how it works. Discussing more in-depth about pitching to publishing, Yuri guides us through the ins and outs of these publication platforms in relation to the benefits they provide to building your business. He also gets into podcasting when tapping your ideal audience, shares his approaches to building relationships, and advises on ways to identify your pricing.
I’m very excited to have Yuri Kruman joining us. Yuri, welcome.
Thanks a lot for having me, Michael. It’s great to speak with you.
You’ve worked with Goldman Sachs, Deloitte, IBM, Pfizer, Adobe, Stanford and a whole bunch of other well-known organizations focusing on employee engagement and getting employees to thrive. Before we talk about how you built up such a high caliber client roster, I want to take us back to the early days. What were you doing before you got into the world of consulting and coaching?
That was a long time ago it seems like. Before I got into consulting, I was in law. I finished law school in 2009, which was about the worst time to finish law school. I quickly realized that I don’t want to work in law. It’s ironically not my thing. I love the skillset, it’s very useful, but there were also no jobs and I didn’t seem to be very good at passing the bar exam. The situation was very fluid and I realized I had some experience interning at a hedge fund and maybe finance was my ticket. I got into a project at Fortress Investment Group. I was there for a few months. It was a legal/compliance situation. I learned a lot about how credit works, all that good stuff.
The project ended and then I got into I believe it was Brown Brothers Harriman. That was a mid-tier bank and there I was doing stuff around credit risk and compliance, that sort of stuff. The next gig after a while was Bank of America and that’s also credit risk. You see a theme. At that point, there wasn’t any unitary thing called consulting. It was like you’re doing a project or you’re freelancing and then there’s consulting for a large consulting firm. Over the last probably about ten years, I’m not sure there’s much of a difference in any practical sense between the two. It’s all based on how are you sourcing those projects. How are you finding the clients? Are they finding you? Is there an intermediary?
At that stage when you are growing, the law thing didn’t work out. You did a project here, you did a project there. Was your mindset already like, “I’ve now made the leap to building a business and being an independent consultant,” or were you still in job/employee mode?People misunderstand the work of PR as a dirty game or a very interesting game, and the truth always is somewhere in between. Click To Tweet
To be perfectly frank, I was very much in job/employee mode. I wasn’t thinking about how do I build a business. I’ve had a couple of business ideas here and there but nothing ever stuck. The ideas were not around consulting. It took me a good long time to wrap my mind around, “I’m doing this for myself because this is what I want to do. This is the business that I want to build.”
What did that transition look like when you decided, “I’m going to get into consulting. I’m going to build a business here. I’m going to move away from trying to find the next job and be an employee.” What was that transition like for you?
There was a point where I left the corporate world and went into startups. I went into health tech. Being in a startup context made more sense to me. It was more my speed. Things seemed to be more dynamic. There was a lot more to learn per unit time. For me, it was awesome. I got into tech. I talked my way into this awesome startup. Ironically, I had a lull between Bank of America and the next gig. I think it was seven months and things are tight. I have $250,000 in law school loans and just got married and all that good stuff. I already had a kid. We had our first when I was at Bank of America. I’m doing mommy and me, but it’s daddy and me. I’m doing that for a few months. I talked my way into a consulting firm. That was the first time it was in a real consulting firm. The HR guy who was an entrepreneur himself, an Afghani guy who is a good friend of mine, took a chance on me. He brought me in. I aced the interview. I did the case interview as well, having never done it.
The theme was always I’m going into something I don’t know what I’m doing there, but I talk my way into it. I got into this consulting firm. I’m there for a month as the project goes well. It’s a large asset manager. Here I am, I get a call from the head of the startup with whom I’d been speaking for about eighteen months. He’s like, “Come for lunch.” I go for lunch with him. He’s like, “We’re building this great stuff. I know that you mentioned you want to do this thing. You wanted to do product management. I need you to come to work with me. I think this would be a great fit. I love the way you see the world. It’s very similar to mine, but I need help in finance and operations.” I was like, “I love this company. I love what you are building there.” This is a benefit SaaS company.
Between other things, while I was at Brown Brothers Harriman, I was working on the side on a startup idea. It was called MoreSpinach Inc. trying to build what became Oscar Health without any funds. That went into researching health tech and if you see this back and forth zigzagging so well. I’m in this consulting firm which is a big deal in healthcare. I go for this launch and I get into the company. The guy makes an offer right on the spot. He’s like, “Come for the company retreat in Boston.” I was like, “This is nuts. This is totally crazy. Make this permanent. Don’t make this another gig. I want this to be permanent. I’m already in a good place.” He did it on the spot. I was there the next morning and I quit the next day. I started work at this startup the next Monday. It was totally crazy. I never did finance and operations. I walk in the door. My colleague on paper, my equal guy with an MBA in finance. I began a crazy journey where I was working alongside him and the learning curve is completely insane. I’m managing a financial model. I’m negotiating things like rent.
I see the path you’ve taken to get into the startup. At what point did you exit the startup? When did you get into building your consulting business? What did that transition look like?
After that startup, I went into a different one. Very briefly, I did product management there. It’s not a great fit. I went into a third startup where I was doing special projects which included HR. Long story short, after the third one didn’t work out for various reasons, I decided I’m going to stay at home. We had our second kid then and my wife and I decided, “I seem to be pretty good at coaching people. I was doing that on the side. Why not make that a business?” That’s when I started to make Master The Talk Consulting into something more than a hobby. It became a full-time thing and about two months into that, unfortunately, our daughter was diagnosed with cancer. I had to make it work like between hospital visits. With the dad and everything else living in New York now with two kids, this has to stick.
That’s when things became clear, “This is my thing. I’m good at it. I’m delivering a lot of value.” After I’ve done enough coaching and helped enough mid-career Millennials to switch careers, changed jobs, find their thing, find their dream career. I realized the reason these people are leaving is that they’re not fulfilled. They’re not aligned to mission, vision, values for the company where they’re working. I can turn around that data set, which I gained from coaching, and go to those same companies and say, “If you want to keep your best people, here is what you need to do.” That’s what became the consulting firm, not just the coaching.
How’s your daughter?
Thanks for asking. Thank God, she is much better. We’re past those dark days.
I have two daughters myself and the moment I heard that, my heart’s feeling a different sensation so I’m glad to hear that. Now we have to speed in the transition into consulting. Talk to me about how you built your business? The first few clients, what did that look like? What were you doing to go out and get your first few clients once you launched officially your own consulting business?
It was a mix of people coming to me based on LinkedIn profile and I’ve always done my own PR. One thing I’ve always been good at is telling my own story once I got it straight.There's always a way to learn from others. Click To Tweet
What do you mean when you said doing your own PR? Specifically, what did that look like?
Practice once I started doing the coaching part. For example, I got into a platform called The Muse, whatever. The point is it’s helping Millennials build their careers. I realized I could get on their newsletter. I talked to a guy in a synagogue and he said, “You like writing. I have a friend who works for Money Magazine.” I said, “Can you connect me?” He connected me. I pitched him a story and the next thing I know, it’s on the front page of their website. It got me that taste of I think there’s something very valuable in my story for other people that can help others tell their story. I started doing my own PR, I started writing on Quora for example. I got picked up by BBC, PBS, etc. I started getting outreach from other publications. I became a contributor. I got into the Forbes Coaches Council which made me a Forbes contributor. I had a coach helped me to get on Entrepreneur, etc. I started building this larger and larger stable of pieces and features and eventually learned how to play the PR game.
How hard was that for you to get your work, your writing, your ideas into those publications? For everyone who hasn’t had that experience, I’ve had my fair share of it as well, but from your perspective, was that challenging to get into those publications? How do you describe that experience and how much work it took?
I’m going to speak very frankly because most people have a bit of misunderstanding of how things work with PR. PR can either be a very dirty game or it can be a very interesting game. The truth always is somewhere in between. The way things often work, unfortunately, is there’s a lot of pay for play. A lot of this has been swept out in the last few years. Huffington Post closed down its contributor’s platform. Forbes, Entrepreneur and a lot of these other publications have also tried to stem the tide of that because you have a lot of very unethical things going on. The bottom line is there are efficient ways to get in, meaning you pitch people. Maybe you have a group of contributors and a feasible group where you can pitch them as a contributor somewhere else so there’s a quid pro quo. Sometimes a contributor might have an arrangement with a PR firm where let’s say the contributor publishes a piece for another client of the PR firm and the PR firm returns the favor by publishing a piece.
What you’re saying is there are a lot of different ways to potentially end up, but if you were to take a straight-line approach or one that’s above board, what does that look like? Very briefly in a summary because there are a lot who want to cover it with you here. Was that challenging for you? You mentioned the publications that you got into. Was that hard for you or once you figured out, it was pretty straightforward?
It’s never quite completely straightforward but for me, the main part was not getting featured on Money.com. It was very much joining the Forbes Coaches Council because the whole equation there was once you’re in, you’re Forbes contributor. Even though that part of their website doesn’t get that much play, you can honestly say, “I’m a Forbes contributor.” Once you’re into Forbes, then you can publish. You can get your thought leadership out there and then you leverage that to get into places like Entrepreneur. There is a process where you pitch the online contributions editor and there’s a certain format. I learned that. I took a course by someone who called people to get on there and he’s helped hundreds of people get on these different platforms. There’s a way to do it. There’s a formula. You want to use something that’s been done successfully by others so whether that’s a script template etc. There’s always a way to learn from others that have done it.
In coaching, you look at anyone at high-levels of performance and success where they’re always getting coached or mentored by someone else. How beneficial would you say writing has been for you like to get published on those different platforms? Has that been a big source of new business for you or is it more about building your brand? What would you say in terms of direct correlation to building your business and getting clients?
I’m going to be very blunt. It’s been a huge deal. For me, that happens to be a strong ship. That’s something I’m pretty good at but also once you get the formula, you start realizing, I’m positioning myself as a thought leader. Let’s say I want to publish a book. A book I put out in March took me about a year, all in between pitching a proposal to somebody who was looking for new ideas like a trade publisher, someone called the business expert press. By the way, for those out there that are looking to do that, they’re always looking for proposals. There was a guy who was connected to LinkedIn. He reached out and he said, “You have a great background. Would you want to pitch this publisher?” I ended up doing that. It got approved and then I wrote it maybe over the course of two or three months of late nights and then the book came out. That becomes my business card for like the rest.
By getting published on Forbes or putting stuff in the past through Money or Entrepreneur or any other place that you’ve been on, do you see direct leads and people reaching out to you because of those articles?
I’ve definitely seen a decent amount of traffic. For example, I have a client now that found me directly through those publications.
What else are you doing? What else is working for you to get clients and help you to build your pipeline?
Another piece is podcasting. It’s not doing my own podcast because for the time being that’s not something I have enough bandwidth for, but it’s going on as many podcasts as I possibly can that relate to my ideal audience. For example, I was on Wharton Business Radio. I went on something called Leadership and Loyalty Podcast. The bottom line is you want to start thinking about how to access your ideal audience. If you want to let’s say consult for the Fortune 500, you look at what are the top shows where Fortune 500 leaders are listening. That’s Leadership and Loyalty. If you’re looking for fast-growth startups, that’s a bunch of others. You want to first figure out instead of spray and pray, “I got onto this show,” that show you want to think about where are those people making decisions about talking to me and hiring me. Where are they hanging around? What are they listening to?Get very clear on who your ideal client is and show up where they are rather than hope that they find you. Click To Tweet
That’s an important point not just for podcasts, but for any marketing or advertising. Always getting very clear on who your ideal client is and ensuring that you’re showing up where they are, rather than putting stuff out there and hoping that somehow they find it.
The biggest way that I’ve gotten leads is by having conversations in person. I’m someone who’s been in a startup world for quite a while. I meet up with old classmates from law school. I had this conversation. I met a classmate I haven’t seen in many years on the playground. She’s playing with her kid and I’m playing with my kid, “What are you up to?” She’s in a real estate firm and they have HR issues. As soon as she heard, “What are you up to now?” “I do HR consulting.” If somebody hears that especially an entrepreneur or someone in a small company, right away they start complaining about people, “They don’t get it. They’re terrible. They’re leaving too soon.” For me, it’s almost an instant trigger. I say HR consulting and they start complaining. I’m in a great place to say, “I can help you with that,” and then I send a proposal and we further the conversation.
Talk to me about that process. When you meet someone and you say, “I’m in HR consulting,” that gets their attention. They tell you everything wrong with their people and the issues that they’re facing. Are you going direct and saying, “I can help you with that,” or how do you approach? A lot of people wonder like, “Should I be very direct? Is it too salesy?” What’s been your experience? What’s the best practice that works for you?
I’ll give you an example that’s a very valid one. I was going with my kids and wife to a local chocolate factory. I know this sounds a little Willy Wonka, but it is true. In Red Hook, there’s this awesome French company that makes chocolate and biscuits and all this stuff. We love this company. We’ve been going there every first Thursday of the month. They open up their factory and they do free tasting and they show how their stuff is done. At one of these tastings, we go there with their girls. The CEO of the American part of the company is giving a presentation on the brand. He’s trying to figure out, “What do our customers think about our rebranding?”
We were sitting there and my wife and I always shoot the breeze about different business ideas like what is working here and what’s not working there. I’m listening to this and I’m like, “This is awesome. I love what you’ve built. I love your products,” then I’m like, “Why not ask? What’s your HR situation?” He’s like, “I don’t have a situation. It’s a very dynamic process.” I’m like, “We should talk. This is my thing.” I built the relationship. I said, “We love your stuff. What can we do to help?” That naturally led to a conversation outside of that evening. We went for coffee and he asked me, “What do you do? How do you do it? What’s your story? What’s your special sauce?”
I said, “Here’s the deal. Here’s what I do. I help fast-growth startups with their HR strategy and organizational development. I help build the on-ramp for fast-growth startups to hire an HR director. Before they do, they need to set up not the systems, they need to get their people buying into this digital transformation.” On this particular subject, something like four-fifths of them doesn’t work. They don’t stick because people don’t understand what’s the point of all these systems. Nobody explains to them. They’re forced to use Slack or this or that. This performance serves their systems. That’s the particular special sauce that I worked out so to speak. I come from the executive coaching world and I help people to understand how they’re aligned. If they’re not completely aligned, to help them get there.
What I’m hearing is your approach is you’re building a relationship. You’re focusing on praising people or starting off with building a bit of rapport. If you identify that you might be able to help them, you’re not shy about letting them know that you can help them or at least that you should explore that together. Is that correct?
Yes, it comes down to a very simple thing. You can take a course in business school on this. You can learn it organically. There’s a lot of value in building a relationship but how do you do it? You can’t go and say, “I want to build a relationship with someone whose values don’t align with mine or who’s selling a product that could not possibly care any less.” It has to be organic. I’ll give you an example. One client I have there in the home health business. It’s about the last business that I would think I want to work with, but these guys reached out to me. They’re Millennials. They happened to be from the same background as myself. Usually, people from my background don’t think about HR. That’s the last thing they think about. These guys specifically have built something special, maybe because they’re Millennials. Maybe they’re more American than Russian or whatever but they already build something awesome. It’s growing very quickly. They don’t have a way to formalize the structure. It’s growing too quickly. They need their people aligned. They need their people to understand what they’re doing here. What are we building? Why do we need to upscale an upper-level organization in our processes and our people? We want our people to be more productive and to do better work.
Speaking in that space, a lot of people find it interesting and somewhat challenging when it comes to pricing. How do you go about pricing your services? What structures are you using for that?
You have traditional proposals that you can find templates for and all of that. For me, it was very frankly having the guts to say, “I know that I’m delivering value massively in excess of what I’m charging.” Number one, you have to know that and you have to build everything around that idea because otherwise, you’re either going to undercharge. When you undercharge, often people will wonder why is this cheap? They also don’t buy into it. There’s also the psychological effect that, “If I’m paying a lot of money, this is premium.” You have to build a premium brand.
How are you approaching that value? Some people find it challenging when their work doesn’t create a clear, tangible ROI, an outcome like a dollar increase in sales. Your work is employee retention, development, HR strategy. Some people might consider a little bit more on the soft side. In your conversations with clients, do you dig into a value-focused conversation around what the impact is going to be for their organization in dollars and cents? How do you approach that value in ROI-type of conversation?
The only way this can work and you’re dealing with people that are sophisticated about money especially, decision-makers that are either CEO, COO, CFO. We’re not dealing with the HR person because usually there isn’t one but even if there is, that’s not the decision-maker. In very plain dollars and cents, this has to make sense. The way to approach this in my case is, “If you want to keep 30% more of your workforce, let’s say you have 100 people. If in the next year, 30 of them will leave and I’m helping you to keep those 30. Let’s say the cost of losing someone and then replacing them is about one and a half times a salary. This many people times one and a half times their salary, compared to the other scenario is this. This is the amount of money that I’m saving.” That’s number one. Number two, if you’re talking about ramp up from 0 to 60 for new employees, if that’s six months or twelve months, then you’re losing the best productivity from those people that left.The most important thing in business is delegating and not spending your time trying to do everything because you can't grow that way. Click To Tweet
There’s this compounded cost in time and money, which is very concrete and very specific. Purely from that, because you can go in and say, “My coaching is the greatest thing since sliced bread,” how do you measure that? For me, going back to the coaching example, in that case, it’s even iffier. How did they price things in the coaching realm? I say, “I guarantee you results. For you, it means that you get a job that is a great alignment for you. You’re happy to come into work. You’re going to do your life’s best work, but I’m also going to help you negotiate a 20% higher salary. Let’s say you’re making $150,000 now in your bank job and I’m going to help you to make $180,000. If you’re going to make $30,000 more per year, even for the one year that I’m helping you to make more and it’s more than the lifetime of your career. Let’s say $30,000 and I’m charging you $5,000 or $10,000, that’s a pretty massive ROI. People just click like, “I get it.”
That was a good example. I’m glad you’re sharing them, so thank you. How have you been approaching managing the growth of your business with capacity and scaling profitably? You’re clearly very active in putting out content, writing, podcasts and all that stuff. You’re working with different clients. You have a family. There’s a lot going on for you. What have you found is the most effective approach to ensuring that you’re delivering results for clients and doing great work, but at the same time building your business? To put it another way, how are you structuring your day and your week to ensure that your business continues to grow?
In very banal terms, everything starts with time management. You have to get extremely good at knowing where you add massive value with relatively little input. This is going back to this concept of a zone of genius. You have to ask yourself three questions, “What am I good at? What do I enjoy doing? Where do I add massive value?” Where those three coincide, that’s what you should be spending most of your time on. Number two, you should be doing most of your projects with clients. If that’s let’s say delivering the employee handbook, that’s amazing. You know that’s something you should be focused on if it’s onboarding. Maybe something you’re not as good at, maybe you’re not as good at producing content, then outsource it. The client pays you upfront, maybe half, two-thirds, whatever your arrangement is.
I’m ruthless in that regard because I want to work with the best people that are the most serious. I charge a very large chunk upfront. You take whatever it is that you get paid upfront. You invest it in maybe PR, maybe it’s in creating a podcast, maybe in something else. You start thinking about, “If I’m not as good at this, who can I hire to do this for me?” I don’t need to learn every single thing about podcasting. I don’t need to learn every single thing about getting into Forbes or Entrepreneur. I can find people that can get me in there while I’m doing this. Maybe you hire someone from a platform, B2G or any of these others. You can always hire someone to help you to be your number two in command on any particular project. You can budget what you’re charging per hour versus what you’re paying that person per day.
I think that’s so important. A lot of people look and say, “I don’t want to spend $20, $30, $50 an hour or whatever to hire someone.” What they’re not looking at when they think that way is the actual cost to them. It’s not the cost of the $30 or $50 an hour. You’re losing money because hopefully, you’re not charging hourly fees, but looking at what your value is worth per hour, your value is going to be $200, $500, $1,000 an hour. If you’re doing $50 an hour work yourself. It means you’re losing the difference of what you could be earning. It’s in your best interest to invest as much as you can on those and delegate those lower-value tasks, then you’re free up to spend more time on your most valuable areas of work as you’re talking about.
If you’re going into this with the understanding that you’re charging a lot of money because your brand is premium because you’re delivering massively more value than what you’re charging for. Then you have to go to other service providers vendors who are going to cost you a lot less, especially when you’re not good at it. You’re going to spend a lot of time doing something you’re not great at.
It’s such an important point when it comes to growth and scale. You don’t have to always bring in full-time employees or even part-time. You can build with outsourced talent contractors or you might go the full-time or part-time role. The most important thing is that you’re delegating and not spending your time trying to do everything because you can’t grow that way. Yuri, I want to thank you so much for coming on here. I want to make sure that people can learn more about you and your work. Where’s the best place for them to go to do that?
First of all, thank you for having me on. It’s been a wonderful conversation. Feel free to look me up on either of my two sites. There’s YuriKruman.com. That’s more focused toward consulting and speaking. My coaching site is MasterTheTalk.com. Thank you again.
Thank you, Yuri.