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Benjamin: Today we're going to focus on a trend that packs the careers of a large number of marketers, including myself. As distributed or remote workforces become more of a viable option for companies and increasingly large number of marketers are becoming professional service providers and they're choosing to engage with employees as independent contractors instead of going into a traditional employment agreement, with us today is Liston Whitherill who's the creator of the 60 days sales plan and he's the host of the Liston.io Podcast, which is focused on sales training for professional service providers, Liston is a sales trainer and coach for consultants who are looking to sell with confidence when dream clients and leave the pressure and awkwardness of the sales process behind. In this episode liston is going to walk us through why more marketers are choosing to work as professional service providers and what are some of the primary issues facing marketing consultants. Here is the first part of our interview with Liston from the Liston.io Podcast. Welcome to the MarTech podcast. Thanks so much for having me. I'm excited to be here. I want to start off by saying I have been listening to your podcast on.
Benjamin: I know that it's relatively new and first off I love the content, but more than anything I love the theme music and from what I understand, you actually created it yourself.
Liston: Yeah, so I did create it myself and thank you.
Benjamin: So now that I have you here, I just want to say welcome to the liston.io show.
Liston: Well, I feel very welcome. Thank you, Ben
Benjamin: Good. Great to talk to another podcaster and I feel like you're an expert who can not only help a lot of marketers, marketing professionals, and you can help me so excited to talk about what life is like as a marketing consultant and why marketers are choosing to go down the professional services path, but let's start off with a little background about you. How did you get into your area of expertise? How did you get your job?
Liston: Well, no one gave it to me. I created it so I haven't been around technology all my life. I built my first computer when I was 12 and so I've always had a strong interest in technology. Fast forward a lot. I went to Grad school and I got a master's degree in environmental science and management and my goal there was to go into environmental consulting. So after Grad School I ran business development and marketing for a but an 80 person, say 10 to $12,000,000 consulting firm up in the bay area. And while I was there I started to dig into the whole world of digital marketing and learned about creating our website and getting traffic and email marketing and all these other things. And it started to work for the company that I was working for at the time. And everybody there was very surprised at any of these things would be working for them.
Liston: You know, it's amazing how if you actually market and tell people that you're alive, they may respond. So I started doing that and I just became so fascinated with marketing and so I started out as just a freelancer and then I created a boutique little agency, a partner in Iran that. And we had a variety of other contractors. And my primary job as a business owner is to actually make sales and then deliver on those sales. And I realized I had an advantage there. So what I decided to do was kind of re structure my business so that I was able to teach other professional service providers how to more effectively sell their services. That's how I got my job, I guess.
Benjamin: Okay. So you actually started off in a totally different field. You were interested in environmental sciences, you were working for an agency and decided to branch out on your own and now you're providing sales support for service professionals, which is a pretty big departure from the natural sciences field.
Liston: It is. But my goal was always to be on the business side of professional services. So maybe it appears to be a huge departure. But what I was always focused on was helping people internally. You know, a big part of the business development role at a consulting company is helping other experts be more effective at selling and marketing themselves and selling and marketing the company. So it's actually not that big of a departure and what's driven me all along, Ben, was to really understand how and why people make decisions. That obviously is a very important thing to understand in both sales and marketing for slightly different reasons and maybe they'd be applied slightly differently.
Benjamin: We've both made the leap from being hired by a company having an employment agreement to being independent. And I think that what I've seen from doing this podcast and just through my personal network, a lot of people are really curious about the mechanics of going out on your own and I think they consider it to be something that requires being brave. It's a risk to branch out on your own and at least what I've found is there is no less security as an independent consultant than there is one. I was working for early stage startups and there's a little bit more control as a consultant. Tell me a little bit about your experience branching out on your own and talk to me about the reasons you see more marketers specifically deciding to become professional service providers.
Liston: So my experience was that I wanted to have a little bit more control over my professional life and the direction of my professional life. One of the things that was frustrating for me was while I was at this company, I was basically told that I had to wait in line like everybody else 20 to 30 years before I made partner. And that timeline didn't work for me because I'm really impatient and you know, maybe that was a fair thing for them to do, but I didn't like that timeline. I wanted also to work on deals that were a little bit faster and so I was able when I went out on my own to have more control over what I was actually doing. And my thought was if I could really nail digital marketing and sales, I could run almost any business that I wanted to run.
Liston: It was essentially like a paid mba. I get to get paid by clients while I'm still kind of learning on the job and helping them do whatever they're trying to do in their business. And that allows me to accelerate my learning while I'm not coming out of pocket to do it. So that was huge. And the way I started to do that was I hung my shingle, I created a website, I was listed on a few different marketplaces that weren't specifically for like a giant marketplace for freelancers, but we're able to funnel me some leads. So I built up my business to the point where I was actually making more money in my freelance work than I was in my day job. That's a major hustle and it's not for everybody and I didn't have kids at the time. I don't have kids now. So that was an advantage in being able to work that many hours because I was probably working realistically something like 70 or 80 hours a week in order to achieve that.
Liston: That's a grind. But I built up the freelance career alongside my day job, which gave, you mentioned courage and that really helped solidify courage to take the leap. In. My biggest concern, Ben, was, what if this doesn't work out and what if I'm homeless? What if I lose everything? And then I started to do the exercise of asking myself, okay, well what's really the worst that could happen? And probably the worst thing that would happen is I just pick up a few clients, not enough, I make less money for three to six months, and then I decided to go get a job somewhere else. So the alternative wasn't that terrible. So I would encourage anybody listening to this, if you're not sure that you have the courage or if that this is a good idea, I get really clear on why you want to do it and what you're actually risking realistically by doing it.
Liston: Because chances are the risks aren't nearly as big as you think they are today. And for me, another big piece that I didn't mention about going out on my own is I really wanted to build an internet based business where I don't work with clients in person. I'm able to work with anybody in the world. And that gives me a lot of freedom of place and geography, which has allowed me to move cities and really not have any interruption in my business. So there are all these different benefits that come from it and it was scary. It ultimately took my wife saying, will you just do it already? You know, we had the conversation for like the 10th time like I don't know, is now the right time. And she goes, well you just do it already. So I said, okay, I guess this is the time to do it. So I took the leap and I was actually at the time, Ben, when I was walking away from a cmo position at the company that I was at and I said, you know, actually I'm going to leave instead. So it was a risk and I was walking away from something that would have been a good opportunity for me. But I figured that if I had a few years to build this, it would turn into something that I was really proud of and really paid off. And it's doing that.
Benjamin: I haven't talked too much about my career path on this podcast primarily because the focus was to help marketers understand more about different channels. And I've had a few emails from people that are listeners trying to understand what my perspective was. So the funny thing about your experience in mind as it was the exact opposite where I was managing early stage startups and those jobs lasted for one to two years on a routine basis. And so I was constantly going back and forth and looking for other jobs either cause the company failed because another opportunity came up, I was recruited by a different company or sometimes the relationships just don't work out. And early stage startups are a grind. So when I left my last startup, I never intended to be a marketing consultant. I thought I was taking on one or two short term projects because it was over the holidays and I leveraged my personal network.
Benjamin: And the next thing you knew I had my two clients at the same time and to grant into three, which ended up being 12 the first year. And the next thing you know, I had a business and I'll be honest, it is terrifying at times being a consultant and being independent because the beauty of it is you have a clean slate and there is no ceiling. You couldn't work as much and work as hard and potentially make as much as you'd like to. But on the flip side, you can actually lose money and not run a successful business. And that's one of the reasons that keeps people in their day jobs. And I'll say that whenever I run into that sort of feeling of anxiety, it's always great to talk to people like you who are professional service providers and coaches and I've actually engaged in more coaching relationships and got more mentorship through my consulting practice because I'm actively searched for people to give me advice as opposed to assume that somebody in the organization I was in would give it to me. So I guess what I'd like to hear from you having told either my story of success or my sob story, depending on how you look at it, there are marketers that are choosing to go down this path and more and more people are making that decision. What do you know about the transition going from being an employee to a consultant? How fast is that happening and why are people making that decision?
Liston: Well, I think a lot of different reasons. There's a nonprofit called freelancers union and they do a very, very large study. It's the largest study that I know of where they survey freelancers and consultants and contractors and basically anybody who's working independently who's not an employee, so they're estimating it's about 35 percent of the US workforce falls into this category, which is huge. Right.
Benjamin: Does that include your lyft, Uber drivers, like all independent contractors, are we talking professional service
Liston: people who earn a living or at least a portion of their living independently?
Benjamin: Okay. Thirty five percent of the working economy.
Benjamin: It's not a small amount.
Benjamin: To me, the interesting part is sure. It's a huge part of the economy and a lot of that is the on demand service providers, your lyft and uber drivers, but in reality there is also the top end of the economy which is the professional service providers charging hundreds of dollars per hours or large retainers as well.
Liston: Exactly, and that latter group is the group that I'm more focused on serving because that's where I can provide the most value. But to your question, why are people choosing to do it? The data is pretty uniform in that a lot of people choose to be independent in order to be their own boss, so some people do that in the negative sense. They want to fire their boss and some people do that in the positive sense. They want more control, they want more freedom. One thing that I always say is I can be so nimble in my business because I don't need approval from anybody. If I want to go do a marketing campaign or try some new sales process or build a product or whatever, I can just go do it. And that comes with upsides and downsides. Like you were saying earlier, maybe I should have a coach or people to bounce those ideas off of because it does help to have some group wisdom, but I think that that's the main reason a lot of people are going out and choosing to become independent.
Liston: The other thing is you live in the valley, the global beacon of technology and the average life of an employee at a lot of these companies is one to two years, often closer to one, like even at Google. I think it's one point. One years is the average lifespan of an employee there, so you're seeing a situation where people are more flighty. That makes companies a little less loyal. Maybe companies were already less loyal, but this idea that employment brings so much stability. I think a lot of people are starting to question that idea as a basis for their career. They're starting to go, well, maybe I should figure out all this other stuff so that I can be in charge of my own destiny. Because at the end of the day, a company, all they care about is either raising more money or getting more customers or maybe scratching people off their books, like Intel.
Liston: I live in Portland, Oregon and Intel fired a pretty significant number of people, thousands of people recently, so you know that has a giant ripple effect through the economy and maybe that created another thousand independent contractors or consultants, I don't know, but I think a lot of people are seeing that the story of go get a job and you'll have stability and you'll have retirement. It's starting to go away. And also it's interesting if you look at the data, it shows that younger people disproportionately are more comfortable with working as freelancers at least part time. So I think part of it is the tools also are transforming what we think is possible.
Benjamin: Yeah, I think that's a huge part a. The technology's there, and I said that in the intro of this podcast where having remote access distributed workforces is much more of a viable option. I do think there's something to a digitally native workforce, somebody that grew up with access to a computer has more technical skills, so they are potentially a little bit more flexible. They've also been branding and marketing themselves online. That's part of the growth of social media and so they understand the idea of promoting yourself, so being a brand in itself is not something that's new to them and they feel comfortable marketing themselves as a service provider and the idea that you mentioned of being able to be your own boss, having autonomy, being nimble, not having a ceiling, being control. I think those are the primary reasons why people are shifting and the security of employment isn't necessarily there where it used to be. Get a job and at 30 years and a gold watch. So let's change the conversation a little bit to what are some of the issues that you see working with professional service providers that they face both when they're getting started and as they're trying to scale.
Liston: Why don't we start at the. How do most professional services firms start? So I think a lot of people have your story. You were at a company, there was no longer a fit for you at that company, so you guys parted ways and now you're going, okay, what? Now let me just fill in the gaps. Sometimes that company will hire you back as a contractor. Sometimes you just tap your network. The second way is a lot of people work at agencies. A marketer would work at an agency and then they have a few great clients and those clients say, Hey, you know, if you ever decide to go out on your own, I totally hire you. And they go, oh, okay. And they do that and they have a few anchor clients. So those are the two big ways. And then there's what I would call the charismatic founder, the person who goes out and just kicks up a ton of dust and just makes it happen.
Liston: That's very rare, but that's another model. So those are the three primary models that I see. The first two, which are the most common, say 95 percent of all cases someone gets fired or leaves. Here's something that they have baked into their culture, their reactive in all of their business is coming from their network, so one of the key problems that they're going to face is they don't have chops for developing new business because you are going to reach a point where you've exhausted your first degree network to use it linkedin terminology, but the people you already know, you're going to come to a point where you exhaust that and you're going to need to find additionality new business, new sources of business. So that's one challenge. I think another challenge that pretty much everyone faces is how am I different? How do I position myself in the marketplace to be remembered and to win work without too much effort.
Liston: And that's not to say winning work should be easy. It's just to say on a spectrum of a ton of effort versus just the minimum amount of effort in order to win the clients you want. Most people are more on the. It requires a ton of effort side in part of that as a positioning and marketing problem. So ironically, I think most marketers will be faced with the problem of marketing themselves effectively because you can't just say, I do services x, Y, z because everybody does that. So that's a second problem. And then the third problem that I see is having enough process and structure in order to scale employees if that's the way you want to build your business. So a lot of people just want to win more clients and add more staff in order to take a third of the revenue that each person generates from their billable time and you really need to have a process in place so that you're maintaining your brand and you're able to bring in new people so that they know what the program is and you're able to do that in a decent amount of time, say three months and not nine or 12.
Benjamin: I think that's great advice. And if I had to summarize, essentially there are three problems that consultants face mostly when they're getting started. One is they are reactive and they don't have their sales process too is they are not uniquely positioned. They are putting themselves out there and talking to you about their tangible skills, but not creating any sort of sense of differentiation and three is when they're having success, being able to scale and being able to build processes to work with other people and get work off their plate, and I think that thinking about those three issues are fundamental for anybody who's starting to think about a consulting business or people like me that are running them to think about where they're having a problem and where they should focus their efforts and I think that's a good stopping point for today. So that wraps up this episode of the MarTech podcast.
Benjamin: Thanks to listen with a real for joining us. In part two of our conversation would list in which we'll publish. Tomorrow. We're going to talk about some best practices and tools that help marketing consultants improve their sales processes. If you can't wait until our next episode and you'd like to learn more about. Listen, we have a link to his bio in our show notes where you can visit his website, which is listed.io. A special thanks to search metrics for sponsoring this podcast. If you're looking to grow your online presence, go to searchmetrics.com for a free tour of their platform. If you didn't have a chance to write down your notes while you're listening to this podcast, we've created an overview and we have a transcription of the entire conversation which you can find through a link in our show notes or by visiting our website, which is mar tech pod.com, m, a r t e c h p o d dot Com.
Benjamin: If you're a subscriber to the MarTech podcast, we want you to feel like a member of our community, so if you have questions, comments, or you'd like to be a guest on the show, feel free to click the link in our show notes or you can reach out on Linkedin or twitter. Our social handle is Benjshap LLC. Of course, you could also go to the MarTechh pod.com website and there's a contact us form there. If you haven't subscribed yet and you want a weekly stream of marketing and technology knowledge and your podcast feed, in addition to part two of our conversation with listed with real, we've got some great episodes lined up next week, so if you're interested in learning about topics like reporting analytics, data protection, or organic marketing on Instagram, hit the subscribe button in your podcast App. Okay, that's it for today, but until next time, my advice is to just focus on keeping your customers happy.