How I Started A $15K/Month Leadership Consulting Business
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, I’m Dave and I founded a veteran-owned company called Cain Consulting, Inc. which specializes in helping leaders become more effective and improving results. If you are a leader in any organization, anywhere, we can help you improve your performance! Working with leaders in the US and around the world, we coach executives and emerging leaders in leadership expertise and performance improvement.
Services include individual business coaching, virtual business coaching, team development, leadership training, and facilitation. Certified in Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and E-Colors Premium PDI, we can offer a variety of assessments. We have provided services in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska; Nigeria, Thailand, and South Korea among others.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
The story begins in 1979 when I was hired as a dorm resident assistant as a college senior. I had no clue what it meant to be responsible for 33 college students and no one seemed ready with the answers I sought. So I learned on the job and made every mistake you can imagine. But this was my first taste of leadership and it proved to be the beginning of a long and challenging journey to understand what it was all about.
Then, for the next 30 years, I held a variety of salaried leadership positions. I worked in manufacturing, warehousing, and operations positions in union and non-union organizations and spent six years in the navy. What those years of experience had in common was that leadership had to be learned on the job, from people around me and above me in the organizational chart. The problem, I found, was that none of them knew much about leadership either. They just wanted to get the job done, no matter what.
But one company did invest in formal and deliberate leadership coaching by having an on-site coach available for the team. I learned more about leadership in a couple of years with one coach than I had learned in my entire life. From that experience, it was easy to see that coaching was for me!
I learned a powerful lesson: “When the people are right, the results will follow.” It became my focus to learn how to ‘make the people right’ by learning how to lead and partner with people to get results. I learned to listen, to trust, to partner, to cooperate, to develop a shared vision, to celebrate, and how to be a humble leader. And the results came.
My company started in 2010 and my mission has been to simply coach leaders to learn the power of self-awareness and self-development as step one to be the leader that others wish to follow. The original logo was inspired by a desire to lift people and to be associated with enthused, effective people. “Advancing Leadership” is the vision for my company.
It is always OK to adjust direction to stay relevant. Persistence will win in the end.
Advance how leadership is seen, understood, learned, and practiced. I also teach the basic building blocks of leadership, to provide all the tools I wish I had when I began. I believe it is past time to create a new leadership ideal - one crafted in the 21st century which reflects a rapidly changing world and highly diverse culture and workforce.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
There are four products to consider. The first is one on one leadership coaching. I’ve practiced coaching since 2006 but was never trained formally in how to coach properly according to International Coach Federation (ICF) standards. However, I am improving that ‘product’ by working on certification as a Board Certified Coach and as an ICF certified coach in 2021. The key improvement of the coaching product is a refined and more structured focus on helping a client achieve their results as well as abiding by an established standard of coaching ethics.
The second ‘product’ is a series of videos of varying lengths on specific ideas, behaviors, or concepts around leadership. The topics for these videos come from the experience of lessons learned over a four-decade career in leadership, such as fear, expectations, accountability, trust, and more. They are posted on YouTube as well as on cainconsultinginc.com.
The third ‘product’ is in creating content for leadership training modules. This process started with identifying key leadership behaviors or competencies which are then built into a presentation format for client consumption. Topics include things like managing stress, handling conflict, communication, expectations & accountability, and more. They can be designed for an hour or two workshop depending on client need.
The fourth would include any training or presentation material requested specifically by the client. If there was a topic of interest to the client in their particular situation, I am happy to develop a customized solution to meet their needs.
Each of these products is dynamic and evolving as new information or techniques become available, making a revision relevant and keeping the idea current.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The launch of the business was gradual and dynamic over a period of time. For the first few years, the website was basic and my content was still in development, other than coaching, which has been the main offer since day one.
It took several years and a change in the client base to prompt a great deal of focus and energy in developing the website into a more modern and useful tool. This was also the period when I became slightly more social media savvy and created a more useful LinkedIn presence as well as introducing a Twitter and Facebook presence.
The efforts to use social media and the website to gain more clients have not produced a flow of customers yet. I am being coached on ways to improve my internet score but am still learning that technique.
The actual start of the business was not expensive, specifically the legal aspects of structuring an LLC. The largest cost so far has been the website and the continued maintenance and upkeep of the site and the content included in it. And since my product is considered to be more ‘intellectual property’ rather than something physical, the costs to enter the market were fairly low, unless you factor in the experience needed to do the work itself.
In hindsight, I wasn’t ready to open the business when I did. But if I had waited until I had all of my ‘products’ developed and in place, I would probably still be waiting. I started with what little content I had, and have slowly added to it along the way. I have continued to improve and build my public profile over the years which is exactly how I would go about it again.
I was encouraged to upgrade my logo from two colors to three as a way of reflecting the diversity that I embrace and support. It was also redesigned into a 3D version as a way to be more current and dynamic.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
The main ‘growth advice’ that I have learned is to stay the course. Assuming that you have a clear plan in place, stay with it. Or if you think that plan is not working, change it to something that you think will work then keep executing it. It is always OK to adjust direction to stay relevant. Persistence will win in the end.
Actually, my best customers are return clients rather than new customers, which is both good and bad news actually. It is a great compliment to get return customers who want more of you, obviously but it also means that my marketing is not creating the new clientele that I need to build my business.
My steps to increase sales include engaging a professional who can keep my website current and relevant, while also seeking help from social media experts who help me learn and apply the tools (like Canva and Hootsuite) to build my presence and visibility.
I use Canva to build my ads and Hootsuite to help me schedule and publish them and they get solid reviews and comments. No new customers from those efforts yet, but I am in this for the long haul and I’ll keep trying new things.
In the world of adding content to the conversation, I am working on a plan to develop a series of in-depth training videos that focus on fundamental leadership skills. I’ll make these accessible through the website and possibly charge a fee and/or seek contact information in exchange for access to the material. The plan is to get these videos approved for adult learning credits also and possibly use Udemy or some other platform to accomplish that.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The company has been very profitable, thankfully. But Covid has changed the entire nature of my business from traveling around the world to using platforms like Zoom and MS Teams to coach leaders where they live and work.
Given that this is a service business, my costs are mostly in the development of content, which is my time and expertise. Other costs include the social media expertise and software to advertise the business. There are also the administrative costs of running one’s own business, like internet costs, healthcare costs, and such, but those are pretty much fixed costs that I incur every month.
I don’t spend anything on advertising and that is because this appears to be a referral industry. Few people are influenced by an advertisement for leadership coaching in my opinion, unless they just happen to be thinking about it already. Will my ad prompt someone to admit that they suddenly need or want leadership coaching? I doubt it. My business comes mainly from referrals and repeats customers as I’ve said.
My daily operations today include doing the work that generates the revenue, which is to coach leaders virtually on a project or hourly basis. Further, my work is in the development and refinement of intellectual property for use on the website and my clients on an as-needed basis. It also includes a good bit of time to develop social media content to develop my presence.
People often talk about starting a business they are passionate about. I think this belief is incomplete. You also need to be good at what it is your business does, or you will struggle, despite your passion.
The short-term goals of the business are to fill up my calendar in a Covid world that keeps me busy enough but gives me time to keep refining the growth model, the content, and the presence of the business. The long-term goal is to reach a point where I coach repeat and long-term clients that I can serve over the years ahead as well as teach and train with the proven fundamentals of leadership that I have developed.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The most obvious lesson that I have learned is that I am an expert in one area of running this business, only one. But a business needs expertise in several areas in which I am not knowledgeable such as accounting, marketing, commercial art design, and many more. The lesson is to identify those areas where you are not competent and find an outside provider who is an expert in those areas as soon as you can. That can be hard to do when you are small and struggling, but one sure way to remain small and struggling is to try to do all of those things on your own with mediocre results.
A second lesson I have learned is the need to maintain a cutting edge knowledge of your business of choice - be a thought leader, be completely up to speed on the current thinking in your business area. My decision to become a Board Certified and ICF certified coach is a way of staying sharp so I can keep offering state-of-the-art service and tools to my clients. And reading a few relevant books along the way is a great help as well to keep one’s mind and possibilities open and fresh.
One habit that I have developed which has helped immensely during a Covid world is to hold normal office hours, even in sweatpants and a sweatshirt if necessary, but to put in the hours to do the work. It is easy when you work from home to slack off a bit but doing so detracts from the business. Putting in the hours gave me the bandwidth to keep things moving forward!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
My favorite tools start with Office 365 as well as the Apple productivity suite. An alternative to PowerPoint that is very appealing is called Prezi which offers a whole new and elegant way to tell a visual story.
I’ve already mentioned Canva as a platform in which to create many different types of graphics. Canva is a robust and fairly easy-to-use app that I will use every time I create new marketing content.
The best tool I know of to manage scheduling and uploading content to social media is Hootsuite. A very powerful tool that gives me the sense that I now have a plan and a method to communicate my ideas in the social media world.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
For the world of consulting, a fantastic book is Million Dollar Consulting by Alan Weiss which covers all aspects of that industry.
Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman is an extremely important book for those interested in understanding and developing themselves for optimal performance.
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Dr. Stephen Covey is probably the first book I would read if I were interested in coaching or consulting. This is possibly the most heavily researched book available on the subject.
The last recommendation I would make would be the book Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck. For anyone seeking to understand themselves and their thinking processes as a function of their world view, this is a must-read.
All of these books changed my worldview, my perception of self, and my ability to be the best coach that I could be. They are all game-changers.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
People often talk about starting a business they are passionate about. I think this belief is incomplete. You also need to be good at what it is your business does, or you will struggle, despite your passion. I’m passionate about baseball but was never good enough to get paid to do it. And you also need to like what you are doing. Have you chosen something that you can or would do on a slow Sunday morning if you need to? Passion is important but incomplete. Skill is important as is simply enjoying the passage of time in your work.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
At this time, I don’t need partners, contractors, or employees, simply because the business demand is not there, yet. But that time could come if things pan out the way I would like them to.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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