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Episode 153: How to Get, Keep, and Delight Clients—with Josh Rubin

Deb Zahn: I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. So on this show, it's going to all be about getting and keeping clients and keeping your clients happy, but it's a little bit different format than usual. I brought on someone who I know is not only an amazing consultant, and I know that because I've worked with him, but also someone who is really good at all of those things. And what he's going to do is I'm going to present him with a number of scenarios all related to getting, keeping clients, keeping them happy and he's going to say what he would do in each of those scenarios. This is Josh Rubin from Health Management Associates. He's someone I've known for just ages and have had the absolute pleasure of working with him so I knew that he would be able to provide so many tremendous gems, which is exactly what he did in this episode. So let's get started.

I want to welcome my guest today, Josh Rubin. Josh, welcome to the show.

Josh Rubin: Thanks, Deb. Thanks for having me.

Deb Zahn: So we have to be honest with people before you further introduce yourself. We've known each other for gobs of years and so people should expect some nuttiness will ensue on this call.

Josh Rubin: It is possible neither of us will be on our best behavior.

Deb Zahn: That is possible, but I do have to say PG-13. Don't make me bleep stuff.

Josh Rubin: It's a family program. I get it.

Deb Zahn: You got it, perfect. OK, let's start off. Tell folks what you do.

Josh Rubin: I'm a principal with Health Management Associates. I'm here in New York City. Most of my work is in the behavioral health and developmental disabilities spaces, although I do a lot of work with state governments. I do some work with federally qualified health centers. But it's all around Medicaid, around publicly financed healthcare, and most of it is around behavioral health and developmental disabilities.

Deb Zahn: All that is to say that you do, like me, mission-oriented work. And I know that your clients love you and you do amazing work for them, and I know that because we've worked together. So I also know you make really smart choices, which is why you get clients, why you keep clients, why you keep your clients happy. So we thought today we would do a little different version than what I typically do on a podcast, and we're going to do what would Josh do if presented with these various scenarios.

And so I'm just going to throw some scenarios out, they're all completely common, particularly among consultants who haven't really figured out how to get that steady flow of client work or when they're engaging with clients kind of what to do. So are you ready to get started?

Josh Rubin: Let's go.

Deb Zahn: All right, let me hit you with the first one. There you are, you're a new consultant and you don't have clients yet so you're brand spanking new. So you're going to have to think all the way back to when you didn't have any clients. What would you do to get your first few clients?

Josh Rubin: So way back when, about seven years ago when I still had that new consultant smell, I spent a lot of time just reaching out to people. Just reaching out and saying, "Hey, I'm doing something new. I'm doing something different, and I'd love to get together and talk. Let's have lunch. Let's have coffee. Let's have drinks." Let's be honest, I like the drinks part better, but I'm happy to do breakfast. And really it was not about, "Let me get together with you and try and sell you something." It was about, "Let me get together with you and find out what you're up to, tell you a little bit about what I'm up to."

And I think the mistake a lot of people make, and after seven years, I've seen some folks flame out along the way is they think, "Oh, I'm in sales now I got to go tell stuff." And with all due respect, people don't tend to love being sold. And so if we're able to sort of get together and I say be interested, be interesting. And if you're interested and you're interesting, people will want to work with you. And so I spend a lot of time just buying people drinks, buying people lunch.

Now, the other piece I should say is any chance you get to get up on a stage in front of a room full of people and be the expert, don't pass that up. I know a lot of us are afraid of public speaking and such, and I still get a little bit of every time I'm about to give a speech, but at a certain point, there is some magical sort of celebrity for the day halo effect that happened and enough people see you in front of enough rooms, give enough speeches about interesting stuff and all of a sudden they want to know what you have to say in private. And that's where the meat of the thing is. But yeah, cocktails and conferences, I think that would be my tip.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, the two seeds of consulting. I love that. So you get your initial client, there you are, you got your initial clients and then what do you do so that those initial clients help you get other clients? Sort of what's that next phase after they've sobered up?

Josh Rubin: Always get the contract signed before they sober up, that's my first thing. But no, see, in all seriousness, the best business development that I found is doing a really good job on the last project. If you did a really good job on the last project, then they are going to want you on the next one. And some of that is just about rigor. I probably shouldn't say this out loud, but it's you so I will, early on in my consulting career, I remember sending a deliverable off to a client and being like, "Oh man, I hope they think that's good enough." And what I figured out is that I'm really anal. And so if I think it's good enough, my clients think it's good enough. And I don't worry about it anymore because I know that I'm going to hold myself to a higher standard than any of my clients are going to hold me to.

And at the end of the day, the short answer is to do good work. There are some tricks there, right? Pad a contract a little bit so you can bring it in under budget, right? If you got a $25,000 piece of work, see if you can get them to sign a $35,000 contract. When you come in at $25,000, they're going to think you're a genius.

Deb Zahn: Or if it takes more to get them their result, now they still got the result and they don't feel shocked that they had to pay for it.

Josh Rubin: And if you think it's going to take you six weeks, tell them it's going to take you eight. A lot of those artificial deadlines we impose on ourselves and torture ourselves trying to meet them, whereas if we build a little bit of cushion in, we can come in early and under budget, and you only have to come in early and under budget a couple of times before people start to just think you're magic.

Deb Zahn: Right, and trust you because they don't see that you're trying to gouge them.

Josh Rubin: Yeah, that's a really important piece there is trust because at a certain point, it doesn't matter how smart I am or how good my advice is, if people don't trust me, I got no utility. And it is critical that your clients understand that when you're in the room with them, you're thinking about them. You're thinking about them and their problem and you're not thinking about, "Hey, can I upsell this guy?" And you're not thinking about the person I'm taking out for drinks as consulting services later, you're with them, their problem is your problem and that's all you're really caring about. Some of that is a little bit of, one of the things that I found works is around pronouns, right? Use we, right? I'm not here to help you solve your problem, I'm here for us to solve our problem because now that I'm here, it's our problem, it's not your problem. I want to take the rocks out of your backpack and put them in mine. It's my problem now.

Deb Zahn: Oh, I love that. I love that analogy by the way because so often the clients do feel burdened and overburdened. And one of the main reasons seems to bring a consultant in is to lighten their load.

Josh Rubin: Please get this off of my back. And as soon as you start saying, "We're going to win this together. We're going to do this together. We're going to solve this problem because it's our problem," they think of you as a member of the team and they trust. And if you deliver a couple of times, at this point after seven and a half years, most of my clients, they're not asking me to bid on a piece of work, they're just calling and saying, "Here's the next piece of work" because they know if they bring me in, they know it's going to get done, it's going to get done right, it's going to get done at least on budget and probably under budget and probably a little early.

And that's all about trust. They say business moves at the speed of trust and sometimes consultants can gum things up and slow things down but if you've got a consultant you trust and you built a long term relationship and you know them and they know you and they know your stick and you know their stick, the consultant can really move things along a lot faster than they would be able to otherwise.

Deb Zahn: You're saying something profound, dude, and I'm going to highlight it. What you're saying is not a technique or a strategy, it's actually an orientation. And that's different because I've seen consultants try and fake a we, and I will say there are a few things worse than faking a we and clients can tell because as good as you are at pretending like you care and trying to establish fake trust, you're not as good as you think you are at it and you're going to leak and they're going to tell, and it doesn't work. So it's not going in and saying, "Hey, we," yeah, it's going in and actually that is truly your orientation, which is what you're saying. And I just want to highlight that because we're not talking about faking it.

Josh Rubin: Yeah, no, no, it can't be. And I think to some extent, one of the advantages I have is that when I walk into one of my client's offices, whether they're in government or they're at a nonprofit agency, I've had that job, I've been in that chair. I'm there because of their mission. And there's that old saying nobody cares what unless they know that you care, my clients want to know that I care about their mission. This is not just a project, this is not just something to do during the day, this is important to me. And you can't fake that, you're right, that's not fakeable. So whatever you're consulting about should probably be something you care about a lot.

Deb Zahn: I think step one, care about what you're consulting about. I love that. Now. I know sometimes, very rarely, but sometimes we go into these initial meetings that we're having with people we know or people who saw us up on a stage or somehow found out about us and they don't know exactly what they want or it's not like they called you and they said, "I have X project and I want you to talk about X project with me." So what would Josh do in a situation like that, where you're having these conversations and how do you get them to think about and reveal things that they're struggling with, the rocks that are in their backpack?

Josh Rubin: Yeah. I think in some ways, this is the hardest part because even if they think they know what they want, they probably don't. They tell you they know exactly what they want you to do, and sometimes that's true, but not usually. And so there's a process of peeling the onion. I don't like that analogy. There's a process of sort of together figuring out what is the problem and ultimately your ability as a consultant to sit with the client and have a conversation and sort of listen actively and really be engaged and synthesizing, right? The key is to synthesize coming in. That process of figuring out what the project is. A demonstration of the skillset you're going to need to do the project.

And so ultimately you are able to sit and talk to somebody, be interested, be interesting, right? It's all the same, and really understand what is it that's vexing them, what is it they think is vexing them, and what's sort of just below the surface of that problem? And then to be able to have collaboratively identified that problem, to be able to pretty quickly, and it can be at a high level in that conversation say, "OK, here are the four steps I would go through to solve that problem. I'll flesh it out in a scope, I'll get you a letter and deal with the rest of that stuff, but here are the four steps that you need." Or now I can say, "Here are the four steps I have done in the past." And that always makes people feel even more comfortable in your-

Deb Zahn: Right. Right. You're not just making it up, you've done it.

Josh Rubin: But it's that process of working together to dig down into something, that's what you're going to do as a consultant so you're sort of proving your capability in that process.

Deb Zahn: That's right. And they're getting their first taste of, "Oh, this is what it's going to be like working with this person. I'm not just going to get my result, I'm going to have greater clarity." And clarity is often what they want to buy because they don't generally have it at the beginning.

Josh Rubin: And there's an important piece there. And this is another mistake I see people may people think, "Oh, I don't want to give it away in the first meeting." It's just the dumbest thing you can possibly say.

Deb Zahn: I don't get it.

Josh Rubin: The more I can blow your mind in an hour, the more you can walk away at the end of the hour and go, "Oh my God, I just spent an hour with this guy, I got three ideas I can implement. I'm definitely going to pay you a couple hundred bucks for the next hour. I want a bunch of those hours." And so at a certain point, generosity of spirit, generosity of intellect, generosity, be generous. I mean just, nobody wants to work with you if you think they think you're going to be nickle and diming them. Be generous. If you're there and you're not on the clock, it's just a discovery conversation but you have an idea that you think can help that person, give them, give the idea, share the idea with them. Don't make them sign the letter and then be like, "Oh, I got an idea for you."

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Now that you've paid me, I'm willing to share my ideas. When I used to have consultants approach me and they thought their secret sauce was the thing that they did, not them, I was less interested in hiring them because now you're asking me to take a risk and that risk is paying you in the hopes that you have good ideas as opposed to oh no, now I know you have good ideas, that's awesome, and now I'm willing to give you money for it.

Josh Rubin: Yeah. Well, I think that's important. People always think about consultants as “I'm selling an hour.” An hour of no one's time is worth 500 bucks. It’s just not. What's worth 500 bucks is 25 years of experience that went into what I'm saying in that hour. And so if you're thinking I'm selling them an hour, eh, they're getting a lousy deal. If you're thinking I'm selling them me and all the expertise and experience and ideas and perspectives that I have. And the great secret of consulting, the thing I did not anticipate before I was a consultant that turns out to be, I think, the best thing about consulting is that now because I have all these different clients with all of these different perspectives and all of these different problems and all of these different pieces of the system in their scope, I can bring all of that perspective to whatever the problem is in front of me. And that's what makes that hour worth the money.

Deb Zahn: That's right. And every year you do it and every client you work with, your value keeps going up. Now of course would tell people don't charge hourly then because they're charged by value because they're going to get so much more out of it. But yeah, I love that because I've seen so many people say, "I got to hold back my good stuff" because they mistakenly believe that the client is going to take it and either try and do it themselves, which good luck with that, or they're going to go to another cheaper consultant and tell them, "Well, here's their idea."

The reality is they likely can't do it themselves, which is why they're having a conversation in the first place. They couldn't do it the way I could do it because of everything I've done and know and they sure as heck can't hand it to a bargain-basement consultant and think that they're going to get the same results. They can try. “God bless you, I'll see you on the other side!” But that doesn't make sense. You are trying to show them that there's a reason they should trust you with the things that they have high stakes over.

Josh Rubin: I think that's true all over the place. Give it away. I'll give a speech and people will say, "Oh man, can I have that deck?" Absolutely. It's got our company logo all on every page, got my picture and phone number at the back of it. I'm like, "Please take your deck, way better than my business card. Take the deck." At a certain point generosity, that's what people want. People want to work with you if you're generous and smart and friendly.

Deb Zahn: That's right. That's right. I mean, I've also heard clients say to me, and it just made me sad and want to cry, is they've had consultants before who they got the distinct impression that the consultants were saving their best stuff for their highest paying clients. And that just made me want to hurl and cry all at the same time because I treat, and I know you do the same, my $20,000 clients the same way I treat my seven-figure, my six-figure clients because everybody gets the best stuff.

Josh Rubin: And to some extent, the $20,000 client, I know how much that $20,000 means to them. If it's a little tiny nonprofit organization, I know how much that $20,000 means to them in a way that when I'm working for a giant system and they're spending $800,000, a million or whatever, that million doesn't mean nearly as much to them as that 20,000 does to my little tiny nonprofit behavioral health provider. And I would feel grotesque if I was treating them badly because the money they're giving me is more important to them. That would be ugh.

Deb Zahn: Ugh. Yeah, we're both making hurling facial expressions for anybody who doesn't see the video because yeah, it's icky and that's why consultants get a bad name by the way who do things like that.

All right. So let's do another scenario. So this sometimes happens where you can go in, you dazzle, you're generous, you give them the good stuff and you can tell they love it and they know that this would help them but for some reason, they don't say, "Hey, give me a proposal." And I've seen so many good consultants who can do good stuff. If the client doesn't broach it, they assume that means they don't want to work with me and they walk away as opposed to the client might just be in a different headspace or really into it and they're not thinking about the next step. So what would Josh do if a client didn't say after a really good discovery process together, didn't say, "Hey, get me a proposal."

Josh Rubin: I would say, “Hey, this is really fun, I'm really digging spending time with you. I would love to work with you. Can I get you a proposal?"

Deb Zahn: Doesn't sound that hard, does it?

Josh Rubin: It feels like not giving them a proposal would be ungenerous. They got a rock, I'm trying to put it in my backpack. Maybe the rock is there, maybe they're uncomfortable, they don't want to ask you for a proposal. They know if they ask me for a proposal, I got to go home and I got to sit there at 10 o'clock at night after I put my kids to bed making a proposal for them and maybe they don't know if they're going to hire me and so they don't want to ask me for a proposal unless they're sure they're going to hire me.

I'm real happy to write a proposal even if you're not sure if you're going to hire me. I get my knickers in a twist if I write you a proposal and you never call me back and you just ghost me, I think that's rude but life goes on, it can happen sometimes. But I'm always happy to sit down and think about somebody's problem and think about how I could be helpful with that and call some of my colleagues in the HMA where there's 600 of us now.

Deb Zahn: Oh my goodness.

Josh Rubin: And there's an opportunity for me to figure out, who is the best person in this firm? Who's specific expertise? I think that's fun, I think it's kind of an intricate problem to figure out if I had this problem, what would I do to solve it? But while I try not to be selling anything, right? Because aggressive sales is not who I am, so it wouldn't be authentic and I don't think people like it, at the time, I have to be conscious of moving a process forward. That's what people need consultants to do. I am improving my capability to do the work through the process of getting the work. And if I can't get the process moving forward, I'm probably not going to be a very good consultant for you.

Deb Zahn: That's right. Well, what's funny is I've actually had clients who after because I'll do the same thing, which is like, "This is great, I just heard a couple of things that I think I could be really helpful with or I know my colleagues could be, want to talk about that?" And usually, I get an enthusiastic answer. I've had a couple of clients tell me later what they were thinking in that moment and a few of them thought, "This is really good stuff. I doubt I can afford it." So they were unqualifying themselves for getting the goodness that I and others wanted to give them erroneously because I'm like you. I'm like, I'm going to go in back and I'm going to try and figure out how to get you what you need and to solve your problem.

Or they thought, "Oh, she's going to be too busy." They did all of these things to unqualify themselves, forgetting what they want, especially when they're used to consultants who don't actually do that or consultants who are just selling hard. So I love your, and I want the listener to hear this, it is generous to try and help them and it is generous to try and move the process forward, and it is also valuable to them to see how you do it because that's what it's going to be like to work with you. So if they don't bring it up, don't take it as an indictment of you, they might be indicting themselves in some odd way, just offer it. Worst they can do is say no.

Josh Rubin: And there have been times that I've offered and they said no and through this process, we've really decided this isn't right. And that's fine, it's great. Nobody's obligated to deal with me except for my children.

Deb Zahn: And your wife occasionally.

Josh Rubin: But my kids are stuck, everybody else has a choice to make. And so at a certain point in that conversation, and this is happened to me a number of times, right? I had that conversation, they said, "No, this is not right. Nevermind." And I said, "Great, I'll see you around." And a year later, they called and said, "Hey, I got this problem. Maybe you can help me with this problem." And give them an hour. I'm always happy to give somebody an hour, always happy to jump on a phone with somebody, hear what they're thinking about, hear what their problems are, hear what's going on, be interested. I'm always going to be interested in somebody's problem. And if they hire me, great. And if they don't hire me, that's great too because it wasn't going to work out.

Deb Zahn: That's right. And the beauty is the next time they're talking to one of their peers or colleagues and someone says, "Yeah, I'm just wrestling with something," they will flash your image in their head because if you're wrestling with something this is the person to talk to.

Josh Rubin: Yeah. And that's where most of my business comes from at this point, either people I did a project for before or somebody goes, "I was asking around and somebody told me I should call you because you did a thing for them." And that's where the best business development is just doing a good job.

Deb Zahn: That's right. Yeah, actually my last three clients, the very last three, all of which have happened in the last couple months are exactly that process, brand spanking new clients and it's because of someone else that I did great work for and I was generous with and said, "Oh no, no, she's the only one you should talk to." And that wasn't business development that I had to go do. I know you fall into the same category where you spread enough goodness around and you're helpful in enough good ways to people that all of the things that you often have to do at the beginning become less important because you've created the reputation in the market that's actually magnetic.

Josh Rubin: Yeah. And because it's magnetic, more comes in than I can possibly do, and sometimes I have to say to somebody, "Oh, I'm really sorry. I would love to do that but I just don't have the time." And man, if you want somebody to want you, a little bit of scarcity goes a long way.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. And as long as it's real, but it's true the first time, and it was hard for me to say no to someone, oh my goodness I did not know the response I would get, which is, "Now I have to work with her." And they tracked me for a few years until I worked with them.

Josh Rubin: You told me that was going to happen and I wasn't really sure you were right and it turns out you were right.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. And I think what happens a lot is particularly for new consultants, they think if I say no, they're going to be like, "Ah, forget you then," and never want to work with you. And it doesn't happen, the exact opposite happens. And then you get to both set boundaries, which makes your life better, your business better because now you can deliver excellence and you still got a whole bunch of people that are hungry to work with you. It's a beautiful thing.

So let me ask you this. This is kind of the last thing I want to say is there's all kinds of new consultants out there, the Great Resignation. So lots of folks are trying to make this work and they want their freedom, they want their flexibility. So if there were two pieces of advice that you would say to them that, “Look, if you're going to do this, these are the two most important things, what would that be?”

Josh Rubin: I think the most important thing we talked about this a little bit earlier is you got to choose something you think is really important. It's got to be authentic. Look, I know aerospace engineering is important, but I can't get up and speak with passion about it. I just can't. So really thinking about where is that passion? Where are the problems that you want to spend your time solving? That means something to you? When I win something for one of my clients, it's not like, "Yeah, I won something good for business." It's like, "Yeah, they get to do something really good now because we got them some money," that they get to help people with it. That gets me excited. So it's got to be about the passion.

But the other thing I would say is that it's you, you're not selling time, you're selling you and you got to believe that what you're selling is worth every penny and then some. A lot of folks have a hard time with the idea that I am worth that much. And it's an indictment of all sorts of things about our culture, I think, but it's got to be something you care about and you got to believe that you got something special to offer. You got some real value to add here. When I sit down with a client and am sort of convincing them that I got something worth their time and trouble, I believe that. I couldn't do it if I didn't believe that. And so to my mind, that's the thing, right? And again, it comes back to interested and interesting, right? You got to know enough about it to be interesting. You got to care enough about it to be interested. Everything else also flows from there.

Deb Zahn: That's right. And if you got doubts and you got other things happening, attend to them because again, clients can tell and one of the things that they're buying and gives them trust is that you have confidence enough in what you're saying. And I've seen and again, it made me sad, I've seen folks who I know could rock it. I know they know their stuff. There is no question. And their self-doubt because it hasn't been attended to gets in their way and they undersell themselves and say they can't do things or they speak with self-doubt and clients aren't attracted to it even though if the client hired them, I knew they would get exactly what they wanted. So somehow if that lack of confidence, that self-doubt, feelings of questioning your self-worth, all of which is so, so common when you do something new for the first time, attend to it.

Josh Rubin: Absolutely. There is, however, a flip side to that coin, and this is hard.

Deb Zahn: I know where you're going.

Josh Rubin: If you don't know something, admit you don't know it. It's real easy to get like, "Oh, they're paying me hundreds of dollars an hour, I got to know everything." No you don't. You don't have to be the only smart person in the room. If they have a good idea, you should acknowledge that they had a good idea. But if you don't know something, say, "Yeah, that's a really good question. I don't know. I'll get back to you." Now, if you say, "I'll get back to you," you got to get back to them. You can't say I'll get back to you and then flake on them.

Deb Zahn: And you're like, hopefully, they forget that question.

Josh Rubin: No. You say I'll get back to you and you got to take a note for yourself and you got to go back to the office and figure out what is the answer to that question? Or who can I call? How do I get that answer? But a willingness to acknowledge where the limits of your expertise are or where the limits of your understanding are is critical because that goes to trust. You can say 800 things that turn out to be true, you say one thing that turns out to be a lie and they won't trust you anymore.

Deb Zahn: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And you think you're trying to build trust and you're not. It's funny because you and I have kind of the same, I think level of confidence. We know what we know, we know what we don't know and I've had people ask me, like, "Where does your confidence come from?" And I actually tell them, it comes from embracing that I don't have to know everything and knowing what I don't know. It doesn't come actually mostly from everything I do. I know that I'm really great at things, I know that there's some things that I'm good at and I know there's some things that I probably should stay away from that. That's where my confidence comes from is I give myself permission to not have to be an expert in everything and to say it when I'm not and guess what? They like it. They actually appreciate it. Who knew?

Josh Rubin: When you say you're an expert in something, they know you're not full of it.

Deb Zahn: That's right because that has credibility. I love it. Well, so I got two other quick questions for you. This is a really important one. This is an important scenario, Josh. So let's say you're making vegetarian matzah ball soup, so when do you add the soy curls? If you could see his face right now.

Josh Rubin: There is no such thing as vegetarian matzah ball soup. I'm sorry.

Deb Zahn: I got to tell people. So tell people why I'm asking you this.

Josh Rubin: You're making what you call matzah ball soup, and for those of you not looking I'm putting it in air quotes because there weren't matzah balls, and it wasn't chicken soup. And so you can't have matzah balls without schmaltz and matzah balls go with matzah ball soup has chicken soup in it. And so with all due respect to my vegan friends and my vegetarian daughter and my other vegan relatives, it might be delicious, whatever you're eating might be delicious, but it ain't matzah ball soup. Same way if it's got cinnamon and raisins in it's not a bagel.

Deb Zahn: Uh-oh. Man, you are hardcore. So I had to ask you this because the one night I'm making it, I take a picture to send to you and I got my soy curls instead of my chicken and they're soaking because you got to soak your soy curls and I got matzah ball soup mix, which is probably also bad, and you start sending me shorts all of which I have to look up to figure out that I have brought shame to your house.

Josh Rubin: Not my house, shame to your house.

Deb Zahn: To bring shame to my house. And of course, no one here knew that I brought said shame and they all ate the soup with great abandon. But I had to bring that up because I just enjoyed that so much. I can't tell you. All right. So let me ask you my famous last question, balance in your life, however it is you define that. Josh, how do you do that?

Josh Rubin: Ooh, sporadically. How do I do that? Sporadically. Boundaries, right? You see I'm at the office, pandemic or no pandemic I'm coming to the office because it helps me draw lines around the time. I schedule in my calendar, like a lot of consultants, I am driven by whatever is in my Outlook. And so I schedule things in my Outlook that have nothing to do with work. I schedule time to sit and BS with my son or time to go to the schoolyard and kick a soccer ball around. I schedule, oh I got to get home this night so that I can have dinner with the kids. I put it in the calendar because if it's in the calendar, it happens, pretty much anything that's in the calendar happens because otherwise I wouldn't be very good at my job.

And so you got to leverage that. But at a certain point you said it earlier, it's about boundaries, it's about establishing boundaries. It's about being willing to say no and it's hard because you got to make the sunshines, but at a certain point you've got to be able to say, "No, I can't do that. Let me find somebody who can." And they got a problem and they came to me to help them with their problem, I'm happy to help them with their problem even if helping them with their problem means calling somebody, phoning a friend and having my friend help them with their problem.

The other thing I think, and this is where I think consulting is awesome, when I go on vacation, I just put an out of office message and I say, "I'll call you when I get back." And I don't look. And I did it, I come back from a vacation, I got 1,100 emails. You go through 1,100 emails. But I just came back from vacation during which I looked at no emails. And because I'm a consultant, nobody owns my time, everybody rents my time, nobody owns it. And so when I'm away for three weeks, there's nobody who feels like, "Well, he still works for me, even though he's on vacation." Because they're clients, they're not bosses. And that to me is the magic of consulting of being able to say, "You know what? My son's got a soccer game so I'm going to the soccer game I'm not available."

Deb Zahn: That's right. He's my client now.

Josh Rubin: If I don't answer somebody's email, they don't know am I facilitating a strategic planning meeting? Am I on a call with another client? Am I sitting at a bar watching March Madness? They don't know.

Deb Zahn: That's right because you're not in the office next to them. And they can't pop their head in saying, "What are you doing?"

Josh Rubin: I mean, they're not my boss. So they don't feel like they have a right to know where I am at all times, right? I've had bosses who thought they had a right to know where I was 24-7, 365. And in times that was reasonable, I was in operations for a nonprofit, if there was a leak in a residential program at three o'clock in the morning, they needed to get me because that was my problem. And so it wasn't like it was inappropriate, but consulting, I've got that sort of half a step removed and I have that control and it's hard to remember you have that control and it's hard to take advantage of that control, but you've got that control and it's the magic of consulting. And if I want to go to the office late because I wanted to take a yoga class in the morning or whatever, I go to the office late and nobody knows, nobody cares.

Deb Zahn: That's right. That's right. I love that. I just got the picture of you at a yoga class. Thank you very much.

Josh Rubin: Yeah. Yoga was a bad example because that doesn't really ever happen.

Deb Zahn: I have to thank you because I will tell you, and you know this, particularly when we first met and as we understood that we love working together, you were one of my people that I knew if I said no and I sent clients to you that they were in the best imaginable hands that they could be in and I didn't have to worry about it. And that hasn't always been the case. So I got to thank you for that and all of the fun times we've worked together and we're going to work together and thanks for coming on the show and sharing this because people don't know this stuff.

Josh Rubin: It's a pleasure. And I got to be honest, I'm just paying you back. You taught me so much when I started as a consultant that I'm still in your debt and I still seven years later have clients that you sent me because you didn't have time and some of those folks, seven years later, or I'm still working with them.

Deb Zahn: That's fabulous.

Josh Rubin: Some of those are some of my favorite clients.

Deb Zahn: Yay. See, it all works out. Awesome. Josh, thank you so much.

Josh Rubin: Thank you, Deb.

Deb Zahn: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoyed this episode or if you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up and a lot of other great content and I don't want you to miss anything. But the other two things that I'm going to ask you to do is, one is, if you have any comments, so if you have any suggestions or any kind of feedback that will help make this podcast more helpful to more listeners, please include those.

And then the last thing is, again, if you've gotten something out of this, share it, share it with somebody you know who's a consultant or thinking about being a consultant, and make sure that they also have access to all this great content and all the other great content that's going to be coming up.

So as always, you can go and get more wonderful information and tools at Thanks so much. I will talk to you on the next episode. Bye-bye.

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