Episode 177: Contingencies and Choices for Consulting “What Ifs”—with Jamie Green
Deb Zahn: Hi. I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. On this episode, it is all about contingencies and choices. When you're thinking about becoming a consultant or as you're consulting, these are the things that you can think through. The what ifs that actually might stop you from moving forward or getting your way of being successful and think through how you can address those in a way that also honors yourself as a person.
I brought on a fabulous guest who always works with companies and organizations to think through that human side of the equation. She and I have a fantastic conversation about exactly what types of contingencies and choices you can make to make sure that you get to enjoy being a consultant and you get to enjoy the life that comes with it. So, let's get started.
Hi, I want to welcome to my show today, Jamie Green. Jamie, welcome to the show.
Jamie Green: Hello, Deb. Thank you for having me.
Deb Zahn: So, let's start off. I know what you do but tell my listeners what you do.
Jamie Green: All right. So, I help organizations uncover potential and profits by teaching people how to use humankind communication to create and maintain human-centered workplaces.
Deb Zahn: Nice. And you can tell you have choreographed very precisely how you say that. So it's got all the good stuff that would resonate with folks that you want to work with. I love that.
Jamie Green: We try.
Deb Zahn: And you can tell that you tried, and you've actually perfected it over time. So, I absolutely adore that. So, we're going to actually not talk about the specifics of what you do, but we're going to talk about consulting today and in particular contingencies and choices for folks to think about is as they're making decisions about their consulting business. But let's start off. And I know one thing we've talked about before is people often have a really narrow view of what consulting is and what fits into that category and neither you nor I think it's that narrow. So, what is that broader view that people could think? Yeah, I could fit under that umbrella.
Jamie Green: Oh my gosh. There is so much that fits under that consulting umbrella. So, for example, I specialize in organizational learning and development. Some people think, "Oh, you're just a trainer." No, I'm a consultant because I am also advising organizations on how to develop their people and develop their practices. So that is consulting. Consulting is also this amazing piece that falls within anything that has to do with people, policies, procedures. So, it's anything. You may be an expert in doing something very well that has to do with technology. You can be a consultant.
You may understand as you do the healthcare field. You can be a consultant. You may have been an educator for many years like me. You can be a consultant. So consulting is not just, "Oh, it's theoretical. It can also be in practice."
Deb Zahn: That's right. I love that. I remember when I was first starting, and I thought of myself as a facilitator, a trainer and dot, dot, dot. All of that is consulting because those are just tools that I use to help clients achieve whatever the outcomes they want to achieve.
Jamie Green: Exactly.
Deb Zahn: So, let's dive into because what we wanted to focus a lot on today, when we talk about contingencies and choices is you can be a consultant even if... Or if you're a consultant, sort of the what if and how do you handle those things?
Jamie Green: Yes.
Deb Zahn: Let's start off with the money part. The money part is often—and I know I had this concern when I was becoming a consultant—is what if you don't have a safety net of having a whole bunch of money that's packed away? So, you're going to take this leap and you need to make it work financially. So how would you advise someone who doesn't have that safety net tucked away somewhere?
Jamie Green: The very first thing that I would advise is to get honest. Be very honest with yourself. Take a hard look at your finances. Not what you think they are, not what you wish they were, but what they really are. And sometimes that means sitting down with an expert, sit down with a financial advisor or an accountant. Not your best buddy, not somebody... Right? You're looking for an expert to help guide you through and help you understand the realities of your situation. And then what I would say is understand that consulting does not have to be a full-time gig.
You can start out part-time. I mean, I did consulting for many years as a side gig in addition to my full-time employment. It's also possible to do consulting and take on a part-time job. So it's one of those things of get real, be honest with yourself and do not let the money stop you.
Deb Zahn: That's right. Just get, and you can get creative about it exactly how you're talking about it. I love that.
Jamie Green: Right.
Deb Zahn: And I know one of the things that often goes with that money piece is for folks who are their single source of income. Either they're single or they have a family and they're it, or they're the primary source as was my case. How do you overcome that where you're like, "OK, yeah, I think I can do this"?
Jamie Green: When I decided to make the leap from full-time employment with consulting as a side gig to full-time consulting, it was a fear. It was an absolute fear. It's like, "Oh my gosh. Am I going to be able to pay the bills? What happens if my 11-year-old Toyota breaks down? What happens if I get sick, and now I'm in the hospital, and I have medical bills? What happens if..." So what I did is I sat down and I let myself go through all of the what-ifs. I just let myself think through all the worst-case scenarios. And then I let myself think through all the best-case scenarios.
And I said, "OK, now come on. You are a smart, intelligent human being. You can figure this out. So what is it that you need to do for yourself? And in this case, for me to be comfortable…How much did I need to make in order to be able to also put money into savings? And also how much could I work so that I wasn't exhausting myself, thereby potentially setting myself up for failure in some fashion."
So it was, again, this thing of being really honest and not losing sight of the possibilities. For me, it was, "All right. I know that I am my sole source of income. I don't have anybody else to rely on. Nobody is going to leave me a huge inheritance. It's just me darn it." Right?
It's just me. I don't play the lottery. So that billion-dollar lottery ticket that somebody won recently, that wasn't going to be me. But what I did know is that I could take a picture of my life from the past three years, which is what I did. And I sat down and said, "All right, what are all of the unexpected things that came up?" And what did they cost? So, I planned for the unexpected. And then I said, "All right, what are extras that I'm doing now that I'm not going to need as I do consulting?"
So one was, a lot of people have discovered I don't have a commute. I work from home. I save a lot of money on gas. Another was that I did not have to have the full wardrobe that I once had before. So, it's like, OK, there's some little savings in there. In other words, I, again, got real with my budget. And once I did that, I had a better understanding of the reality and what I knew I might face. And that gave me a greater sense of control. Part of it was as just realizing that my desire to be my own boss and live the life I want had to be greater than my fear.
Deb Zahn: It was funny because I was talking to someone just a couple days ago, who's been getting the advice. You have to face your greatest fear and just face it and just do that. And she's like, "I don't really want to. What I want to do is have a plan." I like that you really thought about it deliberately and said it's not just, "OK, fear, here I come," it's, "Let's really work with it."
Jamie Green: Well, I embraced it. I just decided that. All right, that is what courage is, is deciding to embrace the fear and do it anyway. And by doing that, I had greater confidence because I did have a plan. I faced the fear with great courage, came up with a plan and then enacted the plan. A lot of confidence comes from that.
Deb Zahn: That's right. As opposed to do it even without confidence and hope it comes along. But then you're not prepared for what does happen.
Jamie Green: Exactly, right.
Deb Zahn: Yeah. I love that. Now, one other one that I've heard is around age like, "Oh, I'm too old to do this." It came up in one particular way with someone a couple months ago who was worried about people's perception like, "Oh, if you're of a certain age, and you're becoming a consultant because no one would hire you." Or something along those lines. It comes up in all kinds of different versions. But how do you get over, "Is this a young person's game? Should I have done this earlier? Or am I too old for this?"
Jamie Green: Well, let me address this first, very specifically to menopausal and postmenopausal women.
Deb Zahn: Hello.
Jamie Green: Because a recent study out of the UK says that nearly 10% of the working population of women in their menopausal years are leaving the workplace or drastically reducing their hours and their contribution because of menopausal symptoms. That means that when menopausal persons are at the height of their ability to contribute to the organization, they're leaving. That is not acceptable to me.
But what I understand is that sometimes in the case of menopause, it is something that at least for me, it made it tough to work. It really did. I'm on the other side of it now and I can tell you that consulting is where I found my ability to make my greatest contribution. So rather than backing away from the workforce, I knew, "No, I have a lot to give. I have a lot of experience. I have a lot of stories. I have a lot more to share."
So I really want to encourage women who think that I'm too old. I have gray hair that I'm no longer a value. Phooey on that. Yes, you do. You have a lot of value to give.
Deb Zahn: Phooey on that!
Jamie Green: Exactly. Phooey on that. And the same is true for men. It is absolutely true that we have so much left to give. And again, you don't have to think of consulting as a full-time career opportunity.
Deb Zahn: That's right.
Jamie Green: It can be something in your later years in your third act that you are doing as a way of continuing to provide value, continuing to contribute. And you're doing it in such a way that works with your lifestyle.
Deb Zahn: That's right. And I know today folks who've been in leadership positions, men and women who are asking themselves the question, "I still want to contribute. I still want to have an impact, but I want to do it differently than I did in my 30s, 40s, 50s. How can I do that?" And consulting is a fabulous way to do that.
But I want to say something about the menopause thing because I make no secret to anybody that I'm in the midst of it, and the brain fog, the exhaustion, and all that is true. But the benefit of consulting is if you set it up well where you're actually a good boss and you think through it, the freedom and flexibility that it gives you, allows you to make space for the different biological reality that you're currently experiencing. I know one of the other things we're going to talk about is for folks who have chronic health conditions, for folks who have mental health conditions, it's the same way. It doesn't mean, "Oh, then I couldn't possibly be a consultant." So say a little bit more about that because the age and also having different health conditions matters.
Jamie Green: Absolutely. I live with a chronic health condition. That means I have to manage my energy levels. And there were times when I was working full time, it exhausted me. And then I was shot for days. I mean, it would take a lot out of me because I am one of those people. I'm kind of like the race horse. I just go full tilt. So, it was difficult. What I have found that with consulting is I get to stop and think about what is the work environment I need for myself. How do I want that to work?
That means I usually don't take my first appointment until 10:00 in the morning because I like a long slow morning. It just works for me. It also means that I know that if I have had a two-day retreat that I've just delivered, I'm going to take the next day off completely.
Deb Zahn: Heck, yes.
Jamie Green: And so I'm able to manage that because somebody isn't waiting for me to punch the clock.
Deb Zahn: That's right.
Jamie Green: I also know that it has been extremely important for my... And I'm going to just speak from my perspective and my story here. For me, for the whole pandemic, which is when I launched into my consulting gig full time, it was a blessing because the ability to say, "You know what, today is a not-so-happy day. Today is a tough day. And what I can do today is I can rearrange my schedule or my tasks to suit my mental health needs."
What I've also found is that as I've talked to more and more consultants about this, they realize that one of the difficulties of being in the workplace is having to be on all the time.
Deb Zahn: That's right.
Jamie Green: Right? That somebody else is expecting you to be happy, put a smile on your face, be in a good mood at all times.
Deb Zahn: Even in the bathroom.
Jamie Green: Even in the bathroom. It's ridiculous and that you are not allowed to have moods. We talked about emotional intelligence and yet still so many workplaces are expecting people to put on this false face of positivity. And it's like, "That is so not real. That is not human." I need for my mental health to be fully human. So as a consultant, I get to do that. And the real beauty of it is that then when I am out consulting, I can be more of an advocate for being fully human in the workplace.
Deb Zahn: That's right. That's right. And clients appreciate it, and I will say as someone who has a mental health condition, which has been exasperated by menopause, not by the pandemic because that actually an introvert that was kind of a gift to me, that was actually fine.
Jamie Green: It hit me all at once. It was the perfect storm in my life, yes.
Deb Zahn: Yeah. But the ability to construct my days and the ways that you talked about it, so I know that if I have back-to-back meetings that go all the way until five or six at night, and I allow that to happen—because I'm actually in charge of my schedule, my clients are not in charge of my schedule—then that's not good mental health hygiene that is actually going to not just serve my life but also serve my clients. Because the folks who get at the tail end are paying the same price as the folks at the beginning, and they're not going to get the same amount. But I get to decide that and that's beautiful about it.
Jamie Green: Exactly. And Deb, if I may, this was a little tip that I learned I'm fairly certain on one of your previous podcasts because in my past life, meaning my corporate life, what I would tend to do was I was the pleaser. Whatever somebody else want, "You need me to be there at eight? I'll be there at eight." Whatever you want. And I would contort myself to not appear as though I was in any way depressed or dealing with any physical, emotional issues at all. Right? In other words, I was putting on that mask of false positivity.
What I realized was as a consultant, that was a huge mistake. So instead of saying to a client when are you available and contorting myself to fit their schedule? I went, "Uh-huh, here's my availability. Come to me."
Deb Zahn: That's right.
Jamie Green: Once I made that little shift in thinking, and then also on my calendar, it was huge because now all of a sudden, I'm back in control, which is why I wanted to be a consultant to begin with.
Deb Zahn: That's right. But you have to take that control because otherwise it is so easy to replicate what we did in employment. So I wasn't the pleaser, I was the fix-it gal. So, "Oh, that's broken. Let me fix that. Let me do that right." I was that person, helpful but probably also annoying. But what that meant is, is that anybody who didn't really want to fix it or didn't really want to do it right, didn't have to worry about it because I was going to swoop in and basically bring it to completion. So that was me not helpful because that consumed my life.
Jamie Green: And on that note, so I really was very much that person as well. And I still am. I still love to help people fix things, which is why I like being a consultant. But it was true in the workplace. I took on all kinds of things. One because I could. Two because I thought I should. And three because truly fixing things brings me joy.
Deb Zahn: That's right.
Jamie Green: So, part of it was I liked it. Right? What I also realized was that when I started going into consulting full time, that was one of the pieces that I had to learn fast was that it was not and should not be totally up to me to do every single little thing.
Deb Zahn: That's right.
Jamie Green: So even though I could, doesn't mean I should.
Deb Zahn: That's right. And this is where you have to be careful of...cecause I love to fix things too. And that's perfect for being a consultant is because then you get paid to fix things, but that's where you have to pay attention then to scope creep and scope leap because you might say, "Oh, I got that too. Or how about that? I can also help you with that." And once a client gets a sense of your willingness to do that, I mean, they hit the jackpot. So, you have to still manage it as a consultant. I don't know if you experienced this in the workplace. In the workplace, it was generally I had my job, plus I was fixing all these other things that were “other duties as required.”
Jamie Green: Yes.
Deb Zahn: That's why I worked the hours that I worked.
Jamie Green: Again, in the workplace I suffered as many people do from the fact that I was an overachiever. So I was somebody who could get the job done, would get the job done and quickly others figured that out. And in more than one instance, I found myself doing somebody else's job on top of mine because they couldn't, they wouldn't, and they let me, and I let myself. So it was scope creep, if you will in the workplace. And it's like, "Oh my goodness. I have got to get this straight." And now I do understand that. And so again, the same rule applies.
Understand that coming into this business of being a consultant means having very clear boundaries, creating them for yourself and creating them with your client.
Deb Zahn: That's right. And the beauty of having calendars that mirror that, contracts and scopes of work that mirror that, you actually have things you don't have in employment that help essentially codify and support the boundaries that you're setting. But you got to know you walking in that, that you're doing it. I'd like to hit sort of one other, which is if the economy fluctuates.
So, there's still debate about whether or not recession is going to happen. And if so, what it would look like. but the economy does fluctuate. We saw that with the pandemic.
Jamie Green: Yes.
Deb Zahn: So that's a big what if that happens. How do you handle that?
Jamie Green: Well, two ways. One is, as I said earlier, I looked back at history and realized that there were several things that came up from out of the blue. And I had to manage them, the unexpected. So, it doesn't matter if it's a recession or not, something unexpected will happen. Plan for it. You don't know what it is, but plan for it. So, part of it for me, the whole thing about being ready is understanding that I alone cannot see all.
I wish I could wish I could read the crystal ball. So instead, I have what I call my board of advisors. And now, I do not call this my board of directors because I take advice well. I don't necessarily take direction well. So I turn to a group of people and I allow them to help me see the bigger picture. So let me tell you who I have on my board of advisors. I always have an accountant and this is my money person.
This is the person who has that big picture, economic outlook. I am looking for them to understand what is happening in the world economically and also with me economically with my particular business, that they understand my unique situation.
So, their person, their whole thing is to advise me on the economics. I have a coach. This person is somebody who's going to help develop my skills and to challenge me and my thinking. And this is important because even as consultants, we still must be developing our skills. Part of being recession ready, or just ready for any contingency is understanding that you sometimes need to be flexible and be able to shift and adapt.
The coach. I turn to this person to help me see that. To see that, "Well, maybe if you make this shift, well, here's something happening locally, a need." Adapt, right?
The next is my champion. This is the person who is going to help me expand my network and the person who is going to believe in me. They're going to help open doors. Now, sometimes this champion is the one who shifts and changes depending on economic circumstances.
So it might be that...I do a lot of work with manufacturing, so that's great. But if I saw that maybe there's a need to work with realtors, I'm going to look for a champion who can help me build my network and open doors with real estate agents.
The next is my guide. Now, in all honesty, Deb, I consider you this person.
Deb Zahn: Oh, oh my gosh.
Jamie Green: Because this is somebody who has walked the path that I want to travel. So, there's somebody who's already “been there, done that” and are giving me advice if you will that is very much past advice, right? Been there, done that.
But then the last person that I have found to be invaluable on my advisory team is that of what I call a Gen Z. I am looking for somebody younger than me who has a new worldview, who has a new perspective, who has not been there, not done what I'm doing so that they bring to me something new and different. I use those people to feed me the data, the information, the food for thought that helps me be ready for whatever may happen.
Deb Zahn: Wow, wow, wow. I love that. I am honored to be among that group, but I love the last one. That's sort of your “zeitgeist futurist.” That is something that I wouldn't see and some of your other people wouldn't see because we're not in a different world. We're in the world that we're in. So I love that.
Jamie Green: Right, exactly.
Deb Zahn: So of last piece of advice for people who are like, "Oh, OK, I guess I'm a consultant or I guess I could be a consultant," on how they can be their best boss.
Jamie Green: Oh, there's this wonderful little saying that I've seen before, be the person that as a child you needed, right? So, I look at this as like, "Well, what kind of boss did I need in the past? Who did I need to be that person?" So for me, again, everything is about human-centered workplaces. So, I need a boss who listens. That means I have to listen to myself. For me, that means I'm always writing. I'm journaling, I'm putting my thoughts out and I'm listening to myself. Another piece that I needed from a boss was somebody that would allow me to learn and to grow.
So I make certain that on my calendar is always time to invest in my own learning because I want a boss who would do that for me. I also want a boss who is somebody who believes in me and knows I can without doubting me.
So I don't allow myself to doubt. I believe it's like, "Yes, I can." And sometimes that means I have to listen to the daily affirmations or say, "Come on Jamie, you can do this." Give myself the little pep talk. But I need that for me, so I'm going to be that person for me." And then also a boss that knows how to put together a team so that it's not just me, that there is a team support.
So even though I'm a solopreneur for the most part, I had to build a team who can help me with my marketing, who can help me with my website, who can help me with the accounting, who can help me with some fresh ideas, that type of thing. So, I'm that boss. I put together the team. That's what I look for.
Deb Zahn: I love that. I love that last one, especially because I remember distinctly being in employment and stuffing envelopes or something like that. I'm like, "Why am I paying off my master's degree?" This is what I'm doing. And it's because there was poor planning at the boss level. And so the person had people doing things that they weren't well suited to do. I love that. How am I in my life making myself stuff envelopes?
Jamie Green: Exactly. I love that. I'm going to think about it. For me, it was making Xerox copies, right?
Deb Zahn: Oh, yeah. Then you'd hand them to me, and I'd stuff the envelope.
Jamie Green: Well, I had a boss who wanted me to make photocopies, and I realized Xerox is not the name, the photocopies. And then three-hole punch the paper and then put them in a binder. By the time all of that was done, the information that we had put in the binder was out of date. I kept saying, "There's a better way to do this. We could do it digital," and the boss just didn't even want to listen. I'm thinking, "Are you kidding? I have..." This person had multiple degrees. I only had a master's, forgive me, but I also had 25 years more experience than that person, but they didn't want to listen.
Deb Zahn: That's right. You don't want to be that boss. Freeing yourself to do what only you can do is a beautiful, beautiful thing. I know when we had chatted previously because I always ask about balance and you used this fabulous phrase.
I just got to ask you, how do you approach balance in your own unique, be-your-best-boss kind of way?
Jamie Green: Well, I thought more about this one. First, I really don't think about the word balance because to me balance is a static state. So I do think of this as integration, as weaving things into the tapestry of my life. And because I love alliteration, Deb, I realize that my sense of integration and joy comes from M&M's. Now sometimes it's the candy-coated peanut kind, but mostly it means these four things: It means movement, which is walking, dancing, stretching, yoga, Qigong, or any of those things. It also means meditation and mindfulness, which is frequent pauses just to take a good deep breath and be present in the moment, and to reset myself, and then massage.
And massage can be, of course, like therapeutic massage, but sometimes it's reading, massaging the mind, doing word games. I love Wordle. Or listening to music. And the last one is medication. And sometimes medication really is pharmaceutical in the case of needs for chronic health conditions or mental health conditions. But it can also be good nutrition because food can be our greatest medicine.
Deb Zahn: That's right.
Jamie Green: Or laughter or nature. For me, I look to weave in my M&Ms.
Deb Zahn: Oh my goodness. I love that so much. I'm going to have to…when I get the transcript, I'm going to have to write those down so I can put them in front of me. Those are wonderful. Well, Jamie, I can't thank you enough. I know we've known each other, but I was so excited to have you on the podcast so we could talk about these things because both of us don't want anybody to hold themselves back or to suffer as consultants, needlessly. Phooey on that.
Jamie Green: Right. Exactly.
Deb Zahn: Thank you so much for joining me.
Jamie Green: 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.
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