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Episode 215: Closing the Confidence Gap for Consultants—with Kelli Thompson

Deb Zahn: Hi, I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. On this episode, we are going to talk about how to close any confidence gaps that you might be having, anything that's getting in your way of starting, building, and growing your consulting business as it relates to confidence. I brought on someone who wrote this amazing book called Closing the Confidence Gap, Kelli Thompson. We have this absolutely wonderful conversation all about confidence. I'm telling you, you're going to get so much out of this episode. I loved it, so I can't wait for you to hear it.

Hi. I want to welcome to the show today Kelli Thompson. Kelli, welcome to the show.

Kelli Thompson: Hey, thanks for having me on the show.

Deb Zahn: Let's start off. Tell my listeners what you do.

Kelli Thompson: I am a women's leadership coach, and so I am on a mission to help women advance to the rooms where decisions are made. I do that through one-to-one leadership coaching through offering group public programs and my Clarity and Confidence Women's Leadership Program, and sometimes I go into organizations and do women's leadership presentations to organizations as well, and I'm an author.

Deb Zahn: Oh, you are indeed, and it's a fabulous book. We're going to talk about it as we go along. Of course, everything that you talk about applies to consultants as well. Again, I consider consultants to be leaders. They're definitely in rooms where they need to have some of the skills that you talk about and some of the mindsets. Today we are going to talk about how to find what works for you in a career as a consultant. And we're going to talk about, and this is where my first plug for your book, Closing the Confidence Gap, specifically for consultants today.

One thing I want to say just as an intro before we dive into it is what I find is, particularly with a lot of new consultants, they think that success looks a certain way. Success means that, "Oh, you had clarity from the beginning, and you embarked upon this path to success and it was fast and it was linear and you were able to comfortably ride on the unicorn of confidence that you enjoyed in your sunshine and roses the last job." I don't know a single consultant that that was true for, but I know that a lot of consultants, if they don't experience all of those aspects, they think they're doing something wrong. They think that they're failing.

Let's break that down a little bit because I know you talk about a lot of these things in your book is first and foremost clarity, particularly for consultants who are starting off. How can they give themselves that gift of clarity that will make everything they do after that easier?

Kelli Thompson: Yeah, so I just want to honor that that would be a lie, everything that you just said, that it was all sunshine and rainbows. One of my mantras in my book is actually success loves clarity, and here's why. When I first started out, I remember I left corporate America, maybe like many folks listening, and I was lucky enough to have one kind of corporate client that came with me in my journey because I had a partnership with an organization. At that time, when people said, "Well, what do you do?" I was like, "Oh, I'm a leadership coach," which can mean a lot of things. At the time, I'm like, "I'm earning a little income. I don't know what I'm going to do with my life." For about the first year, that's what I just really marketed myself as is like, "I'm a leadership coach." Now, I did love helping women, but I didn't really exclusively market myself as that.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Kelli Thompson: Then, what happened was COVID happened, and when COVID hit, just like many other consultants that were off on their own, I was just a tender one year into business because I went off on my own in March of 2019, and then we all know COVID hit March 2020. In a period of about a month, I lost about 90% of my all not great income because I'm just starting out, but anything I had, I was like, "Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?"

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Kelli Thompson: Don't get me wrong, it was not a revelation right away. It was several weeks of a big, fat pity party going to the unemployment office, filing for PPP, wondering what I was going to do because a lot of my clients, I had corporate clients, well if they were laying off employees, they laid off contractors like myself, all my speaking engagements canceled. I really had to ask myself, you know, and I think this is a good question a consultant can ask themselves. "If I literally cannot lose any more money at that point, what do I want to do?" Things can't get worse here. What gives me energy? I think that that's clarity question number one is I want you to think about, and I had to think about, what are the conversations that just make me so geeked out? Where do I love spending my time and energy? What topics could I talk about all day long?

I really thought back to just my time in Corporate America. I worked in male-dominated fields, I was in human resources, and I just remember having a lot of conversations with women about confidence and negotiating their pay and talking about money. I'm like, "I would do that unpaid." I'm just so passionate about it, and so I kind of remember just going out on the internets then on social media and tweaking some of my posts. Instead of it just being a generic kind of post about leadership or coaching or listening or whatever leadership skill I was talking about, I just changed a few words.

I made it specific to women, and that clarity of, one, not only listening to what lighted me up, but taking that leap, I know when I was new, and I still work with so many new folks who are so scared to talk to a specific person because they're afraid that they're going to alienate people

Deb Zahn: Oh yeah.

Kelli Thompson: ... I might offer them the opposite. What if because you're talking so generically, you're talking to no one?

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Kelli Thompson: When I started getting really specific about who I was talking to, women, specifically corporate women, specifically women who are probably in that just about ready to be a manager to like an SVP level, all of a sudden my business growth started accelerating because it became crystal clear who I was talking to, who I served, and exactly what I could do for them. I wish I would have had that sort of clarity off the bat, but as we all know in life…

Deb Zahn: I know.

Kelli Thompson: ... sometimes it takes like a nice little skim to the bottom to help us realize how important being specific and being clear on who you serve, what you do, and the message you have for them is so important.

Deb Zahn: Yep. I want to take a pink highlighter and highlight all of what you just said because I have seen so many times it happen with me, happen with you, happen with so many other consultants I know. Once they gave themselves that gift of clarity, things shot off because the people who they should be working with said, "Oh, they're talking to me. Oh, they can help me."

Kelli Thompson: Yes.

Deb Zahn: Instead of, "Yeah, I heard Deb's a consultant. Oh, OK."

Kelli Thompson: Right.

Deb Zahn: That's the end of the conversation. I loved that. I know you also talk about in your book the values part of it, and I was so happy to see that because it's not just clarity like who do you want to serve, what type of work do you want to do, but thinking through the values. How do you encourage folks to think through what their values are and then apply those to the choices their making in their business?

Kelli Thompson: Yes. Oh, this is such a good question. I think one of the things that really has helped me define and implement my values is I left corporate for a reason. I really had to think about, what are the values, the things that must be present in my life and work for things to be meaningful? I had kind of done some of that work before I went off on my own, so just to kind of fast forward for just a second, my core values are love, respect, family, creativity, and learning.

When I was in corporate, it was really important to me to have a job that allowed me to be creative, that gave me good balance so I could be with my family, that demonstrated respect by having diversity on leadership teams, some of those things that offered a chance for learning. In my first months out, I remember feeling a little panicky for money, as many people do, and it can be really tempting to say yes to just anything-

Deb Zahn: Oh yeah.

Kelli Thompson: ...because you feel like you need the money. However, a lot of those yeses were outside my value system, meaning they would have me traveling more than I wanted to travel, which is why I left corporate, and that was going against my family value.

Maybe it was not delivering the exact topics I love, but I wanted to make an exception because I needed the money. I'm like, "Aah, this really goes against my value of respect and what I want to talk about," and those sorts of things. When I really think about why should you define your values as a business is because of this. The last thing I wanted to do was to work really, really hard to build a business that in three to five years I would resent because it wasn't in alignment with my values.

Deb Zahn: Yep.

Kelli Thompson: The first place that you can start as a business owner, and this is one thing that I really had to do especially in this first year, and sometimes it's going to take a little bit of testing and learning, a little bit of, "OK, maybe I'll say yes to that," but then paying attention to being like, "Oh, I never want to do that again." I want you to sit down and think about, "What do I know I absolutely don't want?" These could be things like, "Well, I don't want to work certain hours. I don't want these certain types of clients. I don't want to talk about these certain topics." I know for sure I don't want, and I think sometimes when we can make a don't want list, that's much easier-

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Kelli Thompson: ...because sometimes when you're new you're like, "I don't know what I want. I just want to make money and not be a nine-to-fiver anymore." Let's start with what we don't want because then if those things come, you're like, "Nope, that's on my don't want list."

The next thing that you can really think about when you think about defining your values is, "What's meaningful for me? What do I stand for in my business?" I have in my book a thing you can download that has a list of values words. You can also find them on the internet. If I overheard people talking about me and my business in the next room, what words would I want them to use?

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Kelli Thompson: Those questions can just help you start to think about, "Well, what do I value in my business?" Is it flexibility? Is it freedom? Is it creativity? Is it balance? Is it integrity? Is it whatever it is for you? Then, you can start to think about, "OK, when opportunities come my way," because as soon as you define your values, know that the universe is kind and its humorous, so it is immediately going to test you-

Deb Zahn: Sure.

Kelli Thompson: ...and present you with an opportunity that is probably outside your value system to test you to see if you are all-in. It does that to me every time. Defining your values helps you give your best yeses and nos.

Deb Zahn: Yep.

Kelli Thompson: Now that I'm four and a half years into my business, you know what? I've said no to some things that were pretty lucrative, but you know what? They just weren't in alignment with my values. They weren't going to allow me to talk about the topics I wanted or spend the family time that I wanted or have the creativity that I wanted. Had I said yes to those things, yeah, maybe I would have gotten a paycheck, but I would have resented that money.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Kelli Thompson: So values helps guide you on your best yeses and nos in the business. They help you decide what clients you're going to say yes to. The last thing that we want as a business owner is to build this business that we resent a few years down the line because it is not in alignment with our values, or we have clients that just go against our values.

Deb Zahn: That's right, and I would say if you know your values also, the clients who you engage with who align with those values, you will light each other up, and it'll be…

Kelli Thompson: It's so true.

Deb Zahn: ...yeah, it'll be much easier not only to get a contract, but to get a contract that pays you for your value at the price you should be charging because you just got in a room with someone where you're like, "Yes, yes, yes," together. If you don't know your values, it's hit or miss.

Kelli Thompson: Absolutely. You just said something about payment. You know, what I've noticed is that whenever I have clients and our values are fully aligned, they gladly pay whatever I ask. They don't haggle. They truly treat me like a business partner, somebody who is on equal playing field with them. I mean just as much to them as they do me. Everything is easy because our values aligned. There's not this weird pretending that I need to be somebody different or discounting, which never turns out well.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. No, I have probably a few clients who if somebody asked them, "What are we paying for Deb?" would probably answer, "I don't know. I don't care."

Kelli Thompson: Yeah.

Deb Zahn: That's the right answer.

Kelli Thompson: That's the place to be.

Deb Zahn: That is the place to be. There are so many juicy, wonderful things in your book. I truly did love it, so I just picked out a few others where I'm like, "Oh, that's so juicy. I have to talk about that." One of my favorite phrases in it is you talk about the cost of expensive thoughts, where I was just like, "Num, num, num, num, num." It's such good stuff. What are those? How can a consultant not let those expensive thoughts take the wheel?

Kelli Thompson: The analogy that I use to set this up is, and I think anybody who's been around a four-year-old will understand this. I use my four-year-old as an example because I say, "You know, when my daughter was four, she developed this mysterious condition. And this condition was called the but firsts." Meaning like anytime I would ask her to do something that was uncomfortable or that she didn't like, she'd be like, "Oh Mom." I'd be like, "Hey, Haley, go clean your room." "Mom, but first I need a slice of cheese. I need to put on socks. I need to brush my doll's hair." I mean, just stomach...

Deb Zahn: Yeah, yeah.

Kelli Thompson: I say we never really grow out of the but firsts. They just get more sophisticated. They show up especially as new consultants and coaches in the world like, "Oh, I want to raise my prices, but first, I need to go and get another certificate.

Deb Zahn: Oh yeah.

Kelli Thompson: “I want to start telling people that I'm a consultant, but first, I need to build my website, but first, I need more qualifications, but first, I need to do more what I call procrastibranding," which is like refining my logo…

Deb Zahn: Oh, yes.

Kelli Thompson: that but first, but first, but first. What I say is expensive thoughts are just but first. There's things that are happening in our brain, thoughts like, "I'm not qualified yet, I'm not ready yet, I'm going to fail at this, I'm not believable."

Whatever your kind of expensive thought is, it's expensive because it's costly to our peace, our general well-being in the world. It's costly to our potential because it's holding us back from what we can accomplish, and ultimately, it is costly to our paycheck. I did not learn that until I went out on my own because in corporate, we got paid every two weeks.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Kelli Thompson: Have a bad day, you slack for a week, your paycheck is still there on Friday…

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Kelli Thompson: ...but like when you're running your own business, these expensive thoughts became so prominent in my mind because I realized how much I held back. I didn't launch things quickly enough. I didn't put myself out there. I wasn't telling people what I did. I wasn't asking for the business and those thoughts were expensive because they cost me my potential and they cost me in my paycheck because if I'm not out there talking about my services, I'm not making any money.

Deb Zahn: That's right, and nothing's coming in. I remember somebody who was amazingly qualified, had all these network connections, just like could go get business today any day of the week and could go get business, and asked the question, "How long does it take to become a consultant?" They were fussing with all of the props, and I said, "So, you're one today." That's when all the stuff that you just described came bubbling up, so it didn't have anything to do with the website. It didn't have anything to do with sales language. It didn't have anything to do with dot dot dot.

You have ways that in the book where people can kind of identify and work through what their particular expensive thoughts are, which I thought was great because you don't just say it, it's also actionable, and then you say, "Here's a way to work through it," which, again, is one of the reasons that I love the book. You also sort of along these lines you distinguish between doubt and what sort of has been named imposter syndrome, which I typically don't use that term for the reasons that you indicate in the book is it sort of ignores the social realities of who gets treated as an imposter. I love that you use their term imposter monster. What's the difference between doubt and the imposter monster such that people can understand kind of how to work with it?

Kelli Thompson: Yeah, so the question that I pose in the book is this. Have we reframed our everyday doubt as imposter syndrome as that term has arisen in popularity? Imposter syndrome, actually it was called the imposter phenomenon, was coined in 1978 by two researchers, Suzanne Imes and Pauline Clance. One of the things that they wanted to study was, "Well, why do all these successful women in organizations have all these degrees, successes, etc., feel like they're going to be found out?" There was a lot of things. They thought their luck was going to run out. They felt like they didn't belong. Well, remember in 1978, women had only gotten the ability to borrow money four years earlier. They weren't really in the rooms where decisions were made, and so as the studies for imposter syndrome have evolved, people feeling like their successes look, they don't belong, they're going to be found out, is really a more systemic issue.

It's caused by people not seeing themselves in the rooms where decisions are made. People who've experienced racial discrimination. People who've experienced or expect to experience gender discrimination because they work in a company that is dominated by one gender. I really say that there's a both/and solution to imposter syndrome. We need to address they systemic inequities in organizations and some of the systemic issues at play that make people feel that they don't belong, their voice isn't equal, but at the same time, we also need to support people in the process. We can do that just by really getting people comfortable with feeling doubt.

In fact, I joke... I don't have this in the book, but I talk about it a lot. My husband and I love to watch Dateline with a margarita on Friday. We love true crime, and I remember sitting on the couch one night and I remember thinking to myself like, "You know, gosh, these people could really benefit from a little more doubt. Like maybe a little doubt that they weren't going to get away with killing their spouse and collecting on the life insurance." It kind of just hit me and I was like, "Oh my gosh, there are people in this world that don't feel doubt," and you know what? They're sociopaths, and I watch them on Dateline every Friday night. Then, it kind of just occurred to me like, "Wait a minute, doubt is like a healthy, normal human emotion. It keeps us humble. It keeps us curious. It keeps us connected."

I've interviewed like Indra Nooyi, who led Pepsi, Ariana Huffington, tech leaders, CEOs, all of them say that they felt doubt as they rose throughout their career. Why? They were stretching their comfort zone.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Kelli Thompson: They got bored and then like, "I need to stretch myself," and with that stretch, that going into those new environments, of course they felt doubt, but because they felt doubt, they stayed curious, they asked questions. That subtle curiosity that comes with doubt kept them from getting cocky, and it really served them in their career when they could recognize that, you know what? Their job was to transform their relationship with doubt. It was never going to go away. Never going to go away. How do we transform our relationship with it knowing that it's going to be part of the process and that confidence is just a side effect of taking action? I can do a big, scary thing while also filling doubt. Two things can be true at the same time.

Deb Zahn: Oh, I just... I love that, and I love the... What I was struggling with is I had all the same sort of issues with imposter syndrome and sort of what it was ignoring in the social reality, but yet I now so many people who feel like a fraud and feel like an imposter, so I felt uncomfortable. I've certainly felt that way. I felt uncomfortable setting it aside as if, "Well, now we're going to ignore that so many people feel this way." I love that you distinguished between the two as doubt, which is trying to keep you engaged and do all these helpful things for you.

Then, the thing that you do have to pay attention to, and I know a lot of consultants do, which is the feeling like an imposter, feeling like a fraud, feeling like if you're in a discovery call for the first time, somebody is going to figure out that you shouldn't be there and you don't have what it takes to be a consultant. I wanted some language to be able to be able to work with that, that is still important and valid and you had it in your book and I was like, "Yay."

Kelli Thompson: Oh thank you. Yeah, it's both/and. Like we got to address it systemically, but we got to support people in the system.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Love it, love it, love it, and you also talk about a technique which very similar to some of the things that I've done with myself and with others, which is how to work with doubt or imposter syndrome if they arise, starting with the pull pedestal, which is great. Do you want to walk through that process that you help people with so that they can actually get to the good action that helps them get success?

Kelli Thompson: Yeah, absolutely, so I kind of made up a word or a phrase I lovingly call Pedestal Syndrome, only because I had it and I would spot it in myself. I'm always my first client. I wrote the book for me, but other people benefit…

Deb Zahn: Of course.

Kelli Thompson: know. What I say Pedestal Syndrome is when we tend to idolize other people, like maybe as a consultant or a coach, you walk into a room of people and they all look very important and very experienced and they have all these letters behind their name. We can tend to put people on a pedestal.

I remember doing this in Corporate America, like putting executives on the pedestal, thinking that because of their title or their status or their tenure that they knew more than me. I think a universal truth when I ask this of clients as I always say, "Well, how often have you put someone on a pedestal only just to get to know them? Then you recognize, "Oh my gosh, they're human. They don't have all the answers. They're just like me.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Kelli Thompson: You know, and that was something I even really experienced in coaching, as I started to coaching CEOs and coach senior executives. I'm like, "Oh my gosh, they come to coaching totally befuddled, looking for answer, too. We're all just human. Nobody has it figured out. I said, "Putting people on a pedestal is really just kind of the hippo effect," which is the highest paid person's opinion tends to dominate things. We need to pull people off the pedestal. One of the things I really encourage folks to do is just to really just in terms of this whole concept, is when you're having these feeling of doubt, imposter feelings, putting people on a pedestal, I just want us to notice it.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Kelli Thompson: Just notice. Notice as a consultant, "I'm sitting in this room. There's a lot of people who have very nice clothes on, and I'm just noticing that I'm putting them on a pedestal." Here's the thing. We cannot criticize ourselves into more confidence. We just can't. We try. I try really hard. It just doesn't work, so let's just notice it with a ton of compassion. I just notice it's there, and let's just name it. "OK, you know what? I'm sitting in this room. We're in the Zoom room with people who appear to be important and feeling nervous, a little excited, doubtful, hesitant, anxious, insecure. Let's just name our emotions."

Deb Zahn: Mm-hmm.

Kelli Thompson: Naming our emotions doesn't give them power. It's not woo-woo. It actually creates emotional clarity, and it helps us just give us important data about what we care about in the situation. Notice it, name it. Let's just normalize it. 70% of people, I always say, admit to feeling imposter syndrome. I think more feel it. 70% of people admit to feeling imposter syndrome. Every healthy person experiences doubt.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Kelli Thompson: Name it. Notice it, name it, normalize it, and then just reframe it as you're sitting in those meetings, just being like, "You know what? I feel nerves because I care. I feel a lot of doubt because that's important to me to be humble and curious in this meeting. I'm feeling all of these sensations in my body because I'm excited to be here. This is a goal of mine."

One of the jokes I often make is that today's goals often summon tomorrow's imposter monster, meaning we have a goal to get in front of this really big company. We're all excited, and then when it happens, we're like, "Oh my gosh," like the imposter monster's on our shoulder that's like, "Are you ready for this? Are you sure you're qualified?" It's just reframing and saying, "This is stretching my comfort zone. This is what it feels like to achieve my goals.”

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Kelli Thompson: Taking action, like I said earlier, we can take action while also feeling all the doubt and nerves and do great things.

Deb Zahn: I love that. Early on my reframing because I... Throughout my life has tended to be more confident than a lot of women that I've worked with, and I've been asked, "Where does that confidence come from?" My answer has been, and this has been my framing and my normalizing and framing of it is, "I don't think I have to know everything and I don't think I have to be able to do everything."

That's where my confidence comes from. It doesn't come from me being on a true crime show saying, "Of course I was going to get away with it. Of course I could do anything." I have found that really helpful, and then guess what? Anytime I do something new, anytime I do something where I'm really stretching my comfort zone, that confidence is still there. It still exists within me, but it's not as readily available to me as it is-

Kelli Thompson: Uh-huh.

Deb Zahn: ...when I'm doing something that I've done, and I've been able to master over time. That's normal, and I love that. When I saw that, I was just like, "Yay, yah." I was so happy to see it's so clearly articulated somewhere.

So many other juicy things that we could hit, but one that you also talked about, and you mentioned a little bit earlier is paying attention to your energy, particularly as it relates to decisions you're making about a business. We touched upon that earlier, particularly thinking about, "Well, what is it I really want to do as a consultant? How do I niche down? How else should you be paying attention to your energy so that it can guide choices?"

Kelli Thompson: OK, well, you just opened a Pandora's box here.

Deb Zahn: Oh, I thought I might.

Kelli Thompson: There are a lot of different ways, and let's just kind of bucket it quickly. Paying attention to your energy is important as you deciding what services to offer. Paying attention to your energy is important in determining, "How do I want to architect my week?" Paying attention to your energy is important when you make critical decision. Let me just kind of unpack that a little bit because energy management is probably a huge core of my business.

Number one, like first things first, pay attention to what geeks you out. We often know what our unique genius zones are and the things that we should be offering because literally, we have endless energy. We are zoned in. We are geeked out. We could talk about it for hours. That's a huge clue that that's something you should probably be consulting on in your business, doing in your business, spending time on in your business. That's probably your moneymaker.

Deb Zahn: Oh yeah.

Kelli Thompson: You know, the other thing that I really focus on my energy for is I think a lot of people who go out on their own structure their business, their workday, their workweek like a nine-to-fiver, or whatever you came from . Maybe it was in healthcare, and it was different. They don't even stop and ask themselves like, "Wait a minute, does this schedule even work for me? Does it work for me as a CEO, as a business owner?" Just to give folks an example, I really had to start thinking about, "What is my energy ebbs and flows throughout the week? Where should I be scheduling things so that the right types of activity get my best energy?" For example, Mondays, no clients, no meetings.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Kelli Thompson: ...because Mondays are like my thinking days, like sit down, strategy, plan the week. I kind of geek out over marketing activities. I'm going to write a newsletter because that feels like a fun, deep, energizing thing for me personally.

A lot of people will say, "OK, Monday's like a CEO day. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, I take coaching clients. I do speaking and training presentations. Fridays, I really don't take meetings either. It's kind of a wrap-up." One of the things I enjoy on Friday so is being on podcasts-

Deb Zahn: Yay.

Kelli Thompson: ...and just taking really informal things. I schedule a lot of podcast interviews for Friday because it feels fun and energetic and just a nice way to close my week and just make new connections. I want you to really think about, what is my ideal energy flow throughout the week? How am I giving myself time, that CEO time, the strategy time, but also giving my clients me when I am my best?"

Then, the last piece of energy work that I'll talk about is in making decisions. I think all of the time when you are consultant, you're going to be presented with many opportunities. You're going to be presented with opportunities to form new partnerships, to take on new clients. You know what? You're going to be presented with a lot of "right ways," I'm putting right ways in quotation marks, of how to build your business from "gurus," again, the quotation marks.

Deb Zahn: I hate that word.

Kelli Thompson: You really have to go into your body and ask yourself, "How does that feel in my body?" Start with our heads, let's always start with our heads. It's a good place to start. What are the facts of this decision, this person, this offer, this solution, whatever it is? Then, let's do that good values check again. Let me just drop into my heart and be like, "OK, if I said yes to this, does this align with my values? What emotions come up for me?"

Then, we just like really feel into our body and just be like, "If I said yes to this decision, what happens to my energy inside? Do I get those nervous zingies that still feels good and fizzy and light? Or if I think about saying yes to this, does my stomach drop? Do I feel like I might have some resentment down the road? Does it feel heavy?" I just want you to notice what saying yes or no kind of does to your energy. Obviously, we've got to check in with our head and our heart, too, but I think those are three distinct ways-

Deb Zahn: I love it.

Kelli Thompson: ...that we can really be energetically wise leaders when we're out running our own business.

Deb Zahn: Love that, love that. The other thing I just want to hit upon quickly is so you have a whole bunch of other topics that are in the book, and I just want to give you a moment to sort of highlight some of the other things that folks might find. Obviously, we can't dig into them, but what other types of things do you talk about in the book?

Kelli Thompson: Yeah, so we talked about a lot of them, defining your values, overcoming expensive thoughts, knowing how to get into action, really using your energy to define your talents, make decisions, owning your flaws as gifts. What I mean by that is owning maybe some of those things that you've always been told about yourself like you're too direct, you're too assertive, you're too emotional, you're too sensitive. How do you actually tap into those as your unique gifts and make sure that you use those in your business. I'll tell you that probably the number one thing that helped me as a business owner that I really avidly refined, this was I would say the chapter avidly refined as I was working on it was Chapter 7 when I talk about amplifying your voice. What I don't give you in that chapter is, "Here's three easy ways to make your voice heard." That's not my approach to anything.

I present people with an advocacy model because what I had to figure out as a business owner is the world is noisy. It is so noisy, and I think sometimes people think, "Well, if I put myself out there, my business is going to be overwhelmed. My website's going to crash." I think the reality that a lot of business owners actually discover is that their real problem isn't overwhelm or annoy or overwhelm or exposure. It's obscurity.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Kelli Thompson: It's noisy. The world is so noisy nobody's paying attention to you. I had to figure out how to put my thought leadership, my content, my voice out in the world in a way that felt good for me because when you do become... you get traction on your stuff, then you got trolls to deal with and so I'm like, 'OK, I need to figure out a way to put things in my unique voice in a way that feels good to me no matter what happens." That's why I created my advocacy model, which is, number one, we start with authenticity. What do I know for sure about me as a consultant? What are my unique skills and talents? What's that unique value proposition that only I can offer the world? I start there and just really define that.

Number two is alignment. How do I say things in alignment with my values? I work with somebody who helps me with a little bit of copywriting, article writing when I put things out into the world. You know what? This is just... I say things a certain way. I use certain words and I avoid certain words. When I think about alignment, it's what values are important to me in my communication?

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Kelli Thompson: How do I want to make people feel? We start with authenticity. Alignment is the how. How do I say things? How do I put myself out there? What sort of mechanisms do I use? Then, the last one is action. Got to get out of analysis paralysis. Action is just simply, what is mine to say? Of all the noise of all the different takes that could come on this topic of all the people talking about women in leadership, based on those three circles, I am very clear on what is mine to say and maybe what is not mine to say. What's an avenue I don't want to go down because it's not in alignment with my values? You know what? It's just not a unique value proposition that I offer, and so maybe just check that out and it might help give you more clarity onto how you kind of advocate and put your unique voice out to the world.

Deb Zahn: Love it, and I like that you use the term advocate because it's not just marketing, it's not just outreach. It's not just the stuff that you have to do, but it's you're truly advocating for you, your position, how you see the world, how you uniquely serve and help people. I love that you use that term because it feels real to me and it feels how I built my consulting business. I think it is why my consulting business is as successful as it is because I took that approach. So loved it. Everybody can tell like I'm nerding out over your book-

Kelli Thompson: Thank you.

Deb Zahn: ...and I have to say it's true because I loved it. I think anybody who is struggling with any kind of doubts or confidence issues or anything, it will help you normalize them and not feel so alone and have some strategies for actually working through it. I am giving it my full-throated endorsement for folks to read it. Where can folks find you and this fabulous book?

Kelli Thompson: Yeah, you can come find me at I'm Kelli with an I, R-A-E, and then I love to hand out on Instagram and LinkedIn, and you can just find me at, and I'd love to hear from you.

Deb Zahn: Wonderful, and I will have all of that in the show notes. Then, my last question, which you know is coming, is about finding balance in your life, however you define that. How's that work for you?

Kelli Thompson: Hmm. I'm going to go back to energy. Paying attention to my energy has been life-changing because in the past when I didn't have balance, I never even stopped in and checked in with myself lie, "How you feeling? Are you tired? Are you burned out? Do you feel a little resentful?" I define balance as the ability to just pay attention to your energy and notice where your presence is needed and not needed and know really just... If you're paying attention to your energy, you're probably living life in alignment with your values and knowing and giving my best yeses and nos based on what I value. That often aligns with how I'm feeling energetically. Absolutely, really helps me keep things into balance.

Deb Zahn: Fabulous. Well, Kelli, I love what we've talked about here today. Again, I want to encourage people to go out and get the book. All of that will be in our show notes, and I want to thank you so much for coming on and having this... I feel like I've nerded out the entire time because I love this stuff, so I appreciate you coming on and being a nerd with me.

Kelli Thompson: Oh, I loved nerding out with you. It was so fun.

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 you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up in 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.

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