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Episode 23: Building a Thriving Part-Time Consulting Business —with Tanya Zucconi

Deb Zahn: Hi, want to welcome you to Episode 23 of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. I have a guest today that has a really interesting set up as a consultant. Her name is Tanya Zucconi, and she works part time as a consultant and part time with Partners HealthCare. She is able to have the best of both worlds as both a consultant and an employee. She's going to talk about how she does that and how she manages it. And then we're going to talk a lot about the soft skills and the process skills that she uses as a consultant that helps her clients ultimately achieve their outcomes, but also helps her manage all of the engagements she has. And we get into some of the nitty gritty about not just why communication with a client is important, but how you do it. So let's get started.

I want to welcome my guest today, Tanya Zucconi. Tanya, welcome to the show.

Tanya Zucconi: Thank you, Deb. It's a pleasure to be with you.

Deb Zahn: Let's start off by having you tell my listeners what type of consulting you do.

Tanya Zucconi: I am a consultant who has worked on the side. All of my projects come to me by word of mouth. I do healthcare and strategic consulting.

Deb Zahn: That's great. And how did you become a consultant?

Tanya Zucconi: I actually started out years ago when a friend of mine needed some help on a side project. And so in order to participate, I needed to go and have my LLC created and put all the paperwork in place. I realized that I enjoyed the flexibility that it offered and just continue to pursue it.

Deb Zahn: That's great. Almost an accidental consultant but not quite.

Tanya Zucconi: That's right.

Deb Zahn: That's great. Now you've crafted a really interesting setup for yourself and that you're a part time consultant. But you're also in employment. Say a little bit about what that looks like.

Tanya Zucconi: Sure. I've been in consulting for almost 15 years now. And it's always been what we now call a side gig. I was doing this type of arrangement, Deb, even before there was a gig economy. And I liked it because I didn't want to have to hustle to find opportunities and to do it full time, which I certainly saw folks around me doing. But I like the flexibility to engage in projects that were interesting to me. And of course, a little bit of income on the side is never a bad thing. I've been selective about the types of roles that I've taken on, the engagements that I've taken on, to make sure that I could always meet the needs of those clients in addition to the needs of my full-time role. Or as is the case today, the part-time role that I have at Partners HealthCare. It's something that's always in the back of my mind, whether I'm taking on a new engagement or if I happen to be switching a particular full time or part time engagement and how.

Deb Zahn: How have you been able to manage that? Because essentially, if you're doing consulting, you might have more than one job, plus, then you're an employee. How does that work out in terms of how you balance all of that?

Tanya Zucconi: A couple of ways to think about it in terms of the full-time role that I would have or the part time role that I would have. I always make sure before I go into those new opportunities that I'm fully transparent with the employer, about my outside consulting opportunities and approximately how much time they take and what level of engagement or travel might be involved. And in terms of thinking about the specific client engagements, the consulting engagements, I do a very thorough job of vetting what the scope of responsibility for me will be. You always add in that additional factor of what if, just to make sure that if, for example, if I know that I can allot 10 hours a week to a consultant project, and they will really need 10 hours a week for me. I'm going to build in an additional 3 to 4 at least in the early months of the project because things crop up. But I want to make sure that I'm not going to stress either the clients with whom I'm working on the consulting, or my other opportunities or responsibilities professionally.

Deb Zahn: And I imagine over time you honed those skills in order to be able to see, should I add three hours? Should I add 10 hours? What should I add?

Tanya Zucconi: Absolutely true. And it certainly affects the type of roles that I will take on and the engagements that I will consider. If there's one that seems to be a little more difficult to scope, I'm more likely to say no to it because the last thing I want to do is to have a dissatisfied client or to be dissatisfied myself and feel stuck either in an engagement or in a situation where I don't have the flexibility to meet the needs appropriately.

Deb Zahn: That's great. So it sounds like a lot of the skills you use in managing are the same skills you use on a day to day basis when doing consulting? Which is sort of clearly articulating what's actually happening, what it's really going to take and all of the management around expectations.

Tanya Zucconi: You're absolutely right about that. It's an interesting mix of project management roles and responsibilities. But what it really comes down to is people, and it comes down to the relationships with those people, and one of the things that I've truly enjoyed over the years is when I have an engagement that at some point during engagement wasn't going as well as I would have liked for any number of reasons. And then coming to find out that I was able to bring it back around. And of course, it's not something that I do solely, you have to have someone on the other end who's willing to take that step. But I've had a number of clients who if you asked me early on, I would certainly not use them as references. But later I got to a point where both of us couldn't have been more pleased with the way things turned out because we were committed to a common goal. And we were willing to work through it.

Deb Zahn: That's just wonderful. That's magical when that can happen and it takes a tremendous amount of skill. The work that you do I know can be very technical, but because it involves people and change, it involves a lot of process expertise and a lot of soft skills. What are your go to process and soft skills that you use on a regular basis that helps you get your clients to the outcomes they want?

Tanya Zucconi: I don't think that most of this will come as any type of a surprise to your listeners. But I think clearly scoping a project at multiple points throughout the project. I know a lot of times people think, when you go in, you have an initial meeting, you do discovery, you draft up a document, you start down the path. Absolutely the case that you have to start off on the right foot, but whether you have done that or not, at several steps along the way, you have to go back. Particularly in the engagements that I have, and there are several of these that are multiyear engagements. You may have a clearly delineated statement of work and you may have milestones laid out. And you may have good communication skills around when those are met, when there are risks that are encountered, how you're going to mitigate them.

But I also find that it's helpful whether it's on a quarterly or in every six months basis, to just touch base and say, this is where we started. This is the progress we've made. These are the things that have come out of this relationship that are positive. These are the learning opportunities that we've had both for myself as your consultant and for your research team. I would say that the processes that I've used are ongoing scope, identification and refinement. And along with that clear communication, some folks really need to have a phone call. Other clients really want to have email on a weekly or bi weekly basis. Some people only want to hear from you when there is a problem.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Tanya Zucconi: Even for that latter group, I don't like to always wait until there's a problem because if the only time you're communicating is when there's a challenge and I'm not really interested in being in the fireman, or a policeman type of business.

Deb Zahn: Or have the association of your voice with problems.

Tanya Zucconi: That's right. You are so right. Even if that's their preference, I will interject at least a monthly touch base, things are still going well. This is the next milestone we expect to hit. This is the work that's been done. I think that's always helpful because as you say, then they've heard something positive from you. And then when the challenge comes up, it's not the only opportunity to talk. Those are really the two main processes that I focus on are the scope, kind of the iterative scope, as it were, and ongoing communication. And it really has to be agile as the consultants in identifying what type of communication works for your client.

Deb Zahn: That's right. Often I have found even if you ask, and they say, "Oh, I like phone calls." But then they're so busy, you can't get them on a phone call, that's where you have to pull, something different out of your toolbox that is going to work, and you experiment until you find something that actually is a fit. And I think what I've seen with a lot of professionals who become consultants, that's a tricky thing. Because when we laid it all out, we said what we were going to do, and I planned my life around what we said we were going to do and how they said they wanted to communicate. But I have rarely found that the scope at the beginning is the scope of work that you ultimately do, and particularly if it's a multiyear project.

Tanya Zucconi: You're right, Deb, and I think what I've learned, and I'm reminded of this from time to time over the years. You cannot assume as the consultant that your client knows exactly what they want, even when they have identified it thusly so. You also cannot assume that you know all the questions to ask. Which of course, we'd like to think that we do. I'm going to go in and ask the right questions. As you said, document, scope it all out, draft it up and then plan accordingly. What I've learned over the years, and I think most of us who have done this for a long period of time now know, is that something will come up. An opportunity for the client will come up where they want to change the scope, a challenge with what you've laid out, what we encountered where you have to change the scope. And so you should assume that your questions are not complete from day one. And you have to always be listening to what they're not saying. And that's very hard. It just comes with practice.

It's not an easily taught skill. But I've found that it's one that truly makes a difference. Quick example. Working with the Principal Investigator (PI), they very clearly laid out they needed a particular algorithm to identify a cohort of patients for the research they were doing. And they needed a way to display the results of the data that were generated through this algorithm, not a problem to work through that. Later on into the project a few months, it turns out that the PI was somewhat dissatisfied, and, through very active listening, I was able to discern that what they really wanted to do is to be able to take the results of this work and scale it across the country as a part of their professional development. Right? Nowhere in what I first described with algorithms and interfaces did that come up. But in later discussions, and when they shared with me the actual grant application where they secured funding for this project, it was clearly laid out in that document.

What I learned from that was early on to ask of PI, are there any documents or materials that you're comfortable sharing with me about the nature of the work or your ultimate goals, even if they're unrelated to the work I am doing for you? Because they may view you as a technical consultant or someone who can assist with the creation of a predictive analytics algorithm. But they may not realize that the work you're doing may have a direct impact on their ability to publish in a peer reviewed journal. And in fact, that's something I can help them with.

Deb Zahn: That's right. Especially because for researchers, that's their bread and butter. Yeah. When I work with leaders of organizations, again, I didn't do this at the beginning. But I learned over time to say, not just what does success look like for you? But what would personally be wonderful for you? What are you personally trying to get out of this? And I often find those are really different answers.

Tanya Zucconi: That's good. That's good. I actually haven't made that distinction, Deb, but I like that very much. I think going back to the first part of that. I don't think enough consultants ask what does success look like for you? A lot of times we ask the question, how will we know we've succeeded? But I think when you phrase it in that particular way that you did, it hits home a little closer because that's not usually where people end up. One way that we can help PI with this I knew is that, a lot of lessons, if they are researcher who happens to be in an academic field, or is looking to publish or put out white papers or presentations at conferences, ask them what the title of their first paper will be.

Deb Zahn: Nice.

Tanya Zucconi: Right? Because then they will say, "Oh, what I described to you doesn't quite capture that. What I want to be able to talk about in this paper is..." And they will be able to tell you because they know the sections of the paper, they know the content that maybe they hope to find, which is fine. When you're approaching research in this way. It's a very good way to have a clinician and their team develop a broader understanding of what they're trying to get to, which then as the consultants, you can help fill in the pieces and say, "Yes, I can be of assistance in this process in the following ways."

Deb Zahn: That's right because the key for a good consultant is not just to achieve the deliverables and do the work, but we detect and reveal, what it is that they truly want.

Tanya Zucconi: That's right.

Deb Zahn: And what's interesting, when I've asked that question before, usually I hear things like, "I want my leaders or my staff to feel really good about working here.”

Tanya Zucconi: Right?

Deb Zahn: If I know that, I'm going to build different things into the scope, so that they get an opportunity to touch and feel and taste what we're doing so that they get to have that experience. If all I'm doing something all dry and cut, and that's it. I don't need those touch points. But that's where you can reveal, "Oh, OK." Now, if you want that to happen, what's the strategy for making that happen? And then how does that get related to the scope and ultimately, what's in the budget?

Tanya Zucconi: It's an interesting way to think about it. And what it makes me think about that, is my experience over 20 years ago, when I worked for a qualitative research organization at Radcliffe College. What I learned there, our focus was on qualitative longitudinal research. You would have folks from the social sciences, who would collect the data, whether it be computational, qualitative, any type of analysis, and when they were done with their article, or their dissertation or written in their book, they wanted to do something with those products, and we would archive them there. We would identify them and archive them and categorize them. And then we facilitated the use. So it was recycled research, in a way. What we learned was that by asking very careful, very thoughtful questions, which involves this active listening, you were better able to understand what a new researcher who was coming into the center thinking they might reuse those data wanted to do.

And they may have come in and said, "Well, I want to be able to use the XYZ data set." And you may know from your background, as a researcher, there are actually three other data sets that would help them in addition to or instead of. I think those early experiences help me now. I think all of us like to think back on what we did in our youth, and know that it had an influence.

Deb Zahn: That's wonderful. Now, I also know that you do, obviously a lot more with change. When you have clients, and you have to help them anticipate and prepare for change, even before you get to actually making the change, what are some of the skills that you use to help them do that?

Tanya Zucconi: Again, goes back to the communication. What I try and do is a brainstorming, where not only do we talk about what success looks like, but I try to understand where the clients are. This is where the individual versus the team or the unit or the division or the organization comes in. Because change affects not only the individual person, but each of those larger units. You may not be charged as the consultant with managing the change at each level, but you know that it is going to have a backwards or trickle down impact. You want to know what folks think, what their perspective is, so that you can help prepare them. This is where my psychology degree comes in very useful. Because you really want to know that the same type of a change, we want to be aware that the same type of a change can have a different impact on different audiences. It's all about communication in that case, change is really about communication. I know people don't like to hear that.

Certainly there are processes in place that any number of four or five step processes that we use in terms of documenting and planning. I find that those are all available, training is available, people understand those, they're tangible. Communication is much more difficult. It's probably in my experience the most difficult soft skill. And it's something you just have to be committed to. I will often say to folks, that change is committed communication.

Deb Zahn: Oh, I like that. I like that. Well, because you're not just communicating about tangible things you're, this is again, where your psychology degree comes in handy. Is, it's often the feelings it's not in the, to nerd out. It's not in the frontal cortex. It's in the reptilian brain or the limbic system. Reptilian is, is this harmful? Should I flee or fight this, right? And then you go to the limbic, and it's like, how do I feel about this. Then usually, people get to the frontal cortex, and they rationalize what they just felt, that happens in client engagements all the time. Part of what we do doesn't matter how technical the work is, is to apply our soft skills or have somebody on our team that knows how to do that.

Because there's feelings about everything, and it's not wrong, and it isn't to be bypassed. It is actually part of our work. In addition to your psychology grit, how have you developed those skills? If you were talking to a professional, who's now a consultant, and maybe they didn't have to attend to those as much in their previous job, what should they be doing to develop those skills?

Tanya Zucconi: I would say two ways to approach it. Two ideas that I would have to the person who described that. One would be to imagine that you're talking to your best friend who is telling you they have this challenge at work, and they're trying to solve it. Because you would be very engaged with your friends, you'd be very committed and open to hearing what your friend would say. The other thing is, for those folks who either have a psychology degree or wish they had a psychology degree, is really pretend you are there solely to help the other person. Assume they have a problem that you can solve or can help solve. What it really comes down to is differentiating between consultants who are all about the billable hour, identifying the deliverables, starting that process, making sure all the boxes are checked, that's all important and certainly has to happen. The same things that make you a better manager or leader of people in teams, make you a better consultant.

Those are understanding the context of the person and the problem that you're trying to address. Maybe you'll spend an extra half an hour to get to that emotional core that you're describing. Maybe you watch interactions, and maybe that's billable and maybe it's not. But I can tell you, it's going to help you deliver a better product and have a better relationship, which if you want to have a re-up on that as engagement, you need to have that. They don't just want someone who delivers, they want someone they enjoy working with whom they trust, who they think is going to help them.

Deb Zahn: That's right. And so now it's clear to me why you said you get most of your business through word of mouth. But that's how it happens. I don't do as much business development as I first did, simply because I know some technical things that I can help people with. But I largely get hired because I have those soft skills and because I care and I have empathy, and I can communicate, I can frame things for people, I can take a charge off of something. That's why I get hired.

Tanya Zucconi: That's right. And it goes a very, very long way. I think I actually posted about this one on LinkedIn. I have a client who came to me to help solve a problem that a different set of consultants were unable to help with. The first group of consultants had charged a chunk of money. And this was someone who was new to academia and knew external consultants and was somewhat uncomfortable with the pricing. When I offered the pricing that would be involved to engage myself and my technical colleague, it was about double what the original consultants had charged. You can imagine for rework, right? In quotes.

Deb Zahn: Ouch.

Tanya Zucconi: Her “rework” double is frightening. But I can tell you now that months since we've completed this engagement, that PI was thrilled. In fact, when offered the opportunity to go back at a discount for a second engagement to the first set of consultants, she said, "No, we want to work with you and your team. And you just put together the pricing and we'll make sure we find the funding." That testimonial, of course makes you feel good as a consultant. But it also provides validity to the process. It tells you that it is really important to take that extra step or steps and engage with the client to understand them fully.

Deb Zahn: I think it also says something about brand too. Because I think a lot of new consultants think that how they're going to get business is by being inexpensive relative to others. And I always tell folks, if you're really good, your brand should not be bargain basement. You are not a dollar store consultant.

Tanya Zucconi: That's right.

Deb Zahn: You're premium, and you want to make sure that people know that they're getting what they're paying for, and they're paying for what they're getting. I think with branding, particularly as you start to have good engagements that word of mouth starts to kick up is, your price is based on your value. Your price is not based on your desperation to get clients. And they'll pay it if they're going to have the kind of experience you just described.

Tanya Zucconi: That's right.

Deb Zahn: That's wonderful.

Tanya Zucconi: I think you're right there, Deb. And I think for a lot of consultants who are starting out, there's a concern always that volume of clients may not be what you want it to be. What I say to them, or I say to people who are thinking about trying on the consultant role is go and do a pro bono. One that you know you're not going to get paid. Pick something you're really interested in, that you are passionate about because you will care about the outcome. And make a secondary deliverable for yourself the relationship to be built with this client so that you can use them as a reference. And it's remarkable how often it has worked for people. They were shocked when they came out of it. And what they said was, "I wouldn't have done anything with those six months anyway, I'm still trying to build my brand as it were. I learned X, Y and Z. I now have a network of 25 additional..." And it goes on and on.

Tanya Zucconi: I highly recommend that offer to do a pro bono, short-term engagement. You have to be careful. But pick your topics wisely.

Deb Zahn: That's right, and you if you set boundaries around, it can work. I've also encouraged folks who are new and even having a hard time getting in front of folks and having a conversation, even though they have a good reputation and they're known in the field. I say call somebody up and say you've got two hours or four hours of access to me for advice, strategy, however you want to use it. I'm not going to charge you for it because I'm just starting out and make sure the clients clear that that's not forever. Then get in front of them, do your homework and get in front of them and show them what you can do in two hours, what you can do with helping them in that period of time. But yeah, that's when I think it is OK to give some things away for free at the beginning, as long as there is a careful strategy associated with it.

Deb Zahn: And not the freebies that people will ask for because in your pre... If you weren't a consultant before, and you worked with them, they're used to getting your good thinking for free.

Tanya Zucconi: That's right.

Deb Zahn: As long as it's not a continuation of that, and it truly is a separate strategy, it actually can be a good kickstart in a way to get references. Then ask the person, can you tell other people about me?

Tanya Zucconi: That's right. And that situation that you've described, Deb, where someone may be used to getting things for free, and then you come back as a consultant often happens in healthcare settings, when folks leave their full role, whether it's to take care of a parent, take care of a child, travel whatever it might be, and then they return in a consulting role. And they face that particular challenge. I've seen that so many times. But to go back quickly, if I could to this idea of offering something for free in a very bounded or scoped way. Organizations do this all the time. Startups do this all the time, but they don't call it pro bono or comp. They describe it as a strategic alliance, a partnership. You see these all over the place, companies exchange millions of dollars to facilitate each other's mission and support the achievement of that mission. But the reality is, no one is making money off of it, they're both contributing to it. And often those relationships are leveraged to the betterment of the business development department.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Tanya Zucconi: This is just taking it down to a micro level.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. And I think then also having pre-planned a pivot if you need it. I had very, very excellent professional, who I give some coaching to, who's new to consulting. This potential client kept having dinner or drinks, and they paid. So that's nice. But kept picking her brain. And what I said is what's in your brain is enormously valuable. If you've done that a few times, he's not taste testing anymore. He knows what you've got. The samples, it's time to buy and know ahead of time and think about how you pivot. How would you encourage someone in that situation to pivot? What do they say?

Tanya Zucconi: The way you want to approach it is not by making it about you as the consultant, you want to make sure that the client or the potential clients, the future client we’ll call them, understands that it is in their best interest that you'd be on equal footing. I might approach it this way, Deb. If I were at my, let's say, third dinner or drinks engagement, and I finally realized, this needs to stop. I'm going to say, "Deb, I really enjoyed these dinners and drinks that we've had. I's been a wonderful opportunity to exchange ideas. And it feels like you're really getting to a place where you have a good sense of what you want to do next around X,Y,Z topic. I'd really like to work with you on that project. And when you have funding set aside and a timeframe and the scope in mind, please give me a call. And I look forward to working with you then."

Deb Zahn: Oh, that's wonderful.

Tanya Zucconi: Don't, please, let them know where you're staying.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, I like that. If you get a positive response, you may add “Why don't I put some things on a piece of paper that might be a good scope because now I have a better understanding of what you need.”

Tanya Zucconi: That's right. And if you've been interested enough to go to three dinner or drinks with them, you probably have those ideas.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, yeah. Especially if one doesn't drink too much. So that you know, it's I'm at great advantage because I don't drink very much. As long as I don't have anything, I'm fine. In which case, I'll have the presence of mind to know this isn't just me giving things away for free. I'm listening. I'm asking questions. I'm trying to figure out if I can truly be helpful to them. And not just casual, where you're going for summer vacation.

Tanya Zucconi: Right. It's interesting, you know, I've worked for several different organizations that have high prestige, shall we say, a lot of cache associated with the name. Often have folks reach out to me on LinkedIn and ask for some time to talk through an idea. It's usually someone starting out, it may be as an individual, or maybe actually as a boutique consulting group. And they're really looking to pick your brain, they're also looking for entry to your current full time employer, as it may be. I'm truly aware of that, and I'm happy to give them some amount of time. But I also make sure I get something out of it. Usually, at the end of the conversation, I wrap up by asking...indicating how wonderful it was to spend time with them, and exchange ideas. And I hope it's been helpful to them. And I actually have a favor to ask you that I hope you can help me with.

Then you ask to be connected to someone else in their industry. You should have already looked them up and know who they work for, what they've done, how they might be useful to you. That way you let them know that you're not just there to be plucked from, but that you are engaged at a professional equivalent level. And I think that goes a long way.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. And reciprocity is so important. Now, if you're the newbie who's doing that to you, then the advice I would give you is, don't make you ask.

Tanya Zucconi: That's right.

Deb Zahn: Show up with some value, show up with something that would be potentially helpful to them or listen during the conversation and say, "Hey, I actually know somebody who does what you do. Can I connect you?"

Tanya Zucconi: And that has happened, and it's a wonderful. Wonderful outcome when it does. I must say.

Deb Zahn: That's right. Because that's where we go back to the brain science I can't resist, which is. we're wired for reciprocity. That's how our brains are set up. And we're more likely to want to reciprocate if someone does something for us. It doesn't mean that we only do things that we're not generous and those other things. But we're naturally inclined neurologically to say, "Wow, you've done something great for me. How can I help you?"

Tanya Zucconi: That's right.

Deb Zahn: That's wonderful.

Tanya Zucconi: 100%.

Deb Zahn: Now, what other advice would you give? Let me jump back and ask this. I was just with someone yesterday who's thinking of becoming a consultant and was trying to figure out how to do it because he's got kids. Apparently, they want to go to college and that costs money. So he has some reasonable trepidation about taking the full leap. I actually described, who has fortunately I talked to you before, that there's partial leaps. I talked with someone, I talked with another consultant in another podcast who did gradual leaps, until she was a full-time consultant. How would you encourage someone who's got some reasonable ideas about what they can and can't do? And they might want to do sort of a split situation with you. How would you encourage them to set that up?

Tanya Zucconi: I think in that type of a situation, Deb, you really do want to get there early when you want that low-hanging fruit. And I would say you reach out to 5 or 10 people that you have had professional relationships with in the last 5 years, it needs to be recent. You have a well-developed pitch. You know what value you bring to what industry to solve, what types of problems, and what type of a time frame and what type of range, right? So you don't have to lay out all the dollars and cents, some ballpark. And you have a conversation with each of those 10 people and you say, "How did that feel to you, if you were someone who had a challenge as a leader in your organization, what resonated with you?” So that you're truly asking for a favor and you get that end user feedback before you even start.

Deb Zahn: That's great.

Tanya Zucconi: Right. I think a lot of folks just go out there. They just start by doing some advertising, putting up a website and handing out business cards. You need some folks on your side, maybe they can add a word or two of support on your LinkedIn profile. Maybe they can give you a reference if in fact, a new client wants one of those. Even if you've not had an engagement, you can have some who would say I would absolutely engage Tanya's Zucconi if I had to change management or population health management issue and needed to develop a predictive model around no shows, whatever the case might be. You need someone in your court. I think that's how you have to start.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, I think that's great. And what you've also done with them, as you've now equipped them to be your ambassadors in a much more specific way. Now they're not just saying, "Oh, just talk to Tanya. She's fabulous." You've enabled them to say, “And here's how she's fabulous.”

Tanya Zucconi: That's right.

Deb Zahn: Which is much more likely to end in a true connection.

Tanya Zucconi: Yeah, it's not only identifying your value, Deb, it's describing it. Give them the context in which you can be successful as a consultant. And they'll help you.

Deb Zahn: That's right. Show not tell.

Tanya Zucconi: That's right. That is so right.

Deb Zahn: That is very right. The show includes if you've achieved actual results, tell people that. That it's particularly if the numbers are good or those results are difficult to achieve, you'll knock somebody's socks off, and it'll stick in their brain. That's great.

Tanya Zucconi: I was just going to say goes back to that quantification issue, right? Where they say on your resume on your LinkedIn profile, show the numbers, it's the same thing with consultants?

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Tanya Zucconi: Yeah.

Deb Zahn: That's right. Because what they're buying are the results. They're paying for the individual things that you do in your activities, but what they are buying are the result. I keep going back to you know, people don't buy a drill, they buy holes in the wood.

Tanya Zucconi: That's true.

Deb Zahn: I try and remind myself that whenever I even...Still to this day, have to describe myself, if I don't think about it ahead of time, I'll default to here's the things I've done, as opposed to, here's the results I've achieved.

Tanya Zucconi: That's right. Here's what I can help you achieve if we partner together.

Deb Zahn: That's right. That's why your idea of go out and talk to those five to 10 people who at least a few of them are going to say, "Well, what was the result of that?" And now you know, "Oh, I got to talk about this in a different way."

Tanya Zucconi: That's right.

Deb Zahn: That's wonderful.

Tanya Zucconi: Get that feedback for folks who would be your customers potentially.

Deb Zahn: Love it. That's wonderful. One of the things I'm curious about is you've indicated how important communication is with a client. Can you give an example of particularly what does that look like that tends to yield a good result?

Tanya Zucconi: Absolutely, Deb. I think the way to think about it is confirmation of the communication. As an example, I will have a call with a client and I will be taking notes on my laptop following an agenda that I've drafted up for myself and anecdotally, editing it as I'm going along. At the end of the conversation, one of the things that I always do is wrap up with action items. I will say, "Deb, thank you for the call today. It's been very productive. I appreciate your time. I have the following two action items for you, which you've indicated you'll complete by XYZ time. And you'll let me know if you have any questions along the way." And the following three items are my to dos and I will reach out to folks as needed. The next time we talk is going to be in 10 days. In between I'm going to send you an email that identifies each of these action items. I can tell you what happens is, sometimes the client will say, "Oh, wait, can we go back to the second action item that you had for me? I thought I was supposed to..."

Then what will happen is a conversation that clarifies. Then when I do send that wrap up email, they have something that they've agreed to that they have a better understanding of. It's clarified or confirmed confirmation of that communication.

Deb Zahn: And it sounds really basic, but it's actually magical. I'm going to go out on a limb, and I'm going to call that magical.

Tanya Zucconi: Yes.

Deb Zahn: How I know it's magical is anytime I've skipped it, I've regretted it.

Tanya Zucconi: That's right? It seems like an easy skip. It does seem like an easy skip that you are right. It is magical. And it is Consulting 101. Please everybody out there. Try it just once you'll be surprised.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, exactly. Because rarely have I had a circumstance where they said, "Oh, yeah, that was exactly it."

Tanya Zucconi: That's right.

Deb Zahn: Or it might even spark them saying, "OK, but when you send that to me, send it to my COO and my CFO because I want them in the loop.” You wouldn't know that if you didn't actually do it. It's actually another way to get to the next layer and not just repeat everything that you said. So that's a wonderful example. I'm with you. Feel the magic, love the magic, do it and you won't regret it, test it out.

Tanya Zucconi: Sounds great.

Deb Zahn: Wonderful. So let me ask you this. You have this split work life. Which actually sounds like a great option for folks who are thinking of being consultants, but you also do other things in your life, I imagine. How is it that you bring balance to your life?

Tanya Zucconi: Well, I will say that the part time role certainly facilitates that. As it happens, the consulting gigs in which I'm currently engaged, and they're several are ones where most of the work happens, anytime. That is something that is going to be really dependent upon each situation. I love to garden. I'm an avid Red Sox fan. Even as we approach September, and things aren't looking great for the Sox, they may be on the surge. So don't give up hope yet. But I think it's real important-

Deb Zahn: I just lost the Yankees listeners. But that's OK.

Tanya Zucconi: That's OK. They'll come back. They're resilient. They've done it a number of times.

Deb Zahn: They can handle it.

Tanya Zucconi: They can, they can. I think it's important to have... I find this discussion always very interesting. What is work life balance, what is balanced? Do you need it? What does it mean? I think that rather than working towards something abstract, you have to feel good about what you're doing in the moment. In the moment, might be multitasking, or it might be solely focused on drafting an SOW for your next client, or weeding your tomatoes, or your basil in your garden, and you know that's a time limited activity. You have to be passionate, you have to have a commitment to what you're doing. And you have to understand that you're giving all of who you are, in whatever moments it is. For me, I have a variety of activities in which I love to engage.

Tanya Zucconi: I know that if I can only spend 15 minutes in the garden before a work someday or even five-minute walk into my car to see how beautiful my flowers are in the morning. That's good, that will hold me over. I know that in the evening, I have responsibilities to water those and deadhead those flowers. But in between, I have clients or partners I have to work with I have clients of my own who I have to attend to. I think what it really requires, Deb, is self-reflection.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Tanya Zucconi: You have to know yourself, you have to think about what you're doing and give it all in each moment.

Deb Zahn: That's right. I'd like to give it all because it's truly that, be present in what you're doing. I'm also a gardener. If I'm out with my tomatoes, I'm with my tomatoes, I'm not doing a whole bunch of those. I get inspired sometimes. I might think of a solution for my clients, while I'm weeding something but that's not my intention. My intention is to be present in what I'm doing. So that it's not just checking a box of, and now I did gardening, it's I was really doing gardening.

Tanya Zucconi: That's right.

Deb Zahn: And my heart was there, and my head was there.

Tanya Zucconi: Gardening is an interesting example, Deb, because I think, and many people have written about this. I won't go on too much just to say that. Some things when you garden, if you planting flowers in particular, some of them come back year after year. Others you start fresh every year. That's what being a consultant is like, some engagements come back year after year. Others you can't wait to be done. You fill out your lessons learned both for yourself and the client, you close the project and you move on. That's what I'd like to say about that.

Deb Zahn: That's great. I like the whole annual and perennial approach to consulting. That's definitely wonderful. Well, Tanya, thank you so much. I appreciate everything that you shared. And again, I think for consultants who are just starting out, hearing the here's what you actually need to do to make things work, and here's what to avoid is extremely helpful. So thank you so much for your time.

Tanya Zucconi: It was a pleasure Deb. Thank you.

Deb Zahn: Thanks for listening to Episode 23 of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. Please hit subscribe, I want to make sure that you don't miss any of the great episodes that are going to be coming up. Also feel free to leave me comments or questions. I will take a look at everything and if there's any topics that you think I should cover, I would love to know it. As always, you can go to and get a whole lot of other great information that can help you be a successful consultant. Thanks again. I will talk with you next time.

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