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Episode 51: Using Multiple Promotional Strategies to Build Your Business—with Roberta Matuson

Deb Zahn: I want to welcome you to episode 51 of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. My guest today is Roberta Matuson, and she is a consultant who works with organizations and companies to identify, acquire, nurture, and ultimately retain their talent. She has been consulting for 22 years, so she has a wealth of information about what works and what doesn't work to get and retain clients. And in particular, we talk quite a bit about how she uses various means of promoting herself and establishing her credibility, which helps her get clients and keep them. A lot of wonderful information in this podcast. Let's get started.

Hi. I want to welcome my guest today, Roberta Matuson. Roberta, welcome to the show.

Roberta Matuson: Thank you.

Deb Zahn: So let's start off. Tell my listeners what type of consulting you do.

Roberta Matuson: I help the best companies hire and attract and retain the best people. So I work as a strategic advisor to some key executives of some of the world's most well- known companies. I also work with small- and medium-sized organizations on their talent strategies. And then as part of my business, I also do executive coaching.

Deb Zahn: Great. And how did you become a consultant in the first place?

Roberta Matuson: Well, I became a consultant 22 years ago when I decided that I was tired of doing the same thing over and over again. I was hired by a number of companies to go in and start their HR departments up from nothing and build them. And I made the decision after the third one that I would much prefer to do that from the outside than the inside.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, that is the attractive thing about consulting. It’s always varied.

Roberta Matuson: Absolutely.

Deb Zahn: And there's a difference to being outside. And when you first started, how did you get your first client?

Roberta Matuson: Well, I got my first client through a company that's no longer in existence, that used to connect clients and consultants, and they had a client that was looking for somebody in the space I work in. And we worked together for a number of years.

Deb Zahn: That's great. And how about now? How has that changed since now you've been doing it for so long?

Roberta Matuson: Well, now it's a lot different. It's been 22 years. I think it was like before the Internet.

Deb Zahn: I remember that.

Roberta Matuson: So today, as you probably know, it's a lot about pulling toward you. It's a lot about content strategy. It's a lot of referrals. Speaking, which I do as well. And just keeping your name out there and being top of mind.

Deb Zahn: So I want to jump to a question I had, given what you just said, which is you have produced a tremendous amount of content. So you now have 5 books really nicely written; well done, concise reports; tools. You've done videos, you post blogs, you do speaking engagements, and that's obviously a lot of content you produce. How do you use that both to help your clients and to help your business?

Roberta Matuson: Well, it's like that cartoon character Bob the Builder. You select the right tool for the right job. And so if I have a client that’s in need of work around their talent strategy, I would send them a copy of my new book, Evergreen Challenge, along with the companion workbook, so that they could start thinking about how they may want to create their own strategy, and then I can assist them with that if they'd like.

Deb Zahn: And do most folks, when you send those to them, do they say, "Oh, this is wonderful. Come help us."

Roberta Matuson: Oh, they definitely say, "This is wonderful." The “come help us part,” as you probably know, takes a little more time. And it's really all about building the relationship and having a number of conversations over time until they reach the point where they're like, "Yeah, we're ready to go."

Deb Zahn: And what are some of the objections that you often hear before they say, "Yeah, we're ready to go," where they're not sure, even after you've displayed your credibility by sending them some of your content?

Roberta Matuson: “Oh, we can do this ourselves.”

Deb Zahn: Yep.

Roberta Matuson: That's the number one objection. And I'm like, "Well, if you could have done it yourself already, you would have."

Deb Zahn: That's right. That's right. Or you probably set the timer and say, "OK, and I'll see you in 3 months."

Roberta Matuson: Exactly.

Deb Zahn: When things got hard.

Roberta Matuson: Exactly.

Deb Zahn: That's great. And how do you find the time to do all of that? Because I'm sure people listening are thinking, "I haven't even got my laundry done yet."

Roberta Matuson: Well, I haven't either.

Deb Zahn: Maybe that's how I skipped the laundry. Do the book. But how do you fit that into your busy schedule as a consultant?

Roberta Matuson: Well, it's like anything: what gets scheduled gets done. So you put it in your calendar—2 days a week, 3 days a week, you're going to write if you're writing a book. I like to write when I'm inspired. So if I see something—I’m very aware of my surroundings—and so if I have an experience, I'm like, "Oh my gosh, that's like this," and I'll go home that night and I'll write a blog post. But I don't edit my words. In other words, I just say what I think. And so when you don't self-edit you can get work done a lot faster than when you're so worried what everyone else thinks.

Deb Zahn: That's right. Or you're thinking of it like a client product that has to be of a certain level of quality as opposed to you're just getting words on a page.

Roberta Matuson: Exactly. I mean, I can put out a 600- or 700-word article in 20 minutes. I mean, I just don't think about it. I just do it.

Deb Zahn: That's great. And if you were advising other professionals who are now becoming consultants, of all the things you do, what do you think the most fruitful ones are? Is it the books? Is it the reports? Is it the videos? What do you think has been most helpful?

Roberta Matuson: Well, I mean it's all important, but I would say pick 1 or 2 things that you really like to do. In the beginning I thought, "Oh gosh, I'm not really good at this video thing." This is like, “I have no interest in this video thing.” And then I was asked to do some courses for LinkedIn, and I went out and I did them, and they trained me. And so now I'm like, "Oh, video. Great, no problem." So I like to speak, and I like to write. Some people hate networking. So if you hate networking, then don't go to networking events. If you like to do training, if you'd like to speak, then focus your efforts there. It's really about doing what you like because then you'll do it.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, I like that because…one of the benefits of…now you have to have a platform that includes many strategies to get exposure and to get in front of clients. Now you can actually pick. So I recently did videos and you’ve got to get used to it, and you’ve got to recognize it's a different medium. But then I came to like it, so now I'm much more likely to do it. Even in August when it's really humid, and I'm standing outside and goodness knows what my hair is doing. I don't care. As long as what ends up being in front of people is actually value.

Roberta Matuson: Right.

Deb Zahn: That's wonderful. So talk a little bit about the type of work you do for clients. So how do you actually—if you're the trusted advisor who's helping them figure out how to secure and retain talent—what are some of the things you'll do with the client to help them do that?

Roberta Matuson: Well, when I'm a trusted advisor, it's really based on a relationship where I'm their sounding board. And they'll call me and we'll have these conversations around areas that are slowing them down. And I'll make recommendations and, together, we'll get things moving much more rapidly than when they're just in their office and they keep thinking over and over about what they should do and then they do nothing.

Deb Zahn: Yes, I've seen that more than once. So I'm sure sometimes when you work with clients, just as you said, they spend a lot of time processing, trying to figure out what to do, maybe overthinking it. How do you get them over hump to where they actually can take action?

Roberta Matuson: Well, sometimes in the middle of an advisory engagement, I find that if they're not implementing the ideas that I've presented, and I think they are good ideas, I might suggest to them that we consider moving this idea into a project. And I can either help them do the project or I can work with the person who they're going to delegate that project to. And so sometimes that will happen and I'll do a separate proposal.

Deb Zahn: Gotcha. So the trusted advisor piece is really helping them come up with the strategy part of it, and then if they want any additional help with execution, that's separate. And do you price those differently?

Roberta Matuson: Well, yes because one is a flat rate, and it's a certain amount per month, and the other is based on value. I do a value-based phase.

Deb Zahn: That's great. And how do you tease out, particularly if it's project based, how do you tease out what the value is?

Roberta Matuson: Well, that's all about asking the right questions, right? And that's finding out why they want to do the work and how that work will impact their business, and what that will mean in terms of increased revenue, increased profitability, decreased employee turnover. What's turnover costing now? What if we were to reduce that number by half? What would the savings be? Those kinds of questions.

Deb Zahn: That's great. And the other reason I like those questions—not just because it helps you figure out what the value is to them and therefore how to price it. But I imagine it also helps them think about the strategy or the urgency of some of the timing in a different way.

Roberta Matuson: Yes.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Because clients often will say, “Well, this is important,” but they actually haven't thought through all of the consequences or the outcomes that they actually want to achieve through it.

Roberta Matuson: Yes, that's true.

Deb Zahn: That's great. So when you first started to where you are now, so now you've been doing this for 22 years in a very distinct way, you price things and you work with folks. What do you wish you had known at the beginning that you know now?

Roberta Matuson: Well, things have changed dramatically. So for example, right now I'm working with Lisa Larter, a common friend of ours.

Deb Zahn: Who's great.

Roberta Matuson: And I’m working with her to completely revamp my website. When I first started, you basically go through everything you did up on a sheet and put it all on the web. And as I've grown as a consultant and as a person, I do so many things that I feel like my messaging isn't real clear anymore. And so together, we're going to move more toward like the StoryBrand way of telling a story and being 1 or 2 things to certain people rather than trying to be everything to everyone.

And so when I talk to people who are just starting out in their practices, in some ways I think they're much more fortunate because they don't have to go through the...I mean I've got hundreds and hundreds of blog posts that we will have to go through and decide are we going to keep them or are we going to toss them? What are we going to do with them? It's sort of like when you move into a brand new house and you don't take any of your old stuff with you. It's a lot easier, I think, to furnish that house than when you're trying to sort through your other stuff.

Deb Zahn: Absolutely. And keep things tidy. I've gotten a question a lot as I've worked with new consultants who consider themselves more generalist, even if they're in a particular industry and even if they work with particular types of clients, but they can do so many things. And I think there's often this fear of, “If I don't tell them everything I do, then they're not going to hire me if I don't happen to pick the thing they want.” So how, when you essentially have to sort of curate down and describe yourself in a much more niche way, how do you have that not limit what clients may want to come to you for?

Roberta Matuson: Well, I think you have to be willing to accept the fact that you're not going to be for everyone. You are going to miss an opportunity or two, but on the other end of that, you'll find that when people know exactly what you do, you'll be the go- to person for that.

Deb Zahn: That's right. And it'll be easier for them to essentially be your brand ambassadors and go tell everybody about you because it isn't going to be this vague thing of, "Oh, she's great."

Roberta Matuson: Yeah, it is definitely not going to be, "Oh, she's great," and that's it.

Deb Zahn: It's going to be, "Oh, she's great because..."

Roberta Matuson: I mean, you know you have a problem when you yourself can't even tell people what you do anymore because you're like, "Oh my gosh, I just like to do everything."

Deb Zahn: Yeah, exactly. And as you know, because I consider myself a generalist working in very particular industry, I've had to hone it down to where I say very specific things. There are some things I do that fall outside of that, but one, they're the things I like to do that I know I'm the best, and they're easy to digest from the client perspective.

Roberta Matuson: Yes.

Deb Zahn: That's great. And you're working back with the best person I can think of who I'm also going to be working with to hone some of the messages so that it's just so much easier for clients to say yes.

Roberta Matuson: And it's easier for you to tell people what you do.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Exactly.

Roberta Matuson: In a distinctive, memorable way.

Deb Zahn: That's wonderful. So what other advice would you give to a professional who's thinking of becoming a consultant? What would you tell them—definitely, definitely do this?

Roberta Matuson: Well, I think first you have to make sure you have something of value to offer. I mean, I see people who have 2 or 3 years of experience and they're like, "Oh, I'm going to be a consultant." And they think that's a great move because their friend who went to Harvard Business School came out with no experience and got hired by a large consulting firm. And that's a completely different model, and it's really hard to go up against people who have much more depth of experience than when you have 1 or 2 years of experience. So I would say, “Go out, get your experience, get as much of it as you can, and then when you're ready, consider starting your own practice.”

Deb Zahn: That's great. I like that. And when you're out there, I would also say pay attention to the “how” and hone your soft skills because those are going to come in handy. I imagine in your business, soft skills are one of the most important tools at your disposal.

Roberta Matuson: Yes, that's definitely important. But I think what winds up happening, especially people who have never done consulting, they love to consult, they love to give advice, but they don't understand or they're not familiar with the idea that our business as consultants is what, like 85-90% marketing. And if you don't like to market, then you shouldn't be a consultant.

Deb Zahn: That's right. Because you can be smart and you can have all the goods, but if you can't get it out there, there's no use.

Roberta Matuson: Yeah. If nobody's buying, then OK.

Deb Zahn: That's actually really good advice. Sobering, but I think really helpful because truthfully...So I've worked at a consulting firm, not one of the big ones. I worked at a midsize firm, but now I'm an independent consultant. And even if you're at a firm, particularly if you're at a certain level, you have to do business development. You have to go out and market yourself.

Roberta Matuson: Absolutely.

Deb Zahn: So how did you learn how to do that?

Roberta Matuson: Well, I learned the hard way. I did all the things you shouldn't do. And then I engaged a coach. I work with Alan Weiss. He’s my mentor. And I've worked with Alan for gosh, 10-12 years.

Deb Zahn: He helped you figure out sort of the ins and outs of how you actually do that piece that no one told us about.

Roberta Matuson: Right. Well, he's still helping me figure it out.

Deb Zahn: That's great. Well, again, the beauty of consulting is you're always learning new things.

Roberta Matuson: Exactly. And it is changing—the world of consulting. I mean, here you and I are, we're on Zoom, right? Well, years ago, Zoom didn't exist. So if you wanted to do business in, let's say, China, you'd have to go to China. But today you just dial in and here we are.

Deb Zahn: That's right. Yeah. I much prefer the post Zoom and post Skype world. It's made things a lot easier. So let me ask you this last question because this is the other important piece I think for consultants. Once they figure out, or while they're figuring out, how to get business in the door and to build up a pipeline, they also are consulting because likely they want to have a certain type of life. So how do you bring balance to your life? That is the magic question.

Roberta Matuson: Well, let's see, I'm talking to you right now from Sarasota, Florida. And my home is Boston, and I'm here for 2 months. So I think I've got this work-life balance thing under control.

Deb Zahn: I love that. That's a great. Yeah, I'm headed to Puerto Rico because I can work from anywhere.

Roberta Matuson: Exactly.

Deb Zahn: That's wonderful. So any other last words of wisdom that you'd want to share with new consultants who are trying to figure it out?

Roberta Matuson: Yeah, I think it's really hard to do this on your own and that you need to find a community, a community of consultants, people who you know and trust have your best interest in mind. And I would say if you can get a coach sooner rather than later, you'll be that much further ahead.

Deb Zahn: That's great. Yeah, you can skip a lot of the mistakes that we've all made.

Roberta Matuson: Yes.

Deb Zahn: And talk to someone who made them much, much earlier.

Roberta Matuson: Absolutely.

Deb Zahn: Wonderful. Well, Roberta, thank you so much for joining me today. This was really helpful information.

Roberta Matuson: Oh, it's my pleasure.

Deb Zahn: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. I want to ask you to do three things. If you enjoyed this episode or any of my other podcasts, hit subscribe. I've got a lot of other great guests and content coming up, and I don't want you to miss anything. The other two things I'm asking you to do—one is, if you have any comments, suggestions, or other feedback that will help make this podcast more helpful to more listeners, please include those in the comments section. And then the last thing is, if you've gotten something out of this, please share it. Share it with somebody you know who's a consultant or thinking about being a consultant, and make sure they also have access to all this great content and the other great content that's coming. As always, you can get more wonderful information and tools at Thanks so much. I will talk to you on the next episode. Bye-bye.

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