Episode 7: Skills for Getting Back into Consulting—with Bev Lacy
Deb Zahn: Hi, I want to welcome you to Episode 7 of the Craft of Consulting podcast. Today, I'm going to be talking to Bev Lacy. She is a development professional. And if you don't know what a development professional is, that is essentially the person that goes and gets money on behalf of orgs, to support what it is they do. Largely, working with non-profits, to work with donors and others, to be able to get money to support what their overall mission is. Great work.
She has an interesting story. She used to be a consultant, but then she got lured back into taking a regular job by a client. Now she's going to be transitioning back into consulting, but she was fortunate that she actually landed a two-year gig with a previous employer, which gives her a nice sort of long glide path to build up her practice over time. She's going to talk about how she plans on doing that over the next couple years. And then she's going to reflect back into how she used her network when she used to be a consultant and ended up getting more business than she could say yes to. She's going to talk about how she did that.
Then there's one part where I do sneak in a little technique that I use that helps me manage my billable and my non-billable workload and little tricks that I use to be able to do that. So we've got a great episode. Let's get started.
So I want to welcome my guest, Bev Lacy. Thank you so much for joining me on this episode.
Bev Lacy: My pleasure.
Deb Zahn: Let's start off and tell the audience a little bit about what type of work you do.
Bev Lacy: I have been a development professional, a fundraiser, for the last 24 years. I started my career at a YMCA. And I actually began in events. Then I worked my way into major giving and capital campaign work. Now I oversee a department and do a little bit of everything.
Deb Zahn: That's great. I noticed that you've been a consultant a few times before, in the past, and then switched back to sort of regular employment. So thinking back of when you were a consultant before, what drew you to that?
Bev Lacy: I have an older sister who is a consultant, and she felt that she got to do more of the kind of work that she wanted to do by consulting. So usually with any job we take, there's the things that we love to do, and there are those things that we could really do without. When I was a consultant, and judging from my sister's experience, some of the things that you really love are that you're passionate. For me, a lot of my passion is just strategy around development. How can we match a donor's passion with the non-profit and make it really work for everyone and really win for everyone? That's my passion, and that's what I want to spend my time doing. Being a consultant has allowed me to do more of that.
Deb Zahn: That's great. Now, there have been, again, a few times where you transitioned back into employment. So, what was the draw to do that?
Bev Lacy: Well, very persuasive folks, for one. You know, I had somebody that I was working with as a consultant, and she really tried to make the case that this was going to be a great, great next step for me, and actually, it really was. But, I'm now, again, at that place where I'd like to be a little bit more flexible and will like to focus on one area. So I was drawn back in by the opportunity to participate in some things that sounded excited to me, such as a pretty big capital campaign. Then I was drawn sort of back out again because I got to that point where enough of the things that I was doing as a part of the job were not the kinds of things that I want to grow into for my next step.
Deb Zahn: Right, right. So it's something I have found both with myself as a consultant and other consultants is if you do a really good job, you're going to periodically be offered jobs. That's a good thing. Like, you'd hate it if you weren't. Then the question is always… There are lots of consultants who sort of go back and forth, and the benefit is if you go back into employment and you learn new things and you accomplish new things, then when you transition back to being a consultant, you can bring that with you. Then there's some people like me, who just love being a consultant and we're good.
Bev Lacy: Yeah. No, I agree. I would think I did learn more things in this most recent position. I was presented an award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals as fundraiser of the year. So a lot of things happened that definitely will help me on a consultant, and I think it always builds confidence too. I've done this before. I can do this. I've done it for someone else. I can do it for you. Of course, anybody who's working for themselves needs that boost of confidence.
Deb Zahn: That's right. And also needs to be able to point to specific, recent accomplishments that feel really fresh when you're talking to a potential client.
Bev Lacy: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Deb Zahn: So, you are transitioning back to being a consultant, and you sort of won the prize, which is you've landed a long-term consulting engagement, which you can have while you're building the rest of your business. So now that you're going to be a consultant again, what do you hope to get out of having your own business?
Bev Lacy: So, eventually…I have a period of time before I'm at that final consulting phase for this phase of my career. But I would say that my ultimate goal, again, is to really do what I do best and kind of only that. Then I think that I will have so much joy and passion for what I do and really sharing that love. There are a few things I've found I really have a gift for that I don't know that everyone else has a gift for. I think a mistake I made earlier in my career was to devalue that. It's particularly around communication and how do you communicate with a donor or a potential donor?
I think that I will get to a point where I can really market that and make that my business. I've seen what it does for the companies that I'm working with, the non-profits that I'm working with. How it really helps the forward-facing fundraisers raise money and move the ball down the field, if you will. So I think it's a big asset, and it's, right now, it's been hard for me to both understand the value and market it correctly. I'm hoping through this next phase, getting through my current position and moving into consulting, I'll be able to really market that and make people understand the value of it because I've experienced it. I've seen how it works, and now I just need to figure out how to put it all together so other people see it.
Deb Zahn: That's great. You are at that fortunate place where you know what your superpower is, which is wonderful. You've seen the results of when you apply that superpower, and then, yeah, the next step is, how do you get other folks to see it and say, "Oh, my gosh, we've got to have that. We've got to have that superpower available to us"? Any concerns you have as you're…You've got a couple year glidepath, which is great, because again, you've got the golden ticket. Which is you've got a nice long-term gig while you're building your practice, which not every consultant has. But it's really optimal. What concerns do you have as you start to think about looking forward a couple years when this engagement ends and having to have your own practice and make sure that you have the income coming in that you need?
Bev Lacy: Well, I think my biggest concern, and this is something that I sort of came up against last time I was consulting, is am I really going to be able to engage the number of clients and also a workload that really supports me being a consultant? Most of my relationships now have really been through people that I've worked for in the past or people who know people I've worked for in the past. So it's very, very word-of-mouth, and it is, I would say, a handful of people that I've consulted for. But usually longer-term gigs. And in every single case they've also tried to hire me, both times. So I know they like me, but can I find enough other people who like me? That's my big concern.
Deb Zahn: I mean, the benefit is, because of some of the work you've done with donors, if that's your superpower and being able to describe value to other people, to get them to do something, and particularly get them to part with money, which is essentially what consultants do, you have a really good leg up with that. So, if you think about it from that sort of transferable skill perspective. Like when you're working with a donor, what are those keys to how you communicate with them that you think would translate to how you would do business development as a consultant?
Bev Lacy: I always do my research. I know exactly what they're interested in, what else they've supported, the kinds of folks that they like to hang out with. So I know the style of communication and the interests. I mean, that's just people skills, in a sense. And doing your homework. Going the extra mile. I always say that if someone doesn't like teens, I don't ask them to fund a teen program.
Deb Zahn: That's right.
Bev Lacy: So, I think it's really doing…As far as finding new clients, if there's a kind of fundraising that they're really not interested in doing, I'm not going to pitch them, for instance, direct mail, if they have no interest in pursuing that.
Deb Zahn: Right, right. So then you translate that to business development. That's actually a perfect example, because I've not only been a consultant, I've been on the receiving end of consultants who have showed up…I've actually been at a foundation as well, where people were coming and asking me for money, and I can tell, and clients can tell, when someone has not done their research. They don't know who the company is. They don't know who I am. They don't know what we do. They show up, and they ask vague questions like, "Tell me what keeps you up at night." I want them to tell me what should be keeping me up at night, based on their knowledge, expertise, and things like that.
What other types of ways that you communicate with donors that you think, if you were in front of a perspective client, that that skill would transfer?
Bev Lacy: I think it's a great question. It's a hard question. I'm going to flip it, if I may?
Deb Zahn: Of course.
Bev Lacy: So a lot of the work that I do is sort of bolstering up the people that are actually asking for the funds. So I do my homework on the donor end, but what I do is I make it much, much easier for whoever is the Executive Director of a non-profit. Or whoever is the COO of the non-profit or the lead board member in a campaign. I make their lives easier.
What I need to do is be able to tell them the ways in which I make their lives easier. I'm so valuable because, instead of you sitting in front of the computer and trying to figure out what to say next, I'll tell you what to say next. I'll tell you what to say next, where you should have your next meeting, what should be the point of your next meeting, and what you want to get from that next meeting. And absolute detail of what should be said in the conversation.
Now, obviously, everybody has their own style, and they're going to make it their own, but it's almost like writer's block, I find. That, people don't…You don't know how to start the conversation. You don't know what to say. And then the list becomes so long, and it becomes so overwhelming. Look, if somebody is doing all of that work for you, and you're basically sending, going to meetings, penning notes, I mean, look, that is a lot of the work.
Deb Zahn: Yeah. Yeah, and it also can be awkward in those conversations. And it's the same with consulting conversations, where ultimately you're having a transactional conversation. You don't want it to feel that way, and you only want to switch it to a transactional conversation if you feel like you can really help them or do a service to them. But, for a lot of new consultants, that's tricky, because that's not how they've ever had to talk to people before. So, again, something else that I think gives you a leg up.
How did you get comfortable with things like that?
Bev Lacy: So, it's such a good question, and I don't…No one I have ever talked to from the development world has told me that they do the same thing. I think…I had a boss for a period of time. He would say to me, "Well, you need to do that for me," and I just got really used to doing it. But I wouldn't just do it for him. I would pay attention to clues of the relationship with whoever it was he was talking to. I would pay attention to what their interests were. I would find out as much as I could about the situation, that I could step into it with a little bit of authority and knowledge but definitely from a backend. I mean, I would never take a personal touch or an existing relationship away from anyone. I would just say that it's really beginning to read people.
I'll tell you something else. I actually started as an actor. I was trying to act in New York City. I did some training on the west coast. I thought I was going to come to New York City and be an actor. So I think I have definite skills of empathy. And I think those were skills I could use in acting, and I use a lot of empathy in my current role. I use empathy in thinking about where my donors are at. I use empathy in thinking about, gosh, it so hard to run an organization, and on top of that, raise money. That's really tough. How can I make this easier for this person?
So I think that's really a driving asset that I bring to it, and, I'm going to be honest, Deb. I think I'm going to have to be so disciplined to package this and put this together because I think those skills that I'm talking about come really easy to me. But marketing myself and putting myself out there and packaging myself and really saying, "I am worth this," that's the tough thing for me.
Deb Zahn: That's right. You're fortunate that you've got a two-year glidepath for that to happen. You have folks that are already raving fans and have seen your superpowers in action and seen what those have yielded. So, in those two years, that's a piece of it, which is how you package it. You can describe what you do in a way that's going to be compelling and demonstrate your empathy. Because, you can't just say, "I care about you." You have to show it in the same way you to show it with donors.
What else do you think in that two-year timeframe, as you are preparing to launch a business on the other side of this gig, do you think you need to focus on?
Bev Lacy: I think constant feedback. I mean, I'm fortunate in that, the team that I'm going to work with next, I've worked with in the past. I'm just going to need to ask them to be brutally honest with me. I will have to work extremely hard, too, but I think I'm going to have to constantly measure results and make tweaks along the way and use this opportunity to really refine my skills. Refine my understanding of their perception in the value that I add and how I can improve on that.
Deb Zahn: That's right. And they're going to end up being your best marketers, right?
Bev Lacy: Right.
Deb Zahn: Yeah. Now, are you comfortable asking folks who know you, respect you, have seen what you can do to market for you?
Bev Lacy: I have not done a lot of that. I think last time around, I told a number of people what I was going to do, and I think from that, I probably got four or five calls from people interested in retaining my services. Three of those calls, I couldn't take on, because the job was too big for what I was able to do with my other client load, at that time. But, I mean, fantastic to get the calls. Fantastic.
Deb Zahn: Oh, yeah.
Bev Lacy: I was so happy. But two of them were really people who just wanted me to take a full-time job. So, they said, "Oh, well, you know, you've done this, but why don't you come work for us, and then you don't have to consult, and you'll get your dental, and your medical, and all the wonderful things that come with a full-time job?" So I think that those were tough discussions too because you get yourself all geared up, and you say, "Look, I'm going to go through this. This is who I am." And, people are like, "No, no, no. This is what we want you to be."
Deb Zahn: Now, do you think you'll be tempted to go back into regular employment?
Bev Lacy: I'm sure if I feel like I can't succeed in the way I want to. It's going to be a temptation. I think I've experienced some of the harder parts of being a consultant. There's the marketing yourself. There's putting yourself out there. There's also all the backend work. I think I need to develop some seamless systems for that so that that doesn't become as difficult. I mean, you don't have a business office making sure that all of your insurance and all of that sort of things that we all deal with are taken care of. You don't have somebody saying, "Well, this is your travel allowance." You have to figure all of that stuff out. So, I mean, I think I need to really spend some time putting systems together so that is not so onerous. I found that to be very onerous last time.
Deb Zahn: Yeah, it really can be, because a lot of folks, particularly independent consultants—and I've been working at firm, and by the time this comes out, I'll be an independent consultant again—we think we have to do it all. Sometimes, you do have to do it all, because you don't have other options, but I like to stick with the ... I call it DDAB, which is the acronym for Delegate, Delete, Automate, and Batch. That's sort of my way that I can manage it.
So delegate is, there are some things that it is not worth my time to do. So maybe I get a virtual assistant who works for me five hours a week, and they're going to do that. Or the delete is: are there certain things that I'm doing, just because I think, well, that's what you do? But, maybe they don't offer any value, and I can just say, meh, I'm not going to do it anymore, and it's not going to be a big deal that I don't.
Then, the automate, which is I think what you're talking about, which is, years ago, there wasn't easy timekeeping systems or expense systems or invoice systems that were available. Now there's a bunch of options that you can choose from, and if you automate things at the beginning, it gets easier. So, if you have a time system, it goes right into an invoice. That's a beautiful thing. That didn't happen before. It was all either napkins or Excel spreadsheets.
Bev Lacy: Right, exactly.
Deb Zahn: Then, the last one, batch, which I'm a huge fan of, is if my brain has to stop and start on a variety of different types of activities, it takes me a while to refocus. I end up losing a bunch of time. So, when I do invoices, I do them on a certain day, at a certain time. That's all I do, and I don't do it the rest of the week. I batch everything together.
I've been starting to do that with my email, where I look at it at a certain time. I don't have alerts on so I don't get distracted throughout the day. I batch it in a certain period of time, focus on it, and then I can go focus on something else. I will tell you, that saves me hours per week.
Bev Lacy: Oh, that's a good tool. That's amazing.
Deb Zahn: Yeah. I've sort of picked it up from various really smart people on productivity. When you're, again, when you're a consultant and your time is money, if you spend your time doing things that aren't generating an income for you, it comes from somewhere. We know it usually comes from the rest of our lives.
Bev Lacy: Yeah, that's absolutely what I fell into. I love that tool. That's great.
Deb Zahn: You can steal it. There should be a better acronym than DDAB, but I couldn't come up with anything else. So if you come up with anything, let me know.
Bev Lacy: I will. I will.
Deb Zahn: So, that's one other part of this, is you talked with your sister about what it's like to be a consultant, and sort of what the upsides are. I became a consultant and still do it because I think about my overall life, and how the way that I do consulting, either bring balance or destruction to the rest of my life. So when you think about being a consultant again and building that practice, how do you hope that makes the rest of your life sort of look and operate in a balanced way?
Bev Lacy: I think that's such a good question. I mean, I think first and foremost, all of us, we have to give ourselves permission to seek balance. I mean, first and foremost, I feel like I've spent most of my life thinking I don't deserve that balance, and if I'm going to be more available to my family, then I just get less sleep. That's just way it is.
Deb Zahn: Right.
Bev Lacy: So I think you have to give yourself permission that that's a value and a goal, and it doesn't make you lazy. It makes you, actually, smart. I've come to that point where I realize, you know what, if I work really, really, really hard for 10 hours, the next 4 or 5 hours of work, they're not very good. They're just not. I mean, that 8 to 10 hours, that's the best work I have that day. Let me give people my best, and then let me not try to just keep going and make it so much less effective and so much less meaningful.
First I have to give myself permission to seek the balance, and then I think it is a balance of two things. It is more work, family. I'm at this stage now where I've been working for a number of years. I have parents that are a certain age, and I have children that are a certain age. I have those unique demands on my time. I am a classic sandwich generation person. So I need to make space for all of that and to do it well.
I also feel like, at this stage in my career, I worked really, really hard. And I did, as I said earlier, do a lot of tasks that weren't necessarily my joy. We all do that. As you just mentioned to me, invoicing, certainly, will not be my joy. But it has to happen. But I can spend more time doing those things that I love, and that's going to provide balance. Because I find when I'm sitting down to do something that's really hard for me, sort of like the work that I'm doing for some of the Executive Directors I've worked for in the past, when that is really hard for you. It takes so much energy, kind of that knocks you out of balance right there.
It's like procrastinating on a paper that you have to do. So, let's get rid of…I mean, I graduate college and graduate school. I don't need to do those papers anymore. Let's put those away. Let's focus on the things that I do love to do.
Deb Zahn: That's right. Then, the other piece is, is sometimes you will have clients that you have to set boundaries with. You have to say no to. Actually, I was delighted to hear you say earlier, you had five folks come to you, and, because of the workload, you didn't say yes to all of them. I know a ton of consultants, particularly when they're new, they go into this scarcity mentality. It's, I think, a pretty harsh mindset, where you have to say yes to everything, because you have no idea if anybody's going to come to you again. As opposed to if you focus on value and quality, you'll know that you can't do it all. You want to deliver your highest quality, and that's what's going to be the basis of future business you're going to get. Not because you say yes to everybody, and you do the best you can, but you can't do your best, because it's not possible.
Bev Lacy: I love that you said that, because I think that that's something I didn't mention earlier. But being on the other side of development and working for a non-profit for so many years, we've utilized several consultants over the years. In various different positions that I have been in, I have seen those individuals that we have worked with that have taken on too much work. I've been on the end of trying to get their attention and not receiving that call that I need and feeling like I get their bill and I haven't talked to them. I get really frustrated, and I think that that's something that, just like you sitting on that other end of the table, when you're deciding who gets the funds, what a good experience to remember. I always want to be responsive. If I cannot be responsive, then there's something wrong. I'm not doing justice by any client.
Deb Zahn: That's right, and they will remember that, because every time you work with a client, you are basically telling them and giving them an experience of what your brand is.
Bev Lacy: Yeah.
Deb Zahn: A good brand is not, "Hey, I'm worth the wait." That's not a good brand. A good brand is, "I care about you. I care about your time. I care about doing things of value to you, when you need it." That doesn't mean that I get caught up in things that aren't really urgent. That's different. But I care about them. I care about them as human beings. I care about what they're trying to actually accomplish, and I want to support that. If I only care about myself and I say yes to everybody, they nobody's going to get the best of me. Nobody's going to feel good about it, and they're going to remember. And that's what they will tell other people about me.
Bev Lacy: That's right. That's so true.
Deb Zahn: Yeah. So, I think the other piece for consulting, and again, you've got two glorious years, luxurious years, to think it through, is to also think through what's your personal brand? So when people experience you, what are the words that you want them to use, that are going to resonate with other folks, that they're going to come running to you?
Bev Lacy: That is a great thing to put on my list. I like that. I like that.
Deb Zahn: Yeah. I've made lists before, and then occasionally, I get surprised when a new client…I had one who is a delightful guy, who wanted me to do some work for him, and he said, "I asked five or six people about you, and it wouldn't even be people who you would think of, and I kept hearing the same word, and that's how I knew I wanted to work with you." It was based on one word. Now, oddly, the word was “humble,” which not…My husband would, perhaps, beg to differ about that, but what he meant by it was I put the client first. Not in a way that's destructive to myself, but I truly care. I'm not trying to make sure everybody knows I'm a rock star. I'm trying to do good work. I'm in the healthcare field, and he felt like that was a rare commodity. So it was that one word that he heard multiple times, and that's why he wanted to work with me.
Bev Lacy: Oh, I love that. That's great. I mean, again, I think that's also knowing who you're working for and kind of what their lives are like. I was talking to somebody earlier today, and we were just sort of talking about the lean nature of non-profits. They were on the other end of the phone saying, "Well, of course it's lean. It's a non-profit. I mean, every single non-profit I've ever worked with is you slash this, slash that, slash this, slash that, and you have to wear several different hats." So I think when you're consulting to a non-profit, and healthcare, university, I think you have to really be aware of what the folks that you're working with and for are going through, and what is expected of them. Again, you're there to make their lives better and their lives easier.
Deb Zahn: That's right. That's right. In your case, you're there to make their financial situation better so you're truly a superhero. So, I want to thank you so much for talking to me. This is really helpful. I would love to have you come back on, as you start to build what your business is going to be and start to figure some of this out. Because I think it's the same things that a lot of consultants in their first couple years are going to be struggling with and it would be great to share your process.
Bev Lacy: Oh, I would look forward to that. I hope that I have lots of great tips and information, and many successes along the way.
Deb Zahn: I have complete faith. Well, thank you very much. We will, then, talk again, probably in a few months.
Bev Lacy: That sounds great. Thanks, Deb.
Deb Zahn: Alright. Well, thank you for listening to episode seven of the Craft of Consulting podcast. We actually are going to have Bev back on the show a little bit later, as she's further along in rebuilding her practice as a consultant, and we'll hear how she's doing. So, we have a lot of other great interviews that are coming up. I definitely don't want you to miss anything. So, please hit subscribe. As always, go to craftofconsulting.com, and there's a wealth of information there that can help you in your consulting business, and also help you figure out how to have the life you want. Thanks for joining me on this episode. It was a delight having you. Looking forward to having you on the next one. Thanks, bye bye.