Episode 89 - The Glidepath to Becoming a Consultant—with Ashley DePaso
Deb Zahn: Hi. I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting podcast. One of the things you have to do when you start consulting, or you have to redo if you skipped it, is to set up all of the things on the business side of consulting. So you can focus on getting clients. Serving your clients. Having the robust business that you want. If you are able to have the time and the luxury to create a glide path to yourself for doing that, so the time to prep before suddenly the pressure is on to get clients, then you are very fortunate.
But you gotta do certain things to get yourself ready. I have brought on Ashley DePaso of DePaso Solutions. She is right now in the process of transitioning to be a consultant. We talk about the steps that she's taking to prepare. And she's taking some of the smartest steps that I've heard anybody talk about. I wanted to bring her on so you could hear how she's doing it. Talk about the things that are getting her ready to have a successful consulting business. Lot to share in this. Let's get started. Hi. I want to welcome to my show today, Ashley DePaso. Ashley, welcome to the show.
Ashley DePaso: Thank you for having me, Deb.
Deb Zahn: Oh I'm so excited to have you on. Let's start and tell my listeners what you do.
Ashley DePaso: I am a consultant for myself. What I focus on is leadership. Communication. Organization. Coaching. Development. And some diversity and culture within the workplace.
Deb Zahn: Wonderful. Those are all things in high demand right now so that's great. When we talked before, one of the reasons we thought it would be great to jump on a podcast now is that you are in the process of transitioning into being a consultant. You're already a consultant. I found you because you post some great things online. We thought it would be interesting to talk about that transition since so many other folks are either thinking about it or are going through it. Let's start off. Why did you want to be a consultant? What drew you to that?
Ashley DePaso: I've been in several different positions throughout my life, and I always found that helping people was my strength. I found great joy in it. Getting down one-on-one with people and just helping them see through any barriers that came their way. I just had a real deep passion for it. In my last position, I had the opportunity to make it how I wanted it to be. Using the tools that I had that were provided. But just help people. I really, really found great joy in it. I traveled within the state, but I traveled to different counties and helped staff on a one-on-one basis. I was just like, “This is something that really brings me great joy. And this is something that I can see myself doing for myself with everybody that I can reach.” That and coupled with since I was little, I've always helped people. I have a background in social work and just the good feeling that it brought on is what told me, "OK. This is something that you enjoy. Why not go ahead and make this your own thing?"
Deb Zahn: That's right. And what a wonderful way to make a livelihood in service to others. And one of the best reasons to be a consultant. I think it truly is. I like it a whole lot better than, "I want to make a whole bunch of money," which is, yeah, you can make a really good living. You can make a whole bunch of money. But service, I think, should be the main driving force.
In this transition you're in, how long did you give yourself for the total transition?
Ashley DePaso: I told myself six months. Yeah, six months. I had my foot on the gas in the very beginning, then took it off a little bit. I got a little...I don't want to say lazy but just comfortable. We've all been in quarantine with the pandemic going on. Working from home. And I do have a full-time job that I do now. I just kind of got comfortable being home. I told myself six months and I do still have that hard deadline for myself. But I still have some work to do.
Deb Zahn: That's all right. Six months is actually...I think that's a great amount of time and to be able to actually create that space for yourself to figure all the things out you want to figure out. It'll make your glide into consulting so much better.
Ashley DePaso: I gave myself six months. When you give yourself a deadline like that, sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. And I'm OK with that. That's something that you have to be OK with because while you're busy making plans life is happening. And you never know what's going to come. You just take it and you just go with it, and that's just kind of like what I've been doing.
Deb Zahn: And life happens. Pandemics don't always.
Ashley DePaso: That's true.
Deb Zahn: That's a really big one. But it sounds like during the six months the pace might've been a little different. It might've looked a little different but you're almost to the end of it. So that's exciting. What excites you most about that moment of taking the leap and now your livelihood is going to be consulting?
Ashley DePaso: What excites me the most? That's a hard question because I get excited about a lot of different things. I think what excites me the most is that I love meeting new people all the time. I'm the type of person where I'll sit down with somebody and we'll be in conversation and they'll start telling me about their problems. I'm immediately thinking about how I can fix them. Which is kind of a gift and a curse. But I'm most excited about one, being able to meet new people. Being able to show my daughter that you can do what you love to do while still helping people and being a good person. She's growing. She's watching me and I recognize that. And just being able to help people. Use my values and norms that I grew up with and to share that with people. Because so far it has worked for me and my siblings. I want to share that with other people and that's exciting. That's exciting for me.
Deb Zahn: That's wonderful. Now obviously, I would imagine. I certainly felt this when I first became a consultant. And then when I became an independent consultant. There's probably some fear too, right? What are some of the things that have made you a little bit nervous?
Ashley DePaso: Of course financial stability. Because I do work in government. I know exactly what I'm getting paid. When I'm getting paid. From here through the next two years. Financial stability. That scares me a little bit. Being rejected is probably another fear that I have. In my mind, this is a great idea. I'm going to go out there. I'm going to help people and I'm going to be great at it. But I have to realize or recognize that not everybody is going to agree with what I'm trying to share and that's OK. That's a little bit scary. Financial stability. Healthcare. With my job I have health care. These are the things where you grow up and you're told this is what you need in a job.
This is what you're supposed to have. These are good things. You have a great benefits package, and why would you want to leave that? I've just been working on training my mind to say, "Yes. I do need these things. But I don't need it from my job. I can do this for myself. It's possible." That's been a little bit scary. And then the other part is just having all this, I call it free time. But it's not really free time. It's free time away from a job that I've been working. Leaving the job and actually starting a career. My own career. That's a little scary for me.
Deb Zahn: Oh yeah. Just so you know, all sounds familiar. I had the same exact stuff. Same exact stuff. And I delayed becoming a consultant much longer than I wanted to for fear of financial instability. Not sure how I'm going to do healthcare. Not sure how it's going to work. And guess what? It does work if you make more good choices than bad choices. It works. Which is wonderful. When you first made the decision and again, very wisely said, and let me do this over a period of time. What are some of the first steps you took in that transition as you started down that path?
Ashley DePaso: Let me think about this because I feel like it's been years and it's only been five months. The first thing I did was I said, "OK. I don't know everything. I'm going to need help. Who can I call?" So I reached out to another consultant and I scheduled a workshop. It was a full day workshop in Pennsylvania. I'm here in Georgia and I had to travel to Pennsylvania. But I just made it a fun thing. My family is in Pennsylvania. So I just went to visit and I just made it a fun trip. I went. I scheduled this workshop. It's supposed to be five hours. It ended up being seven and a half hours. We really, really hit it off pretty well. Both of our energy was just great. I was able to take from them. They were able to actually take from me, surprisingly. I went to them for help and actually ended up providing some help myself.
That's the first thing I did. The workshop was, I want to say it was like a business. What was the name of it? It was like a business startup workshop. I thought it was going to be a group of people. It ended up being just me and the consultant, which was nice because it was more personal. I could ask whatever I wanted. I didn't have to feel like, “Oh, I'm going to ask a stupid question. Everybody else knows.” No, it wasn't like that. I did the workshop and then I took notes. I was provided with some great feedback. Some great information from that and we developed a plan together. That was part of the workshop. To develop a plan and then take that plan and start. We developed a plan and from that point on, I said, "OK. I need to schedule my time out because remember, I do have a full-time job. So I need to be more strategic with my time and my planning so that I can move forward." The second thing I did, well, I guess this will be part of the first thing. I got my LLC.
Deb Zahn: Yay. I love that. That wasn't an afterthought. That is a wonderful thing to do.
Ashley DePaso: Yeah. I did. I went and I got that because I had done, and I don't know if I could mention apps on here or not.
Deb Zahn: Sure. That's fine.
Ashley DePaso: OK. So Google.
Deb Zahn: Yeah. I've heard of them.
Ashley DePaso: Yeah. Google. First of all, they have a ton of amazing apps for everybody. Especially businesses, small and large. There's this app on there. It's called primer. Have you heard of it?
Deb Zahn: I have not heard of that.
Ashley DePaso: OK. So primer. It's an app and it takes you through these lessons on business startup. How to market. There's so many different ones and they're just quick. You just read quick paragraphs. It's easy to read. You swipe. It goes to the next one. Swipe. Goes to the next one. You get information on how to start. How to get an LLC. How to engage customers. There are so many different things on there and they change the content all the time and they call them lessons. I was looking at that and I found how important it was to get your LLC early on. Because when you're starting a business you don't realize it, but there are some expenses. More expenses than I thought there would be, which includes the LLC. So I went ahead and I got that and everything that I've been spending money on that has to do with the business, I've been keeping track of it. That's another thing that I learned from there as well and on one of your podcasts about just kind of keeping track of your spending and separating personal from business.
Deb Zahn: That's right. That would be Diana Crabtree Green, who's wonderful and there are so many things that you can get tax deductions for. But you have to track it and you have to do it right so that you don't end up in trouble. But yeah, the LLC is an important one. I actually just had a podcast that went live where somebody who helps people form LLCs was on. One of the benefits it can bring is it can also protect your personal assets. A lot of folks set things up as sole proprietors because they're thinking, “Oh, I'm just a consultant. I'm on my own. I'll be fine.” But if anything goes awry...and it doesn't always...but if something goes awry, unless you have an LLC, it's much more difficult to protect your personal assets.
Ashley DePaso: Yeah. I've heard it's basically over.
Deb Zahn: It can be painful.
Ashley DePaso: Yeah. So I said, "OK. Well, I don't want to mesh too much." So I went ahead and I did that. And then I did a few other things like the business account. I went and got that.
Deb Zahn: Oh, that's wonderful. And again, the beauty of giving yourself this transition period is you didn't have to condense all of those activities into two weeks. Which by the way, you can't. But a lot of folks are like, “Oh, I'm just going to hang up a shingle.” And not realize you are now in the business of consulting. Which means you have to operate as a business. There's a whole number of things that you need to set up for business purposes. And you don't want to do that while you're trying to get clients because that's when you first start what you want your focus to be. So I love that you did that. Anything along that path sort of surprised you about, "Oh, this is something I now have to do."
Ashley DePaso: That profit and loss. That spreadsheet, which is something that I also obtained from my workshop. I was like, "What in the world is this?" That threw me off. I'm good with my own finances and my own bills. I have that down to a T. But when I looked at that statement, I was like, "OK. This is going to be a challenge for me." Because I literally have to track everything. I thought I was going to track...OK, I just picked up a ream of paper from Staples and some pens. Business card holder. Purchasing the LLC. Gas from here. Or lunch with a prospective client. No. There's way more things that are involved. That was one thing which I'm still working on getting help with.
I'm probably going to reach out to my consultant. Because I have a consultant. I'm probably going to reach back out to them and just try and get help with that profit and loss statement. That was one thing. Another thing that threw me off was I'm a millennial. I'm used to getting things almost instantly. Just kind of realizing that, “OK. This takes time. It's going to take time. It's not going to happen overnight.” Even though I gave myself six months, I may not book a client in 9 months or 10 months. I have to be OK with that, but I also have to work harder. I have to go from operating as an employee to a business owner. That was one of the things that I learned in my workshop. That is something that I have to work on. Going from an employee to a business owner. Just changing my mindset all together. Things aren't going to happen overnight. It is going to take time and that's something that I'm still working at.
Deb Zahn: That's right. I think that's a 100% true and especially that you are now the owner of a business. You work on your business, not just in it, which is what you did for others. It's all the things you need to do to set yourself up so that the timeframe of booking clients can be as condensed as humanly possible, which is, again, a whole series of steps that you take to be able to do that. That's wonderful.
So what are you working on now? In this sort of final phase of the transition? What do you got cooking?
Ashley DePaso: Right now I have been working on marketing. Now I did not hire anybody. I'm just learning it myself. Listening to your podcast. Listening to other podcasts out there. I'm looking at my Google app with Primer. Talking with my consultant every now and again. Just really having conversations with people. Trying to gauge who they know. What they know. What they need. And seeing how I can help them.
Deb Zahn: That's great.
Ashley DePaso: That's one thing. And then just getting myself organized. If I'm having meetings. I do have I guess you can say it's a business partner. I do have a business, possibly two business partners, who are interested in helping. I think that helping them. Bringing them up to speed on my ideas. My model. What I want this to look like. And how they can be a part of that. That's two things that I'm working on. And just trying to get exposure. I'm thinking about doing an Instagram live soon with an old colleague of mine from school who works in human resources. I'm looking at doing that and just getting information out there. I'm trying to look at doing tons of free stuff because I realized that that is going to get me some more exposure.
Deb Zahn: Do you mind if I suggested an alternative to free?
Ashley DePaso: Of course.
Deb Zahn: Anytime I hear the word free…And, by the way, like you, because we talked about this before, I think generosity is the golden ticket to success. I think it's how the world should behave, and I want to be part of it. But I would say because I know a little bit about your experience and your background and what you've been able to do, you probably don't have to do some things for free. I would suggest a better use of time would be pursuing specific contracts that have a higher likelihood of coming to fruition. Because if you do things for free, that takes up time and energy. And that time and energy could be used pursuing clients. I think you have enough experience and again, you talked to me about some of the things that you did.
You have things that are valuable to people today and it's reasonable that they pay for them. One other caution I always give people is if you start to offer things for free, it also can diminish your brand in your market a little bit. Because you don't want other people in your market to hear that you've been doing things for free. You want them to immediately associate what you do with value. One of the ways that they associate what you do with value is price. Because price communicates value. That's the only thing. And again, totally your choice. There are lots of consultants who have done exactly that and been tremendously successful. I usually encourage people not to, who have actual professional experience. Which you have and you have a lot of.
Ashley DePaso: I'm going to take that note. I'm going to take that into consideration and use that because I'm looking at it like a new consultant. I want to get exposure. The only way I'm thinking how to do that is to give some of this stuff away. But it doesn't necessarily have to be that way, and so I appreciate that. I'm definitely going to take that.
Deb Zahn: Good. I love to talk about how to make sure you get paid for your value. One of the reasons is, and again, some of this is from what we talked about before, but you don't just like to help people. You have helped people. You have helped them achieve results. You have things that you can point to that are valuable in the market.
Ashley DePaso: Thank you, Deb. I appreciate that. I am definitely going to use that. I guess when, now as we're talking about this again, going from that mindset of an employee to a business owner has a lot to do with that. It's clicking now. And I say that because as an employee, we have a salary. No matter what we do, we get paid the same. And so if I am in my place of work and I'm working on an assignment, I'm going to go above and beyond because that's just who I am at work. Even though this is not my work or my business. I still want to make the business owner look good, as an employee. Changing that mindset. That's, like I said, I'm still working on it.
Deb Zahn: But that you know to work on mindset and that you're doing that from the get-go is so powerful. Because again, what I've often seen is people don't think about mindset. They do the businessy stuff that they need to put together and then when things don't immediately look like what they hoped for, their confidence takes a dive. And then you're in a hole. It's difficult to dig out of. Instead of what you're doing, which just makes my heart sing. Which is before you get in the hole, you're saying, "All right. How do I set things up so that I never actually ended up in that hole." That's brilliant. I love that.
Ashley DePaso: I'm in it. I'm doing it and it's been a great feeling.
Deb Zahn: That's wonderful. It sounds like you get help from your family and I love this story. Who helps you in your family figure out what to do?
Ashley DePaso: My daughter. She's actually in business marketing classes in school. She's in high school and sometimes she'll say, "Hey, mommy. We're learning about this in school. Maybe this can help you with the business." Or she'll send me diagrams sometimes. She helps me. And then my dog helps me. My buddy Coltrane. He helps me stay grounded. Sometimes if I'm feeling a little overwhelmed, he'll come and he'll lay in my lap. It's a family thing. We all help each other, but they help me a lot.
Deb Zahn: I love that. And I love that your daughter, I was trying to think of what to call her position. Is it the COO?
Ashley DePaso: That's funny you say that because in the very beginning I asked her if she wanted to be my executive assistant and she was just like, "No."
Deb Zahn: She was like, "Thanks, mom. I'm 14."
Ashley DePaso: Yeah. Thanks, but no thanks. But yeah. CFO. That's a good title. Director of operations.
Deb Zahn: Exactly. The daughter in charge of these things. That's wonderful.
Ashley DePaso: Yeah. I am a twin. That's what I wanted to tell you. Well, I guess I didn't say that. But I am a twin and my business partner is my twin sister. She was here last night and we were just doing a brain dump just talking about how we can market. There are two pieces to my DePaso solution. It's called the DePaso solution. There's the human services side and then the dental side. The goal is to offer these consulting services to both of those fields because that's where she comes from. And then I come from the human services, social work side of it.
Deb Zahn: What a great niche to look at in terms of being able to offer, and I love it. I'm picturing you as the Property Brothers of consulting. The solution sisters of consulting.
Ashley DePaso: I said to her, “Could you imagine we show up and we do the workshop and people are like, wait a minute.” Because people give us double looks all the time anyway and we're older. We don't dress the same.
Deb Zahn: Are you identical?
Ashley DePaso: We're fraternal but we look exactly alike. If she were to be on this podcast today with you, you would not have known. We're fraternal, but even with our masks on out there people are like, "You've got to be twins." And I'm like, "How can you even tell? I'm wearing a mask. A hat. Glasses." But we sound exactly the same. Our demeanor is the same.
Deb Zahn: What an interesting thing as just a hook for clients. That's the thing. People hire people. They aren't just hiring a suit and there happens to be a consultant stuck in that suit. It's a really fun thing to play with in terms of how that could be a marketing and selling point for you. I love that.
Ashley DePaso: Yeah. In her field, people say to her, "Oh, I wish I could clone you." And they say that to me in my job sometimes. And I'm like, "Well, I have a twin. But we don't have the same degree." She couldn't work in my field and I couldn't work in her field. But in this field as a consultant, we can work together. And we can bounce off of each other. And then my third potential business partner is my older sister who's in the business side of education.
Deb Zahn: How fun and people that you know and trust. So anytime I hear, “Oh. Brand new business partners.” It's always a question of, well, can you trust? Do you have the same vision? But if it's all in the family, that can be a wonderful thing.
Ashley DePaso: Oh yeah. For sure. At first as a new consultant, this was an idea that I got from the ground up. In the beginning it was a little difficult to share the vision and align my vision with their vision. But I think over time, you see your sister doing something and you're like, "Well, wait a minute. Maybe I should listen. Or maybe I should hear. Or let me hear what she has to say. Oh, OK. That does make sense. OK." And you start connecting the dots and little by little, you get people on board with you. That's the vision that I have in consulting as well. If you have a problem, I'm going to come and I'm going to listen to you first. I'm going to hear what you have to say and then I'm going to either help you solve your problem yourself or provide you with tools that you need so that you can get to where you need to be in your own business. That's how I used the tools or the model that I have with my sisters.
Deb Zahn: I love that. Now obviously, not all families could do this. Since you all get along, that's a beautiful thing. That's wonderful. The last question I would have for you is obviously, you're still working time. You're planning on your transition to consulting. You're already doing a bunch of things and you obviously still have a life apart from work. How are you trying to figure out how to balance that while all this is going on? However it is you define balance for yourself.
Ashley DePaso: So I love to eat.
Deb Zahn: Right back at you.
Ashley DePaso: I love to eat. I didn't always like to try new things. But since I got married, my husband is big on cooking different foods. So he's got me trying new things. Juicing. I just juiced a whole 70 ounces of carrot and apple juice this morning. Doing things that make me feel good. I do exercise. I have not gone out and done it faithfully like I used to, but I try to get out and do at least three to four miles. Exercising. And I am a huge, huge, huge family person. I love my family. I will go to great lengths to spend time with my family. Most of them are in Pennsylvania so I like to travel to Pennsylvania a lot. This year I've probably been there four times.
Deb Zahn: Oh, that's wonderful. What a great use of your time.
Ashley DePaso: Yeah. And then reading. It's been a little hard to currently read while working a full-time job and starting a business. Trying to get that off the ground. But I do have a book that I'm always in when I have the chance to. And then just meditating. I use my Calm app. I'm big on apps but I use my Calm app. I meditate. I just sit and listen. While I'm working, I'll listen to water in the background or rocks. That helps you stay grounded. That's pretty much it. I love to eat though.
Deb Zahn: We begin and end with eating, which I am right there with you. I think that's fantastic. Well, Ashley, I have to tell you. Given how you've approached this. Given the really smart steps you've taken. I have no doubt in my mind you're going to be wildly successful. And I want to have you come back on after you've gotten some clients. And you get the joy of actually being able to serve people as a consultant. That being your livelihood. I want to hear all about it.
Ashley DePaso: OK. I would love to come back on. This makes me feel good. Talking about what I'm doing and hearing from other professionals, such as yourself, on what has worked for you has been very, very helpful. I would love to come back on.
Deb Zahn: Fantastic. We will book it. I think it's going to be soon. I got to be honest with you. Fabulous. Thank you, Ashley.
Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoyed this episode or if you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up and a lot of other great content and I don't want you to miss anything. But the other two things that I'm going to ask you to do is, one is, if you have any comments, so if you have any suggestions or any kind of feedback that will help make this podcast more helpful to more listeners, please include those.
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